Lawn Boy

Phish

Elektra Records, 1991

http://phish.com

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 05/09/1999

I remember when I first got into Phish back in 1991. (Okay, so I was a late bloomer, like so many other groups I listen to nowadays.) I had been sent their most recent release, A Picture Of Nectar, to review, and I immediately fell in love. Not long after, I picked up Lawn Boy, their major label debut ( Junta was originally an independent release that was re-released by Elektra)... and was somewhat startled by what I heard. Was this the same band that whipped out tasty, jazz-based riffs that I had quickly fallen in love with? Compared to A Picture Of Nectar, this seemed rather, well, lazy. I was so disillusioned with the disc that I filed it away in the Pierce Memorial Archives.

I honestly haven't listened to this disc in about six years, so it was like approaching Lawn Boy with fresh ears. And while it's nowhere near the disaster I once thought it to be, it it's not as strong of a portrait of Trey Anastasio and crew that it could have been.

The group - vocalist/guitarist Anastasio, keyboardist Page McConnell, bassist Mike Gordon and drummer John Fishman (what the hell do they mean that he played my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 vacuum?) - builds on the quirkiness that made Junta such an enjoyable album - as well as an occasionally difficult listen. There is no doubt that Anastasio is one of the best guitarists alive today; his riffs change shape like a lava lamp, going from free-form psychedelic to biting jazz-rock, sometimes within the same movement. And in the course of the song, it all sounds completely natural.

Lawn Boy contains some fan favorites, like "Bouncing Around The Room," a track that is sure to inspire free-form dancing wherever it is played, and "Run Like An Antelope," a track that gives each band member a chance to expand on their instruments to shape the song. (I did, however, find that I preferred "Run Like An Antelope" to be an instrumental; when the vocals kicked in at the end, it tended to distract from the song.) Another song that is an incredible trip is "Split Open And Melt," yet another fan favorite.

There still is evidence of the playful goofiness that has made Phish so special, as in some of the lyrical references on "Reba" and on "Bathtub Gin". "Reba" is a song that, at first, doesn't seem like it's going to amount to much, even though it's well over 12 minutes in length. But when Phish goes into its instrumental interlude, the true magic begins, and keeps you locked in - that is, until the vocals come back in to allow the song to resolve itself.

With all these strong moments, it's surprising that Lawn Boy is still a bit of a disappointment. The title track is a little too cosmic, although it is brief enough, and "The Squirming Coil" is not the strongest way that Phish could have kicked off this album. (I personally would have opened with "Bouncing Around The Room," and saved "The Squirming Coil" for the end.) And even in the strong songs like "Reba" and "Run Like An Antelope," there are weak moments like the ones already mentioned.

While each member of Phish is essential to the band's sound, I would have turned down McConnell's keyboards a little bit; sometimes, it seems like the keyboards dominate the mix a little too much. (This is a rare criticism for me to make; usually, I'm griping that something should have been turned up in the final mix.)

Lawn Boy still has some moments which are pleasing, and it's always worth the price of admission to hear Anastasio put the six-string through a workout. But while the album does show a band poised on the brink of greatness, it suggested they still had a bit of work to do... and we all know how this story turned out just one album later.

Rating: C+

User Rating: B


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© 1999 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Elektra Records, and is used for informational purposes only.