Phish’s last visit to Miami came at the end of the triumphant year of 2003. Only two and a half years after their hiatus, Phish returned to the road teeming with wild creativity. Essentially jamming their faces off, over their extensive summer tour, every show became a blast into the unknown. Armed with new vehicles and destroying old ones, the band impressed many fans with their nightly explorations, while others seemed turned off by the wide open, risk-centric playing. Sometimes meandering, but always experimenting, the band reached yet another creative peak in 2003, pushing jams further and further to places they had never been before.
A new “ambient” sound emerged almost immediately in the winter of ’03, and developed throughout their extensive summer tour. Their new direction featured spacier and more layered textures than characterized the amorphous “ambient” playing of ’98. More often than not, jams took a turn for the dark side, akin to four mad scientists inventing new formulas on the fly. With a clear focus on improvisational adventure, Summer ’03 represented a super-fueled, ridiculously engaging period of the band’s career. After listening through these nights so many times over, I’ve, literally, never understood a Phish fan not liking this era. Bottom line, the band tried new things nightly, and next to Summer ’95, 2003 represents the most outwardly psychedelic period of the band’s career. The groove-based playing that had dominated the end of their first career was left behind while new songs, old and new, opened up in brand new directions. And Phish jammed ferociously night after night.
If comparing the band’s improvisation in their comeback years alone, 2003 blows 2009 out of the water, reaching planes the band hasn’t approached this year. The key difference is that 2010 is looking a hell of a lot better than 2004! Having taken things slowly this time around, Phish will be arriving at the future very soon, while in 2003, the band dove deep immediately, eventually self-destructing. But I am a firm proponent of the opinion that the jams never suffered on the way down; they only got more creative.
With only four relatively lackluster “Turkey Run” shows separating Summer from Miami, the sun beckoned all as Phish announced the first-ever four-night New Years Run outside the Northeast. Ever since the band started doing New Years Runs in the early-90’s, they were affairs renowned for bitter cold, huge snowfalls, and wintry conditions. But in 2003 everyone traded in their parkas for bathing suits, and scarfs for shorts, taking the party to the ideal destination of Miami, Florida. Pools, frozen drinks, beaches, and sun by day and Phish and Miami by night, there was no denying that the formula trumped driving around up and down the salted highways of I-95.
When entering American Airlines Arena on the 28th, everyone found the basketball-only arena more intimate than expected. With a shorter floor, and seats that went up more than out, everyone seemed to be on top of the stage. Notoriously laid back security ran the show for all four nights, as the community took reign over the south Florida venue.
Stepping into a new room for the first time, one figured Phish would acclimate themselves to their environment before digging deep, but not this time. Coming out for the first of eight sets, the band slowly built an eerie spacescape to open the entire run. So much for warming up! And after moving through this dark intro, the band dropped into “David Bowie.” At this point, everyone sensed something special in the air; as the four nights unfolded, everyone’s senses would be confirmed. Unleashing their fury like Hurricane Andrew, Phish attacked Miami early and often. Separated by only “Sample,” the band let loose on a laid back, swanky “Tweezer” that continued the instantaneous full-band interplay. Jumping into a melodic corridor, Trey led the troops with well-phrased melodies out of the gate, as Page added spacey effects behind the bulbous backing. Within the first half an hour of the four-night run we taking full-on “Bowies” and “Tweezers” to the dome like Glass Joe. Taking no time to get into the thick of it, the band continued with some of the run’s most cohesive psychedelia out of the late-set “Frankie Sez.” Blowing out jams like there was no tomorrow, Phish created at atmosphere of excitement and unknown before anyone had a chance to realize what had hit them. Punctuating the first set of the run with “Tweezer Reprise,” people were a bit more wide-eyed than usual when the lights came on for setbreak.
The non-stop explorations continued into the second frame, opening with the holiday-grooves of “Jibboo.” Exploding with crystalline dance patterns, Phish spun the room into a ball of bliss before dropping into a rather sinister piece of improv out of “Suzy Greenberg!?” Morphing from the song into a heavy metal journey into the eye of the monster, Phish unleashed their some of their most menacing music of the year. Exploiting his uncompressed tone, Trey growled with terror as the band sunk deep into a swamp of insanity. This type of jam is why 2003 Phish is fucking great, relentlessly pursuing the source with unending layers of psychedelic sorcery. Showcasing some of the most mind-bending guitar work you’ll ever hear from Trey, this was the man screaming from his soul; a rare guitar confessional. One of the defining moments of Miami, not to mention 2003, Trey rarely takes liberty to expose this side of himself so deeply. It was a humbling privilege to be a part of – seriously. Leaving the audience in silence and absolute awe, Phish bled into an ambient soundscape. Continuing to choose each note passionately, Trey added subtle melody to the dissonance, and at the end of a twenty-minute odyssey, the band splashed into the cool waters of “Theme.”
Annihilating their landing point, Phish crushed anything in their path on this night, setting the tone for the following three. Culminating the set with “Harry Hood,” the band continued to take the typically happy jam outside the box. Entering some scorching places before rejoining the song’s theme, the whole band built to a dizzying peak. Climaxing a dream-like set, “Hood” put an exclamation point on a show that, contained two sets of full-on improv; in effect, two second sets.
Reveling in the neon glow outside the venue, an electricity pierced the warm winter air. Phish set the bar incredibly high, a bar they wouldn’t quite reach for the rest of the run. But if one thing seemed for sure, Phish would try their best to rip every pitch out of the park. And over the next three nights, they’d hit more than a few home runs.
To be continued…
Jam of the Day:
“Suzy Greenberg > Theme” 12.28.03 II
DOWNLOAD OF THE DAY:
12.28.95 The Centrum Worcester, MA < Torrent
12.28.95 The Centrum Worcester, MA < Megaupload
I: Split Open and Melt, Gumbo, The Curtain > Julius, Guyute, Horn, Rift, Fast Enough for You, Possum
II: Timber, Theme From the Bottom, Wilson, Buried Alive > Tweezer > I Didn’t Know, Uncle Pen, Slave to the Traffic Light
E: Fee, Tweezer Reprise
Source: Schoeps CMC64 (split 10 ft, OTS) > Stewart BPS-1 power supplies > Sony TDC-D7Tags: 2003, New Years