Phish, Colorado '88
(Jemp Records, CD)
Not being a Phish fan has made the 15 or so years I've lived in Burlington a curious experience. At the peak of the band's popularity - I'm guessing 1995-'99 - I found myself justifying my non-interest in the group on what seemed like a daily basis.
Now I'm receiving credit card offers addressed to Phish in my mailbox nearly every other day. No kidding. My guess is that either someone in the band once lived in my apartment, or it's a mean joke played on me by an ornery jam fan. I'll buy whoever solves the mystery a beer.
The bottom line is that Phish have been nigh-impossible for me to escape. Almost everyone I know has worked for the band's production company; the rest are either friends of friends or have other, less savory ties to the group. But I've somehow remained uninvolved. That's why I believe I'm a great candidate to review the band's latest posthumous live offering, Colorado '88.
Guess what? I like it! Well, a lot of it, anyway. The sucker is three discs long, so after a while I kind of forgot it was even on. Makes me wonder if the band ever forgot they were playing.
The CDs are something of a historical artifact, as they capture Phish as mere jam minnows. To my ears, they're at their hungriest, and perhaps goofiest. Their musicality is very much in effect, as is their avoidance of conventional "hooks." The latter is something that would plague the band on studio releases, when live exhilaration was replaced by middling forays into limp classic rock.
But let's talk about the good stuff. By now, most folks know who contributes what to the band's sound, so I won't get into overwrought descriptions of Trey Anastasio's guitar tone. I will say this, though: Despite the occasional atonal plunk or plonk, the band sounds very tight. Of course, I couldn't care less what they're singing about. Apparently it makes more sense on 'shrooms. Or so I've been told.
I'm certainly not about to run out and buy every live document the band has ever produced, but it's charming to hear four of the dorkiest dudes you'd ever encounter playing to audiences who haven't yet foisted godhood status upon them.
Maybe I've been too dismissive of these guys. Or maybe not. At the end of the day, I prefer the Dead and Zappa. But hearing the Phab Phaur in such a vulnerable state is refreshing. Now get me off those mailing lists, please.