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Review: Round Room

Freak By Night

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On the way to Detroit to see "The Other

Ones" on Saturday, coupla' lads in an

SUV pulled up beside me, giving the thumbs

up sign, and smiling. I guess they saw

the PHISH sticker on the back of my car.

The passenger wrote a note: "Going to

Detroit?" it said. I gave the thumbs up and

we all waved.

He wrote another note: "I have a copy of the

new Phish disc for you!". So we all stopped

at the next rest stop and he gave me a copy.

(Obviously pirated off the internet). He was

just "spreading the tunes", he said!

Didn't get a chance to listen to it until I got home, and I've been listening to it since Monday. Unfortunately, my impressions of this disc are not favourable. I have to say that Round Room is my least favourite Phish studio recording.

They say they did this album in four days in the studio. I wish they would have spent a little more time on it. This album is way too mellow. There are no songs on this that are gonna make wanna get up and dance when played live. Round Room lacks the funk of

"Ghost", the fun and humour of "Hoist", and

the introspectiveness of "Billy Breathes".

It sounds to me like their record company made them record this in order to have something to promote and sell on the upcoming tour. Let's hope they keep the Round Room tracks to minimum in concert, and concentrate on the old stuff!

That being said, I will still purchase Round Room when it comes out next Tuesday.

6 out of 10. Your mileage may vary.

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Ya know, I have to agree with 'FBN' - this is not my favourite Phish studio album. It seems to be come up a little short, overall the album needs a little lift. Funny as your favorite bands evolve your never find yourself saying "I really like their new album, but I wish there were more slow songs!!".

Still it's not bad, its not like they sound like Creed or anything.

Definitely the hilites are the songs with Mike...3 songs (as I recall) have a lot of Mike and they really stand out to me as the best parts of the album. The song Round Room really grows on you and it's all Mike.

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new Elektra press release:

Round Room represents Phish’s first work together since going on hiatus in October 2000. It is a documentary of Phish performing twelve new songs at an early peak of freshness and discovery. The album essentially places Phish fans in the room with the band as they rediscover their unique chemistry.

Round Room’s twelve songs were winnowed down from twenty, most of which Phish cut during a few charmed nights in October after two weeks of rehearsal. They laid down a bevy of new tunes with the notion of revisiting the material in the spring, when they would convene to record a “proper” album. But the versions they recorded sounded so fresh and definitive that they couldn’t see how further work would improve them. The group’s mantra became “don’t fix, don’t tamper.”

“There was something nice about hearing the first time we played together in two years captured on tape,” says guitarist Trey Anastasio. “If there was any work done on the album, it was at not editing. Instead of perfection, they endeavored to preserve the vibe and feeling of those early takes. “You can hear that’s the first stuff we played,” he adds. “There is a lot of emotion involved, to my ear.”

Indeed, the musical conversations that unfold over the course of the jam-packed 78-minute disc include five lengthy songs - “Pebbles and Marbles,” “Walls of the Cave,” “Waves,” “46 Days” and “Seven Below” - that open up into improvisational forays. “That’s five big jams on one album, which is really different for us,” notes keyboardist Page McConnell. “There are some great, tight little songs, too.”

Round Room was recorded with producer Bryce Goggin at Trey’s Barn studio outside the band’s hometown of Burlington, Vermont. Ten of the songs were written by Anastasio with longtime lyricist and collaborator Tom Marshall, and two (“Round Room,” “Mock Song”) came from bassist Mike Gordon, whose friend Joe Linitz contributed lyrics for the title track.

Gordon particularly likes the fact that the songs were committed to tape soon after the band learned them. “To make an album so close to the moment of conception is pretty cool,” he says. “Because we’re still discovering the songs, I think our sense of wonder comes out. It doesn’t surprise me that there would be good stuff in that moment. There are many sections in these songs – like the cycling chords at the end of “Friday” – that remind me how the band is close to my emotional center.”

The fact that Round Room came together so quickly is a testament to Phish’s uncanny musical telepathy and accelerated learning curve. Eager to resume their four-way collaboration, they got right down to work. The group isolated itself from everyone outside the band, even crew and management, for the first few weeks. “They weren’t pushing us away,” says manager John Paluska. “They were more like, ‘You know what? We just need to go be the four of us, like we were in 1984 when nobody cared.”

If there were any concerns that the group might have lost a beat after two years apart, they vanished the moment they started playing. “We ripped right into it,” says Anastasio. “It was all new and fresh, and that was important ‘cause that’s what we wanted. The thing that struck me was that lots of life had gone by, but there was still continuity to it. It’s just nice to be back with your buddies, you know?”

One liberating aspect of the project was the shared sense that they had nothing to lose or to prove, enabling them to be exactly who they are - maybe more so than ever before. “I’d gotten to the point where I thought Phish is a really special thing, and if it’s meant to keep going, it will,” says drummer Jon Fishman. “By the time we got to the studio, we were all in that state of mind: ‘Hey, if it doesn’t work out we can go home in three hours, so let’s see what happens.’ What happened was ‘Pebbles and Marbles’” - the extraordinary ten-minute epic that opens the album - “and we went, ‘Whoa!’ The whole album was like that.”

“We’ve reached a point in our career where we don’t have to do a lot that’s a waste of time or isn’t on our path,” says Gordon. “It’s great to be able to say, ‘We like this music and if we like it, people will hear us liking it and feed on that energy.’”

McConnell savored the challenge of learning so many new songs, some of which are quite compositionally complex. “We were trying to commit stuff to memory or to tape and learn this huge volume of material,” he explains. “And I love that! I absolutely love rehearsal and learning new songs. Just working my brain in that way again was so much fun.”

Somewhat ironically, Anastasio notes that despite all the media and fan ballyhoo over the hiatus, Round Room comes just two years after the release of Farmhouse, Phish’s previous studio album, in 2000. “Let’s say we hadn’t taken the hiatus,” laughs Anastasio. “When you look at it, we probably aren’t that far off the normal schedule of releasing another Phish album. Someday, it’s not even going to look like we took a hiatus!”

But they did, and everything and nothing has changed. They each pursued highly rewarding individual projects - Anastasio with his solo band and Oysterhead, Gordon as a filmmaker (Rising Low) and in collaboration with guitarist Leo Kottke, McConnell as leader of the trio Vida Blue, and Fishman as drummer for Pork Tornado and the Jazz Mandolin Project - and gained valuable life experiences outside of Phish. At the same time, they found that the chemistry and camaraderie were still there when they reassembled. What’s new, they all agree, is their “heightened appreciation” for Phish and commitment to its forward movement.

“We’re back, simple as that,” says McConnell. “We went away and came back recharged, which was the goal.”

EEG 12/02

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