Today the band Phish released their 15th studio album in 33 years of making the world’s crunchiest suburban white boy grooves. For Big Boat, Phish recruited super producer Bob Ezrin — of Lou Reed and Pink Floyd fame — to quarterback the album. That sounds great in theory, but the bottom line is that studio albums are a touchy subject for hardcore Phish fans like myself: Many feel it’s a sterile, watered-down version of the band’s high-energy live product (which we pay thousands and thousands of dollars a year to happily support). Like pretty much every Phish album release ever, there is plenty of chirping from the bleacher creatures about Big Boat. “It’s dad rock.” “There aren’t enough jams.” “There are too many serious lyrics and not enough nonsensical lyrics.” Someone at Pitchfork called Phish a “wedding band” in making the album and, honestly, I think that’s a pretty endearing.
Fuck the criticism, fuck the reviews. The bottom line is that the album process is what gives birth to new Phish material in their massive songbook. So let’s focus on that! I have runs in Vegas and MSG coming up, so here’s what I’m the most excited to hear live and why.
Breath and Burning
Let’s get this out of the way first (Thanks, Graig). The recorded version of this song makes me cringe pretty hard. It makes me feel like I’m on a really shitty cruise ship and just stuffed my face with the world’s worst crab rangoon in some stuffy cruise ship dining room after drinking mai tais all day in the sun. All I want to do is go home from vacation and watch Netflix in my underwear on my couch, but I can’t because I’m on a big boat in the middle of the goddamn ocean. The complimentary satellite Wifi isn’t exactly up to par for hq Netflix binges. In that hellscape of emotions, this obnoxiously-happy song comes on and when Trey sings “rage with Page at the dying of the light!!!” is the exact moment I lose it and throw my plastic souvenir drink glass over the ship’s rail in frustration.
That said… You only need one testicle to get through life as a dude. I’d give a testicle to see modern, 3.0 Phish perform with horns. This song is probably the best chances of that dream ever becoming a reality. Hope the Giant Country Horns keep a free schedule in adulthood.
FUCK YEAH, PIANO ROCK. This Page song is Phish going full Rockin’ The Suburbs-era Ben Folds Five. They actually give a pretty good indication of what this would sound like live in the album version, which is a giant wall of sound with Page tickling the upper register of his organ. Nothing would bring a bigger smile to my face than seeing Page hammer away at the ivories in a Ben Folds-style piano solo during the live version.
Waking Up Dead
This is how my body feels after a Phish run. Jokes! Mike holds it down hard on “Waking Up Dead.” I was confused as hell when they busted this out at the Mann Center show this summer. Looked over at my boy Austin and muttered a “what the fuck?” But when you get past the 3:30 minute mark, the jam road map is pretty clear. It’s dark and mysterious and riff-driven like a danceable rock metal anthem.
Look, I’m insane. Phish fans reading this are probably like “fuck you, Brandon. Fuck your emo song choices. We want to rage at shows. I hope no one from Phish reads this garbage Bro bullshit.”
Extremely unpopular Phish fan opinion: I really, really like it when Trey sings a tear-jerking song that’s super personal to him. Like “Joy,” “Miss You” is about Trey losing his sister. There’s a place for it in a live show when the band needs to pump the brakes. Hopefully the fanbase is respectable about such a thing during a show — I’ve seen some pretty brutal responses to “Joy” IRL and it always leaves a bad taste in my mouth. If you wanted to remind your legions of acid-eating fans about the heart-aching sorrow of losing someone, you’d probably feel pretty disrespected by fans sitting down or borderline boos for a song choice. It’s just a respect thing.
No Man In No Mans Land
They already place this live. I like it when they play it live. I dance like this when they play it live:
Keep it up, guys.
I Always Wanted It This Way
OK, hear me out for a second. There’s an electronic dance music backbeat to this record that I think would be fun to see explored live. Phish does EDM! Go ahead, fuckers, pretend like you hate it. You can’t! It’s a little Lotus or Disco Biscuits-y, but I wouldn’t cringe at seeing Phish explore jamtronica for a second. Just a hot a second! 50-year-old dudes throwing down while we pretend that MSG is Lavo or Marquee Vegas. You know you’re secretly addicted to that beat. But just for a hot second!
Like “Wingsuit” and “Fuego” off their last album, this composed anthem is clearly Phish being the best at Phish. The segues. The parts that are rock orchestra. The clear open lane for huge, 20+ minute jams. Us Phish swirly-deserving nerds are going to get our asses-handed to us with “Petrichor” live and enjoy every second of it.