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Published: 2015/12/07
by Chad Berndtson

Pink Talking Fish, Electric Haze, Worcester, MA- 11/28

Photo by Andrea Leahy

There are satisfying tribute bands, there are good tribute bands, and then there are tribute bands that take their concept above and beyond such that the “tribute” label sounds rather pedestrian, even if it’s still technically accurate. Pink Talking Fish, though still a young four-piece, deserves a spot in that vanguard. The fun is in how it celebrates the iconic Phish, Talking Heads and Pink Floyd catalogs; the deeper appeal, however, is in the spaces between those selections, in which the band is speaking its own improvisational language using well-known songs as launching pads and stop-overs.

That makes what they do much more akin to a jazz combo playing with standards than a tribute band “merely” jamming out on “Crosseyed and Painless” or “Dogs” or “You Enjoy Myself.” All of those songs were played during Pink Talking Fish’s show in Worcester over Thanksgiving weekend, but where this keenly focused band — bassist Eric Gould, keyboardist Richard James, drummer Zack Burwick and guitarist Dave Brunyak — left its mark was in the “Dogs’” transition to “This Must Be the Place” and back, and the “Comfortably Numb” tucked within an elastic “YEM.” In both examples they locked in to one another, listened a bit, played in such a way to move the groupthink patiently along, mutually decided on their destinations and then drew aggressive improvisation out of each other to carve the path, whereas a lesser band might have vamped a few minutes, featured a guitar or keyboard solo, dropped into whatever came next and called it a “transition.”

This was an unusual Pink Talking Fish show: the band’s first annual Thanksgiving weekend Feastival, which also featured old pals The Hornitz and Kung Fu/The Breakfast shredder Tim Palmieri playing solo and later goosing the band as a guest during that “YEM > Numb > YEM” stretch. An earlier Pink Talking Fish acoustic set saw the band weave “Possum > Breathe > Psycho Killer > Bathtub Gin > Fearless” and later sandwich “Divided Sky” around “Wish You Were Here.” Things got electric — and gnarly and comfortably nasty — later in the evening, culminating in an all-hands throw down, with Palmieri and the Hornitz, on “Crosseyed.”

What makes this work so effectively? Pink Talking Fish plays this stuff with loving abandon, such that you walk out of one of these shows then knowing how badly you needed that. Their national attention is growing and they’re playing to bigger and bigger crowds. It’s not because the world needs one more Phish, Talking Heads or Pink Floyd cover band or that what they do isn’t concept-y (it is), but because you can forget those things and immerse yourself in what this quartet does to connect these songs, carve more paths, and indulge the rich spaces between those connections. “Phish, Talking Heads and Pink Floyd,” yes, but only just to get you in the door and in the right frame of mind.

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