The Return of New Year’s Eve

"New Year's Eve" (Photo: Wendy Rogell)

New Year’s Eve; out with the old and in with the new. As long as anyone could remember, Phish and December 31 went together like peanut butter and jelly. Whether in the cold of Worcester, Boston, and New York, or the warmth of Big Cypress and Miami, Phish and New Year’s Eve were one in the same. On a holiday where the entire point is to have a blast celebrating the year that was, Phish’s New Year’s Eve shows became rites of passage, culminating with 1999’s sacred millennial odyssey in The Everglades. But after this experience of a lifetime, Phish appeared only twice on New Year’s Eve over the next ten years. We hadn’t flipped the calendar with them since 2003 in this very same building on Biscayne Bay, thus New Year’s Eve ’09 took on a renewed feeling of excitement that had been gone for more than half a decade.

12.31.09 (W.Rogell)

Without the grind of their night-long parties of yesteryear, Phish came to bat on the 31st locked and loaded, building off, arguably, their two finest shows of the year. Just as each of the previous nights had a distinct theme, New Year’s Eve was colored by feel-good Phish from beginning to end, ringing in 2010 with songs of joy and upbeat jamming; everything we’ve come to expect from the band in their three-set, year-end parties. And before we knew it, we were off on a musical crash course with a brand new decade.

The ride got started with the energetic one-two punch of “AC/DC Bag” and “46 Days,” but got kicked into high gear by the fourth-song “Bathtub Gin.” A jubilant vibe painted the entire jam which moved from glue-tight structured territory into a heavier dose of groove; the latter segment pushed forward by none other than Michael Gordon, the unquestionable player of the weekend. His driving bass patterns attracted Fish, and, on the spot, they reinvented the pocket of the jam, and Trey and Page followed their lead. A fiery segment of holiday improv resulted from this group conversation, with all members completely in tune. “Gin” became the first taste of the band’s inspiring New Year’s themed playing, characterized by densely packed catharsis.

12.31.09 (Photo: Wendy Rogell)

The chunkier part of the set continued with full-speed runs through “Punch” and “Moma,” keeping the energy high and people moving to the beat. Breaking for a composition, Phish played only the second “Guyute” since summer, and its triumphant nature fit congruently on this night. But the most intriguing first-set sequence came next. Playing through their Billy Breathes segment, “Swept Away > Steep,” at the point where they used to scream, and more recently, just drop into a new song, the band fluidly drifted into a mellow, Beatles-esque psychedelia, led hand in hand by Trey and Page. If this wasn’t composed ahead of time, I’d be surprised, as Page and Trey immediately initiated the same melodic theme. One way or the other, Phish stumbled upon something gorgeous in this piece, and its inward journey served as a reflective interlude for the end of the year.

12.31.09 (W.Rogell)

As this jam settled, Phish broke into the opening of “Demand” for the first time since Ames, Iowa during November ’96, thus trumping “Tela” for the “biggest” bust-out of the weekend. Played like they’d kept it in rotation all along, Phish nailed the two minute piece and hopped right into “Seven Below.” A song that birthed two standout jams of fall stayed closer to its structure this time around, but still provided inspired improv with Fishman maintaining a strapping beat behind a melodic canvas. When listening to Mike on this piece, one will hear some of his most intriguing play of an outlandish weekend, offering up lines most musicians wouldn’t even conceive. Collectively driving this piece to the top, the band played as a four-headed monster flowing with effortless abandon, once again packing a whole lot of action into a very short time. Closing the first set with a rollicking “Julius,” Phish got off to a phenomenal start on their return to a night they once owned.

12.31.09 (W.Rogell)

A particularly short set break had the lights off way before anyone expected, and one of the weekend’s strongest sets kicked off with the 2009 anthem “Rock and Roll.” Sewing this stanza thematically together with a dense, uptempo musical thread, Phish began by tearing the opener into oblivion. As the music entered a potentially deeper plane, Trey elected to keep the set bumpin’ with energy, segueing quickly into “Piper.” Phish filled the subsequent ten minutes with over the top, compact improv at a dizzying pace. As if trying to summarize all the places the jam has reached during its epic year, the band threw down a concentrated, complex gauntlet that moved a mile a minute. Playing with ridiculous cohesion, the band straight annihilated the final “Piper” in a year that featured many magnificent journeys from the song. Combining two of 2009’s defining pieces, the band opened the second set like a musical incarnation of Usain Bolt.

The blissful vibe continued as the band morphed from an ambient landing into “Simple.” A song played only four times in 2009, none were more symbolic than this version on New Year’s Eve. Things had returned to an Edenic state in the Phish universe, and on the cusp of 2010, the lyrics never meant more to everyone, because once again, “…we’ve got a band.” Moving from a melodic jam into a spacier outro, Mike and Trey chased each others’ phrases into nothingness as the band faded into “Theme.” Keeping the fun, yet emotional, night moving, the band infused the song with a soaring energy and musicianship that brought the opening, non-stop segment of the set to a close.

12.31.09 (Photo: Wendy Rogell)

Giving a nod to their unforgettable “Exile” set from Halloween, the band used the album’s emotional peak, “Shine a Light,” as mid-set interlude. Another lyrically appropriate song for a celebration of all that is to come for the Phish community, this version came perfectly placed in an increasingly impressive set. And then came the expedition of the night in a multi-faceted, bass-led safari through “Ghost.” Trey laid way back as the jam began, allowing Mike to take center stage with his bouncing, envelope-filtered leads. Like a space-general, Gordon thumped out futuristic patterns as his band fell in behind him. The pocket grew Grand Canyon-deep, as Mike’s basscrobatics bounced brains like basketballs around D Wade’s building. Crafting one of the weekends most compelling pieces, the band continued their unified jamming that underlined the entire evening.

12.31.09 (Photo: Wendy Rogell)

As “Ghost” built into an dark, abstract realm, Mike took his effects off, allowing Trey to take the lead for the second half of the jam. Flowing with inspired melodies, Trey awed the arena with his path to the mountaintop, where the band slid into a post-peak series of grooves that became increasingly delicate and ambient. Trey wove a stunning “Auld Lang Syne” tease amidst this emotive musical tapestry before Phish swam into a drone soundscape. Just as everyone thought the band would ooze the set to a close, Mike brought us into the dentist chair with “NO2.” Maintaining their shimmering backdrop throughout his narration, the band buzzed into silence before dropping an explosive “Suzie” to close one of the superior sets of the run.

"Midnight" (W.Rogell)

After another abbreviated setbreak, everyone knew what songs the band had left to play. Miami’s final set would inevitably include “Disease,” “Fluffhead,” and “You Enjoy Myself,” but how it would go down would be the story of the final frame. Launching into “Party Time” with about six minutes until midnight, the band funked into the New Year, showering everyone with Phish’s first “Auld Lang Syne” since ’03. An always-emotional moment – one where I always feel so thankful for being in the right place at the right time – this one felt extra sweet after five years of differing midnight festivities.

Everyone knew that “Disease” stood in the on deck circle, but this year, this set wasn’t about surprise – at least not yet. Featuring another theme song of ’09 in the slot where its triumphant jam was born sixteen years earlier, this moment was about simply being there again; seeing those big balloons bounce in front of our favorite band as we spun into a new decade to the soundtrack of our lives. After such a smoking second set, this one brought high octane playing, all in the name of fun. Staying firmly within the box throughout the final frame, the point wasn’t exploration, but explosive celebration, and Phish certainly accomplished their goal to the delight of all.

"Disease" (W.Rogell)

"Auld Lang Syne" (W.Rogell)

Instead of providing musical twists and turns in their final set, the band chose to mess with our minds with a prank that left everyone disputing what the hell actually had happened long after the show ended. Having laid the groundwork with all of the vacuum shenanigans over the 28th and 30th, and having foreshadowed the gag with the 30th’s cover, “Dixie Cannonball,” the band had the audience right where they wanted them. After ending “Disease,” they brought a life size disco ball to the center of the stage, and Fishman crawled inside. Bringing out a cannon and illuminating a net above the soundboard, Phish created the preposterous illusion that they were about to launch Fishman into the rafters of the arena – and for a split second, it all seemed totally reasonable. Trey got behind the drum set and gave a dramatic roll as the cannon fired loudly. Material hung from the roof as if Fishman shot right through, as a faux helicopter’s search light descended over the crowd with full-on sound effects. But neither Fishman, nor the disco cannonball, was anywhere to be seen.

12.31.09 (W.Rogell)

Much like the previous night, the band called for someone from the audience to replace Fishman – this time on drums. Trey called someone out from the stands to the left side of the stage side, and a dark-haired girl made her way to the drum set. After gushing over Trey in a comic act, when asked her favorite Phish tune, she replied “Fluffhead,” to the roaring approval of the crowd. Trey then announced that the band would play “Fluffhead” with Sarah on drums. As she awkwardly starting the song, Trey looked over and seemed to help Sarah along, and soon she caught the groove and the band launched into the song much to everyone’s shock. What the fuck was going on?! And from the end of “Disease,” that is exactly what Phish wanted us to wonder – and they pulled it of with genius. In an incognito switcheroo, a wigged and costumed Fishman slid onto the drums with hardly anyone noticing, leaving everybody with a different theory as to what happened and how. After the show ended, a friend came up to me and asked, “So, did Sarah play the rest of the set with them?” ‘Nuff said!

12.31.09 (Photo: Wendy Rogell)

Featuring solid versions of “Fluffhead,” “Coil,” and “You Enjoy Myself,” this set, more than anything, brought the spectacle back to New Year’s Eve, while continuing the uplifting theme to the evening. And it worked out quite well. Poignantly fitting “Joy” into their final set as well, the band reminded everyone what this era is all about – our collective happiness. And after some lyrical, heartfelt thanks from Trey, a “Loving Cup” encore brought us home. Capping 2009 with a set defined by their prankster spirit, Phish hit every angle over their four nights in Miami, reclaiming their undisputed title as the musical pimps of the universe. And what a year it was!  From March 6 in Hampton to December 31 in Miami, and everything in between, 2009 saw the re-evolution of Phish; a force of nature unto themselves. And side by side, the return of our dreams. It all really happened.

Phish 2010, here we come!

I: AC/DC Bag, 46 Days, Water in the Sky, Bathtub Gin, Punch You in the Eye, The Moma Dance, Guyute, Swept Away > Steep, Demand > Seven Below, Lawn Boy, Julius

II.Rock and Roll > Piper > Simple > Theme from the Bottom, Shine A Light, Ghost > NO2, Suzy Greenberg

III: Party Time > Auld Lang Syne > Down With Disease, NYE Prank, Fluffhead, Joy, The Squirming Coil, You Enjoy Myself

E: Blue Moon, Loving Cup

"2010" (Photo: Wendy Rogell)

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Jams of the Day: 12.31.09 II

Rock and Roll > Piper

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Ghost > NO2

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The improvisational meat of New Year’s second set.

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DOWNLOAD OF THE DAY:

12.31.09 American Airlines Arena, Miami, FL < Torrent

12.31.09 American Airlines Arena, Miami, FL < Megaupload

12.31.09 (W.Rogell)

I: AC/DC Bag, 46 Days, Water in the Sky, Bathtub Gin, Punch You in the Eye, The Moma Dance, Guyute, Swept Away > Steep, Demand > Seven Below, Lawn Boy, Julius

II.Rock and Roll > Piper > Simple > Theme from the Bottom, Shine A Light, Ghost > NO2, Suzy Greenberg

III: Party Time > Auld Lang Syne > Down With Disease, NYE Prank, Fluffhead, Joy, The Squirming Coil, You Enjoy Myself

E: Blue Moon*, Loving Cup

*Trey thanks all members of the Phish organization by reading their names off a list “as quickly and lyrically as possible” to the tune of “Blue Moon.”

Source: Sennheiser MD441U > Edirol R4Pro ( Oade preamp mod ) @ 24/88.2 (Taper – padelimike)

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Video of the Day: Auld Lang Syne > NYE Prank

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702 Responses to “The Return of New Year’s Eve”

  1. Mr.Miner Says:

    only midnight over here. about to hit it 😉

  2. Lycanthropist Says:

    have a good one man.

    thanks again for all you do brother

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