In this the thirtieth year of Phish I declare their successor to be The Jauntee. Going through the details it will appear they share traits with many bands who’ve used Phish as a template in much the same way as a plethora of legends used Muddy Waters and Chuck Berry in the 60s and 70s. So what is different about this group of young men from Boston? What do they have that others lack? Is it the infamous X-factor so many of us critics are always going on and on about? Has Caton Sollenberger found the secret fifteen-foot-pedal signal-path that leads to the land of milk and honey? Did Trey Anastasio leave his hose in a cab somewhere and Sollenberger was lucky enough to be the next passenger? Did Scott Ferber Hamlet Tony William’s grave to find not just a skull but William’s soul in a box? Can “Hamlet” really be used as a verb?
Of the latter I know not, but of the former questions—and the BIG question—I put forth a reluctant “I don’t know.” I don’t know why the Jauntee have affected me in a way that many similar acts have not. I don’t know why the two shows I’ve seen (just a few short miles from the Mothership) had me so spellbound the minutes seemed like milliseconds. I don’t know why their way of building tension until you can’t take anymore no not yet wait just another minute I can hear it coming it’s—release!—already seems legendary. I don’t know why the way Tony Cerullo (keys) and John Loland (bass) davenport their long jams with warmth and grace is different from other notable rhythm sections. I don’t know why I keep using nouns as verbs.
But I do know this: You will not be disappointed when you check these guys out. They did not want to stop playing at their Hampton Taphouse gig. All three sets were filled with twists and turns that had the unmistakable quality of being simultaneously planned and unplanned. If you look through their setlists you will notice a conscious decision to not play Phish, but during the soundcheck Sollenberger teased “It’s Ice”—perfectly imitating Anastasio’s tone circa 1992. And during the second set they went in and out of “David Bowie” and “Weekapaug Groove” all the while going in and out and around their own “Black Bart,” “Get Young,” and “I Am the Slime.” But unlike others, the Jauntee have frozen the Phish musical template in 1993.
Yes, my favorite year of Phish is 1997 too, but using the musicality of Phish the arena band as a source of influence just doesn’t come off right in a small bar on a Tuesday night. Maybe that’s why the Jauntee are different. Maybe that’s the answer to the BIG question: The Jauntee are destined to tour arenas because they have made the conscious decision to be influenced by Phish the bar band. But it’s not fair to overplay the Phish influence, just as it’s not accurate to always compare Phish to the Grateful Dead. The Jauntee draw heavily from Return to Forever and a danceable Mahavishnu Orchestra. Frank Zappa, as you might guess, is also present.
The Jauntee’s 2012 release Enjoy the Ride displays their tight proggy chops and captures some of their live energy. In concert their mathematical compositions lead to volcanic jams as Sollenberger transforms from a pedal-wizard into the Incredible Guitar Hulk. But they do not suffer from the jamband habit of having amazing live shows and terrible albums. Over the past decade I’ve written many times in these ones and zeroes about the critical tropes the close-minded press uses to describe groups that like to stretch things out. But it occurs to me now that trope—like so many others—is fallacious. Why shouldn’t every band have better live concerts than albums? Now that technology has enabled us to control loud music, shouldn’t that tired line “they’re way better in concert” be a given true of all performers? As the recent Grantland piece about Phish noted, the music business will never be the same again. Live performance is the music industry now, and the Jauntee will soon become the new CEO. Make an appointment before we have to battle with Scalper Barry just to get a seat.