Type: Response Essays
Sample donated: Sam Francis
Last updated: August 16, 2019
Music Review Junta Puts Phish in a Class of its Own Among “Jam Bands” to Come Junta, the two disc set released by Phish in 1988, offers all listeners a look into the band’s early days. Before the term “Jam band” was coined, lead guitarist Trey Anastasio described the band as a prog-rock band. The bands work in the progressive music world will always be undermined by the stereotypical hippie Jam band label tied to them; this is a truly a shame. Junta shows us that the band is so much more than Just some noodley, mindless Jam band. The album starts off strong ith “Fee”, the silly and whimsical yet powerful song of a weasel and his love.
Like many Phish lyrics, the band’s approach is silly and whimsical. Sometimes Phish lyrics don’t make much sense, and I believe this is to provide a greater focus on the long, and extensive beautiful segments the band is known for. However, they place these lyrics selectively. Some songs feature more serious lyricism than others, and it should be fairly obvious to the listener. And sometimes they blend a serious storyline with whimsical lyrics. “Fee” is a great example of this. While silly and weird, the song still as catchy lyrics and a story that is easy for the listener to follow.The song is about a weasel but still touches on the concepts of love, loss, and tragedy.
But if the band wants you to Just focus on the music, you’ll know. Like other progressive rock bands, Phish styled many of their songs in a way that a Jazz musician or classical music composer would. Many different segments and parts make up a long, complicated piece of music. While new ears to the band may not be able to hear the difference, a seasoned listener can tell almost instantly. When the band improvises, it has a more azzy flow to it.
The musicians interact in their own language, a self described conversation where each member says his part and the other member responds to it. When the band is playing a pre-composed song, the changes between the parts are often very dramatic. Too dramatic for a band to improvise; you can tell that these parts are planned. While they are following a Jazz format for song writing, the end result is something that does not really sound Jazzy at all. Ultimately, it only sounds like Phish and that unique sound is probably one of the reasons that helped earned his band its massive following.There are many great examples of Phish’s progressive nature on this album. The 12 minute epic, “The Divided Sky’ often makes the listener feel as if he or she is soaring among the clouds as the melodic keyboard licks compliment the seamless and beautiful guitar work.
“David Bowie” and “Fluffhead” are two other great examples of this on the album, both complete with winding and mind twisting segments before reaching a climactic and epic finish. As well as what would later become the band’s signature song, miou Enjoy Myself”. The ong is complete with everything that Phish is about.Different parts and segments met by a funky bassline and guitar solo to conclude it. These 4 songs obey the lyric free standard previously mentioned.
Some of them contain only 1 or 2 lines, and it’s almost like them telling you the lyrics don’t matter here. But at the same time these lyrics mean a lot to the fans; there is nothing else you can really put on a shirt or bumper sticker besides these lyrics to represent the massive pieces of music. The jam bands of the 1990s. No doubt this is why Phish has enjoyed the largest following nd most commercial success of them all.
While many Jam bands like moe. nd The Disco Biscuits substitute poor song writing abilities with extensive Jamming and noodling, Phish places a strong emphasis on their composed material and song writing abilities. Like the next two albums by the band, they focus on writing long composed pieces and short rock and roll songs as opposed to Just writing songs that they can noodle off of. This is something their predecessors the Grateful Dead were often noted for. Not as much of a progressive rock band, The Grateful Dead’s success as rooted in writing great songs with touching lyrics, and accompanying them and later developing these songs with improvisation.
This is what seperates the two most popular Jam bands from all the lesser popular ones; a strong root in the composition before taking their music to a heavy improvisation level. Like the Grateful Dead, Phish also manages to write a series of decent, standard, less-than-five-minute rock songs on the album. Not to discredit these songs, as they are considered some of their best work to this day; “Esther”, “Dinner and a Movie”, and “Sanity’ all obey this format. Unlike many other songs on the album, “Esther” is marked by many, many different verses of lyrics telling the story of a little girl going to a carnival.The intriguing and certainly unique tale ends with a beautiful keyboard solo after guitarist Trey Anastasio sings “With the earth far below them they’d tumble, and dive through the clouds”. Once again, if you close your eyes you can really feel keyboardist Page MacConnel’s beautiful keyboard playing pulling you through the stratosphere. But perhaps the most complex song on the album is “Foam”, a windy Jazz piece ccompanied by whimsical lyrics about somebodys eyes being covered by Foam.Jon Fishman, the drummer, has been noted saying the song is still so hard for them to play that at one point they lose the ability to listen to each other and Just play, all hoping that they will end on the same note or else the song ends in disaster.
But in all truthfulness, what other band is so willing to challenge themselves at the level Phish does? I can’t think of one. Junta was the bands first official release album. Every song on this album now receives a massive applause every time they are played live, and this is not without eason.When this album came out, you wouldn’t even be able to find it in a record store. The band sold it at all their live shows as they traveled the Northeast gaining a following that would last them through the decade. As the band’s popularity skyrocketed from playing bars across the Northeast to being able to sell out any arena across the country, this core selection of songs would be tweaked, extended, and improved on over the next 20 years using the guidelines and foundation established on this album.
Many of these songs were further developed and improvised on more heavily over time.Unlike other Jam bands, Phish has standard songs that they chose to Jam off and some that they don’t. They improvise on the ones where it feels right to them, and are very hesitant to Jam on some songs that may not have the right groove. This is something many other Jam bands fail at; Phish actually “Jams” the least out of most bands in the genre.
However, a development that comes to mind specifically, miou Enjoy Myself”, started out as a 9 minute track on this album and ended up being played usually from 21 to 27 minutes live. This was a turned it into something much greater than what is featured on Junta.New segments as well as Jams make this song remarkable to hear live. They even end it with a jam” live where each member of the band takes the mic and makes ambient noises in response to one another while one or two members lay down a beatbox.
It is unique showmanship like this along with a strong foundation and careful planning that would earn Phish immense popularity. With a constant evolution of their own material, this album is incredibly important to the band’s development. It also features most styles of music Phish would manipulate over the rest of their careers.