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What Keeps Phish Fans Coming Back for More?


Phish just completed a 13-show residency in New York called the “Baker’s Dozen.”

Chad Batka for The New York Times

The Popcast is hosted by Jon Caramanica, a pop music critic for The New York Times. It covers the latest in pop music criticism, trends and news.

Phish is a culture. Phish is a state of mind. But above all, Phish is a band — a band so dedicated to being a band that it was able to play a 13-show residency at Madison Square Garden in New York without repeating a song. For those keeping track (and Phish fans love to keep track), that means 237 or 239 original and cover songs, depending on your source.

Over 13 nights called the “Baker’s Dozen,” Phish jammed — of course they did — but they also used the loose construct of a residency and the tighter space of each night’s set to explore what it means to be Phish today. The set lists were created on the fly; Trey Anastasio, the band’s singer and guitarist, said the band moved together via intuition: “When we’re up there just playing, it’s something that feels like I know what they’re thinking.”

All kinds of people wound up in the crowd at the Phish shows: devoted followers, newbies dragged by devoted followers, casual listeners and lapsed fans, like this week’s Popcast guest host, the New York Times pop music editor Caryn Ganz, who brought in two people who wrote about the residency — Ben Ratliff (a critical listener) and Jesse Jarnow (a dedicated fan) — for a “Baker’s Dozen” conversation.

Mr. Ratliff, a longtime New York Times pop music critic who now teaches at New York University and writes for other outlets, and Mr. Jarnow, a freelance writer and D.J. on WFMU who is the author of “Heads: A Biography of Psychedelic America,” discussed their experiences at the shows, the band’s relationship to other musicians that specialize in improvisation, and just what it is that keeps fans returning to Phish’s live show again and again.

Email your questions, thoughts and ideas about what’s happening in pop music to popcast@nytimes.com.

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