- by Ghost Llama -
(Editor’s note: This view is from a 3.0 phan.)
This month marks the ten year anniversary of the first 3.0 era album Joy. A lot has happened since Sept. 8th, 2009. In the years since Joy has been released, Excessivism became an art movement, Bob Dylan won a Noble prize, John Mayer tried to become Jerry Garcia, somehow the Cubs won a world series, and Pete Carroll made the worst play call in Superbowl history (and somehow still has his job). During this time Phish has put out a steady stream of new music to distract us from our dystopian lifestyles. In celebration of this anniversary, I am going to rank the five “albums” from the 3.0 era thus far.
For the purposes of this exercise, an album is any collection of previously unreleased material that is commercially available. (The Kasvot Väx set being released on streaming platforms as a stand alone live album qualifies as an album whereas the Haunted House compositions are a show only release and do not count.) I have diligently listened to each album from the 3.0 and measured them in dancibility, jamminess, and overall enjoyability. I did not consider musical difficulty, how they compare to 1.0 or 2.0 releases, or any other responsible music critic standard. This ranking is solely the order I would play the 3.0 albums if I was at a party and could only play these five albums. 5 being when everything is calm and people are arriving to 1 where everyone is dancing and having a great time.
#5 - Party Time
In 2009 when Joy when released I vaguely remember there being an expensive option that included this record. I was poor and promptly forgot its existence. Sometime later I stumbled across the album on the Live Phish app and gave it a listen. The album isn’t super danceable or jammy. Although this version of Let Me Lie is better than the version that appears on Trey’s Traveler album. (Note: I am not using the Bar 17 version because it predates the 3.0 era and I forgot it existed.) For me the highlight of the album is The Birdwatcher, because it’s groovy and I watch birds. Therefore, it’s instantly relatable. As per usual a Fishman composition, Party Time, is the standout track on the album. Fish really does not get the credit he deserves as a songwriter.
#4 - Big Boat
I remember the 2015 and 2016 tours being full of debuts from this album before it was released. By the October release date most of the live versions from the earlier summer tour overshadow their studio counterparts, most noticeably Blaze On. There aren’t any truly terrible songs on the album, but the studio version of Breath and Burning just pales in comparison to the June 28th, 2016 Philly version that was played 3 ½ months before the album release. The true standout on the album is the Jon Fishman penned Friends. This is the 2nd Phish album to start off with a Fishman penned track and I hope this trend continues. Ultimately, the album became a victim of the early jams and maybe that isn’t such a bad thing.
#3 - Joy
After five years without new music, Joy begins with “Happy happy oh my friend.” I cannot think of a better way to capture the feeling of new Phish music. The nostalgia themed album is perfect for a reunion record. Unfortunately, as time marches on the nostalgia slowly becomes cheesy sentimentality. Over the years, the emotional tones of the album fade from tender and thoughtful to sentimental dad rock. But I love some dad rock and there are true gems on this album. Kill Devil Falls is one of the jammier 3.0 songs. (Listen to Atlanta 7-31-2015 for the best example.) Every time Backwards Down the Number Line is played at show the vibe is instantly contagious. This album introduces ocelots into the Phish animals in song collective. The only downfall of this album is that it becomes more powerful and meaningful when you go through some serious shit. (Please don’t ruin your life to test this.)
#2 - Fuego
From jump street this album is on fire. The title track is the best 3.0 song for a jam. I remember hearing Fuego for the first time and could picture how it might play out at a show. Every song on this album is great, even The Line. That song gets so much hate but in the next ten years people are going to be like “I don’t know why I hated this song so much. It’s really good.” The true standouts on this album are Winterqueen and Wombat. They perfectly showcase how diverse and skilled the band still is at writing quality and quirky songs.
#1 - Kasvot Växt - i rokk
I completely bought into the whole obscure rock band bit from this 2018 Halloween show. The fact that all these songs were created in a month is amazing. This album is a great example of making lemonade from lemons. I feel like the whole concept allowed Phish to write songs and not worry about them being “Phish songs.” There were no rules, no expectations, and nothing to live up to and the end result is pure magic. During the set-break afterwards I found myself singing “You’re the glue to my magnet” and “This is what space smells.” Each song immediately clicked with me and others; clueless Wallob was already taken as a handle on Twitter by the end of show. By the MSG New Years Run half the Kasvot Väx songs were turning into reliable jam vehicles. Pretending to cover a fake band with songs they quickly wrote resulted in the best set of songs in the 3.0 era (so far).