A Glimpse of Joy



When talking to Rolling Stone in March, after Hampton, Trey confidently said that Phish has yet to make their best studio album.  And after giving Joy a number of listens over the past couple days, it is pretty clear that Phish has still not crafted that elusive “best album yet.”  On the heels of their two post-hiatus records, both of which carried a coherent musical vibe, Joy translates as a hodgepodge of styles, with its unity lying in its lyrical themes rather than musical connectedness.  Whereas you could listen to “Round Room” or “Undermind” and get the sense of a conceptual piece of art, Joy leaves you feeling like you have listened to mix tape.  While each songs is produced quite well and hold their individual merit, when the dust settles, this record may be Phish’s least cohesive studio offering since Hoist.

Red Rocks (D.Vann)

Red Rocks (D.Vann)

Opening with an enhanced rendition of “Backwards Down the Number Line,” Phish introduces the theme of the album right away.  A reflection on life’s experiences and lessons learned, friendships and the passage of time, growing older while staying young; these introspective topics paint the portrait of a mature band reflecting on their past while still building an exciting future.  The initial track musically benefits from Steve Lillywhite’s studio production, featuring rich vocal harmonies and a mix that accents Page’s leads as much as Trey’s.  A lyrical tone-setter, ending with the line, “The only rule is It begins,” this is also one of the more impressive studio translations.

“Stealing Time From the Faulty Plan” follows up the opener with a healthy dose of psychedelic blues-rock.  This infectious song, which begged for exploration all summer long, sounds just about the same as we’ve come accustomed to hearing it in the live setting.  With not much added or taken away, the track delivers what we expected- a rocking single.  A song that will likely see more attention when brought indoors, for the time being we can only imagine.

Merriweather (K.Pusey)

Merriweather (K.Pusey)

Phish seamlessly integrated the song “Joy” into their summer shows, using the poignant ballad as welcome respite from darker places.  But the version on the album lacks the heartfelt warmth that has come to define the very song.  Coming off a bit thin with an acoustic guitar and more pop-like, sing-songy lyrical cadence, the raw emotional weight of this song is compromised in the studio setting.  I truly love this song, and I thought the studio version would ooze enchantment.  It doesn’t.

The album continues with arguably its most impressive track in Mike’s “Sugar Shack.”  With its quirky rhythmic changes and darting melodies tightened in the studio, this track pops off the album with as much spunk of any.  A completely unique song, both musically and lyrically, its inclusion does nothing for the overall flow of the album.  The fourth track in a row that bears little musical relation to the other three, this is where the mix-tape vibe really kicks in.  With no obvious meaning, this songs seems to sit on its own, out of relation with the others on the record; but from a musical standpoint it just may be the most intriguing.

Hartford (A.McCullogh)

Hartford (A.McCullogh)

A return to the bluesy feel comes next with “Ocelot.” Seemingly the most light-hearted song on the record, this song could suggest a lyrical metaphor for recovery- a secondary theme of the album.  Written from Tom Marshall’s perspective, Trey “pranc[ed] with the beasts who parade every night” and “silently slouch[ed] through the forest by light,”  but doesn’t want him to be “the only one left on the block,” but instead to reunite with friends and family to “hide in the heard and float with the flock.”  Musically crisp and clean, “Ocelot’s” folk fusion provides one of the most playful moments on Joy.

Joy’s patchwork continues with “Kill Devil Falls,” a song whose live performances have begun to evolve, but whose composition is still far too pedestrian for a legitimate Phish song.  The Chuck Berry-infused rocker tangentially fits with the album’s loose blues-rock framework, but its benign musical template leads nowhere engaging.  Lyrically in sync with the album’s vibe, Trey promises that he’s learned his lesson and “this time is gonna be different,” but yet, allows for human flaws, following up that line with “Until I do it again.”  All in all, this track is bound by simplicity, and sounds like any band could have written it.

6.16.09 The Fox (B.Kisida)

6.16.09 The Fox (B.Kisida)

The most original and enchanting moments of the entire album come during the minute-plus intro to “Light.”  With an ambient build up that was only suggested at Wallingford, CT’s Classic TAB performance last October, Phish introduces this powerful song with the only “new” music on the album.  This soulful build into the song’s initial explosion sets the tone for the openly-expressive piece.  Referencing his own path from addiction to recovery, the most personal lyric on the album may be “I’m left in the now with a wondrous glow- I think I’m still me, but how would you know?”  Reflecting on the deeply introspective journey he undertook to get to today, Trey’s words are sung with a certain vulnerability that has seeped into to his later work.  The lyric, “And finally waiting for nothing at all” also carries a significant meaning- things have finally come to fruition- the time is now.  Creatively bursting with energy and finishing with a layered vocal round, “Light” is my personal favorite track on the album, and one that is infused with the promise of the future.  “The light is burning brighter now…Guide us to our goal…”

Hartford (A McCullogh)

Hartford (A McCullogh)

The album’s theme of reflection comes across playfully in the short ditty, “I’ve Been Around.”  Evoking memories of the last song at a high-school dance, this Page-scribed interlude references the ebb and flow of life; with its high times and its low times, the mysterious journey is never dull.  Sometimes we “throw it down a while” and sometimes “the town throws it down on “us.”  Coyly congruent with Joy’s greater meaning, “Ive Been Around” serves as a Phishy lead-in to the album’s conclusion.

While traveling a path that features four to five minute songs, the band’s decision to insert “Time Turns Elastic” into the mix here is a bit questionable.  Clearly the album’s centerpiece, Trey’s lyrics- both literal and metaphorical- carve out the meaning of the song and its relation to the album’s central themes.  But with so many intricately composed sections, this prog-rock epic doesn’t jive with Joy’s simplicity.  Doing little to unify the record musically, “Time Turns Elastic” may have been better released as a single rather than part of this whole.  (But I bet if you asked Trey, he’d say it is the key to the album.)

Red Rocks (D.Vann)

Red Rocks (D.Vann)

Gazing back over the landscape of their lives, the retrospective piece “Twenty Years Later” closes the album in dramatic fashion.  Following the words, “the morning [of life] has passed, and “its a new day.”  Soaked with the air of redemption, this song’s slower, lush soundscapes give it a more ominous feel- “Inside this silent sea, all are free, all are free, second time around.”  It was a wise choice to rearrange the original order of the album’s songs, placing “Twenty Years Later” as the natural conclusion to counterbalance “Backwards Down the Number Line,” while providing an eerie denouement to “Time Turns Elastic.”

Interestingly, Joy is an album that contains consistent lyrical themes, but little musical cohesion.  While the words carry consistent themes, the music jumps around with little to no connection, creating a studio album that leaves something to be desired.  Questing for the album that is far bigger than the sum of its parts, Phish will live to record another day.  Representing their return to the studio, Joy has both its successes and shortcomings, something we’ve come to expect from Phish’s recorded work.  While pleasant to listen to, nothing on Joy will blow you away; the polar opposite of the band’s live dynamic.  Four guys who were born to play live, Phish will always be master improvisers, but will they ever make that timeless record?  The answer remains to be seen.

Winged music note=====

Jam of the Day:

Cities > Maze” 8.5 Shoreline II


A late second-set highlight at Shoreline, this is the only time either of these songs were played during the second leg of summer.



8.11.2009 Toyota Park, Chicago, IL < Torrent

8.11.2009 Toyota Park, Chicago, IL < Megaupload


Official Chicago Poster

This mid-week stop in the Windy City connected the western and eastern parts of the second leg of tour.  While there are several legitimate musical highlights throughout the second set, the overall presentation of the show seemed awkward and disconnected.  “Number Line,” “Carini,” Jibboo,” and “Hood” stand out in this oddly constructed frame, following up one of the most uneventful first sets of tour.

I: Kill Devil Falls, Sample In A Jar, Ocelot, Paul and Silas, Windy City*, The Curtain With, Train Song, Gumbo, Heavy Things, Time Turns Elastic

II: Backwards Down the Number Line > Carini > Gotta Jibboo, Theme From The Bottom, Wilson, 2001 > Chalk Dust Torture, Harry Hood, The Squirming Coil

E: Loving Cup

* debut

Source: Schoeps CCM4V’S(din)>Lunatec V2>Benchmark AD2K>Sound Devices 722 (24/48) (Taper – Z-Man)

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384 Responses to “A Glimpse of Joy”

  1. Marshall Says:

    I just wish it was 12,000 people instead of 13,000 – the floor was like a can of sardines.

  2. EL Duderino Says:

    Did someone say “Honey Bucket”

  3. albert walker Says:

    Red Rocks can seem so intiment at times even though it is not necessarily small

    The Gorge has such an original, open airy feeling

    I have seen wonderful shows at each

    I can never decide. They are both so different yet equally amazing.
    I went with Red Rocks this year because it was 4 nights and have regretted not flying back out the next weekend. Only real regret of 2009 Phish so far.

  4. Marshall Says:

    A desert island, Hampton Coliseum, Phish and crew for nightly fun, plenty of treats, and Ginger and Mary Ann. Who could ask for anything more.

  5. Leo Weaver Says:

    I like how you think Marshall 🙂

  6. whole tour! Says:

    just saw this from earlier.
    jiboo and sand rubbish?

    your joking right?
    obviously someone missed cypress and the epic 2000 jiboos and sands for the ages.
    sand bustout from miami 03 was far from rubbish.
    i’m offended the 7.4.00 jiboo was even mentioned near the word rubbish.
    way to rile people up i guess?

  7. albert walker Says:

    I love Hampton
    tight, hot, dirty

    I loved fall tours 94-95 playing a lot of the small college baseketball style arenas

    I love MSG but you got to have great seats. That is a big fuckin joint

  8. Marshall Says:

    Mama sing sing whatcha gotta jibboo, papa sing gotta jibboo too

    That’s a pretty phishy lyric. Did Tom write that?

  9. EL Duderino Says:

    MSG is monstrous in size. Not a favorite of mine. Hangin’ out on Broadway during the day is pretty cool.

  10. Leo Weaver Says:

    “tight, hot, dirty”…that’s hampton in a nutshell to a t. I’ll never forget 11.21.98 (first hampton run, 2nd show)…I ate a couple of black pyramid jellies as I recall and got lost wandering around in the concourse sliding around on the humidity- and beer-slicked floors. That combined with my sensory overload really opened my eyes to just how hot and dirty that place is…I could see every little speck of dust on the walls, floors, ceiling…everywhere. I was soaking wet from sweat. The place reeked of stale cigs and beer with a little popcorn thrown in for good measure. All I could think is “this is one sleazy dump of an arena…and I fucking LOVE it!” Still do love it…

  11. Leo Weaver Says:

    2nd show at hampton that is…

  12. sumodie Says:

    Best (large) Indoor:
    1) MSG
    2) Radio City (and other large beautiful theaters I have yet to see)
    3) Any large venue with general admission: Hampton, Portland ME Civic Center, Asheville Civic Center, Nassau (?), Thomas&Mack, etc.

    Two more mentions:
    – Knoxville’s Thompson-Boling was surprisingly great ala MSG (but no vibrating floor alas)
    – Albany’s Knickerbocker -because exploring the state capitol buildings and art pre/post show is always fun

    Best Outdoor
    1) Gorge and Red Rocks
    2) Any general admission venue (usually a one-off event ala festivals or race tracks
    3) For the large sheds, seems like there’s a few qualities I like: unusual/classy; vibes; and of course sound (from the lawn):

    – unusual/classy: SPAC & Merriweather -surrounded by beautiful park land (BUT lawn sound/sight lines suck); maybe Jones Beach (ocean views?), but never been

    – vibes: Deer Creek, maybe Camden E Center (seems weird to put Camden here, but the park around it is cool, and I recall the lawn sound being good; maybe Molson Amphitheater in Toronto; and Alpine Valley (never been though)

  13. Marshall Says:

    19,522 for end-stage setup – that’s a lot of people indoors

  14. Marshall Says:

    Alpine Valley is unique – steep lawn (especially on Page’s side), but it’s more picturesque that I thought Wisconsin could be. I also like the Beer Barn with the deck above that steep-ass left-hand lawn.

  15. Marshall Says:

    For indoors though, I love The Fabulous Fox Theater in Atlanta – my dream for Phish to return there for another 3 night run.

  16. sumodie Says:

    And some venues I like ONLY because bands usually play great shows there: Worcester Centrum (now a 10 min. walk from my condo); Hartford (both indoor/outdoor venues); Philly probably belongs here.

    Nothing like seeing a show in one of the many grungy run-down industrial cities of the northeast!

  17. Mr. Completely Says:

    huge crowd indoors + NYC vibe = energy off the hook, never felt anything quite like it

    that’s basically all I remember about MSG

    I had epic times at the Knick as well but remember almost nothing about that venue either.

    re: nasty dirty awesome old buildings – anyone every been to the Kaiser in Oakland? a glorious dump. Best part is that there’s a *beautiful* ballroom type spot, basically a second venue, way up in one of the corners…for dead shows they’d pipe sound up there, it had a bar…supposedly part of “backstage” but I just walked right in twice…no one knew it was there

    the old Vet in Philly was too far gone in that run-down direction – there were literally bits of the building falling off of it – a miracle no one was killed

  18. EL Duderino Says:

    I went to the Kaiser for the Phil Lesh 60th birthday bash with Mike Gordon. the neighborhood is real scary there.

  19. sumodie Says:


    Lots of rare and unreleased phish music in the above PT (the other PT ) thread. Can’t recall if this was posted here earlier.


    Three phish soundcheck compilations for download (yes, from the bisco board)

  20. halcyon Says:

    MSG brings out unbelievable energy from the bands on stage, and the fans there to see them.

    Have seen many shows there, and all of them have a distinct edge to them you won’t find many other places.

  21. Mr. Completely Says:

    I only saw one alpine run, 89, but had a great time. Really liked that place.

    Also only saw one show at Deer Creek, again in ’89. Should have gone in ’90….

  22. Marshall Says:

    Re: MSG and energy. I haven’t been there; believe you, of course, but cannot believe that anything can top the energy of Hampton Reunion night 1, 2009.

  23. sumodie Says:

    “MSG brings out unbelievable energy from the bands on stage, and the fans there to see them.

    Have seen many shows there, and all of them have a distinct edge to them you won’t find many other places.”

    A major reason for this is because MSG was built before corporate box seating came into vogue and began dividing/separating the regular seating from the stage. An egregious example of this is the TD Banknorth Boston Garden (Fleet Center) -the third tier is completely cut off from the lower levels/stage, which kills a lot of the energy, imho. I was SOOO disappointed when I saw my first show there.

    If you look at MSG seating, it looks like one giant bowl of seats -what brilliant design. Throw in a vibrating floor, and you’ve got one kick ass unique venue that hums with energy. Being in NYC certainly helps too!

  24. Mr. Completely Says:

    @sumodie thx!

  25. sumodie Says:

    “Re: MSG and energy. I haven’t been there; believe you, of course, but cannot believe that anything can top the energy of Hampton Reunion night 1, 2009.”

    The energy at the start of the 2002 NYE reunion show at MSG was unfreakinbelievable -the most intense I’d ever experienced. I assume Hampton was similar if not more so. Anyone who went to both care to comment?

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