Skip the disc, see Phish live

John Hult

John Hult

Simply recognizing that Phish has more than twice as many live albums than studio albums tells half the story of the stoner supergroup. There are 16 volumes to Phish: Live, but even all those pale in comparison to the amount of live Phish recorded by fans (Phishheads, I’m told) at any of the hundreds of shows per year that the jam band powerhouse usually plays (excepting those couple of vacation years near the end of the millennium).

Unsurprisingly, the songs on group’s latest studio outing, Round Room, serve more as kindling for the live fire than burning embers of musical mastery.

Sure, there are a few epic tracks that run past the eight minute mark–album opener “Pebbles and Marbles” and closer “Waves” both clock in at more than eleven minutes–but the extended jams seem forced for the most part and never quite reach the musical climax the group’s live recordings often reach.

Round Room benefits and suffers from a lack of production. The album sounds live at times, but the songwriting kicks like a jellyfish, offering little by way of substance or even substance-free jauntiness.

The haphazard melancholy leaves songs like “Thunderhead” and the title track in mundane, mediocre flux between fun and fury, running neither hot nor cold. On the more successful tracks, most notably “Mexican Cousin” and “46 Days,” a half-told tale of betrayal, showcase Phish’s most powerful attribute: their ability to travel in separate directions musically without loosening the all-important groove glue.

Round Room alone would have a difficult time winning new fans for the stoniest of jam bands. Fans–Phishheads and moonlighters alike–will probably end up learning these songs from bootlegged live versions that will inevitably sound fifty times better anyway. But if you really must have every piece of Phish memorabilia available, Round Room will take up space as well as Billy Breathes. It just won’t sound as good.

2 Stars