Today’s on-sale release of Phish’s 13th official studio album, Big Boat, presents a variety of new experiments and growth from the four-piece jam band from Vermont. As many know, Phish is widely famous for their live performances, and oftentimes their studio albums are overlooked as they become camouflaged by hundreds of recorded and officially released live shows. That being said, their studio recordings offer a unique look into the works of this band before improvisation and stream of consciousness take major control on the stage.
Big Boat encompasses an overall theme of positivity and enthusiasm, as many of the songs embrace the idea of surrendering to the ways of life (or to the flow) and remaining happy and joyous while doing so. Prime examples of this carefree attitude are shown in tracks “Breath And Burning” and “Blaze On. “Breath and Burning” became a very popular live tune this past summer tour with its obvious opportunity for jam explorations. In an interview with NPR, guitarist Trey Anastasio explained that Phish’s first 3-night run in Mexico served as inspiration for the beachy song that speaks of a doomsday, yet their desire to “rage with Page (keyboardist Page McConnell) ‘til the dying of the light.” The also joyful and happy-go-lucky lyrics of “Blaze On” make this track a sing-a-long tune and crowd favorite as Phish has performed this song 18 times since its May 21, 2015 debut in Bend, Oregon. While this composition is full of optimism and sunshine, its jams have certainly opened up some darker moods and sounds, for example their performance at Magnaball during summer of 2015. It is probably no coincidence that both songs allude to fire and ring in at four minutes and 20 seconds a piece.
One of the most thought provoking aspects of this album, and the band in general, is Phish’s ability to compile and create a list of incredibly diverse songs into one cohesive piece. Such outliers include “Things People Do”, “I Always Wanted It This Way”, “Friends” and more. “Things People Do” takes a starkingly simplified version of the live performance they played twice this summer, being it was recorded on McConnell’s iPhone, as mentioned in an interview in The Wall Street Journal. The lo-fi folk tune tells a brief story of the absurdities of the human race while also dialing in on the previously mentioned theme of being carefree. “I Always Wanted It This Way” was a bit of a shocker track as its 80s-like synths provide disco and dance music that completely contrast the rest of the album. Such an electronic based song sparks much curiosity for how the band will choose to play this song live.
The album opens with strong leadership from drummer Jon Fishman and his composition, “Friends.” This track shows multiplicity through its Syd Barret influenced style, and the album title appears to come from this song as the chorus revolves around boarding a “big boat” with friends at the world’s end. The finale of the album, “Petrichor” gently concludes and expands the manifoldness of Big Boat with a harmonious extension of over 13 minutes long. While this song appears as a debut with the band, Anastasio had previously played “Petrichor” with three symphonies in 2014.
Spectators of the band have seemed to coin the term “dad rock” for Phish over the past few years, and “Tide Turns” could be seen as the epiphany of such, yet not a bad thing. Here we have a display of Anastasio’s kind voice as well as his vulnerable, loving lyrics over a smoother, slower tempo and powerful horns. Also on the slower side of Anastasio vocals is the song “Miss You,” an emotional tune about the loss of Anastasio’s sister which was debuted at Wrigley Field in June. “More” is another debut track that portrays great inspiration yet again through Anastasio’s lyrics of “vibrating with love and light, pulsating with love and light in a world gone mad.”
Other included tracks are “Running Out of Time,” a funky, horn-filled “No Man in No Man’s Land,” the spooky, sinister “Waking Up Dead” lead by bassist Mike Gordon, and “Home,” the mysterious track sampled in the Big Boat promo video.
These songs will surely be highlighted this upcoming Fall as Phish hits the road starting with a two-night run in Charleston, South Carolina on October 14th. Phish will continue throughout the month reaching Jacksonville, Florida, Nashville, Tennessee, Atlanta, Georgia, and Dallas, Texas. The quintet will conclude their tour with four nights at MGM Grand in Vegas to celebrate Halloween and quite possibly their highly anticipated costume set. While many of their previous live experiments unexpectedly did not make the album, including “Mercury”, “Can’t Always Listen”, “Let’s Go” and more, there are bound to be many more new exciting performances in the future.
Written by Olivia Wilkes