It’s a Big Boat, and there is space enough for everyone to party.
In contrast to some of Phish’s prior releases in which Anastasio seemed to steer the course, Big Boat is more inclusive of each member’s creativity. Straight away at the outset of the album, “Friends” written and sung by drummer Jon Fishman gives credence to the concept. The first three tracks each have a different vocalist, and the entirety of the record contains five out of thirteen songs not written by guitarist Trey Anastasio nor by longtime Phish contributor Tom Marshall.
The totality of the album has moments that highlight each member’s individual music prowess while remaining extremely cohesive with the exception of one song (it is obvious immediately and is clearly intended as an intermission). The lyrics have found a comfortable home between the silly-nonsensical songs of the early 90’s and the quasi-seriousness of Joy. A true sign of a great record, I find it extremely difficult to pick a favorite track after multiple, multiple listens.
“I Always Wanted It This Way” might make some listeners check that Phish is still queued up and not The Orb, but most should be pleasantly surprised by the quartet’s first foray into the genre of Jamtronica. This high-BPM track written by keyboardist Page McConnell exudes grandeur…it should be considered one of the top tracks in the collection. Also written by McConnell, “Home” gives each member his own time in the spotlight and the track ends with a surprising bang, given what precedes it.
“Petrichor” has the makings of a fantastic live tune, a YEM 2.0 with a beautifully composed introduction followed by catchy grooves. “Breath and Burning” and “Petrichor” have a jazzy element reminiscent of Anastasio’s solo releases. Bassist Mike Gordon and Max Creek’s Scott Murawski collaborated to pen the unique “Waking Up Dead”.
Fans who witnessed or heard from Phish in 2015-16 are going to be familiar with a few of these tracks. Both “Blaze On” and “No Men In No Man’s Land” were debuted in Bend, Oregon at the outset of the ’15 summer tour and have been played multiple times since. “Waking Up Dead”, “Friends”, and “Tide Turns” were all debuted on 6/29 this summer at The Mann in Philadelphia, with “Miss You” premiering five days prior at Wrigley Field in Chicago. The latter tracks have not been played early as frequently.
A strong composition throughout, Big Boat musically surpasses all of Phish’s prior releases since Farmhouse. Mix in the addition of cohorts from Trey Anastasio’s band who come with orchestral level talent toting brass and percussion instruments and the album gains diversity. Subtle congas and metallic xylophone notes add a new dimension to the band’s music that beautifully encapsulates the evolution of Phish.