Phish finally breathes oxygen on its seventh album, “Billy Breathes,” instead of some other substance.
That’s because the Vermont band, which performs in Spokane Friday, has assembled an album with songs instead of jam schlock.
“Billy Breathes” is quite a departure from previous efforts since the quartet condensed its material and ditched its absurdly long, boring jams.
Not that lengthy songs can’t be good. But Phish did not have many songs that would appeal to sober heads.
With “Billy Breathes,” Phish wraps 13 songs - normally a double album for this band - into one attractive and cohesive package. The longest song, the title track, clocks in at 6:22. What’s more, the album contains radio-ready songs, a first for the band.
Not that Phish wants a radio or MTV hit. They don’t.
“It was never our intention to have songs on radio,” keyboardist-vocalist Page McConnell recently told The Hartford Courant.
In order to craft tighter songs, the band took its time in the studio working on “Billy Breathes.”
“We’ve had a little bit of a challenge making albums in the past,” McConnell said. “We focused so much on our live show, we were more like a live band that stopped by the studio for a couple of days.”
Sprinkled atop the band’s classic rock platform are jazz noodlings and folk textures, all of which make for a well-rounded album.
The plaintive “Bliss,” an acoustic guitar piece written for an injured fan, the harmony-heavy bluegrass tune “Train Song” and the sweet acoustic ballad “Waste” are among the many inviting cuts.
The great thing about this album is that if Phish chooses to extend songs in the live arena, at least now they have a strong foundation to build on.
Phish was born in 1983 on the campus of the University of Vermont in Burlington. Its lineup was made firm two years later with McConnel, vocalist-guitarist Trey Anastasio, bassist Mike Gordon and drummer John Fishman.
In the Northeast, Phish immediately garnered a loyal cult following. And in 1988, the band self-released its first album “Junta,” later reissued by the band’s label Elektra.
Throughout the years, they gained fans not with hit songs, acclaim, hype or the ever-constant comparisons to the Grateful Dead. Rather, Phish did its by feverish touring.
Their hippie-friendly aura explains why the band posts big numbers on the concert circuit and moderate numbers in record stores.
Today, the quartet is among the top-grossing concert acts in the country. The pinnacle of the band’s 1996 concert year came in August when the band staged “The Clifford Ball,” a two-day concert at the vacated Plattsburgh Air Force Base in Plattsburgh, N.Y. Over 135,000 people attended.
Strangely, the event received very little media attention.
“It was the biggest concert of the year this year in North America,” McConnel states. “Yet it didn’t get the attention that the Tibetan Fest or the Lollapalooza did. But maybe that’s what we are - we’re not a huge media thing. We’ve got more of a grass-roots feeling. And that’s fine.”
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: 2 Color Photos
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: Concert Phish will perform at 7:30 p.m. Friday at the Spokane Arena. Tickets are $22.50, available at G&B; Select-a-Seat outlets or call (800) 325-SEAT.
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