A Picture Of Nectar
Elektra Records, 1991
REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 04/02/1998
I still remember the first package I received from Elektra Records when I was in college press in 1991 - I think my representative's name was Nick Kurasz. He was kind enough to send me a box full of new goodies from the label, including a disc from a group I had never heard of named Phish.
That was seven years ago. I don't know what ever happened to Nick, but from that one disc - A Picture Of Nectar - I developed a love for a little band from Vermont and their eclectic style of rock, folk and free-form jazz. Trey Anastasio and crew had won me over - and I still love this album to this day.
From the opening spastic drum fills by Jon Fishman, you know you're in for a treat as "Llama" kicks in. Mike Gordon puts his bass through a non-stop workout throughout the whole album, while Page McConnell knows just how and when to work in the keyboards. Fishman quickly establishes himself as one of rock's elite drummers, and Anastasio - well, I could fill several Web pages praising Anastasio to the heavens. His guitar playing reminds me of Jerry Garcia's, only much cleaner.
But if you think that Phish is simply a high-energy rock band based on "Llama," then you're in for one hell of a roller-coaster ride throughout A Picture Of Nectar. The very next track, "Eliza," is a jazzy instrumental ballad that, if you don't know Phish, will throw you for a loop.
Anastasio and crew show they have mastery over various styles of music on A Picture Of Nectar, from groove rock ("Cavern", "Tweezer") to country hoe-down ("Poor Heart" - a song that drives my country music-hating wife nuts) to acoustic work ("Faht"), even to a rock-samba mixture ("The Landlady")! It seems that no matter what they touch, Phish can do no wrong on this disc.
Well, almost. "Glide" drags a little at times, though not enough to kill the track, while the free-form portion near the end of "Tweezer" confuses me. I honestly don't know how they were able to go off in those directions and return in perfect tempo, without missing so much as a hi-hat beat. "Tweezer Reprise" stretches things a little bit, but not terribly.
Some people might be turned off at the length of some of these tracks, but fact is most of them just breeze through before you even recognize how much time has passed. The only exception, ironically, is "Tweezer," a song which easily could have had a minute or two lopped off.
Still, A Picture Of Nectar is as good an introduction as one could receive to Phish as I can imagine. The album hasn't lost a step in seven years, and remains a high water mark for the band (along with Billy Breathes). Pick this one up, and shake hands with Phish.