WASHINGTON: Forget for a moment the cruel irony of a band that rarely plays a song the same way twice breaking up for fear of becoming repetitive while Madonna tours with impunity.Phish's announcement last Tuesday that they were calling it quits after this summer's tour was a masterstroke of good timing (though the legions of devoted "phans" mourning the loss could be excused for thinking otherwise). While there's no reason to doubt the band's sincerity about splitting up, the deftness of the last-minute announcement seemed oddly apropos for a band seemingly as comfortable changing time signatures as socks. During the previous weekend, the quartet sold 592 tickets to its August 12 show at New Jersey's Tweeter Center. On the afternoon of the announcement - which didn't come until 3pm - they sold 5,052. But Phish has more to sell this summer than concert tickets. The band's last studio album is coming out this month and album sales have always lagged behind the band's popularity thanks to their policy of allowing fans to tape, copy, and trade every show for free. The announcement added a sense of urgency to a band that even the most slavish fans had begun taking for granted (perhaps too many Grateful Dead comparison lulled folks into believing that they, too, had vowed "till death do us tour"). Announcing the breakup after the dates were set, but before the curtain came up, shocked fans out of their complacency and straight to the box office. If you doubt it, check the price of scalper tickets outside your local show come next month.