self-titled – Pork Tornado
The longest standing of the Phish side projects, Pork Tornado is the last to
turn in their work. It makes perfect sense. They've got all the time in the
world. They existed before Phish's hiatus and were doing just fine, thank
you very much. Their self-titled disc has a far more laid back quality than
anything else that's come outta the Phish camp lately (besides, maybe, some
of the Live Phish shows from '00 where it sounds like the band is
running on automatic). In all of this, it's a bit of a challenge to think of
this disc as in light of a singular band, as opposed to Jon Fishman, the
drummer for Phish. But it's possible.
"When I get drunk, who's gonna carry me home?" Joe Moore sings on "When I
Get Drunk". The answer for this bar band is country, honky-tonk, slow blues,
torch songs, funk, and any other genre that sounds good 'n' lubricated at
all times. Oddly enough, this is made abundantly clear by the two "serious"
tracks on the album — the Hawaiian sounding "Guabi Guabi" and the Dan
Archer composed classical guitar number "Fellini". Each of them steps
temporarily outside the realm of the bar band, into something a little
tighter and more considered.
Each track highlights an approach that is musically linked to the other bar
band genre excursions, namely a particularly elusive quality of
slipperiness. There's something about the way the melodies of Pork Tornado's
songs are constructed, the way the turns slide into each other, that
connects them. They are designed to sound good when the singer is stumbling,
or the guitarist is about to miss a change, or the keyboardist is
accidentally hitting an extra key or two. And, oddly enough, the songs seem
to sound just fine with all of the notes hit, as well.
The band fares best on the more country-inclined numbers. Jim Pittman turns
in a pair of great appearances on the pedal steel on "Home Is Where You Are"
and "Blue Skies", the pedal steel seeming to nicely symbolize that slippery
quality. It's something that seems to be missing slightly from the more
funk-driven numbers on the disc ("Move With You" and "Kiss My Black Ass"),
though the latter approaches it when they (literally) take it to the bridge.
Other songs seemed destined for mixtape obscurity, such as Fishman's
hilarious "All American" (a slightly more offensive "Lengthwise"-like
That said, the band is almost laid back enough to pull off funk in a
way Phish never could. At the same time, when they do, it's just not that
exciting. The other Phish side projects were, in varying degrees, attempts
to be progressive: Anastasio in an obvious way, simply by trying something
that had never quite been done before; McConnell through the modern sounding
techno element; Gordon with a brand new collaboration with an underground
legend. Therefore, it's at least some kind of ironic that perhaps the most
technically adept and nuanced musician in Phish has chosen to stick to
intentionally simplistic music. Pork Tornado is fun, but not life changing.
Nor do they try to be.