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Phish’s ‘Sigma Oasis’ offers a musical elixir in unsettled times

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Chaucer is credited with coining the expression “familiarity breeds contempt,” which may be true, but what he did he know about pandemics? He only had to concern himself with the Black Plague.

Covid-19 has hobbled virtually all industry, but a wealth of new music in every genre has been released on schedule over the last four months. True confessions time, dear Maine Edge reader: I probably haven’t heard it.

Like you, I’ve spent a lot of time at home, but most of my music listening, like my TV viewing, has been limited to the comforting and the familiar. In other words, I’ve been listening to a lot of old stuff and becoming reacquainted with the nether regions of my music library at home.

One new music title that I can recommend with confidence, however, is one that I’ve heard almost daily since its release more than three months ago.

Phish – “Sigma Oasis” (JEMP Records; out now).

Atthe outset of the pandemic, Phish responded by announcing a series of free weekly concerts pulled from the band’s vast archive of shows dating back to the 1980s.

“Dinner and a Movie” runs Tuesdays at 8:30 p.m. (for a while) on Phish’s YouTube channel, and features an uninterrupted show, along with a recipe contributed by a member of the band, their family or crew. Fans are encouraged to make a donation to the band’s The Waterwheel Foundation, which has donated over $1 million to more than 425 non-profit groups.

On March 31, band members Trey Anastasio, Jon Fishman, Mike Gordon, and Page McConnell each appeared remotely from home during that evening’s “Dinner and a Movie” set break, to casually announce a brand-new studio album, set to drop digitally the next day.

Recorded at Phish’s Vermont studio (The Barn) in November 2019 during rehearsals for their fall tour, :Sigma Oasis: is a collection of relatively recent songs that the band was particularly proud of and always wished they had recorded, according to a group press release.

They set up shop at The Barn with producer Vance Powell (Chris Stapleton; The White Stripes) as if they were about to play a live show.

“Open space,” the press release continues. “We played for a couple days. We just played a bunch of songs — very quickly, a few takes, very organic, natural, live, honest. We had the best time.”

“When we recorded the album, we didn’t plan to release it this way. But today, because of the environment we’re all in, it just feels right. We don’t know the next time that we’re all going to be able to be together. This is an opportunity to have a moment where the Phish community can share something despite being physically separated.”

Anchored by heavyweight compositions like fan favorite “Mercury,” the soothingly optimistic “Everything’s Right,” the haunting riff-heavy “Steam” and the epic hair-raising closer “Thread,” “Sigma Oasis” is a beacon of light in a world of fright; a musical salve for fans forced to live (temporarily) in a world without live concerts.

“Sigma Oasis” is 70 minutes of muscular composition and fierce improvisation from (arguably) rock’s most successful indie band approaching its 40th year together, deeply grateful for the community that has grown around it and keenly aware of how tenuous all of it is at the present.

Since all of Phish’s planned summer 2020 shows were moved to next year, the chronically creative Anastasio has occupied his time by writing new material and sharing 16 home video demos of newly written songs on his Instagram page.

Speaking of live concerts, this week’s “Dinner and a Movie” free webcast offers up last year’s most talked-about Phish show; a night of bust-outs and rarities from July 14, 2019, at Alpine Valley in East Troy, Wisconsin, later cited by Trey as one of the best shows he’s ever played.

Last modified on Wednesday, 15 July 2020 11:15

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