They Live

Wise Monkey Orchestra

Lauan Records, 2000

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


Would Wise Monkey Orchestra be offended if I were to call them a poor man's Phish?

I sure hope not, since it's meant as somewhat of a compliment. This eclectic sextet's latest release, the live disc They Live, suggests an amalgam of Phish, No Doubt and Frank Zappa, daring to push the musical envelope by musically staying on the fringe. It's a dangerous place to be, since there's not much of a musical safety net, but they do passably well. If only they could somehow capture the spark that would make them as catchy as any of the three previously-named artists and bands.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Fronted by vocalist Riley, one can hear the influences throughout Wise Monkey Orchestra's playing. The use of a woodwind section (including two guest saxophonists, Dave Ellis and Robbie Helm) combined with the jazzy guitar playing of Marty Schwartz (think Zappa's "City Of Tiny Lights") makes for an interesting combination. And musically, Wise Monkey Orchestra is solid, casting no doubt on the talents of these musicians.

What is lacking, though, is a hook. Sure, tracks like "Movin' Free" and "Colorblind" have moments of catchiness. But Wise Monkey Orchestra sounds like they're more interested in capturing the moment for themselves, devil may care whether the fans get on the bus with them or not. This is what separates this group from their jam band counterparts - and what they do need to change. It doesn't do them any good to lose their listeners while getting wrapped up in the rhythm themselves; it works better when everyone is locked in the same rhythm. Phish knows that; the Grateful Dead knew that. Maybe this is just something that comes with the passage of time.

This isn't to say that the bulk of They Live is bad; on the contrary, there are many moments of promise throughout the disc. The trifecta of "Hell Ain't For Me," "Space" (though nothing like what the Dead were known to do) and "Brainchild" flows together well, while individual tracks like "SLM" and "Demons" all have their moments.

In the end, though, it's the experience of the fans that matters, and it doesn't feel like Wise Monkey Orchestra are always open to the idea of the fans joining them in the experience that is their music. They Live is a decent enough effort, but it merely suggests what this band could accomplish, rather than what they already have. With a little more polish and a more fan-friendly eye towards song arrangements, they could have a chance of knocking Phish from the jam band throne.

Rating: B-

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



© 2001 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Lauan Records, and is used for informational purposes only.