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”

  1. joe Says:

    one to pull out when in a pinch aj – “the players really seem to be grasping the defensive scheme this year, bodes well for the playoffs”

  2. Fly Says:

    I just don’t see the point in discarding whole sets of music because some of it is bad el Dude

    Why not enjoy and appreciate the good music?

  3. joe Says:

    *note: I haven’t seen a bulls game, highlights or even scores yet this year*

  4. angryjoggerz Says:

    I’m actually watching the Bulls this year, ha. I realized that me and football were never gonna work out, so I might as well try basketball, which I dig. I mean, I dont watch every game, cus shit is every day, but from time to time.

    BTW, they are undefeated.

  5. Fly Says:

    yes AJ is gettin into sports!!

  6. angryjoggerz Says:

    sport. one sport. lets not get crazy.

  7. Fly Says:

    come to the dark side AJ

  8. Mike in Austin Says:


  9. alf Says:

    i’m not going to rant. feeling a little too…. uh… relaxed for that

    all i’ll say is that there is hot phish all over this run and the negative overreaction has been really funny to watch

    once it becomes accepted that a show or run was ‘bad’ it’s amazing what you can suddenly say – and i’ve been getting some good laughs the past few days at some gems from you all 😉

    whoever said phish fans over analyze every little thing as if it’s an apocalyptic matter of life and death was spot on 😮

  10. Mike in Austin Says:

    Phish phans = drama queens

  11. Fly Says:

    i got your back alf

  12. Bwana Says:

    Mike’s bass bomb at 11:11 of the Piper jam is barely felt on the SBDs… I thought that was such a great spontaneous bomb and filled the room completely. Not in the SBD unfortunately.

  13. halcyon Says:


    thought of you today when I read about this

  14. Mike in Austin Says:

    There is an inner frisbee thrower in AJ just waiting to get out.

  15. Fly Says:

    i noticed that too Bwana…maybe on FLACs with a sub…I just have the mp3s

  16. Mike in Austin Says:

    That blossom tube is lost in the recording. It was blazing. Like those bass bombs that make you incontinent.

  17. angryjoggerz Says:

    Blossom Tube was a real highlight of the year. Shit was smoking.

  18. SillyWilly Says:

    Oh yeah garretc and AJ when I wrote that original post I said there must be some psychedelia in electronic music but I edited my original post and somehow that didn’t make it it. My bad.

    I wonder if there’s a physical connection to the music in electronic music like there is in rock or jazz. I have no idea, but when its your lungs or fingers directly creating the sound in commune with your fellows…can this be replicated in the electronic scene?

    Is this something worth lamenting?

    Am I older than my age?

    Do I even care or do I starve for aesthetic conversation?

  19. Mike in Austin Says:

    Same with the purple blue lights of Kuroda. Pictures never do them justice because they have a little fluorescence in them.

  20. alf Says:

    thanks fly, and halcy – salazar has been working on that stuff for a while now, but interesting that he’s coming back to it now. thanks for the links

  21. Mike in Austin Says:

    Silly, have you heard Farina’s Mushroom Jazz stuff?

  22. alf Says:

    the reasons the shows were bad seem to boil down into two categories:

    (1) phish didn’t play the shows i wanted (lack of jams, setlist choices, etc)

    (2) slop

    the first we’ve been over and over here the past 3 years – sorry the band didn’t play what/how you wanted them to, etc…. trey plays what he wants when he wants and always has (sure, you can critique these choices, but to act as if phish is over because trey plays some songs in set 2….)

    the second has some merit… but it seems way overblown to me. there is pretty tight playing across this run, with of course some major exceptions. i hear a ton of hot ass phish here, and my highlight list is pretty long

  23. angryjoggerz Says:

    Silly, plenty of “hands on” things happening in electronic music. Animal Collective, for example. Djing is also a hands on situation. Most people agree wtih you and want to have some sort of “live” element in the music, especially live.

  24. SillyWilly Says:

    No, Mike, I haven’t.

    I don’t know much. That’s pure sincerity. But I do have strong opinions. So I always want to learn more.

  25. Mike in Austin Says:

    3) super high expectations because the person going just laid down $$$$.

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