By Errand Meanwell
To woo, or not to woo? That is the question.
How many people can honestly say they are standing there stone-faced and mad when the whole audience is singing Wilson? No, you're singing and yelling right along, a smile on your face, hand in the air.
One of the cornerstones of Phish's growth from bars to arenas was audience participation. Some organic, some band initiated, it brought the fans and the band together in creating the moment. One of the best examples is the art tower that was made of pieces of wood painted over the weekend by fans and finished with pieces painted by the band on stage, then burned to the ground during Tweezer Reprise. It symbolized the connection between the audience and the band, as fleeting as it was.
From their earliest days, Phish has embraced making the audience a part of the experience. They have never sought a quiet audience that sits in rapt silence. Stash, not long into its existence, had the 4 beats on woodblock played by Fishman usurped by the audience in the form of 4 claps. We then had the audacity to actually drop one clap in the mid-'90s, making it completely our contribution to the song.
In early 1992 the Secret Language was revealed, and it consisted of a series of musical signals played by Trey. The audience would then complete an action. 5 have been taught, including Simpson's language, which involves yelling 'Doh' and All Fall Down, where you end up on the floor. Trey explained it a few times, and those tapes became legendary because they contained a key to understanding our favorite band.
Even Halloween started with audience participation. In the late summer edition of the band's newsletter, Doniac Schvice, in 1994, announced a 3 set Halloween show would be played, and the band would be donning a musical costume. The best part was they were letting us vote on the album. Whether or not The Beatles White Album actually won has been debated, but it still has become the stuff of legend, and we helped make it happen.
As you can see, audience participation comes in several flavors. There are non-verbal things like the Big Ball Jam, the Meatstick dance, and waving your arms during Contact. Some may or may not require the crowd to respond loudly with their voice, like the Secret Language. And then there are strictly vocal things like the 'woo' in Twist (or Vultures), or yelling 'Hood' in Harry Hood, ‘Vlad The Impaler’, or 'Hey' in Punch You in the Eye.
It seems some of these are revered by the audience. Imagine Phish Twitter exploding in joy and jealousy if a Big Ball Jam or Secret Language reappeared. But when the crowd spontaneously 'woos' during 2001, there are some serious melts. Trey says he is pro-woo; why are so many fans not?