Harry’s Hundred: No. 99

Posted: February 4, 2012 in Music
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“A Picture of Nectar” by Phish (1992)

About 20 years ago, my friend and colleague Chuck started talking about a band he and his brother had seen recently, and how it kind of reminded them of the Grateful Dead.

I was skeptical. It was 1992, for crying out loud. What kind of new music would be any good?

But when Chuck borrowed a CD from his brother, I listened. And was impressed. Although they didn’t particularly remind me of the Dead, the musician shad chops. They played interesting material, kind of a jazzy version of rock with a lot of decent hooks, with some bluegrass-type stuff and just plain weirdness thrown in for good measure. Speaking of weird, that describes the lyrics, such as: “This is the work of the guelah papyrus/Stranded for a moment on the ocean of Osyrus/Absorbing all she can for every member of her clan/Expanding exponentially like some recursive virus.”

Whoa!

“A Picture of Nectar” is Phish’s third album and represents a summation of the band’s work to that point, at which not too many people were aware of Phish’s presence. It wasn’t until about three or four years later until the guys became a major arena attraction, probably because Jerry Garcia had died and Grateful Dead followers needed something else to do.

An excerpt from “Guelah Papyrus” is quoted above, and that song is one of “Nectar’s” many highlights: “Cavern,” “Stash,” “Chalk Dust Torture” and a brief stab at Dizzy Gillespie’s “Manteca.”

The monster cuts, though, are the frenetically riff-driven “Tweezer” and its instrumental, album-closing reprise. The lyrics again are nonsensical but add to the song’s overall appeal: “Won’t you step into the freezer/Tease me with a tweezer.” Picturing that occurrence is good for a chuckle.

I’ve sort of kept track of Phish for the past couple of decades, but my preferred listen still is the album I heard first.

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