Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Album Review: Phish Big Boat

Big Boat
*** out of *****

A few weeks ago we reviewed a new album from the metal giants Metallica and you may wonder what the Vermont four piece jamband legends could possible have in common with the San Francisco headbangers, but it is simply this, do either need a new album? Both bands have hugely popular back catalogs, covers and obscurities that they could play live from now until they were dead and fans would still sell out arenas all over the world to see them.

With Metallica it seems more of an industry thing to do, new record, new two year world tour, rinse and repeat, but with Phish it is something different; these guys just love playing music together. If they are not on stage feeding off the energy they are in the studio, having a goofy time writing intricate (yet still very goofy) songs. Big Boat is the most recent of these gatherings which produced a studio album and overall it is a pleasant sailing that is inconsequential.

The band continues to just do what they do, fans will find moments they like here (then LOVE live) and critics will say they are scattered, boring and long winded. Both are right.

"Friends" is a Fishman opener that is odd yet preaches to the choir in it's "Bathub Gin" like lyrics, correct Jon, we are all in this together. The crisp as hell horns are dazzling and overwhelm some otherwise humdrum "standard Phish" numbers like "Breath and Burning" and "No Men In No Man's Land". Bob Ezrin's production captures all this brass work stunningly, and while it isn't always lock step with the foursome (or the songs themselves) it is clear the players sound fantastic. Like Fuego before this, the overall production is world class, if nothing else Phish knows how to get a great the music coming out of the speakers to sound great.

The song writing is a different story. "Blaze On" falls into summer time soft reggae Jimmy Buffet land and easily flows around the ear via weed smoke and Caribbean vibes like the Phish live staple it has already started to become. The group also goes an old school R&B route with "Tide Turns" which has all the elements to work, but drags courtesy of Anastasio's vocals, if ever there was a time for a guest vocalist, this was it.

Bassist Mike Gordon puts his unique twist on things with "Waking Up Dead" that displays an odd 80's electro vibe as does the Page McConnell penned "I Always Wanted it this Way" perhaps signalling a new direction the band will travel in. "Miss You" goes simplistic, with sappy balladry and would be duller than white bread, however Trey's guitars manage to shine, pushing it towards a lesser "Velvet Sea".

The closing numbers are the albums high points, "More" moves into Trey's direct wheelhouse. Positive honest lyrics via every-man vocals in front of a rising tide of energetic music that never quite explodes (a cool rarity for the band) while closer "Petrichor" dives back into "Guyute" land for mapped out orchestrated flights of fancy. Phish is just doing what they do, either hop on board, or let the Big Boat pass you by, the band and the fans will be fine either way.
A little breezier than Fuego, but basically more of the same. Support the band, buy the album, peep some video below:

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