An Anticlimactic Ending

12.31.2011 (Jesse Herzog)

Well, at least they at least saw one jam to fruition. In what has to be considered the least significant New Year’s Eve show in Phish’s hallowed career, the band chose straightforward and unadventurous playing for the duration of the most climactic night of the year, less a single highlight sequence in the second set —“Light > Golden Age.” To have ended such a triumphant year in the flat musical fashion that has defined the past couple nights was nothing short of a  travesty. With the band’s improvisational gusto far from the level it was when they graced the stages of the nation this summer, Phish only attempted to infuse two songs with any real of creativity throughout three sets of music. This wasn’t the Phish that tore Bethel apart. This wasn’t the Phish that crushed The Gorge. This wasn’t the Phish that set afire to a soccer stadium in Commerce City, Colorado for three straight days in September. This was a band that—for whatever reason—was clearly not up to the task this week, playing a show—and a run—with very little inspiration. And it’s a shame to conclude the year with such a lack of intent, because 2011 was nothing short of a revelation for the band and everyone in their community. Now, one of the band’s esteemed traditions of the Holiday Run has left a sour taste in the mouth of many fans.

NYC Official Poster (DKNG)

Usually, the improvisational highlights of a show outweigh the other less significant portions and comprise plenty to write about, but for the second consecutive night, that just wasn’t the case. The first set contained a couple solid funk sessions in “Wolfman’s” and, particularly, “Jibboo,” while the third set is hardly worth writing about at all. In summation, last night was, unquestionably, the most vanilla New Year’s show in Phish history, and for whatever reason, it just didn’t feel like the band really wanted to take many risks. With only two legitimate jams over the past two nights, I’ve never felt feelings like this after a Holiday Run in my life. Boy. Man. God. Shiiiit.

The second set, though declining in creativity throughout, started quite strong. After a “Party Time” opener—a subtle sign that things just were never gonna’ get that musically serious—the band dove into the only great jam of the night—“Light.” Seemingly the start of a huge set, the band attacked their new era launch pad. Moving from the composed, guitar-anchored section into an abstract soundscape and then into a brief Theremin-laced storage jam, Phish showed signs of life as they dug into the experimental side for a bit. But as the band was entrenched in the murk, Trey decided to change the vibe entirely, forcing the band into “Golden Age” in a choppy and awkward transition. And once they reached the juncture from which to jam on the modern cover, the guys did just that—for about two and a half smooth and spectacular minutes. It really felt like they were going somewhere with this piece, reaching a patient whole-band groove on which a big-time set seemed to be building. Trey slinked in and out of the swanky music with rhythm chords before the band abruptly ended the jam and started “Theme From the Bottom.” Back to the songs; and that’s the way it would remain for the entire night.

12.31.11 (J.Herzog)

This trend seemed that it might shift as the band dropped into “Ghost” late in the second set—a 3.0 New Year’s Eve annual rite. But this version hardly compared to either Miami ‘09 or last year’s MSG ’10. Remaining completely in the box for the duration, and featuring only linear, contained jamming, the jam just never popped off. In such a thin show, this piece has to be considered the other “highlight” of the night, featuring strong interplay between Mike and Trey within the context of an intense but plain rock jam. Never did the band look to approach the “Ghost” from a rhythmic angle—just like a steam engine moving straight ahead. And then before anyone knew it, Trey was wrapping up the jam that had yet to go anywhere. Pretty rough scene. And if a lack of a creative “Ghost” jam wasn’t enough, when the band dropped “Sneaking Sally,” they included no jam at all. Instead, Trey opted, against the grain, for a heaping dose of arena rock in “46 Days.” Very odd calls all around last night, and the second set—which started off promising—had fizzled considerably.

12.30.11 (M.Stein)

The third set, while including nothing noteworthy in the music department, did feature an interesting New Year’s stunt as dancers hooked onto Peter-Pan-esque cables danced to “Steam” and “Down With Disease” while “floating” as souls above the crowd. But when the time came to jam “Disease,” the band’s one ever-reliable vehicle, they did so for a less than a minute, seemingly about to get into something serious. But, again, as soon as it started it was over. And after the New Year’s stunt, the rest of the set was composed of some of the more questionable calls in New Year’s Eve history. I’m not sure what was up with Phish last night, but for most of the evening it felt like they were playing to finish the show, not to create spontaneous magic. Sure, “Light” was engaging, but other than that, the creative juiced dried up like a desert riverbed.

If you had a great time last night, don’t let my opinion devalue your experience—that makes no logical sense. I’m, sincerely, glad you enjoyed it. But as someone who loves Phish as much as each and every one of you with every cell in my body, I have to be honest and call it like I see it, and this was the most uninspired version of the band we’ve seen this year. The 2011 New Year’s Run—as a whole—was a musical disappointment. Sure, we can make a CD of standout jams from the four night, but come on now, this was Phish on the holidays at MSG, and things simply didn’t come to fruition. I wish the year was ending on a more upbeat musical note, but things are what they are.

Happy 2012 to everyone, and here’s to whatever Phish throws our way in the new year!

I: AC/DC Bag > Wolfman’s Brother, Scent of a Mule, Stealing Time From the Faulty Plan, Lawn Boy, Gotta Jibboo, Farmhouse, Pebbles and Marbles, Ocelot, Fluffhead

II: Party Time, Light > Golden Age, Theme From the Bottom, Heavy Things, Ghost, Sneakin’ Sally through the Alley > 46 Days, Suzy Greenberg

III: Cavern, Steam* > Auld Lang Syne > Down with Disease*, The Wedge, Alaska, Wading in the Velvet Sea, First Tube

E: Slave to the Traffic Light

*w/ floating dancers

12.31.2011 (Jesse Herzog)

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484 Responses to “An Anticlimactic Ending”

  1. word Says:

    anyone else notice the ‘floating dancers’ acting as the the ball drop?

  2. Robear Says:

    Word, word. I didn’t notice.

  3. BrandonKayda Says:

    Who doesn’t love Pulp Fiction, @MIA 😉

  4. SillyWilly Says:

    ^or seduction?

    alright, silly.

  5. butter Says:

    when they were playing Antelope in 90-92 they were building and exploring by jamming differently up thru the Rye Rye Rocco

    it was new then, they were discovering themselves as a band

    now when they do an Antelope, everyone’s heard it before – including Red – you hear him trying to break form at times and at other times enjoying the jazzy conversation. Other times he RAWKS the fuck out and enjoys playing his guitar.

    from 95-2000 we saw them explore their catalouge and morph thru the phases Miner explains so well

    when they came back the first time 2002 – 2004 the explored with reckless abandon – this is a time come and gone

    now theyve been back almost 3 years and weve seen them crest an incredibly potent peak (i’ll point squarely to Dicks for a specific moment in time)

    i feel like your last two reviews are punishing the boys for riding down the backside of this peak, and not reflective of the quality of music that was offered

  6. ThePigSong Says:

    Seems to be quite the divide on these shows. Looking forward to listening. Can someone look on the livephish app and see if they updated the features show to NYE? Just want to be sure it’s not on my end.

  7. jdub Says:

    I was so energized during the start of Axilla that it seemed like some experiment. doesn’t sound so good on relisten.

    At any rate, interesting perspectives on the run from all of ya. Kind of a lot of hype/expectations for these shows going in from people, myself included. And rightfully so. But the band definitely didn’t flop. I haven’t listened to NYE but the 3 shows I caught have some hoppin music in there. Not a ton of exploration but when they did push it, some of the top (piper/carini>Tweezer/Light>Golden Age) jams of year were laid down. It may not have been the uber 3.0 explosion we thought may occur but it should by no means be mentioned in the same sentence as coventry. Just not right.

    Besides, MSG is now only the 3rd best venue to see Phish in NY state. So I look forward to a summer that will hopefully bring them back to Bethel and Watkins.

  8. butter Says:

    I don’t feel the need to download every show that they play. I dont feel the need to listen to Phish all the time and dissect every instance. I used to feel this way. -Lycan

    word, i’m with ya

    ive been on a hip hop kick all Fall and Winter

  9. BingosBrother Says:

    I am one grumpy hung over mofo. Somebody fax me some vic’s stat.

  10. BrandonKayda Says:

    2011 has really been an incredible year for the band overall, tis’ true.

    Bethel 1 & 2
    DTE
    PNC 1
    Super Ball 3 + storage jam
    Gorge 1
    UIC I & II
    Dicks 2
    MSG I

    All fantastic full shows that I would spin anytime. Not to mention all the highlights throughout. Great year.

  11. Esteban Says:

    @neemor that Lifeboy made my trip. Period.

  12. Mike in Austin Says:

    I agree with Butter there. Disappointing not getting a new jams but Trey may have jammers block. Maybe that’s why he wants to do Broadway/compose/side stuff.

    Lycan knows where it’s at. Need me some TT tomorrow. AJ’s jazz drops have been great too. He was dropping great tracks for 3 days straight.

    Palmer is having a great football game even after that score. I think my -3 is pretty safe.

    Gnite y’all

  13. Mike in Austin Says:

    Yeah, lifeboy was perfect.

  14. jdub Says:

    I say 3rd best venue in NY state cause Trey is too distracted in the big city these days. Seems like if you want him to let it all hang out, you gotta get out to the country.

    There still is no other place as powerful as MSG when IT happens. Piper absolutely flipped my lid and the venue and crowd put me over the top. One of those cosmic moments that is so amplified by the NYC energy.

  15. Robear Says:

    Bk,

    Blossom, Cincy, Charlotte, Raleigh, all hot. UIC 2, Dicks 1 and 3, belong.

    UIC 1 set 2 is one of my favorites ever.

  16. Mike in Austin Says:

    What just happened to Dallas?!

  17. jdub Says:

    Lifeboy did it for me big time as well. Same feelings as Neemor on that one. Unfortunately, THE absolutely worst talking I ever heard exploded around us during the tune. Culminating in the dude behind me yelling F God. Really dampened a beautiful moment since I couldn’t even hear some of the music. And then Guyute….

  18. Robear Says:

    Butter, what’s a ‘Vortex’ party?

  19. Mike in Austin Says:

    There, that Jinx helped.

  20. BrandonKayda Says:

    You’re right @robear

    So much good stuff over the year I’ve honestly forgotten about some shows.

    5/31 After Midnight/Drowned? Please. $$$

  21. Mike in Austin Says:

    Yeah jdub. My only complaints about the shows were really “the phans”

    Needed to be surrounded by the BB massive to keep me insulated from the glowstick rats, chain cigarette smokers. Talking d’bags, and the worst, drunk dudes throwing glowsticks at the band members.

  22. phlorida phan Says:

    This ball game is a let down

  23. thedayman Says:

    great opinions on here today. to add to your list, BK, i would toss in Superball I – underrated show imo, especially the second frame with the monster simple, c&p, and a great sand taboot. really enjoying 12/28 on playback, glad i was able to be in the house.

    agree w/garretc, re: axilla: no clue that it was off at first, musta been groovin too hard. seems like one of those things that is way more noticeable on the stream than in the room imo, but i have yet to listen back.

  24. butter Says:

    Vortex was an after party on the 30th in Uptown, dj spinning great hip hop for the all the wide eyed kids 😉

  25. jdub Says:

    Saw some idiots keep pushing a huge ball toward the stage which finally connected with Fishman’s drum kit. The tech had to come out and adjust mid song. I think night 2. Just ridiculous. Keep shit off the stage.

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