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. Denver_machine Says:

    Minor-always look for you to opine on the latest performances by the band and appreciate the various subtleties you draw out of the tangled and vast spectrum of their musical prowess. Indeed some song selection / placement may have been, well, awkward or lackluster; however it was still the Phish New Years experience in what is most definitely hallow ground for the band that makes it special despite some irregularities. Not a mention in your article about what Phish does best on NYE: their theatrics. What I will Dubb as “cirque de phish” was an impressive feat in itself, including Mike and Trey being suspended 50 ft+ above the crowd jamming through a DWD. Sure Alaska, Heavy Things, Pebbles>ocelot were fillers I didn’t care for. The abrupt ending to Sneaking after heating up what I thought was going to be some Blossom-esque leftovers pulled the emergency brake on me. I must admit that they had the needle cranked up in true arena rock fashion for Fluff, 46>Suzy. A particular highlight for me was drawing the crowd down into a deep, oozy trance with a particularly crispy and melodic Wading–only to bring out the defribulators by launching into a diabolical version of First Tube, that had the entire building moving in a fluid, seismic rhythm. To cap off the four night run a most brilliant and awe inspiring solo on Slave that all should go back and listen to over the next few days. I have seen many over this past year and that was truly magical. So for what it’s worth, I had a blast. I took my wife to her first Phish NYE show, she has seen the band many times, but not for NYE, much less MSG. Maybe it couldn’t compare to my first NYE show in ’96 Fleet Boston or the following year at MSG. There may have not been some of the summer rust-belt Midwest magic, the Carolina’s or Dicks (which I thought was decent). However, (and this certainly isnt aimed at you) I have come to grow rather tired of the constant criticism we lay on a group of guys all of us are fortunate to have around again; who appear in good health and will hopefully continue to share their art sporadically over the coming years. Watching Mike exit the stage last night and let out a huge (sigh), made me think just how tired these guys were. Who knows how many more they have left in them….the touring has seemed to suddenly taper off. In these times I like to focus on what we have and not what may have been, and continue to remind ourselves that we should be grateful to be able to share the experience, no matter if some may disappoint , with a loved one, friends and 20,000 others singing along to a band that brings some joy into our lives. In this New Year lets continue our conversations around music, but not take for granted what we have. Times are too toughnfor many, to be negative when unnecesary. Just my two pennies and I’ll hop off my soap box Keep up the solid work my friend. Peace, health and happiness to all this 2012.

  2. setbreak humorist Says:

    12/31/11 was a great moment in Phish History.

    Trey and Mike were officially put up high on pedestals in the arena. Audience didn’t really notice.

  3. DrDevilSticks Says:

    I knew Mr. Miner would hate this show. Haven’t been reading this blog for a while since he usually is a complete bummer. Can’t believe someone would buy a book of all his “thoughts”.

    I loved the second set, lots of energy in there and just a fun night overall. I bet Mr. Miner sat in his seat all night.

    My hope for 2012 is that he stops going to shows.

    To the rest of you, Happy New Year!

  4. Highway Bill Says:

    …nuff said.

  5. Fly Says:

    I continue to find it odd that people take offense to another’s opinion of a rock show.

    Apart from the wonders of trolling, how does this make any sense?

  6. mike in austin Says:

  7. mike in austin Says:

    Trolling must be a miserable existence.

  8. BeBoz Says:

    Well, well the NYE has ended – ran out of Steam. Went to the first three nights. As a jaded vet, first night was the shizznit, followed by night two, then night three. Am I glad I missed NYE? Not really – I got all the energy I needed from the first three nights. What a way to disjoint a set with Alaska, Velvet Sea .. I mean they are great songs, and I especially thought 1/1/01 Big Cypress Velvet was especially poignant, but they can kill the mood, like Divided Sky or Silent Horse did for me on 12/30. Oh! Us Jaded Vets. Like the NYTimes wrote the other day: “Phish has to provide its familiar joys but vary them enough to surprise fans who are obsessively meticulous tabulators.” Jam-seekers, transcendentalists, and ‘the guy looking for the perfect jam segment with a little space, funk and ambiance, Type III or whatevers’ : we can never be completely pleased anymore. Oh! the plight of the jaded Vet – How many shows deep are you 230? 412? 75? since ’92? or coveted ’89? Oh! The Jaded Vet rant!

  9. TheMightyQuinn Says:

    Fully agree with you here Miner. Felt like Trey and Mike were fighting all night. Tonight they didn’t sound like Phish, it was a bad version of TAB.

  10. Fly Says:

    wtf do u know about trolling noob?

  11. yanzlow Says:

    They also had those parade-float style “holders” to lean back on behind them on the platform (view from 400s made that clear). Its been a while since I’ve posted to the board, but i’m up strangely early, and this will be a very talked about (if not listened to) run for quite some time. I want to echo the sentiment that Phish has split into a band that seems to be able to choose one of two routes through a show these days – either the psychedelic journey or the ‘we just love playing our songs in arenas’ style. I personally had a lot of fun boogieing down even without the mind melters, but since Phish is really the only band around that (for me) approaches the realms of IT routinely, it’s a disappointment when they don’t. I can see plenty of bands that can create energy, and slay their songs. In fact this run reminded me of the allmans’ more recent beacon runs, where they’re comfortable, really good at tension/release jamming, but the ‘deep’ moments are rather scattered.
    But that’s improvisation – sometimes it just doesn’t go down as you’d like.
    Happy New Year to all, and here’s to a month of phish practicing “including your own Hey” before next tour!

  12. stapes Says:

    Need greasy breakfast. Don’t want to get off couch to cook. Ahhhhhh.

    I may just spend most of the day on the couch with Miner’s book and some tunes.

  13. stapes Says:

    @mighty Quinn – there did seem to be some tension between Trey and Mike. I think mike gets annoyed by Trey’s ADD

  14. Robear Says:

    2012: the year we find out if the Mayans were more than blood thirsty, organized, barbarians.

  15. garretc Says:

    What’s up kids? Anybody going to be kickin’ it in their nyc hotels this afternoon? Need to check out by noon, flight doesn’t leave LaGuardia until 5:05. Will come bearing brews…

    Let me know: (six five zero) seven six six – nine two five eight

  16. Robear Says:

    Phish has a good formula: the majority of casual fans lapped this run up. They will be back. Us hardcore fans are completely hooked for days and weeks and months and time. We will be back, despite this run. They can play 4 underwhelming shows and still look forward to a solid 2012 of ticket sales, whatever they decide to do.

  17. butter Says:

    firmly and respectfully disagree with Miner’s take of 12.31.11

    set 2 was kick ass and Light > Golden Age was amazing. i love the way they use light similar to the GD’s drums and space. Alien encounter style last night. Holy Smokes. Suzy

    listen to Mike and Fish just utterly destroying the pocket in Alaska, with Page just drilling the grand, while The Crimson Dago is laying down some of the sickest blues licks you’ll ever here

    i felt their prankster spirit was on full display last night. and they pushed the boundaries with the Steam and people flying.

    the liquid chunkyness in Cavern and Wedge was remarkable

    Slave encore was magical

    Photos from last night

  18. Highway Bill Says:

    …h8rs unite. Tonite we ride!

  19. Robear Says:

    Anyone notice my man Kinnaly @ the WW booth in Tahoe during the set break photos?! Tell me Tahoe didn’t look sweet.

    My Phish Wish for 2012: a 3 night run somewhere on the West Coast.

  20. halcyon Says:

    Did someone mention ADD?


  21. Mr. Palmer Says:

    I’m curious to hear if there is anything more to the stories we heard about there being issues with sound inside. Seems like there were quite a few flubs and miscommunication between band members. Couple that with no practice and you have underwhelming shows. Oh well, Its a New Year.

    Lets kick it off the right way.

  22. butter Says:

    its only rock and roll but i like

    get a grip everybody

    happy new year

  23. mike in austin Says:

    Fly, was that at me?

  24. plord Says:

    I thought that Steam was an absolute beast. As was foretold on this board by many. I kept not watching the spectacle on the webcast because I had my eyes closed rocking out to a legit wailing peak.

  25. Robear Says:

    Palmer, time for you to visit the west coast. Be my financial advisor. I’m about to go flat broke fixing my house. Seriously, every penny I have saved, will be gone soon. I’ll be spangeing the lots, and looking for ‘miracle’ tickets.

    The run was Fun! Something to be said for being able to have fun in this world. It’s a big responsibility that Trey and Phish take on……being in charge of us having the time of our lives, over The New Year week. I wonder what each of them think of the shows. Or if they do think about them.

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