The Grateful Dead may well have laid the foundation for the evolution of the jamband genre but the Ben & Jerry’s torch has melted the minds of a new generation as Cherry Garcia drips down the granola cone and coagulates, becoming Phish Food. Vermont’s finest export, and premiere jamband on the planet, returns to the Farmhouse and listeners everywhere can rejoice. The notion of Phish setting up in a Farmhouse out in the middle of nowhere and having 50,000 of their compadres stop by for an evening of peace, love and musical harmony resonates with the authenticity of the vibe that encompasses this elegant ray of sonic sunshine.
After one wanders through this house down on the farm, it becomes clear that these songs have fermented over time as extensions of the band’s extended jams and improvisations during their legendary live shows which range from 4 to 7 hours. The pomp and circumstance of Phish’s arrangements, at times, remind one of the best of calculated classic rock, while at others just fill the air with swirls of the band’s unpretentious freeform soaring, like that of a nightingale above a remote lake at the break of dawn.
The sparse booklet features a picture of each band member with a thumbnail of the respective musical instrument. It’s as simple as that. Trey plays guitar, Page, piano, Jon, drums and Mike, bass. Just four feel-good gents groovin’ through many sonic textures with aural seasonings provided by a slew of musicians contributing on trombone, saxophone, dobro, cello, trumpet, viola, violin and some banjo care of Bela Fleck.
A moment of universal transcendence is evident with this offering as Farmhouse is chock full of buckets of shuffles and noodles care of “Twist” and the Casey Jones-esque “Back on the Train” but songs, that dare I say, stick in your mind. “Heavy Things” recalls the best of the Grateful Dead laced with a touch of southern hospitality while “Dirt” elevates your conscience with majestic beauty as its string arrangements lift this song up to the heavens.
The one thing that really stands out is the production by Bryce Goggin and Trey as each instrument is given plenty of warm breathing room but yet the collective sound weaves in and out the way a parade of parishioners might down a narrow winding road on a long strange trip. The packaging also gives a nod to the bare bones simplicity of this band...it’s all about the music and nothing more.
The last platter served up at the Pharmhouse is a tour de force jam that begins with a juicy riff that would be at home on any recent John Scofield record and then launches into full psychedelic meandering and by the time it finishes...you are wishing there was an encore.
So, is Phish really that swimmingly good? What other band could come up with a catchy little boogie replete with horns called “Gotta Jibboo”? But as the initiated can already attest to, You gotta Jibboo! There’s no second thought...you get up off your butt and Jibboo.
Rating 4 out 5 stars.
Track listing: Farmhouse/ Twist/ Bug/ Back on the Train/ Heavy Things/ Gotta Jibboo/ Dirt / Piper/ Sleep/ The Inlaw Josey Wales/ Sand/ First Tube
Trey Anastasio (guitar) / Page McConnell (piano) / Jon Fishman (drums) / Mike Gordon (bass)