Friday, November 17, 2006

FDF Volume 1 Issue 37: Phish - Billy Breathes

Album - Billy Breathes
Artist - Phish
Key Players - Mike Gordon - bass + vox, Trey Anastasio - guitar/ lead vocals, Page McConnell - keyboards + vox, Jon Fishman - drums+vox
Produced By - Steve Lillywhite + Phish

Release Date - October 15, 1996

What caused me to blow off the dust? Phish released a 1988 live cd from a Colorado run of shows. It was time to look to one of their studio records.

Overview - This is the 8th studio album from the Vermont "jam band" Phish. Phish formed in the early 80's and reached a rabid fanbase in the early 90's that continued to grow for better or worse until the bands 2004 breakup. The bands core members never changed and no two live shows were the same, making a Phish tour stop in your town all the more reason to go as who knows what songs they'd play. Billy Breathes and the follow-up "Farmhouse" are both records that brought them a little more in the record sale department (the band only has a few gold albums =500K+ sold in the USA to date) but nothing could compare to the live experience. The band took a hiatus in 2000 for 2 years only to play 2 more years before calling it least for now.

FDF Comments (aka the songs) - Most of the songs on the record were written by Trey and long time collaborator Tom Marshall. "Free" begins the record with a fade in and all the members crashing in together. Anastasio sings the lyrics lightly and its a surprisingly mellow, yet catchy song. The chorus is sung in earnest with all four members harmonizing on the word "free". The track is mixed well and you can hear bass, to piano, to ride cymbal all very clearly. Gordon utilizes his liquid bass effect at one point that is always a treat (used most famously in the intro to Down with the Disease from the bands Hoist album). "Character Zero" begins with just Anastasio and a heavily plucked guitar for the first verse and then with a short build up the band envelopes the solo sound. One of the highlights as as the song begins to fade out the high harmonies from Fishman. You have to strain a tad to hear them but it will bring a smile to your face. "Waste" is a very quiet acoustic driven song. Phish as a collective really could sing pretty well, realizing the vocal capabilities of each other and once again the band shines on this song. The song gets a little louder with the strong piano work of McConnell. "Taste" is a fun song...thing "this needs more cowbell" and you get the idea. This is another strong piano driven song and about 1:45 into the song the band starts some call and response work on the verses. Its a great touch. "Cars Trucks and Buses" is one of the tracks not written by Anastasio (penned by McConnell). It sounds a little bit like Baby Elephant Walk but its pretty short and you are in and out before you know it. Its a totally instrumental track as well. "Talk" follows and once again a track opens with acoustic guitar and a swooping baseline. Its a pretty song that doesn't take time to get the point across. "Theme From the Bottom" is the longest track on the album just over 6 minutes in length. Phish, well known for taking songs to extra lengths via jamming use the studio work to create the seed of what will be cracked later in a live setting. This song was always a live crowd pleaser as it opens with some single notes on the piano and the band builds after the second verse. Fishman crashes on the cymbals signaling the chorus "So I ask you why if I'm swimming, don't you see anything that you'd like to try?" "Train Song" is not a break from what we've heard to this point. Gordon is the singer on this track. "Bliss" follows and is another pretty short totally instrumental track. "Billy Breathes" is a rather mellow song with some banjo work tossed in for good measure. The band really has not gone any place off the charts the last few tracks though. "Swept Away" and "Steep" both clock in under 2 minute. "Swept" is just Anastasio on acoustic guitar with some harmonies on the chorus. "Steep" is a piano driven song which sets up perfectly the closer "Prince Caspian". There is nothing to NOT love about this song. This to me, is a classic Phish song. It has all the elements (at least studio wise) that make them a great band. Good lyrics as well as even keeled playing by the four members. To this day I get chills when Trey goes high on the chorus..always a live show favorite of mine. Perfect album closer in every sense of the word.

Where are they now? All the members are very busy. Trey Anastasio has released a few solo records including 2006's Bar 17. He also works with Les Claypool (Primus) and Stewart Copeland (x-Police) on Oysterhead. Jon Fishman has a side project called "Pork Tornado" which appears to be inactive as well as some work with the Jazz Mandolin Project. Mike Gordon has released some solo records, works with some other side projects including film and often tours. Page seems to be the most "quiet". He formed Vida Blue and they released 2 albums. As recently as 2006 Anastasio is quoted as saying a Phish reunion is not 100% out of the question.

FDF Personal Comments (aka the Live experience) - The band never had a lot of radio success so the live performance is what made the band legendary. From performing albums such as the Beatles White Album in its entirety to playing 9 hour sets. I had the pleasure of seeing Phish live 12 times. It pales in comparison to what some "Phish heads" saw but still I saw a good mix of shows ranging from "moderate" to down right great. I never travelled out of New England to see a show of theirs but felt that in the years I saw them (starting in 95) to the "end" in 2004 each had great moments.

FDF Overall Take - Billy Breathes is the first studio record I'd suggest to any person that may want to figure out what the big deal is/was regarding this band. It was often said that nobody ever tosses on a Phish studio record for a road trip, rather they'd resort to a live recording, but this is really a good look at what Phish was all about. I think you'd be pleasantly surprised with this one.



At 2:32 PM, Blogger Code Name: Ryan said...

As a Vermonter - and one who spent his college years at a small school there, I crossed paths with the band several times. I still remember tossing a football around with Jon Fishman when I should have been interviewing him for the school newspaper. Neither of us minded. I ran into Mike Gordon in the crowd at Colonel Bruce Hampton and the Aquarium Rescue Unit show. He begged me not to blow his cover (he was in disguise.) Even still, he ended up climbing up on stage where he played the washboard and spoons that night!

I even had the chance to see the band perform live and semi-nude (... a long story!)

The core of the thing is that I am far from a hippie, but I prefer the older Phish albums. I haven't spent much time at all with BB or any of the "newer" material."
To me it will always be about Junta, Picture of Nectar and Rift. I don't listen to these very often at all - I don't have to. They are sewn in my soul.

Call me sentimental, but I like my fries with Cheese and Gravy - just the way they made them at Mr Mike's in Burlington Vermont.

At 6:57 PM, Blogger Jenny G said...

I saw Phish live at Hershey. It was '97-ish.

At 9:21 AM, Blogger Kris said...

easily and by far the best studio work from them

At 1:18 PM, Blogger Sharon S said...

I actually think Train Song is sung by Mike Gordon, not Page....

I love this album.
The song Billy Breathes had potential to be epic - with the ending Trey solo. They never seemed to nail it the couple times I saw it live....

At 12:46 PM, Blogger Oskar said...

I agree with Ryan (if that is your real name) I too prefer the older albums to those that contain the more radio friendly songs, actually IIRC Free got a bit of play outside of VT. For pure enjoyment I'd suggest Junta for introduction purposes I'd go Picture of Nectar. I do think that BB is by far the best of the newer albums that they pushed out.

At 1:46 PM, Anonymous Kip said...

Hey, don't know if everyone saw this or not but Trey's still knee deep in the pills:

As for the Fries w/ cheese and gravy comment, it shouldnt' be 'made', it should be 'make' as they still smother those suckers with gravy and cheese.


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