On the first-ever Phish show on the first of January, Phish threw down a powerhouse performance that capped an unprecedented five-night New Year’s Run, and kicked off 2011 in style. A strong start-to-finish performance peaked with a seamless second set, as Phish punctuated the holiday season with its finest frame. Lacing together a series of improvisational selections, the band wove a non-stop tale of glory in a setlist that rolls of the tongue as naturally as it came off the stage. Without any filler and not a ballad to be seen, the band sculpted a stanza of straight fire that sent everyone home with a cornucopia of musical inspiration for the upcoming year.
With The Garden eating out the palm of their hands, Phish stepped on stage for the first second set of 2011 and promptly dropped a monster. Jump starting the party with “Crosseyed and Painless,” Phish tore into 2011 with a fire-filled excursion that showcased the well-oiled chops of a band who can once again do what they want, no questions asked. Exploring the song’s classic theme, Trey offered passionate leads over a chugging freight train of rhythm. Without pushing the boundaries of the song, the band swooped in on its jam like a predatory bird, methodically planning its attack, and executed it with precision and ferocity. Bringing “Crosseyed” to a numbing peak, Phish followed the aggressive opener with the more intricate textures of “Twist.”
Progressing into a percussive palette, the band members spun sparse, collaborative lines around each others’ offerings, while Fishman anchored the jam by alternating the tempo of his beats as well as the rhythms, themselves. Mike and Trey stepped out front of this spacious jam with their own two-way conversation that took center stage. Nuanced interplay between all band members throughout “Twist” foreshadowed the moments of the evening that were soon to follow in a transcendent “Simple” jam. Showcasing one of their summer standouts, Phish placed the anthemic vehicle in the spotlight of of the second set and came up with pure gold. A mellifluous jam gave way to an elegant section of open improv that provided the most soul-drenched moments of the entire show.
Slowly drifting out of “Simple’s” composed jam and into a mystical ambient soup, the band grabbed the attention of the entire building as they began to build towards the cosmos. Flowing organically, the band collectively built a emotional soundscape with a combination of spiritual guitar licks, warm piano comps, and original bass offerings. While the band navigated this piece as a musical amoeba, Trey initiated a melodic theme that the entire band connected to immediately, washing the audience away in a blissful musical tide that represented some of the most metaphysical moments of the entire Holiday Run. And just when one thought Phish might step back and drop a slower song as a late-set breather, they — instead — cranked up a filthy “Sneakin’ Sally!”
Moving through a mid-song vocal jam, Trey led the troops into the liquid groove with his now-familiar staccato leads that have been so prevalent all week long. As the band converged in rhythmic acrobatics, this swarthy dance session provided the ideal complement to “Simple’s” ethereal psychedelia. Trey wound down the jam with similar staccato picking, looped his pattern, and eased the band into “Maskisupa” with mellow reggae chords. Instead of a token late-set crowd-pleaser, Phish actually focused on this version and created something musically significant. Bringing the piece into slower and thicker territory, Mike pushed a drone bass groove while Trey looped a sparkling pattern underneath the dubbed-out experiment. The two guitarists encouraged their band mates to sculpt an abstract soundscape before sliding back into the ending of the song. Mike gave an “ting” of approval via foot bell before Fishman initiated the cymbal intro to “David Bowie.”
Only the second repeat in ten sets of music, “Bowie” brought an ominous final statement to this stellar set of Phish. Taking the jam in a unique direction, the band’s conversation favored the quiet and delicate before building the demonic intensity we have come to love from “Bowie” this year. The band responded to each others’ ideas with alacrity, leaving a musical path of comet dust behind them. Trey and Page collaborated like maestros on the top half of this piece while Fish and Mike gradually built a more forceful pocket. Popping into the final trills of the song, Phsh punctuated the Holiday Run with an impassioned exclamation point and were, subsequently, greeted with an extended ovation.
Though the second set flowed better than any of this short run, the first was also filled with great song selection, fusing a plethora of well-played old-schoolers with some post-hiatus rarities in “Round Room,” (the first of this era,) and “Walls of the Cave.” A second-song “Tube” got the show off and running with a brain-quenching hit of Phish crack, again featuring the staccato leads of Ernest the Red amidst a dynamic rhythmic exchange. Phish then rolled out the early-90s one-two punch of “Jim,” “Foam;” both succinct versions that were played with notable precision. The compositional highlight of the opening half came in an ferocious “Divided Sky” that popped with far more energy than usual, while the improvisational highlights came in the raucous energy of “Walk Away,” and the liquid grooves of “Jibboo” and “Reba” — both top-shelf versions featuring locked-in, full-band exchanges.
Following Halloween’s third-set version with another crushing “Jibboo,” Phish wasted no time splashing into the “Reba” that has been sitting out there all week. Framing the initial part of the jam with f rim shots, Fishman paced the music meticulously, prompting the band to follow his lead into an effortless fountain of aural pleasure. Another piece that with exquisite jamming, this “Reba” illustrated the virtuosity of the band’s listening skills while they simultaneously built to a monstrous catharsis. And to close the first half, Phish played the third “Walls of the Cave” of 2010, (which was technically the first version of 2011).
Following up a spectacular New Year’s performance, Phish dropped a legitimate beast to christen the new decade. With lock-step playing through and through, the band blasted into the new year with notable of passion, just as they wrapped up the old one. Though we all must now get back to our lives away from Phish for a while, 2010 provided quite a ride…and 2011 only just begun!
Thanks for reading along this year folks! Stay tuned for a full recap of New Year’s Eve, and much more analysis of a triumphant 2010 Holiday Run to follow this week. But first, a long journey home…
I: My Soul, Tube, Runaway Jim, Foam, Guelah Papyrus, The Divided Sky, Round Room, Walk Away, Gotta Jibboo, Reba > Walls of the Cave
II: Crosseyed and Painless > Twist > Simple, Sneakin’ Sally Through the Alley > Makisupa Policeman, David Bowie
E: Fee, FrankensteinTags: 2010, 2011, New Years