On the first night of their highly anticipated 2012 New Year’s Run, Phish stepped onto the Garden’s stage and stunned their audience with an era-defining rendition of “Tweezer,” invoking the improvisational spirit we witnessed in Denver just months ago. Showing no signs of rust from their extensive off-season, the guys backed up the night’s monstrous centerpiece with highlights of “Wolfman’s Brother” and “David Bowie,” not to mention rock solid play throughout the show. Watching the band play with such polish and confidence on the first night of the run brought unbridled enthusiasm not only for the music that went down, but for the limitless possibilities that the next three nights now contain.
Following a straightforward opening set, less a stellar “Wolfman’s” closer, Phish could hold back no more and tore open the universe at the start of the second with a free-form, to-die-for “Tweezer” that needs to be heard to be believed. The band connected the many movements of this masterpiece with a criminal smoothness, resulting in an ego-less and sophisticated musical adventure that is beginning to define the new contour of Phish jams. Harnessing the egalitarian improvisational gusto unveiled in the Rockies over Labor Day weekend, Phish played a jam in which nobody dominated while different members stepped up to lead throughout. Courageous, utterly refined, and woven with meticulous precision, this “Tweezer” proved that the music of Denver was no mile-high fluke, but a legitimate turning point in the course of the band’s modern chapter. Trey’s playing, a topic deserving of its own paragraph, was defined by both confidence and cooperation, leading when he saw fit and stepping back just as effectively in other parts of the jam. Moving from a soaring beginning to a bass-led, bliss-laden middle, onto an more minimalist, melodic section before finishing in a profound sonic convergence, this fully-realized jam brought a bit of everything into the mix, vividly illustrating why we go to such lengths to see Phish perform. Astounding in every sense of the word, “Tweezer” was the stuff of musical reverie and provides a gem of 2012 that can only be rivaled by Dick’s “Light.” And if this happened on night one of the run, there is unquestionably more to come. Wow!
Though this spine-tingling exploration stole the show, there are other points of note as well, first and foremost, the guitar showcase of one Trey Anastasio. Shining bright all night long, Trey played masterfully in all milieus without ever dominating jams. Assertive yet deferring at the perfect times, Trey’s leadership stood out around every corner in both sets. With scorching solos in “Maze” and “Theme,” carefully integrated offerings in “Stash” and “Twist,” dirty, rhythmic swank in “Wolfman’s,” and minimalist guidance in “Bowie,” Trey’s discerning aesthetic was a huge takeaway from the first night at MSG. Armed with a seemingly limitless arsenal of evolved techniques, he was up to any task last night, and something tells me the next three nights won’t be any different. It has been a long journey for Trey to reach this point of proficiency in the modern era, but he has truly arrived once again.
Improvisationally speaking, “Wolfman’s” and “Bowie” provided the other high points of the night. Using the former as a first set closer, the guys took “Wolfman’s” in a more original direction than they have in recent memory. Splashing into atypical funk textures, they passed through “stop-and-go-ish” type jamming before moving further away from structure and into a seductive exchange in which Trey infused the progression of “Little Drummer Boy.” The whole band immediately picked up on the holiday spirit, as they integrated the song into the jam without ever losing the groove. Then, on a dime, they melted right back into the funk. But instead of jumping to the song’s ending, they guys infused a blues build into the jam that creatively returned them to “Wolfman’s.” Taking a bow and moving into setbreak, this piece got their creative juices flowing after a high-energy opening frame—and you know what happened next.
Closing the second set, “David Bowie” provided the other musical high point of the show. The band united in a gritty conversation that built in intensity throughout, giving the audience a glimpse into the song’s ethos. A sinister tone pervaded the jam and the intricate exchange never lost momentum, as Phish stamped a strong conclusion on the night with a revitalized version of a song that has lost its way in recent years. In between “Tweezer” and “Bowie,” the guys sandwiched some intense jamming with “Maze” and “Twist,” but neither moved outside of the box.
If the band had just played “Tweezer” and walked off stage, it would have been plenty to satiate much of the Garden’s crowd last night. But supporting the monumental jam with high-energy selections and two bounce back jams in a couple of classic vehicles, Phish delivered a very strong opening course to their four night extravaganza. And as we look forward to nights two, three and four, the questions are out the window and only excitement remains.
I: Stealing Time From the Faulty Plan, The Moma Dance, Funky Bitch, Army of One, Tube, Stash, Nellie Kane, Kill Devil Falls, Free, Wolfman’s Brother -> The Little Drummer Boy -> Wolfman’s
II: Tweezer -> Maze, Twist* > Theme From the Bottom, Fluffhead, David Bowie
E: Bouncing Around the Room, Good Times Bad Times
*Little Drummer Boy teases and quotesTags: 2012, New Years, The Moment