Hearing Aide: Phish’s ‘Fuego’

fuego_custom-e4db94af0938af438397d4147bf82958ba2fb334-s6-c30So this is weird….

Usually a band releases an album, then goes on tour in support of the album.   Leave it to Phish to do the exact opposite.  Last Halloween, Phish broke tradition of playing an entire cover set as their “musical costume” and instead debuted twelve new songs.  The “Phishbill” announced the set as Wingsuit, and that it would be the foundation of the band’s new album.

The upcoming Phish album has since been given the name Fuego after the opening track on the album.  Most of the songs from the Halloween Wingsuit set made the cut and have been included on the Fuego album. “Halfway to the Moon” (a song that debuted live in 2010) was added as well.  The album was produced by the legendary Bob Ezrin (of Pink Floyd fame) and the studio tracks sound much different than when they first graced listeners’ ears that Halloween night.

The title track “Fuego” kicks things off and is the beast and the potential improvisational behemoth of this album.  It was the star during the Halloween set and the same applies to the album.  The take from this track was recorded during a soundcheck at Boardwalk Hall leading up to the Halloween debut.  The first jam segment features drummer Jon Fishman attacking his snare drum with a ferocity most mortals have never seen.  Trey Anastasio (lead guitar, vocals) jumps on board and rips into an arena-melting solo.  Phish tells us that “Inside your fuego, we keep it rolling” and this becomes the central theme for the rest of the song — fun, upbeat and easy to sing along with.  The end has a smooth jam that stays within the confines of the song before slowly fading out.  The possibilities for “Fuego” jams in the live setting seem limitless.

“The Line” takes the pace down and is a song about Memphis guard Darius Washington Jr. missing free throws at the end of the 2005 Conference USA championship.  The song’s backup vocals and ending harmonizing are reminiscent of some of the newer U2 offerings.  The lyrical concept of an enduring basketball heartbreak is admirable but the song has a cheeseball factor to it that is hard to ignore.

“Devotion to a Dream” picks things back up and has a poppy sound with a mainstream feel to it.  The harmonizing vocals have a warm feel to them, adding some pep to the tune.  This song seems better left for Trey Anastasio Band than for Phish. “Halfway to the Moon” follows and translates tremendously onto the studio recording.  The song fits Page McConnell’s (keyboards, vocals) vocal range perfectly and his precisely-timed grand piano additions highlight this song.  The addition of some vocal processing help give “Halfway” a Floydian dream-like feeling.  Another track that has Phish fans dreaming of a big jam in its future.

“Winterqueen” and “Sing Monica” have contradicting live-to-studio translations.  “Winterqueen” fell flat on Halloween but benefits from the studio setting, although still not a track that will be bringing people out of their seats anytime soon.  “Sing Monica” (named just “Monica” during the Wingsuit set) was performed acoustically during its debut and the studio version misses a lot of that live, acoustic charm.

“555” is a huge star of the Fuego album.  The Mike Gordon (bass, vocals) and Scott Murawski (Max Creek, Mike Gordon Band) penned piece is groovy, funky, and oozing with life.  The addition of horns and backup singers make this a standout track that requires slow groove chair dancing.  “555” is 555 times better than “Winterqueen”.

“Waiting All Night” certainly has a Bob Ezrin spin on it, and sends us back into the floating dream.  It’s not often Anastasio’s vocals jump out at you but the passion he sings with on top of the harmonies in “Waiting All Night” is some of his best vocal work in years.

When “Wombat” debuted on Halloween, it was a thermonuclear explosion of awesomeness and  funk that erupted that Boardwalk Hall crowd.  The Fuego album version struggles to recreate the energy of that night and seems a bit too stiff.  That is until the 2:12 mark when backup singers and horns inject “Wombat” with the swag it seems to be missing.

“Wingsuit” is the closing track of Fuego after being the opener during the Wingsuit set on Halloween.  This beautiful song has an excellent blend of all four band members.  Their four unique sounds complement each other to produce that distinct Phish sound. Anastasio closes the album (as he does many live shows) with another spine-tingling solo.

Recorded during Phish’s 30th year of existence, “Fuego” continues the band’s legacy of trying new things and pushing things forward.  The infusion of Bob Ezrin is noticeably present and, when mixed with Phish, creates a sound that is very different from Phish’s other albums and worth a listen.  All that is left is to see is how these songs grow on this year’s summer tour which kicks off July 1st in Mansfield, Massachusetts.

You can purchase Fuego here.

Key Tracks: Fuego, Halfway to the Moon, 555