Expectations, Expectations, Expectations

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Every single Phish show is chock-full of expectations. Some shows bring a lot more hype and excitement than others, yet more often than not, fans start buzzing with anticipation, hopes and expectations long before the band ever sets foot on stage. However, too much pre-show hype surrounding any single Phish show (or run of shows) often leads to a good amount of collective disappointment.

These days, Phish crowds are more diverse than ever before. People are demanding more from the band at every show, and the band is doing its best to deliver. Some folks are chasing one or two old songs that they have never before seen live. Other folks want to dance to plinko jams all night long. A fraction come to hear nothing but Gamehendge material, while other fans refer to Tweezer as “yet another old one.”

In mid-2011, I briefly forgot the rules when it comes to Phish-hype and pre-show expectations. Flying to Alpharetta to try and re-create what happened in 2010, I was left disappointed in the lack of Gamehendge material played (when compared to the same shows from the year before). This was entirely in my head and all my own doing. My personal expectations — unfoundedly based on the epic July 4th run from the year prior at the same venue — set me up to be let down.

Maybe some other people cared that they didn’t play Harpua, Forbin’s, Tela or McGrupp at Alpharetta in 2011, but it was by no means the general consensus. The fans avoiding any comparison to the same shows from the year before undoubtedly had the best time. As cliché as it sounds, Phish is all about living in the moment. Not the past. Not the future.

These are rules that I had already known and been following for years. No expectations. No Hype. Just go see Phish. Historically, that’s what always results in the most earth-shattering, mind-bending experiences. If you go in expecting absolutely nothing and let the band take you on a journey, more often than not they tend to blow your mind. Just ask anyone that was at the Gorge in 2011, arguably the best run of Phish 3.0.

And that’s how I’m choosing to go into this incredibly over-hyped San Francisco run. Yes, it’s San Francisco, birth place of the counter-culture that has so warmly embraced Phish. Yes, Ken Kesey has held Electric Kool Aid Acid Tests at the venue. Yes, it’s a tiny, indoor Phish show in mid-August. Yes, the shows sold out in under 90 seconds. Yes, Phish hasn’t played a real show in San Francisco since 1994 (except for an unannounced surprise show at the Fillmore in 1998 and Outside Lands). Yes, there’s going to be a webcast.

We can either speculate, set expectations and over-hype these shows into oblivion, only to be disappointed when they don’t play what we individually want to hear. Or, we can let go of all expectations, release the hype and simply not give a fuck as to what they play, realizing that we are, in 2012, still lucky enough to be seeing Phish under these circumstances. The band is happy, focused, healthy and ripping.

It’s not everyday we get to see our favorite band play in the City by the Bay, in this type of historical venue, with such a small and intimate crowd. For those of us that now live West of Colorado, we have even less to complain about. These small, special San Francisco shows are pretty much the opposite of Dick’s, which feels like a festival, has a seemingly endless seating capacity, and for which there will surely also be a webcast (just like last year). Be grateful, the band and its management are listening. These San Francisco shows are proof of that.

These days, the best way to see Phish is to let go of all of the noise and truly focus in on that valuable signal. Release your personal expectation, ignore the hype. At the end of the day, it’s Phish in San Francisco. No matter the variables, your experience will be as special as you make it. Webcast or no webcast, Gamehendge or no Gamehendge, extended jamming or not, be happy.

Remember that feeling you had when Phish broke up (twice)? That deep, saddening, sinking feeling that carries on with you on a daily basis. Hell on earth. Horrifying. Try to remember that feeling the next time you bitch about a webcast.

Enjoy it while it lasts.

And stop bitching.

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