Great jam bands don’t fade away; they just take time off to re-gel and return to regale. During a hiatus of 5 years, members of the band worked on solo projects but Phish was never far from their hearts. Within 2 years members began to interact on shared projects. This past spring, following a reunion weekend, Phish entered the studio to begin work on their 11th studio album. Over seeing the recording was veteran producer Steve Lilywhite who’s work with The Talking Heads, Dave Matthews Band, Peter Gabriel, and Kirsty MacColl, to name a few, has garnered him legendary stature. He last worked with Phish on 1996’s Billy Breathes.
Phish’s reputation and avid fan base is built on the band’s adroit musicianship and live performances. The band’s albums are almost after-thought, simply a record of live songs in condensed form. Every album features a few stand-out tracks, but Phish isn’t acknowledged as a songwriter’s band; they live and die by their concerts. Joy contains a number of songs that have become live performance favorites and some of them benefit from the editing process, but Phish members have stated that they were looking more towards a jam-based approach on this record. That is most obvious on the 13:29 long song “Time Turns Elastic” on which Anastasio examines his struggles with drug dependencies. It’s not the only time this subject pops up but Anastasio is more retrospective than he is introspective. “Twenty Years Later” and “Backwards Down the Number Line” almost feels nostalgic, as Anastasio marvels at the longevity of friendship or marvels at the fact that he’s survived his life so far.
Songwriting duties are, as usual, handled mainly by Trey Anastasio and long-time comrade Tom Marshall. Mike Gordon contributes to the playlist with “Sugar Shack” a funky reggae-tinged number and Page McConnell the novelty ditty “I’ve Been Around.” The band continues to mix elements of many genres into their weave of progressive rock. They won’t surprise you with anything here but it is nice to hear that they remain as solid as a unit as where they left off in 2004.