A few nights ago I saw Phish. First time in 9 years since seeing them with Tex at the Allstate Arena and (to give some perspective on my Phish nerd-dom) my 23rd (!) Phish show. Not sure if any of you will ever take me seriously after that, but there you have it. Anyway, as I mentioned I’ve been listening to an awful lot of these guys in anticipation and have discovered an interesting new development in my appreciation for this band.
The way I see it, Phish’s songs break down into 3 basic groups: more traditional “pop” songs (think Farmhouse or Cavern); songs with minimal structure that are just excuses to jam away (Tweezer, David Bowie); and songs that have some room for jam, but are largely composed (You Enjoy Myself being the king here, but also Fluffhead, Divided Sky, Guyute, Reba…) On recent listens it’s these highly precise epics that I am drawn to. Tex and I not too long ago discussed the way Steely Dan is music that gets more appealing with age – and I think the same is true here. I have less of an inclination to hear Phish play a 45 minute Tweezer than to hear them play these, dare I say, prog rock pieces.
Because when you get right down to it, isn’t You Enjoy Myself an extension of prog rock? Phish always draws the Dead comparison (for understandable reasons), but these songs seem to be more from the catalog of a group like Yes or early Genesis. Evidence: complex time changes, super precise and high level playing, distinct segments. The best of these are highly composed pieces, where if there is a jam, it is built into one specific segment of the song. And like Steely Dan, as a slightly older Phish fan, and a fan of more complex prog type music than I used to be, this is what draws me in.
Of course, it’s a double edged sword where the live shows are concerned. Their 03/04 run was marred by brutally sloppy playing, and as a result any of these numbers sound absolutely terrible. On this run, from what I’ve heard (both live and from shows I’ve downloaded) they seem to be able to hit all of these complexities pretty well. Trey is not quite as skilled as he was in the band’s peak (93-95 by my watch), but he’s vastly improved from his 98-04 drugged out days.
My point? I guess just to say that if, like me, you have any appreciation for the complexities of this kind of sound, I think you should set aside 30 minutes and give You Enjoy Myself a whirl. Because really, when was the last time you listened to it?