Stepping to the plate in their first night at The Garden 2011, Phish dropped a smoking show that could have easily been plucked from the middle of any recent tour, while offering but a glimpse of what is to come in this what feels like a New York holiday extravaganza in the making.
Showing no signs of rust, the band came out with a far stronger opening set that many might have imagined, kicking off the run with the first show-opening version of “Free” in history, following it up with a well-played “Glide” —a couplet that started the run with a different sort of flavor than you’re usual “Possum, “Moma.” But that “Possum” wasn’t far behind, batting right behind the table setters! The show, however, got going into earnest with a “Cities” jam in which Mike pushed the guys towards more creative planes. Growing into the first jam of the holidays, Phish dipped into some early exploration in “Cities” before oddly ending the jam in premature fashion as things were getting serious. Though some “Cities” jams can float off into the distance, this one—after reaching some engaging early realms—vanished in midair. But when the band came out of that silence with “The Ballad of Curtis Loew” many fans left those aborted thoughts in favor of new ones, as the set’s best pieces were yet to come in an intense, classically-contoured “Stash” and an anthemic “Welcome Back” in the form of a set-closing “Bathtub Gin.”
Despite the several peaks of the opening set, however, the band came out after setbreak and obliterated it with a non-stop performance strewn with creativity throughout. Firing out of the gates with a fierce “Birds of a Feather,” the ominous tone of the set was set for the more marquee set-two highlight, “Carini -> Tweezer.” As soon as the opening chords of “Carini” crashed into play in MSG on December 28th, a tidal wave of memories of 12.28.98’s seminal version washed ashore, upping the ante for what was about to go down, at least in my mind. As Trey unleashed a comically huge guitar solo over “Carini’s” menacing textures, the band seemed primed to take this version to a place of significance. And once Big Red settled his seething solo, the true beauty of the jam set in. Migrating from evil to blissful in the matter of measures, Phish transformed their darkening jam into a gorgeous one-minded excursion that got to the heart of things through patient interplay and divine harmonies. And as the exploration settled into a mellower groove, Trey laid down the “Tweezer” lick right in rhythm with the rest of the band?! In a segue that seemed primed for Trey to get jumpy, this time no nerves took hold and Phish passed seamlessly into “Tweezer” on the first night of the run!
And this “Tweezer” turned MSG inside out with a collaborative groove bug-out that felt like a continuous highlight reel from beginning to end. Trey laid way back on any guitar leads as the band entered a four-part funk symphony. In a golden trail of rhythmic acrobatics, the band laid down a smooth centerpiece of elementary sophistication—all compromised of certifiable, grade -”A” Phish crack! And when the guys did finally emerge from their collaborative syncopation, Trey took a snarling final bite at the piece before winding down into “My Friend, My Friend.” At this juncture, the set read “Birds,” “Carini -> Tweezer”—I had a shit-eating grin on my face—and instead of concluding with the chilling laughter of “Myfe,” Trey came right in with one of the year’s indelible jams, “Rock and Roll.” Phish had thrown caution to the wind, dove right into this New Year’s Run and just dropped a mid-second set “Rock and Roll?!” What night was this again?
The subsequent jam sequence of “Rock and Roll -> NICU” provided the second exploratory engagement of the set. Following a high-octane, guitar-powered peak, the band got down to business with an avant-garde joyride through varying time changes and textures. Playing off each other’s subtleties, the band built, perhaps, the most unique jam of the entire show, featuring multiple tempo-shifts and forward-looking jamming. And the creativity continued to flow. Building slowly into “NICU,” Trey made sure this jam found its landing point, but this time, not as gracefully.
Concluding the set with “Harry Hood” on the one year anniversary of its monumental version from Worcester, this was the only real place where I thought the band slipped a bit. After battling through the compositional section, the band seemed a bit aimless through the beginning of this version. And while they certainly righted the ship into a solid set-closing combo with “Bug,” this final stamp on a special night left a little to be desired.
Finishing on the most bizarre of tones—“Tube,” “Rocky Top,” and “Reprise”—the opening night was in the books. And just like that, the band dropped a two-setter of significance on opening night of the Holiday Run something that hadn’t happened since 2003, and before that, 1998. But before we start talking about any place in New Year’s Run history for last night’s show, let’s see how this four-nighter turns out—because something tells me that we’ve only scratched the tip of this iceberg.
I: Free, Glide, Possum, Cities, The Ballad of Curtis Loew, Stash, Contact, Sample In a Jar, Kill Devil Falls, Bathtub Gin
II: Birds of a Feather, Carini -> Tweezer > My Friend, My Friend > Rock and Roll -> NICU, Bouncing Around the Room, Harry Hood > Bug
E: Tube, Rocky Top, Tweezer Reprise
Book Signing and Afterparty—TODAY @ The Irish Times!
I’ll see you in the matter of hours at The Irish Times for Phish Thoughts Book Release Party! I’ll be down there between 4-6 pm signing and selling books on the upstairs level of the bar. We have to wrap up at 6 sharp, but you can leave your purchased books (to be locked away during the show) for your retrieval at the Afterparty at the same upstairs location as the signing. Though the afterparty will commence as soon as the show ends, please allow me 30 minutes from the show’s end to get back to the books. Thanks! Details are below.
254 W 31st St. (b/w 7th and 8th Ave)
Less than 1 block from MSG!
The Book Signing: 4 pm – 6 pm
The Afterparty: Post-show – 3 am – $5 cover
After the show’s final notes, don’t worry about grabbing a cab, come back across the street to The Irish Times for a post-show party! Without skipping a beat, Coltrane and Friends (funk, nu-disco, re-edit) will keep the grooves going for hours—and everyone is invited free of charge! With two floors, booths to sit and plenty of room in the bar, there will be ample to space to dance or chill, whichever your post-show selves prefer. Come and celebrate all that we, as a community, have to rejoice over at the end of an amazing year! Books will also be for sale throughout the after-party.
Check out some of Coltrane’s mixes here!Tags: 2011, New Years