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:

    couldn’t disagree more silly, with the threatened it part…. crosseyed, 2001, week, yem, antelope, steam…. just off the top of my head are all ‘type 1’ or ‘straight forward’ jams that i hear plenty of improvisational conversation in

    not to mention the big jams

    i guess that gets to my larger point. people are acting as if phish didn’t just play great music together and suddenly the whole project of phish itself is coming to an end.

  2. Fly Says:

    What would feel threatening is if there was no good improv and communication for all of MSG

    But that the communication was there amidst slop tells me that there were some reasons behind it lacking and thats it, time to move on, enjoy the music, and wait for the next show

  3. alf Says:

    fast-paced rocking shreddy music does not necessarily imply a lack of conversation or interplay

    i hear some old school type shows when i listen to these, with a few giant cutting edge hand wavers tossed in for good measure

    this piper is as good as it gets

  4. Fly Says:

    i’d say the DTE Disease is as good as it gets, alf, but that Piper is pretty fucking money

  5. alf Says:

    i’m done though, i’ll sit back & wait for aw to call me a douche for defending broadway stylee phish 😉

  6. Fly Says:

    lol yeah i’m pretty done too brother

    time to make my way to dreamland

    catch you all on bisco tour

  7. alf Says:

    one thing we can all agree on is that dubbing is a must

  8. Lycanthropist Says:


    I am still trying to keepy psychedelia alive…

    May be just doing a little bit in the grand scheme, but I am trying 😉

  9. tzara's Says:

    @silly, check out Spiritualized, Ladies and Gentlemen We are Floating in Space. I think they’re one of the most psychedelic bands going, though admittedly not totally up to date.

    @lycan, checked out your Paradox Charlie vid today, great stuff! When’s west coast tour?

  10. tzara's Says:

    Also, lycan, for maximum psychedelia, wave hands randomly near a theremin.


  11. Lycanthropist Says:

    i wave my body in the air a good bit as you could see from the videos

    Lycanthropy is the max psychedelia of the five.

  12. tzara's Says:

    Cool, rolling it now.

  13. Lycanthropist Says:

    lots of random noises in the air on that one 😉

  14. tzara's Says:

    Totally. What kind of room is that in? Looks like a pretty big performance space. Are you running those “hand-waving” noises from your keyboard?
    Now we’re hitting the type II, 9 min in.

  15. Lycanthropist Says:

    It was at a private party in a warehouse.

    It was a lot of fun. The guy that owns the space owns a production/recording company and wanted to showcase his capabilities.

    We wanted to do the same.

    The party presented itself and the rest is there on film.

    Yes I am using the synth for the “hand-waving” sounds

  16. sumodie Says:

    Good authors too who once knew better words,
    Now only use four letter words
    Writing prose, Anything Goes.

    alf = douche

    D’oh! That’s 6 letters 😉

  17. TreasureReprise Says:

    Black Angels bring that garage psychedelia for real.

  18. sumodie Says:

    ^ broadway stylee lyrics freely stolen from Cole Porter

    (I got some serious IT from that musical….yeah, that’s right, IT)

  19. Lycanthropist Says:

    The Red Sparrowes as well. A kind of Floydian sound.

  20. SillyWilly Says:

    I understand what you’re saying Alf and I agree with you.

    The whole project of Phish is not coming to an end.

    I guess I’m just trying to facilitate and make space for a criticism that isn’t just apocalyptic, but that has a real theoretical validity behind it.

    You’re right, too, that fast-paced shreddy rock doesn’t necessarily imply a lack of conversation.

    I’m not doom and gloom on this run, at all. I’m simply saying I understand the emotion behind the criticism.

    We’ve beat the shit out of this run and I know that for many it’s completely played out. That’s fine. I’m just giving voice to the idea that there’s more to the criticism than complaining.

    I don’t mean to complain. I mean to shed light on what I love about Phish: which is the communication and articulate why I think some are feeling down on the run: lack of communication (at least relative to the summer)

  21. SillyWilly Says:

    re: Musicals

    my point is and always will be that it’s a tired genre.

    I still feel bad that that conversation got so violently opinionated so quickly because my point was only aimed at an aesthetic discussion, and not a personal one.

    And, my point is that – compared to other things Trey could get into – a musical is a step away from creativity and originality.

    ****I, however, am a complete, utter, total, horribly antagonistic art snob, and my opinion should only be valued if you’re ready to accept that I will make completely self-serving statements like Stephen King is an entertainer and not an artist. Andy Warhol kinda sucks. And that Hollywood hasn’t produced something worth watching….ever. (Ok, only every once in a very long while)

    so my perspective is just different than most kids you’re gonna have a beer or bowl with.

  22. garretc Says:


    Saw Black Angels last year, wasn’t impressed… Haven’t listened on album, so it could be a whole ‘nother ballgame, but live it didn’t do much at all for me…

    Black Mountain coming on after them though was, I felt, a lot better, although I didn’t quite think they stood up to album quality

  23. garretc Says:

    Weird, my comment is awaiting moderation?

    BB, don’t you recognize me? It’s me, garretc! We go way back!

  24. Mr.Miner Says:

    fast-paced rocking shreddy music does not necessarily imply a lack of conversation or interplay

    ^ true, but…the in their sleep thing applies here, imo

  25. hemulenspotter Says:

    I am a relative novice to Phish’s NYE experiences, but for me, last year’s show was stronger. Nevertheless, Phish always puts on a good show, and the mood at MSG was upbeat…

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