This year’s New Year’s Run was up and down. Actually, it was up to down, peaking on the first night and then gradually declining in musical quality, but for a spike on for 15 minutes on the 30th. For today’s look back at the MSG run, lets look at some of the best, and no-so-great moments.
1) “Piper” 12/30 II
From my perspective, this jam was head and shoulders above the rest of the Holiday Run. In a show in which Trey and the band struggled to stay on the same page, during “Piper,” something clicked. As the guys broke form, it was like they morphed into different musicians—ones that were suddenly on fire. For the duration of this journey, the band explored many modern textures, evoking the sounds and styles of 2011, while pushing forth into original territory. “Piper” likened a sparkling oasis of creativity amidst a desert of quality Phish jams from the 29th to the 31st, and it is the only piece of music from the run that can flirt with the upper echelon excursions of the year.
After reinventing the song during Fall of 2010, Phish stayed inside the box with “Carini” in all but one version this year (Essex, Vt). Thus when the band flipped the jam from the menacing to the melodic upon a dime, the audience was ready for action. In the only other truly transcendent jam of the run, the band came together into a gorgeous and cohesive collaboration. Soaring into the stratosphere, Phish had our hearts tied to the music, when, in the midst of things, and totally in rhythm, Trey hinted at “Tweezer!?” On the first night? Indeed! He continued to lay down the opening lick within the mellow groove of “Carini,” and the band formed a near seamless segue around him. “Tweezer,” itself, provided a swank, laid-back staccato funk fiesta that turned out to be the most significant groove-based piece of the run. A quality version with stellar four-part jamming, this smooth-turned-crunchy “Tweezer” completed a musical couplet that was the other keeper of MSG.
3) “Cities” 12/28 I
Relistening to this jam in the car yesterday, I was struck by how long the band explored out the fourth song of the show. Amidst more abstract textures, Trey responded to Mike with a funk pattern, hooking the band and audience in the first “moment” of the run. Mike directed the beginning of this jam, while Trey got a chance to stretch out several styles in what turned out to be one of the more interesting jams of the run. Regardless of the fact that “Cities” ended rather abruptly, any time Phish throws down an 11 minute creative jam at the top of the show while passing through multiple feels, that’s pretty much a win.
1) “Ghost” 12/31 II
After colossal versions of “Ghost” highlighted the second sets of New Year’s Eve in both ’09 and ’10, when the band oozed into the song during the central frame of this year’s holiday show, a distinct sense of anticipation gripped the room. A void of groove-based playing throughout the night was about to be filled by the third, consecutive New Year’s Eve “Ghost” throwdown— or was it? Instead of flexing their funked out or creative muscle, the band played a generic, guitar-based rocker that was completely underwhelming. With nary an original measure, Phish methodically moved through a straightforward and uneventful jam before moving into another improv-less, head-scratcher, “Sneakin’ Sally.”
2) 12/30 Set I
A legitimate argument could be made for Set I of the the 30th as being the lightest and most uneventful set in New Year’s Run history. For real. Not only did the band not attempt anything creative, Trey botched almost every song to the point that it was obtrusive to the overall performance. And Phish, as a whole, didn’t play very well at all. Add a setlist that was hard to believe anyone, let alone, Trey would piece together, and you’ve got a genuine frame of “Phish Lite.” Even “Sand,” one of the focal points of the year, transformed into a flat, one dimensional, guitar-only piece. There have been some weak sets in the Holiday Run history, but none quite like this. This one was bunk.
3) “Axilla” 12/30 II
When Trey and company struggled with the entire opening section of this song, the “record-scratching” flub was indicative of the band’s lack of communication—largely with their guitarist—throughout much of the 30th. A complete mess, this was one of those times you glanced at your friends with that pained look on your face in jest, because this one really hurt the ears. Ironically, moments later, the guys pulled it together to play the jam of the run in “Piper.”
Tags: 2011, New Years