For their latest studio album, Phish tried something they’ve never done before. Instead of leaving the bulk of the writing to guitarist Trey Anastasio and lyricist (and unofficial fifth member) Tom Marshall, they locked themselves in Anastasio’s barn in the Vermont woods and hashed out the tunes. Then they surprised everyone at their Halloween show by playing the entire album (plus a few more tunes) as their “musical costume.” The move surprised even the most jaded Phans.
With the exception of the title track (recorded in part during a soundcheck during the Halloween run), the band leaves behind longer explorations and focuses on developing sonic landscapes. These tunes will inevitably evolve over the next tour. (Anastasio has mentioned that the band wants to focus less on playing covers.) Producer Bob Ezrin, whose fingerprints are all over albums by everyone from Taylor Swift to Pink Floyd, gives the band a wider sound, utilizing each member to their full potential and spreading around vocal duties a bit more. Keyboardist Page McConnell's vocals on the slyly grooving “Halfway to the Moon” are a perfect balance for Anastasio’s warbly tremolo fills.
Phish’s newfound groupthink ethos comes out in every note of the rocker “Sing Monica” and the funky horn jam “555.” On “Wombat” things get a bit meta when the band references the Fish TV show with Abe Vigoda (who actually made a cameo at the Halloween show) over a hip-hop-inspired funk groove. Overall, the band sounds relaxed, comfortable with its 30-year history and where it’s going. Fuego might be their best studio effort since Billy Breathes. It makes the case that the band should look inward in order to push itself forward.
Must-hear tracks: “Halfway to the Moon,” “Devotion to a Dream”
Listen to Phish's "555" below: