Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Phish

  • Hoist [Elektra, 1994] Dud
  • A Live One [Elektra, 1995] C+
  • Billy Breathes [Elektra, 1996] Dud
  • Slip Stitch and Pass [Elektra, 1997] B+
  • Farmhouse [Elektra, 2000] B-

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Hoist [Elektra, 1994] Dud

A Live One [Elektra, 1995]
With their damn newsletter at 80,000 and counting, the growth of their economic base is impervious not just to criticism but to any eventuality that doesn't involve the breakdown of the American transportation system. So give 'em 10 years, and don't worry you'll miss something in the meantime. Phish isn't a classic two-guitar jamming band like the Allmans or those guys from Marin. It's a keyb-guitar-bass-drums quartet, its music dominated conceptually by the high-cholesterol chords and florid arpeggios of Page McConnell's piano. Occasionally there's a good song--naif that I am, I like the one called "Simple." But they've never put more than a couple on one studio album, and this two-hour live double is where they show off their base-building specialties, e.g. "a mind-blowing 35-minute version of `Tweezer'"--which is actually only 31, praise God, and guess what else they got wrong? C+

Billy Breathes [Elektra, 1996] Dud

Slip Stitch and Pass [Elektra, 1997]
Kinda restores your faith in humanity for these guys to make like they know the difference between intelligent and pretentious. Page McConnell plays blues, Trey Anastasio plays Jerry, and David Byrne, ZZ Top, and the 19th-century team of Joe Howard and Ida Emerson beef up the fey songwriting. Plus you have to love their long overdue Doors interpolation: "Mother . . . I want to cook you breakfast." B+

Farmhouse [Elektra, 2000]
Tuneful, sturdy, unfaltering, bland, it's the pioneering jam band's bid for the market share located some years ago by Dave Matthews. Enthusiasts may even claim it proves they're better than Dave Matthews, as indeed it does, though why that needed proving I couldn't tell you. Inspirational Verse: "Each betrayal begins with trust/Every man returns to dust." "One man gathers what another man spills" was taken. B-