The project launched a little over a year ago, when guitarist Jason Barnes and percussionist Sam Bajgot started playing open mics together in Boulder, later bringing on keyboardist Jack Marty and bassist Zach Soczka. Each bandmember grew up listening to jam bands including the Grateful Dead and Ween; Phish was their favorite.
Kings of Prussia's members describe Phish as a "four-headed monster." While guitarist Trey Anastasio is the band's frontman, all four Phish musicians play an equal role interpreting songs on stage. The tribute band takes the same approach when it performs. While the members use Phish’s catalogue as a starting and ending point, they take creative liberties, improvising in the middle of songs. Like Phish's live show, no two Kings of Prussia sets sound the same.
The tribute musicians put a lot of emphasis on re-creating iconic Phish sets or shows, replete with stunning visuals. The members do their best to sound and act like the Phish musicians did during whichever concert they're re-creating, even performing antics like bouncing on trampolines and using megaphones.
“There’s energy out there. I don’t care how hippy-dippy you think that is, but we are creating energy, and it’s absorbed and can take control,” Soczka says.
Barnes typically starts with upbeat guitar solos rippling with energy. Marty and Soczka weave in and out, establishing melodies that complement Barnes’s guitar, while Bajgot sets the tempo on the drums. The process of jamming in a tribute band is a delicate one, so the members try to make their music sound as close to Phish's as possible. Songs like “Maze” and “Tweezer” include jams that can last up to twenty minutes, in which the musicians only get tighter as the tempo increases; the process requires total focus.
“When you reach that peak flow state, it’s like a snowboarder heading down a sixty-foot ramp,” Soczka says. “They have to be locked in, so focused on what they're doing that it’s almost like they are not even doing it.”
Each member of Kings of Prussia has enjoyed life-changing moments at Phish shows over the year. “We all had the urge to try and re-create that,” Barnes says.
The band is aiming to be one of the great Phish tribute bands, carving a path similar to that of popular Grateful Dead tribute act Dark Star Orchestra, with global tours and massive concerts. But first, the Kings are building their Denver fan base.
“You already have a market with tribute bands," Bajgot says. "If you don’t suck and you can play the songs well, people will come out and see you.”
See Kings of Prussia for yourself when the band plays at 10 p.m. Thursday, January 23, at Be on Key Psychedelic Ripple, 1700 Logan Street. Tickets are $10.