It’s been a little over one year since Phish have announced their return. While most conversation has been focused on the band and how well they’re playing, perhaps it’s time to discuss the behind the scenes work. Phish management, here’s your report card.

Venue Selection: A

Phish have finally broken out of playing the same old places at the same old times. Sure some venues are crowd favorites – MSG, Hampton Coliseum, the Gorge – and should stay in the mix as much as possible, but Phish have done a great job mixing things up, throwing in places such as the Asheville Civic Center, the Fox Theatre, Fenway Park, and – of course – a festival at Indio, CA. Even before any New Years show, I will have seen 12 shows in 2009, with the least interesting venue attended being the Thompson/Boiling Arena in Knoxville. Sure there were the usual Camdens and Cincinnattis on the tour schedule, but if you wanted to see Phish in new and interesting places only, you could do so and still see quite a few shows.

This would have been an A+ except that the southeast, while not as underserved as it claims to be, really could have used a few more shows, as could the Texas area. And yes, just once I’d like to see a show or two in Seattle, but I know that as long as the Gorge exists, that’s not very likely and for good reason.

Ticket Prices: A+

When Phish came back in Hampton, the demand was incredible. Phish could have charged $100 or maybe even $150 a ticket and still have easily sold out the building. They didn’t.

Apparently Phish Inc. is the only company left in the country that understands that businesses have to plan for the long term. Phish didn’t get the maximum profit for those three shows, but the good will engendered by keeping the prices so low is one of the reasons why Phish are continuing to sell out most venues.

Merchandise: B-

I’m the guy who likes to buy official merchandise. When Phish came back in 2003, the excitement from that combined with some rather good designs led to me purchasing five shirts from the winter tour alone. My house is covered with posters from that tour.

This year? Not quite so much. The t-shirt and poster designs have left a lot to be offered. Ok, there was the amazing Hampton glow in the dark spaceship shirt that just about everyone bought but after that, the designs have been kind of dull. I went into Asheville planning to buy a poster but was stunned that it was just some murky, dark design that had nothing to do with the town. Admittedly the last thing I need right now is to spend money on new Phish shirts or posters, but my wallet was willing to be opened if the right merchandise would be provided. still provides a valuable service, getting the shows out there with incredibly fast turnaround, but people have not been particularly happy with the mixes. However, those have improved dramatically over the course of the year and with a few more tweaks, this should be one of the best things that Phish produce.

This year also saw the release of the Clifford Ball DVD set. Releasing a 7 disc set was a bit of a risk, but the release is incredible. The obvious follow-up would be a 10th anniversary Big Cypress release, but the clock seems to be ticking down on that idea. This grade would be an A if that were produced.

This is a bit of a mixed bag, but the Joy Box fiasco needs to be addressed too. First, very few people wanted the box. What we wanted was the DVD – and I wonder how many people would have ordered it if the track listing had been announced earlier; it wasn’t obvious at first that the disc would only contain videos of Joy songs – and the bonus disc. There just was no way of purchasing those without getting the box. This is the reverse lesson from above, maximizing a short-term gain in exchange for pissing off the most loyal fans.

As if that weren’t bad enough, the set is shipping incredibly late. Dry Goods finally addressed the situation in a recent email, offering 10% off of a future purchase. While they didn’t have to offer anything, the coupon didn’t play well. Unless Phish release something amazing in the next few months – again, 10th anniversary of Big Cypress DVDs please – most of us won’t have anything we’ll want to buy in the store before the coupon expires in March. This is definitely an area for some improvement.

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