Artist profile: Phish

13 07 2009

I will be doing artist profiles as often as I get the chance – each will include a bio, promo songs (downloadable and playable) as well as pictures and other intellectual content as well.. maybe videos, who knows…

PHISH

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Want to know what a jam band is? You came to the right place: Phish was the living, breathing, noodling definition of the term. From its humble start in the mid-’80s touring around the New England college circuit, this Vermont quartet — Trey Anastasio (guitar), Page McConnell (keyboards), Mike Gordon (bass), and Jon Fishman (drums) — grew to become a cultural phenomenon, followed across the country from summer shed to summer shed by thousands of new-generation hippies and hacky-sack enthusiasts, and spawning a new wave of bands oriented around group improvisation and superextended grooves.

“Marijuana”

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Though they lack an abundance of professionally produced and top-40 sounding songs, I had the pleasure to see Trey Anastasio (lead guitarist/singer/songwriter/founder of Phish) live with Tom Petty in Seattle a couple years ago, and it is one concert (amongst many) that I will never forget.

I was instantly a Phish convert and have never looked back since.

The scene was hectic, a gigantic stadium with the entire audience sitting on grass – very woodstock-esque – pipes and bubblers being passed around freely, smoke clouds everywhere, people on sheets, mattresses, and chairs, camping out, everybody dancing, kissing, drinking, huddling together or running around. One girl in full-body paint was very obviously tripping on acid as she would run into people without even realizing it. I truly felt like I had warped back to the 60s. This is one of my favorite things about Phish.phish2

However, Anastasio’s prowess on the guitar, not just Phish’s hippie following, have earned them their legendary status –

I love his sound, his technical ability, his display/utilization of mixed influences, as well as his amazing set up, with multiple pedal-boards and effect-machines (I modeled mine, in large part, after his to be honest)..

“Purple Rain”

*A pedal board is a pad with a patch bay that contains and combines multiple guitar pedals, most often distortion, effects, a loop pedal of some sort, also often including a wah-wah, delay, reverb, overdrive, or chorus, however many can be fit on one (mine has 6 and together, cost around 1500 dollars).  Through use of a pedalboard a guitarist can create new and unique sounds, often out of this world, every time he plays his guitar. Anastasio is the MASTER at this and I have studied and absorbed his style extensively.phish9

“Loving Cup”

Comparisons to the mother of all jam bands, the Grateful Dead, are unavoidable for Phish, but in most cases warranted. Like the Dead, Phish had a pronounced fondness for the rustic and drew from a seemingly bottomless well of cover tunes. Like the Dead, Phish was helmed by a guitarist with a casual, conversational lead style who enjoys playing lots of notes. And like the Dead, Phish lacked a singer who’s any more than competent. But in its frequent bursts of prog-style musical complexity as well as its taste for goofy humor (this is a band, after all, that incorporated trampolines, vacuum cleaners, and a giant hot dog into its concerts),Phish shows that it was very much its own entity.phish6

It took a while for Phish to get its sound convincingly onto disc. The first five albums listed above all have great moments (the stunning replication of early-’70s Genesis on Lawn Boy‘s “The Squirming Coil,” the Thelonious Monkish twists on A Picture of Nectar‘s “Magilla”), but inconsistency plagues them.Billy Breathes, The Story of the Ghost, and Farmhouse are much more like it, presenting an appealing rock/jazz/folk hybrid with a tasteful mix of looseness and precision. Cut quickly following a two-year hiatus, Round Room sounds undercooked, while The Siket Disccollects a few in-studio jams that are less than revelatory.

“Farmhouse”

That brings us to the teensy-weensy matter of Phish’s live albums, of which there are, at this writing, a mere 23. Though purists will argue, rightly, that you could only get the full Phish experience in person, many of these discs make a pretty decent substitute. The best is Hampton Comes Alive, which documents two November 1998 concerts in full. Only problem: It’s six CDs. Those desiring something less pricey to start out with should spring for either A Live One, Slip, Stitch & Pass, or Live Phish 15; on the latter, Phish covers Talking Heads’ Remain in Light in its entirety, to surprisingly powerful effect.phish5

Shortly before the release of Undermind, Phish announced that it was breaking up for good. Luckily, the album’s far from a white flag; in fact, it’s one of the band’s most cohesive collections, produced with warmth and flair by Tchad Blake, combining outlandish psychedelia (“A Song I Heard the Ocean Sing”) with winning folk rock (“The Connection”). Whether or not it was intended to be Phish’s final statement,Undermind is a fitting sendoff.

“Wading In The Velvet Sea”

“Dirt”

“Waste”

“Scarlet Begonias” Live with Jerry Garcia & Phish

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