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The Album That Changed My Life: Phish’s “Lawn Boy”

first_imgThere is so much that could be said about Phish‘s second record, Lawn Boy. The album, released in 1990, contained an incredible array of genres packed into one varied album. The track list contains several songs that are now considered classics, as the band continued pushing their skills as both composers and improvisers on the album. The album contains masterpieces like “The Squirming Coil”, “Reba”, and “Split Open and Melt”, as well as songs that would go on to be live staples like “Bathtub Gin” and “Run Like an Antelope”. Lawn Boy was a landmark album in 1990, and it was the one that truly announced Phish to the world and got them signed to Elektra records. Although the album was released in 1990, it didn’t reach my ears until twelve years later, in 2002, as a young 15-year-old at sleepaway camp.I grew up in New York City and listened to all sorts of music. My parents were music lovers, and my Dad was in the music business, so they made sure my brother and I listened to everything. They played us a lot of the Beatles and Steely Dan, and my mom made sure we listened to the Ramones. We listened to the Beastie Boys, Dave Matthews Band, Oasis, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers when they blew up, and in a way those bands would shape my musical sensibilities. Eventually I would start playing the drums and started learning about jazz, and I discovered improvisational music, which was, of course, a huge discovery. My freshman year of high school, I saw Dispatch at Roseland Ballroom (RIP) and Soulive with Ryan Zoidis, Rashawn Ross, and Sam Kininger at the Tribeca Rock Club (RIP), and I started becoming interested in music that wasn’t necessarily played on the radio.By the time I got to camp that summer, I was ready and willing to listen to music I had never heard before. My mom is the best, and she used to send me new CDs and Rolling Stone Magazine when I was away at camp, and I distinctly remember reading an article about the first Bonnaroo (which took place in 2002), and reading about Trey Anastasio from a band called Phish. I had only heard of Phish, but never listened to them, and certainly no one I knew listened to them. But Rolling Stone made Bonnaroo sound incredible, and I promised myself then and there that I’d go one day (I have since gone eight times and it is glorious), and I also promised myself I’d look into this band Phish. Luckily, it turned out that a friend of mine had borrowed her brother’s copy of Lawn Boy for the summer. When I saw the album cover, with a vacuum buried in turf, it struck me as very strange, but I was interested to hear what they were all about. I quickly asked if I could borrow it, and she obliged; I eventually would take her with me to my first Phish show in 2004 in Brooklyn at Keyspan Park out of sheer thanks.When I put the album in my walkman, It was like being transported to another world. “The Squirming Coil” was, for a lack of better words, epic. The intricate guitar playing of Anastasio was incredible, and Jon Fishman‘s drumming was otherworldly. The songs distinct sections were compelling, with the band eventually building into the composed section to its peak. I remember being floored when the song’s “we got away” refrain kicked back in, and of course Page McConnell‘s piano-solo conclusion was beautiful. I remember hitting the pause button, and re-listening to the track three or four times in amazement before moving on to the rest of the album. The song still remains one of my favorite Phish songs, and is constantly the answer to my friend’s questions of “what song I’m chasing”.Finally, I moved on to “Reba”, which is such a different energy than “The Squirming Coil”, and immediately Phish’s diversity became clear. The band was almost silly in their inclusiveness of musical genres. I was intrigued, but then the song’s composed section began and I was once again transported to another world. This was the music I had been searching for! Tight, composed, unique, interesting, and adventurous. Eventually, the track reached it’s famous jam section, and it blew my young mind. It was a combination of all of the music I had been exposed to, mixed together into one exciting, indefinable genre.“My Sweet One” followed, and the bluegrass vibes brought a huge smile to my face. I had never listened to bluegrass before, and the quick song really piqued my interested. However, it was “Split Open and Melt”, Mike Gordon‘s brooding bass line, and the song’s dark and wailing guitar outro that fully made me understand this band. I barely had a moment to breath before the jazzy “The Oh Kee Pah Ceremony” started, with it’s silly song structure and audible laughing in the background of the track. I started laughing along with the track, because how couldn’t you? The band’s sense of humor perfectly matched mine, and I loved every second of it.The next track, “Bathtub Gin” was straight weird. I remember thinking that Anastasio’s vocals were somewhat creepy on this track, and I remember thinking that it was unlike anything I had ever listened to. There is an inherent weirdness to Phish, and I guess I must be weird too because I was definitely drawn to that side of them when I listened to Lawn Boy. “Run Like an Antelope” then took me on an unforgettable nine-minute musical journey. the song’s sinister jam section exposed me to “tension and release” improvisation for the first time, and I couldn’t imagine a more exciting musical outlet. Here were four musicians, pushing the envelope in so many different directions, all essentially soloing at once and yet as a unit. It was remarkable.“Lawn Boy” was the only song I felt that I could actually play on the drums, so during the song I was already plotting out how I’d practice it when I got home from camp. Not only did the album make me want to listen to new music, it also made me want to play music differently. I wanted to play progressive rock, funk, jazz…and I wanted to jam! The album, of course, comes to an end with “Bouncing Around the Room”, which drew me in with its poppy, in-the-round vocals and blissful ending.I absolutely loved the album. I think I borrowed it for two weeks before my friend made me give it back to her. I then discovered that my camp counselor had every Phish CD with him in our bunk. I had an entire new universe to explore, a universe I am still exploring to this day. I never would’ve gotten there without that Rolling Stone magazine and my friend’s brother’s copy of “Lawn Boy”. The album is truly special to me, as it is to so many others, and finding it was a landmark moment in my musical life.last_img

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