Limited Adventure

12.30.2011 (Joe Iudice)

After a strong performance on the 28th in which Phish took no less than three jams into uncharted territory—“Cities,” “Carini,” and “Rock and Roll”—it seemed as though they were setting the table for a daring and risk-strewn four nights. But in the following three shows combined, the band took exactly two jams outside the box in “Piper” and “Light,” while also sitting in a smooth funk groove for about two minutes in “Golden Age.” And that was it—an entire New Year’s Run worth of exploration. Dwarfed by each of the modern era Holiday Runs of ’09 and ‘10—both of which produced several timeless pieces of improvisation—this MSG stand was noticeably void of adventurous jamming, a staple the band’s 2011 playing. Sure, Phish put on some tight rock and roll shows in New York City, but this is Phish, they can do that in their sleep.

Let’s summarize the highlights. “Piper” was certainly the crown jewel of the run, when, in a single moment, the band jumped onto the same page and crafted a layered and looped-out, psychedelic masterpiece that touched the divine. Synced like no other time during the four nights, Phish sculpted a jam that stands head and shoulders above the rest. “Carini” turned into a truly blissful and harmonic collaboration before smoothly landing in “Tweezer.” “Rock and Roll” certainly pushed the envelope with varying rhythmic cadences along the way, and when the band couldn’t really connect in “Light,” despite Page’s best efforts to start something, they brought the piece down for the run’s Theremin jam. This part of “Light” became increasingly engaging—the most interesting music of the evening—but Trey pulled the string way early for an absolute trainwreck into “Golden Age” as the rest of the band was deepening. Then, as “Golden Age” was just getting somewhere, the band stopped for “Theme.”

12.31.2011 (Michael Stein)

Throughout 2011, Phish’s focus returned to innovative improvisation; the true rebirth of psychedelic Phish music. No longer were jams formulaic, but original and forward-looking, as the band carved new musical pathways for themselves, specifically with the late-summer addition of “storage jamming” to their repertoire. Think about the jams at Bethel, Super Ball, The Gorge, and UIC or Denver. And then think about these past shows—there’s simply no comparison. My initial question is, “Why?”

An obvious theory is the 3 1/2 month layoff between performances. But when Phish was off for 6 months between 1/1/11 and Bethel, the time off certainly didn’t seem to effect them when they came out with two of the strongest shows of the year. Perhaps the band didn’t rehearse enough before this run, as Trey and Mike have been off pursuing other projects, and they wanted to play it safe. Perhaps, and most likely, the band just decided to treat the Big Apple to some high energy rock shows—a trend at MSG this era—and if one looked around during many of the straightforward shredders, most everyone was loving it. But something seemed off, the band’s spirited and airtight interplay was noticeably absent, even within their contained jamming .

12.30.2011 (J. Iudice)

Pronounced most on the 30th, in a first set in which he flubbed several parts of several tunes, Trey seemed to have his own issues and agenda for much of the weekend. More than a few times there were onstage struggles between Big Red and his band mates as he tried to pull them out of jams, and as usual, Trey always won. The music of the final three nights, less “Piper,” didn’t possess the daring spirit that has infused the band’s jamming from Bethel through Denver—it just wasn’t there. Happy to play recital-esque shows, even “Ghost” and “Sneakin’ Sally” didn’t get any whole-band improv during the second set of New Years’ Eve—arguably the marquee set of the year! Conservative to the core, it seemed like something was holding Phish back this weekend. Or maybe they just couldn’t hook up? As the final three shows of the year produced a total of one keeper, it certainly isn’t a far-fetched theory. But after a marathon summer of proficient jamming, less a show here and there, this run felt out way of place. With so much straightforward rock jamming and song-based sets, dare I say that the final three nights of 2011 felt a little like a far tighter version of June 2009? Hmmm…

Perhaps all of these conjectures are ridiculous and the band accomplished exactly what they wanted to—a high-energy celebration over the final days of the year. But for many of us going to see Phish for a bit more than fun and a good time, it certainly felt like something was lacking. After a year of improvisational triumph in which Phish recaptured their musical magic on a consistent basis, the band closed out the year with some extremely vanilla shows in the World’s Most Famous Arena. Has Madison Square Garden become a modern platform for energetic jamming rather than a mecca for Phish’s standout performances? This past week, it certainly was.

12.31.2011 (Graham Lucas)


Jam of the Day:

Piper” 12.30.11 II

The most impressive whole-band communication of the run; a gorgeous Phish jam.


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601 Responses to “Limited Adventure”

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  1. butter Says:

    Good article Miner. Broken down from an exploration standpoint I def agree with your assessment.

    Haven’t spun this the last three shows, but I know for the 30, 31 Piper, Light > Golden Age is pretty much it for exploration. Want to spin before I talk, but nothing from 29th II?

    Also I’m good with one phat center piece jam per night, surrounded by a tight show

    And yes this run could have been tighter and jammier

    There was def some playing with the setlists this run. See Caspian and YEM in your 2 hole. tube encore. Dusty hydrogen

    Free Glide

  2. butter Says:

    28, 31, 29, 30

  3. Little Buddy Says:

    I listened to a little last night for the first time. It was painful to hear the way Trey forced that Golden Age out of Light. Mike and Fish had stumbled upon a raucous pocket behind Page’s spaceship and Trey just pushed the Golden Age theme right through it. The band resists for a good minute, but to no avail. Hey Trey, “Mike says no!”

    I know they will come back in full force next summer though, so I’m not worried.

  4. Willowed Says:

    Great read Miner.

    I mentioned this a few days ago but you put it into words much better than me. If you go for a good time, this weekend was great. If you go for the opportunity to transcend to special places, this was not for you.

    We always have fun, it’s Phish at the garden. I think we expect a little more. Some of us anyway.

  5. Cal Says:

    Whatever the reason(s), all I know is if I’d spent a buttload of money on tickets and travel, I’d be feeling a bit ripped off. I know Phish doesn’t give a shit if it’s an old-school fan that gets in or a tweeked out, fist-pumping rocker kid, but if I’m going to put in the time and money, I’d hope I could count on at least a hefty dose of that shit only Phish does. I’m sure I’d have fun regardless, but a week ago I was bummed I couldn’t be there, and today I’m thankful I didn’t waste the dough. That’s not how I should be feeling.

    Hope you all had a fantastic 2011, and that 2012 is going swell! Just popping in, have a great day, wish I had more time to hang out here but life got super busy (in a good way).

  6. st8 of mind Says:

    I hope they keep spoiling us with these webcasts.

  7. Foul_Domain Says:

    Nice piece, Miner.

    I had high hopes after 12.28. I thought it was a well-played show with a few little surprises in the setlist. 29 was disappointing, but made me think that they would bring the heat over the next 2 nights. I think the 30th was the worst show of the run, even for a “rocker”. But maybe the most disappointing aspect of the entire run was the 3rd NYE set. I dont understand how you can follow the NYE stunt with Alaska and Wading. I felt like Trey was just trying to fill the gaps before getting the hell out of the building.

    I dont think there is any 1 factor involved here. I would guess that Trey wanted to keep a lid on the jamming for the most part, probably because they didnt get any meaningful practice in before the run. I think that if this was the case, then crafting the setlists on the fly is probably a mistake. There was little to no setlist flow on the 30th or 31st.

  8. Luther T. Justice Says:

    That’s it. No more New Years runs at MSG. How about some place like San Francisco next year? Take them away from their homes so they can focus. Just an idea.

  9. ReidIcculus Says:

    Anyone else notice how Trey won’t say “everybody gonna wanna dose” during Quinn?

  10. themanmulcahy Says:

    Perhaps they have been writing and playing new material on the side…not practicing the old tunes, but engaged in new music. Might explain their lack of enthusiasm for the jams we have been hearing them shred over the last year.

  11. InAMinute Says:

    I thought the entire Mikes Groove had a ton of creativity as well. One of the most unteresting 3.0 Mikes. Really surprised on the consistent negativity here especially after some incessant fluffing over much if the last three years. Thankfully I really enjoyed myself. I also noticed all of them full smiles a ton so perhaps as the final paragraph said they set out to play some really fun holiday shows and accomplished that.

  12. InAMinute Says:

    Interesting…Fruedian slip. Ha

  13. zach maxwell Says:

    While I would agree that their wasn’t a lot of sublime exploration, I would disagree that some of their straightforward rockers were missing something. Julius had a huge extra kick in it on the 30th, as did Good Times Bad Times and Divided Sky. Definitely some flubs on Trey’s part but I thought their straightforward playing for the most part was superb and elegant.

  14. Fly Says:

    Thing is, Bethel didn’t come directly after the holidays. I doubt these now family men were about to leave their wives and children on the days surrounding Christmas to recalibrate their jamming prowess for the denizens of the Black Board or the like.

    They practiced enough to play a very nice show on the 28th, and then more of the slop showed up on the following nights (it was there on the 28th, too – see Stash – but it was less pronounced).

    But we are all such freaking spastic nerds that we can’t seem to see it as such. We have to analyze it to death in nearly apocalyptic fashion. If, come summer tour, they continue to be sloppy, or only Rawk, we will have something to talk about. Or, if there is no summer tour, we will have something to talk about. As it stands, though, I think we have belabored the point. Enjoy some of the excellent music produced outside of the slop on the MSG run. There is plenty. Spin the incredible music from this summer. Await the Phish’s triumphant return. Or await a large enough sample size of data to condemn them.

  15. PeterB Says:

    Spot on Miner…I walked away from these shows wondering why I bothered, because, it sure as hell felt that the band didn’t want to be bothered. Next year, I stay home with the wife and kids and watch the simulcast. More tickets for the youngin’s that are just getting into the band and let this old vet relive my ’93, ’94 and ’95 holiday tours.

  16. Fly Says:

    Shameless self-promotion:

    Fly Says:
    December 27th, 2011 at 8:29 am
    I think we will see Piper fully lift off into the storagesphere this MSG run

  17. RebaNick Says:

    Come on guys…. just because each show isnt filled with space travel like other shows have been doesnt mean its a disappointment. I have to appreciate the Rockin fun shows as well. And thats what these were. I had a blast. Its all about high energy, good times, and dancin’ grooves. Maybe the next run will give us some blissful improv. But if it doesnt happen so be it… lets have fun!

  18. Jtran Says:

    Time to spin the 29th Mike’s groove

  19. jdub Says:

    It is kind of perplexing that the most exploratory show, the one loaded with multiple peaks and risk taking was night 1. What is one to do? After being a big fan of a NYE run at MSG for the last 2 years I definitely think it might be time for the band to either bypass the annual tradition (which would give them space to be with family/pursue other avenues and deliver the goods when they are in the right head space) or take the circus away from NYC and the distractions.

    I don’t think a comparison to June ’09 is even remotely warranted. Even with the flubs, odd flow, and restrained exploration the band brought far more creative fire than they were capable of 3 years ago.

    Either way, I don’t believe it was anything other than a blip on the progressive trajectory of this band. (or don’t want to believe)

  20. Guyute711 Says:

    Some pretty cool gee-tar work.

  21. voopa Says:

    How about some place like San Francisco next year?

    Now we’re talkin’!

  22. Mr. Palmer Says:

    “But we are all such freaking spastic nerds that we can’t seem to see it as such. We have to analyze it to death in nearly apocalyptic fashion. If, come summer tour, they continue to be sloppy, or only Rawk, we will have something to talk about.” – Fly

    ^^ on point flyboy. I concur with this post.

    I don’t think NYE will be in NY next year. Its getting stale at MSG.

  23. Guyute711 Says:

    So it seems to me that ESPN and really the media in general have put a boycott on talking about the Cuse. Last night Len Elmore was asked what he thought about the Big East and he said he thought Louisville was overrated and that he was surprised that Georgetown was able to compete. Yeah, why would you bring up the #1 team in the country. I’m sure the scandal has something to do with it but maybe it was Boeheim telling ESPN to go fuck themselves.

  24. voopa Says:

    Re-watched NYE last night up to Wading. Pretty strong stuff for the most part, just lacking jams outside of Light. Good energy, and mostly really tight. The contained jams delivered, and mrs. v wasn’t phased by the Theme’ing of Golden Age, in fact, she actually looked delighted when Theme started up. Too bad they petered out at the end.

    And the Fishman and Mke interviews from setbreak remained as part of the webcast.

  25. dyda Says:

    listen to the current message on mike’s hotline. he seems to think pretty well of the run.

    also, i’ve never been down with the webcasts. the notion is company man phish. the camera angles of 3.0 videos leave much to be desired. less ADD edits & more of the CK5 sbd angle, please! look into hiring the guy who directed the IT & brooklyn dvds. those were more of what we should be looking for. and you know, the tapers will have the show up online soon enough afterwards if you really must hear a show that soon. remember the days of tape trees? oh, but i gotta have it NOW.

    the shows that were webcast that i wasn’t at, i did not buy the streams for. look at most of the shows that have been webcast. generally not the band’s best outings. out of the way shows (mostly on weekdays) that one must make a bit of a dedicated effort to attend like portland, augusta, utica, syracuse, manchester, first two nights of bethel, watkins, gorge, etc are where the purest version of phish is to be found. msg obviously is not that venue/market anymore.

    the nyc crowd that msg draws seems to elicit a lesser phish these days. does that have something to do with the makeup of the audience? possibly. look at how many people custy up outrageous amounts to be in the garden for these shows just because they’re event shows. that should tell you something right away. building up unreasonable expectations goes along with these marquee shows as well. this year things fell flat in a big way & the anticipation made that fall even harder.

    sorry if it offends some, but a crowd that is made up of a large number of people who spent so much does not carry the same vibe. yes, this is a direct indictment of those people. i have to question whether or not a person who spends multiple times face because they just had to be there really ‘gets’ what phish is about. yes, i’m quite sure everyone was raging, but just looking at these setlists raised my eyebrows. i knew something was off.

    3.0 phish knows how to play to their specific audience depending on the location/venue. nyc now sends a vibe to the band that produces the type of shows we got this run. god. damn. hipsters.

    i chose not to go to the run this year & i feel i made the correct decision.

    side projects being a distraction is a very likely assumption for part of what didn’t happen these past shows. also, trey really needs to ease his hold of the reigns on stage. no wonder mike is more enthused by his band. page has been a rock & we can all hope fish keeps on milking those cows in the offseason.

    i have a bad taste in my mouth after his run. the extended time off will be a good thing. let trey do broadway, symphony & tab. get that out of your system, red & then turn your focus fully back to phish if you are serious about it not turning into a caricature.

    2011 was a great year for the most part & this run was more likely a bump in the road. we shall see. i am slightly concerned about the future at this point though.

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