Too New To Be Known: Phish (Relix Revisited Oct. ’89)

January 20, 2012

Long before magazines used them to increase their Google footprint, Phish was just another club band trying to get some national exposure. Relix was actually one of—if not the—first national publication to give Phish a print profile and, at one point, Phish’s management even asked Relix’s original owners to release Lawn Boy. The following clip was written by longtime editor Mick Skidmore for our Too New to Be Known column, a precursor to our current On the Verge. It originally ran in October 1989, shortly after the release of Phish’s debut album, Junta. Be sure to check out our On the Verge section, you might just discover the next Phish…

Too Knew To Be Known (October 1989)

It never ceases to amaze me how many great unsigned bands there are out there.

Phish, a four-piece that hails from Burlington, Vermont is one such band. It consists of Trey Anastasio on guitar (he also writes most of the music), Page McConnell on keyboards, Jon (Phish) Fishman on drums and trombone, and Mike Gordon on bass.

Phish has a strong base of highly original material that it liberally laces with jazz, rock, funk, calypso, and blues elements, as well as truly bizarre lyrics that would do Frank Zappa proud.

The band has been playing the New England Club and college scene for the past five years to ever-increasing audiences, and on the strength of their self-produced cassette release, Junta, it’s easy to see why.

The tape is superbly recorded and shows the band processes musical flair almost beyond belief. Sure the songs are a little odd, especially the whimsical, “Contact,” a love song to a car, and the poetic “Ester,” but the underlying strength of all the material is the virtuoso musicianship and wry sense of humor that runs through it. Guitarist Anastasio’s playing is of a highly exploratory nature and ranges from jazzy runs through melodic phrases to daring improvisations. Keyboardist McConnell embellishes the sound with some intricate playing, while the rest of the band creates a complex mesh of syncopated and polyrhythmic sounds. This is most notable on the lengthy, mainly instrumental “David Bowie” (the only lyrics are the title and UB40 repeated!), and equally exciting “The Divided Sky” and “You Enjoy Myself.”

According to a spokesperson for the band, the tape only reflects a small part of their complex repertoire of originals. They even have an entire suite that runs an hour and a half! I hope we get a chance to hear more from these extremely talented musicians in the not too distant future. Meanwhile, this tape comes highly recommended.

For gig dates and other info, call 802-655-9068. For the tape, send $9 to: Dionysian Productions c/o 168 Weaver St. Winooski, VT 05404