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. alf Says:

    (and once it was accepted the shows were ‘bad’ the slop became ‘fuck you trey for focusing on broadway and not practicing!!!!’ instead of what it would have been if the shows were accepted as ‘good’ – rust after a few months off)

  2. alf Says:

    i understand that frustration mia, i just lumped it into #1

  3. Mike in Austin Says:

    AJ probably knows more than me, but there is a lot of jazz/psych/improv/hip hop that really feels organic, yet with a thick beat. I like it.

  4. angryjoggerz Says:

    Silly, some electronic artists that I highly rec checking out when the time is right:

    Boards of Canada
    FLying Lotus
    Aphex Twin
    Falty DL

  5. Fly Says:

    yeah alf people were looking for the holy grail

    like dick’s x MSG = island tour 2.0

    some of the criticism is definitely valid but there is no point in beating a dead horse

    move on and talk about what was hot and enjoy it

    once i am convinced a phish show will not take me to where i want to go i will stop going

    that is so fucking far off it doesn’t exist

  6. alf Says:

    anyway i don’t want to start some debate here, just listen to the music

    there aren’t complete shows or even sets, and not many long exploratory jams….. but there is plenty of great playing here, every night of the run

  7. SillyWilly Says:

    What I mean is exclusively communal.

    I want a intensity of interpersonal relationship on stage.

    I want humans cooperating in a way that stands as a model of cooperation for life for politics for culture…etc. etc.

    Organic is the adjective I like, but organic in the sense that a collection of human ears are engaged with eachother and result in a cooperative aural quilt offered up as the absurd tapestry we and we alone are capable of (outside of a metaphysical explanation.)

    Could be happening all over the place. I’m just making a declaration of desire.

  8. plord Says:

    Silly, yes and no. Plenty of electronic musicians play the parts into the machine to keep a human feel. Many others turned to electronics specifically because they were capable of a level of speed or precision not generally possible by a human on any known instrument. Both tendencies, taken too far, lead to crap. But an electronic musician well versed in psychedelia can mix them and create works of immense spiritual depth.

    This applies to sound design also, there are timbres you can make through frequency modulation or granular synthesis that don’t exist in nature and don’t appear outside of the synthesizer world unless someone (I’m looking at you, Bob Moog) pulled the circuitry out and jammed it into a guitar pedal.

    At the farthest-out end of that scale, there are people working on meditative drones that are based on frequencies that beat at the same wavelength as the delta and theta brainwave patterns seen in deep sleep or advanced yoga; that stuff will spin your mind up good if you have the temperament and patience to sit still, clear your mind, and let it work.

    I can do that sometimes. I prefer to trance out and groove for 10-12 hours though.

  9. Mike in Austin Says:

    jazz is really about listening to each other. Good music is always cooperation. Don’t know if it’s a model though, but I’m a very literal person at times, so what do I know.

    The thing about DJs is that they feed on the crowd also. But good DJ’s don’t always just amp it up. There is an ebb and flow that needs to occur. Bring up, down, sideways, etc.

  10. angryjoggerz Says:

    I mean, if you want organic communal experience, nothing (to me) beats a hot and sweaty dancefloor at 3am. That shit is real.

  11. angryjoggerz Says:

    But what do I know, I’m just a wooked out old school raver who spent far too many sunrises in broken down warehouses in the midwest.

  12. Mike in Austin Says:

    But to SW’s point, the feeling/look of 20,000 people during a gorge rnr is unique. Communal on a massive plane

  13. SillyWilly Says:


    Thanks that was really enlightening and its great to learn the perspective.

    Yeah I understand the musician to crowd dynamic, but what I crave is the musician to musician dynamic. The cooperation to create.

    I dig the the musician to crowd thing, but what I’m really after is the musician to musician connection. The contribution from many to make a complete whole.

    That’s where music can stand as allegory. And that’s fascinating to me. Language can be allegory, but when can music without lyrics become allegory??

  14. Mike in Austin Says:

    That everyone was getting off to DwD on NYE doesn’t surprise me at all. That place is infectious. Even if they aren’t exploring new soundscapes.

  15. Fly Says:

    Mike Phish has gone to shit, just like this site

  16. Mike in Austin Says:

    Good question SW. Music is difficult because there are a lot of rules and structure, but improvisation is the opposite but has to abide. We are conditioned to certain phrases though, that bring back certain memories. So I’d say I think good improve is certainly capable of allegory

  17. SillyWilly Says:

    I guess this goes more to Alfs comments than I meant it to. But, of course, I don’t want a straight forward rocking phish. I dodnt even want a tight prog phish.

    I want a phish able to communicate with each other. I want trey reacting to page. Mike and fish forming a flexible pocket. 4 men participating in an unselfish project communicating with eachother in a way simply not experienced in everyday life. I want a creative effort that reclaims human potential for…everyday dudes like trey anasatasio, page mcconell, john fishman, and michael gordon.

    Did they forfeit this conception over New Years?? No. But they threatened it. And that’s scary. And that’s why we get the reaction we do.

    Maybe you can argue that th level of communication didn’t fall to a threatening level and at that point I simply disagree. Which is fine and there’s no point arguing over that because there really can’t be an objective discussion over that.

    I’m just saying I completely understand the reactions.

  18. butter Says:

    click my orange for photos from MSG and NYC

    still uploading, editing, labeling and all that

    Miner working on getting you a more complete photo folder with descriptions and all dat

  19. halcyon Says:

    ambient inspiration

    Peace BB.

  20. SillyWilly Says:

    Oh I totally messed that post up, MiA!

    Music can stand as allegory when it represents a communicative effort amongst individuals tp create a whole.

    So jazz and improv realizes itself when it faithfully creates out communication.

    I fucked up what I meant earlier.

    I prefer music without lyrics because as our boy Derrida proved (I think) language means more than we realize all the time. And therefore is slippery as all shit.

  21. Mike in Austin Says:

    There we go.

  22. Mike in Austin Says:

    Like it Halcy. The collective finds of this pocket of the Internet are amazing

  23. SillyWilly Says:

    I think also truly great Phish is great in person AND holds up on tape.

    Why? For no other reason than the tape is there.

    Yes, the priority should be on the live scene, but Phish has proved they can play great in the live setting while remaining timelessly wonderful on tape.

    so the best shows accomplish this. I can listen to Winston/Salem 97 in 2025 and think its a great show based purely on the music.

    This isn’t directed at anyone or any comment. This is just something I’ve loved about Phish for years. They can blow you away from the same night in multiples decades.

  24. Jtran Says:


    Would love to pick over your cd collection of electronic stuff I’ll dig soon 🙂

  25. Fly Says:

    Oh yeah, I agree to a certain extent SW, but I can’t see three subpar shows as threatening, especially when there is stuff like the Piper, 2001, Bowie and other shit in those shows

    Now if that happened for a whole tour I would definitely see it as threatening

    So yeah I understand all the criticism and I even understand belaboring it but I don’t really see the logic of belaboring it

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