JEMP / ATO Records
A studio album is a tricky proposition for any band that's built their reputation on live performance. The challenge is to retain the essence of what makes the band special within the confines of a recording studio. Such a band has to rise above the restrictions of the recorded work to capture a spontaneity that’s afforded them naturally on the live stage. They also have to manage it without audience energy coming back at them.
Phish have always faced this challenge, and they haven’t always been successful. Fortunately, for the band and their fans, Fuego is one of those studio albums where Phish manages to rise to the occasion and deliver a winning set. This is the first studio album from the band in five years, and their second since ending a five-year hiatus.
Phish made an interesting choice when deciding to work with veteran rock producer Bob Ezrin. Ezrin’s impressive resume stretches back nearly 45 years, and includes work with Alice Cooper, Kiss, Pink Floyd, Peter Gabriel, Deep Purple (on their latest album, Now What?!), the Jayhawks (the Smile album), Lou Reed (Berlin) and many more.
Ezrin guided Phish through the Fuego sessions, keeping them relaxed and unified and helping them to create the best possible studio album. Tight arrangements and strong harmonies prevail over improvisational workouts and experiments, but many of the songs do have room to be expanded when performed live.
Fuego opens with the nine-minute-long title track, which provides an opportunity for the band to stretch out and be the jam band they are known to be. Songs like the Trey Anastasio and Tom Marshall compositions “Devotion To A Dream” and “Sing Monica,” as well as Page McConnell’s “Halfway To The Moon,” demonstrate the band’s ability to create tightly arranged pop-rock that can still be loosened up for improvisational embellishment. “555,” written by bassist Mike Gordon and Scott Murawski, is a funky workout, while “Wombat” displays the band’s quirky playfulness. The slow-paced epic “Wingsuit” closes Fuego in a similar manner to how it started, with Phish being Phish!
Fuego is sure to please the Phish phan nation, and perhaps even appeal to those who tend to scoff at the jam band phenomena.