The song everybody either loves, hates, or loves to hate. In the ranks of “Bouncing ‘Round the Room” and “Sample in a Jar,” “Farmhouse” is an easily accessible Phish song with minimal variety from version to version, often drawing the ire of certain fans. On the other hand, there are lots of fans who appreciate the song and still scream in joy when Trey sings those opening lyrics, welcoming the listener to the fly-infested house.
A sweet tune with crossover vocal harmonies and overt lyrical and musical references to Bob Marley, I’ve also found it to be the most common Phish song that people know if they aren’t into Phish. Therein lies the rub: it’s a song good enough for any music fan to enjoy, yet many devout fans of the band disdain it for the same reason. This isn’t news to anybody, as Phish fans had/have a similar reaction to other songs that received any attention from the mainstream music community, but “Farmhouse” was a little different, due to the time and context in which it was released.
“Farmhouse,” debuted live in 1997 but appeared on the album of the same name in 2000. The turn of the century was a strange and challenging time for the mainstream music industry as file-sharing programs such as Napster, Limewire, and Kazaa were running rampant over traditional music sales. Therefore, casual music fans who searched for songs by “Phish” usually found either a mislabeled hokey version of “Gin and Juice,” and/or “Farmhouse.” This way, the song spread among a crowd that would usually never come across it and it ended up on hundreds of playlists and mix CDs. It therefore became the default reference whenever you asked somebody if they were into Phish, and in turn received the scorn with which we’re familiar today.
All that said, I like “Farmhouse.” I mentioned in my entry on “Bouncing,” I find beauty in tight songwriting craft that can be enjoyed by a wide spectrum of music fans. Although lots of pop music is sterile trash, it does take a certain amount of talent and instinct to write a song that resonates with millions of people. I’m not sure that “Farmhouse” ever reached that many ears, but it’s certainly a lot easier to digest than if “Harpua” became the most common Limewire search result. Its “No Woman No Cry” chord structure, its simple and straightforward lyrics drawn from a welcome note to Trey and Tom Marshall, its imagery of the Northern Lights, and its attempt to skim the surface of philosophy (the “Every man returns to dust” verse) all combine for four minutes of simple enjoyable music. All of the “headier-than-thou” baggage that comes with it? Eh, put that on hold for four minutes. Just listen to the music.
Played as part of the “Powdered” night, one night after the “Jam Filled” night, this version of “Farmhouse” appeared toward the tail end of the first set, immediately before a standout version of “Tube.” We all know that most versions of “Farmhouse” are interchangeable but this version seems more delicate and dynamic than most others I’ve heard. Trey’s solo after the chorus usually soars to arena-rock heights straight from the beginning but this one begins quietly. It takes a while for the band to reach its peak, which suits the Baker’s Dozen. We’re here, we’re comfortable, and we’ll be here for a while. No rush. This patient playing and nimble guitar work imbues this version with a bit more soul than usual. And although you can pick out a “No Woman No Cry” tease in virtually any version of “Farmhouse” due to the chord progression, this version seems to have more overt teases than most. I hope to hear more versions of “Farmhouse” with this much emotion behind it, though I’m not holding my breath.