One of my favorite annual traditions is following our nation’s preeminent jam band, Phish, on its annual summer and fall tours without leaving the comfort of home. (Though I like to head out and see shows in person when I can, too.) Thanks to the band’s Live Phish app, I can stream a pristine recording of every concert within minutes of the final encore. Phish also offers live-streamed video of many gigs, including every night of the band’s fantastic “Baker’s Dozen” run of 13 concerts that extends through Sunday at Madison Square Garden in New York City.
So far, Phish’s MSG run has rewarded faithful listeners with setlists that have yet to repeat a single song, along with numerous unexpected covers, theme nights, in-jokes, and the band’s most adventurous improvisations in years. No two shows have been remotely similar. It’s a whole new level of fan experience that most bands can’t even approach.
I realize that the prospect of listening to Phish do an a cappella cover of Fleet Foxes’ “White Winter Hymnal” or a mind-blowing 24-minute version of the ’90s chestnut “Chalk Dust Torture” might seem like actual torture to many. But take Phish out of the equation: Don’t you wish your favorite artist behaved this way? Wouldn’t it be great to have access to a treasure trove of streamable live recordings that’s instantly updated after every show? Why in the world don’t more bands follow this example?
As streaming concerts becomes increasingly common, I suspect that Phish will eventually be viewed as an innovator. By now, even casual music fans have probably streamed live performances from major music festivals like Coachella and Pitchfork, or watched special live events hosted by Youtube. Artists such as Bruce Springsteen and Pearl Jam have also sold recordings of their concerts in the form of downloads and CDs. For the most part, however, the audience for live streams has been restricted to the jam-band niche — fans of groups like Dead And Company and Widespread Panic can pay a monthly subscription fee to access the live music archive on the Nugs.net app, or shell out pay-per-view fees to stream one-off concerts on Nugs TV. Phish meanwhile remains the rare band that makes every concert available either in the moment or shortly afterward via its own app.