With the immediate fate of concerts, festivals and other music related gatherings in limbo, America’s second favorite jam band and favorite live band, Phish, have bestowed something of a consellation present in the form of its latest album, Sigma Oasis.
Sigma Oasis marks a milestone of sorts for the band, as it’s the first studio album to successfully conjure the alchemy that results in their most legendary and transformative jams live jamming; the lengthy excursions in “Everything’s Right,” “Steam,” and the haunting closer “Thread” are as good as any the band has laid down onstage, filled with dynamic twists and turns and endless exploration, as well as their typically fantastic musicianship.
Lyrically and musically, Phish are more mature and thoughtful as ever; on songs like the whimsical title tracks, the haunting “Leaves,” and the truly sublime “Shade,” Anastastio displays a depth and maturity to his lyricism that has only been shown in flashes previously (most notably on his solo record, Ghosts of the Forest), while the vocal melodies and harmonies on “Mercury” rank among the most clever in Phish’s catalog. His playing continues to be as sharp, fluid and creative as ever, with his solo on “Leaves” standing out in particular for its emotional colouring that recalls the depth his forefather Jerry Garcia would inject into his most soulful “Stella Blue” outros.
The rest of the band sounds terrific too, with some of their most delicate and nuanced playing to date; Page McConnell really struck me as the album’s other MVP, especially on “Everything’s Right,” where his intricate and thoughtful keyboard work is the motivating force towards leading the song into deeper waters. The rhythm section of John Fishman and Mike Gordon are air tight throughout, giving each song the proper foundation and standing out especially on the heady funk breakdowns in “Steam” and “Thread.”
Sigma Oasis is a true gift of an album, not just for Phish’s rabid fanbase but for 2020 as a whole; its a true ‘feel good’ record that, coupled with Phish’s generally relaxed and sunny musical disposition, allows you to drift away from the chaos of the current climate, if only for an hour and six minutes.