During his career, photographer Erik Kabik has shot more than 1,000 concerts. He runs the Las Vegas branch of Retna photo agency, is the house photographer for the Cosmopolitan, Brooklyn Bowl and the Hard Rock Hotel, and is an official photographer for Electric Daisy Carnival. In short, this man knows live music.
So when Kabik names a band the “best live touring band in America,” it’s worth your while to try to check that band out. The group that wins that honor? Phish.
Lucky for Las Vegas, the venerable jam band has just announced its first Vegas dates in a decade: October 31-November 2 at MGM Grand Garden Arena.
Since Kabik has shot Phish several times over the years—in Ashland, Oregon, in 1991; at the Aladdin in 1996; at Thomas & Mack Center twice in the ’90s; and in Long Beach, California, in 2012—we checked in with the Phish fanatic for a little perspective on this upcoming tour stop.
Where does Phish fit on your list of favorite bands?
I try to avoid having top-five bands. But right now, they are the best live touring band in America, hands down. If I’m going to go see a concert, I’m going to see a Phish concert. They are the only band I travel to see.
For the uninitiated, what is the unique appeal of Phish?
They’re one band that connects with their audience in a very profound way. It’s different than any other communication I’ve seen between an audience and a band. On top of that, they’re just incredibly, insanely good musicians. And they’re improvisational, so it’s always different. Kind of like what the Grateful Dead was about, but with a completely different type of music.
Phish traditionally cover an album by a different artist for Halloween. If you could pick one album, what would you have them play?
Whatever they approach will be great, but I’d love to see Phish do a Frank Zappa album. Zappa’s One Size Fits All would fit like a glove.
What are your standout live-music memories from Phish?
In 1991 in Oregon, I was shooting them for my college newspaper and was able to stand onstage and shoot. There were probably only 100 people there; they weren’t incredibly popular yet. The show completely floored me. People knew every word to every song. Then there’s the experience of seeing them more recently [in 2011] in the Hollywood Bowl—one of the greatest concerts I’ve ever seen.
What’s your advice for first-time Phish concertgoers?
Throw away all of your preconceived notions of what it’s like to see a concert, because the experience of seeing a Phish concert is incredibly different. Grateful Dead used to talk about gestalt linkage, which is the synergy between a band and an audience when everybody becomes one organism. It’s a psychedelic and far out concept, but the same thing happens at a Phish concert. If you’re open to that, you’ll have a really elevated concert experience.
7:30 p.m. (doors at 6) Oct. 31-Nov. 2, MGM Grand Garden Arena, $60 and up, pre-order ticket requests run through Aug. 3, tickets go on sale on Aug. 7, Phish.com.
Erik Kabik’s photos of Phish over the years: