The Lizards they have….. arrived! Toronto-based Phish tribute band The Lizards will perform throughout New York and New England this winter, with the first show taking place on January 26 at The Westcott Theater in Syracuse, followed by February stops in Ithaca, Rochester and The Hollow in early March. Phish fans in need of a winter fix can catch one of Canada’s finest exports and let their 20+ minute jams warm you up as you await Phish to announce Summer 2018 dates.
Known for recreating the authentic Phish experience for dedicated phans, and even featuring their own light show directed by the infamous TG5, The Lizards put on a must-attend show. For their first foray throughout the Northeast, The Lizards guitarist Rich Grossman talked to NYS Music to chat Baker’s Dozen, the origins of The Lizards and what the scene is like north of the border.
Pete Mason: Let’s get the backstory on The Lizards – you’ve played the states a bit already, but when did the band first get together and start playing?
Rich Grossman: We started up in 2013 right after Phish had come to Toronto. It was the first time they had been here since 2000 and I was stoked to get to see them in my hometown. After a cancelled and rescheduled show, it got me thinking about the “state of affairs” of the jam scene in Toronto. There used to be a number of clubs that serviced the scene in TO, but they had long closed and we eventually found ourselves having to travel stateside to see this music often. Not that we don’t love making the pilgrimage, but the real heart of the jam world has always been the community. By Canadians being nomadic, and not rebuilding at home, we weren’t strengthening our side of the community. I thought starting a Phish tribute would be an amazing way to bring new life into the scene.
I had known Ben (drums) for years and we had played together in a number of bands, jam and not, so I contacted him first. Neither of us had real candidates for piano or bass so I went to Facebook. I posted something like “does anyone know a piano player who wants to jam some Phish tunes?” and a buddy tagged Joel, our keys player. We’d never met, but I got his number and asked him if he was into it. Not only did he say yes, but when I mentioned we couldn’t find a bass player, he brought Phill to the table. The first time we jammed was the first time a lot of us met each other. We charted out a lot of material, rehearsed it even more and booked a show at The Comfort Zone. Back in the day, this was the hub for jam music in TO. Growing up I would see Charlie Hunter, Ominous Seapods, Merl Saunders and other jam acts there, but management changed over the years and it became a late night rave scene. For whatever reason, they let us put on a show there for next to nothing and we must’ve had 250 people show up the first time. A lot of friends for sure, but a lot of people that just caught word of it showed up. Since then, we’ve done countless more shows in Toronto and in the past year, have started to take it down to you guys. The response is always the same. No matter what country we’re in, people are so grateful that they get to hear this treasured music. It’s very endearing to me, and I know that if I had seen a Phish tribute band and not started one, I would react the same way.
PM: What aspects of Trey’s guitar playing and tone drew you into honing his sound?
RG: Once we started the band, the game was on to get the sound. On the first gig, I played a PRS Santana III.The guitar has a very different sound than Trey’s Languedoc, but I could mask the differences with some of the other gear Trey would use like specific pedals. He’s famous for using 2 tubescreamers going into a compressor, so I started there. Over the year or two I amassed almost all pieces to recreate his mid 1.0 sound (93-97) including the Mesa Mark III red stripe, the ross compressor, the whammy II and more. I then started using a Languedoc clone that was built by a luthier in Toronto. It was based off of the Koa 98 model. Once I got that, the tone was really happening. After that, I would add pieces here and there that came later in his career like the boomerang, super tremolo, supa-puss, black cat vibe, etc. I haven’t really “updated” my rig in a few years, because I feel like I have enough pieces of the puzzle to make the gig happen. Trey changes his rig so often these days, to keep up would put me in debt.
PM: How much of Baker’s Dozen did you get to see?
RG: I was one of the lucky ones this summer 🙂 Bought my tickets well in advance and lucked out pretty good. I’m a full time musician and to take weekends off in the summertime can prove to be challenging, so I bought tickets to the first Sunday, Tuesday and Wednesday show. Red Velvet, Jam Filled and Powdered night. Thank you Phish!
PM: For those of us down south, what’s the scene like in Toronto and elsewhere in Ontario and Quebec for Phish and jam fans?
RG: To be honest, it’s the best I’ve seen it in years. Since The Lizards started, there have been a few Dead and Allman Brothers tributes that have started to perform as well. The other American “Phishy” tributes like Pink Talking Fish and Jazz is Phish have started to come up as well. Toronto has over 2 million people in it, but the jam band community is pretty niche, so we usually see a lot of the same happy faces at shows. Outside of Toronto, I’d say the scene is pretty small. There’s a dedicated group of heads out in Southwest Ontario like Hamilton and St. Catherines but not much else in our province or in Quebec. We have a huge country, but only 35 million people live here so an already small community gets smaller up here and more sprawled out.
PM: How do The Lizards stand out among phish tribute bands?
RG: I think what sets us apart from the other bands is that we really try to recreate the live experience aurally and visually. We have a dedicated lighting director (Toby) and sound engineer (Kory) that tour with us, bring, set up and tear down their own gear and work just as hard as us to make the show as much of a spectacle that it can be. Musically, everything is subjective. Some people will like us and some people won’t, but the show looks and sounds amazing, so that’s where I think we stand out.