One facet of Phish’s storied legacy is their profound exchanges of energy between themselves and their audiences, often reaching levels not experienced in any other place on the planet. Madison Square Garden has long been a venue where such interactions reach massive peaks, that energy—almost—becomes a tangible entity. Thursday night at the Garden was defined by this metaphysical interplay as tidal waves of shared energy rippled through the midtown Mecca from start to finish. Throughout two sets, and specifically the first, Phish drenched the arena in high-powered rock and roll. But when the show ended and the only risk the band had taken was a sublime and out-of-left-field transition between “Chalk Dust” and “Hydrogen,” and the only two true jams that could be named were “YEM” and “Weekapaug,” many wondered what had happened to the daring spirit on display throughout the first night of the run.
The show got an adrenaline shot directly to the heart in the form of a “Sloth” opener followed by a marathon dance session in “You Enjoy Myself.” And in 2011, with only four versions in the books before last night, this early-show shocker came as even more of a surprise. In the fifth version of the year, Phish showed love for their old-school opus, engaging in a fully entrenched dosage of “YEM”-funk to jumpstart the show laced with staccato guitar phrasing and creative bass lines holding down the bottom end of a jam that has—literally—become synonymous with The Garden in the moniker of “YEMSG.”
Then, in each subsequent song performed throughout the first set, the energy in the building continued to build, coming to mid-set swells in a rousing “Funky Bitch,” “Maze,” and “Roses are Free”—a version in which the energy, alone, in the room had to carry into something musically significant. But it wasn’t to be. And the same phenomenon befell the following selection, “Halley’s Comet.” Phish even carried the composed jam a bit longer than usual only to come to a routine ending that moved into a crushing, set-closing “Antelope” in the same exact slot on the same exact date as 1997, when the jam virtually crumbled MSG all by itself. All in all, a ferocious, old-school-themed and in-your-face frame of music set the table for what had to be a monstrous second half. But that massive set that would surely build upon the 28th never materialized.
Though the band certainly played quite well through each and every selection in the second set, their jamming had somehow left the building. If you had told me beforehand that the first two song’s of the second set would be “Crosseyed and Painless” and “Simple,” and the band would haven’t engaged in a bit of exploration throughout the entire two-song sequence, I would have scoffed at the notion. But, in fact, that is exactly what happened. “Crosseyed”—like much of the second set—was lead by high-powered, though straightforward guitar work, and when the band bled into an ambient ending, it sounded as they might go into “No Quarter.” But instead, they crashed into “Simple” in a somewhat of a head-scratching maneuver. And even when a second set, standalone “Simple” screamed for further caressing, the band turned a cold shoulder in favor of the one of the most welcomed treats of the night—“Lifeboy.” The mid-second set rarity hypnotized The Garden with its lucid reality, seemingly setting the stage for what had to be a huge jam vehicle. But when the band dropped into “Guyute” next, I was left wondering what date of the year it was.
Surprisingly, the highlight of the show came from the unlikeliest of places—within the middle of a “Mike’s Groove.” Following an aggressive odyssey through “Mike’s Song” that saw Big Red earn his nickname with slashing guitar leads throughout, the band oddly entered “Chalk Dust Torture,” a song that didn’t really fit its placement, but certainly felt congruent to the vibe of the entire night. And just when you least expected it, the band tossed a curveball. Taking the piece into intense realms, Trey moved from the dark side into a melody that sounded oh-so-familiar. Within a moment’s notice, it became apparent that Trey was blending “Chalk Dust” into “Hydrogen” as the rest of the band chugged away beneath! In the unquestionable moment of the show, Phish brought the house down with an absolutely stunning transition that nobody in the entire city saw coming.
The dramatic musical move clearly juiced the band as their creativity spilled directly into a full-throttle “Weekapaug” jam that was fully on the level. One had to wonder where any of this late-set spirit had been when huge jams hung in the air for much of the second half. Finishing the night with an exhale in “Show of Life” and final bursts of spirited rock playing in “Character Zero” and “Loving Cup,” the end of the night maintained the same the vibe of the entire evening—smoking rock, but hardly anything that could be described as adventurous. Juxtaposing a night of jams on the 28th with a night an energy show, through and through, on the 29th, one has to believe the 30th will feature a bit more for the psyche. And in just a few more hours, we’ll find out.
I: The Sloth, You Enjoy Myself, Back on the Train, The Moma Dance, Funky Bitch, Maze, Roses Are Free, Halley’s Comet > Run Like an Antelope
II: Crosseyed and Painless > Simple > Lifeboy, Guyute, Mike’s Song > Chalk Dust Torture-> I Am Hydrogen > Weekapaug Groove, Show of Life, Character Zero
E: Loving Cup
THANK YOU!—Thanks to everyone who came out to both the book signing and afterparty at The Irish Times! Both events had great turnouts and were incredibly enjoyable, and it was great to meet so many new people and hang with a bunch of old friends all at the same time! A great time was had by all.Tags: 2011, New Years