This is a Phish album. It was recorded in a studio. Those two sentences are enough to drive away longtime Phish fans and casual listeners alike. Put your notions aside – especially your preconceived ones – and enjoy “Fuego” for what it is: a piece of art, crafted by musicians, presented as an experience to enjoy.
The opening notes of the epic title track may have you thinking you’ve put on a long lost Beatles record. Nine minutes later, after being taken on a breathtaking journey of design and influence, the second song starts and you’re reminded that they boys of Phish are talented songwriters and virtuosic instrumentalists.
In 2009, Phish released “Joy” after taking a four year break as a band. Guitarist Trey Anastasio’s post-rehab inspiration was readily apparent and the album showed a powerful sense of introspection and options. Fast forward five years and Phish sound as playful as they did in 1989. There’s a song about basketball (though it takes on an entirely different meaning when heard without the contextual information). There’s a song that name checks a classic Phish character and rhymes “Herbivorous, crepuscular” with “Cuddly, but muscular”.
One cannot expect a band with an immersive, hours-long concert tradition to translate that experience to a piece of wax. You won’t bump into your college friends on “Fuego”. There are no vacuum cleaner solos on “Fuego”. You can’t smell the lot on “Fuego”. You can, however, enjoy an aspect of Phish that the members of the band truly enjoy. Phish don’t need to release records ever again, but they want to.
According to drummer Jon Fishman, "For years, there's been a distinct difference between how we did things live and how we did them in the studio, but the way we go about things live, the way the musical ball is passed around, is now happening much more in the studio – not because we're trying to duplicate how we play on stage, just because this is how we operate as a band, period."
The songs on “Fuego” are some of the best in recent Phish memory. The playing is top-notch. The harmonies are tight, the bass lines funky. The guitar parts are at once futuristic and classic and whimsical. Quite a few of these ten songs are ample launching pads for improvisation.
There will be critics who dismiss this record immediately. It’s their loss, not ours.
Joey Spehar – The Morning Mix