A Sterile Saturday Night

12.28.12 (Graham Lucas)

Shows like Saturday night’s at Madison Square Garden leave me scratching my head, wondering what, exactly, the band was intending to do. Following an opening night that laid the groundwork for a stellar run, the guys came out on one of the holiest days of the Phish calendar, 12/29, and barely attempted a lick of open improv. Following Denver’s revelation and a monumental “Tweezer” on the 28th, one had to expect at least a chunk of musical risk-taking on night two. But with one sonic body blow after another, they guys made it a point try absolutely nothing. There is no doubt that they played their songs quite well, and nobody can take that away from them, though we expect Phish to play their songs proficiently at this stage of the game. However, if we are calibrating shows by their level of cerebral engagement—music that enraptures one’s wildest imagination—12/29 was the least impressive of the year by leaps and bounds.

12.29.12 Official (J. Flames)

Before going any further, let me state—once again—that I go to Phish shows to see them jam; to witness the band weave musical memories in real time. If I wanted to listen to Phish songs, I could throw one of many CDs to happily meet that desire. But shows are supposed to be something more. Phish shows are the times when we have the privilege to be awed by the superhuman powers of the most magical musicians on earth. But there was nothing magical about last night at all. With little rhyme or reason, the guys sculpted a piecemeal setlist that possessed no direction or vigor whatsoever. I would love to write about the improvisational highlights of the show but there were none. Zero. Zilch. A few minutes of bland, quasi-connected, atmospheric funk out of “Golden Age” represented the band’s only attempt at any sort of jamming. Even songs like “Rock and Roll,” “Reba,” “Bathtub Gin” and “Waves” that almost always feature exciting improv were delivered in straight forward and unspectacular fashion. There were plenty of high-energy moments—specifically “Suzy Greenberg” and “46 Days”—but those are meant to be the supporting cast, not the lead actors.

The concern that now comes into play for this Holiday Run is whether the 28th will wind up as the best show of the run, just as it was a year ago. It felt like Dick’s provided a pivot point in the development of modern Phish. It seemed that the guys had their hearts rededicated to sophisticated musical experimentation, and that the “hit or miss” aspect that has annoyingly pervaded 3.0 was a thing of the past. But after last night’s song-based snoozefest, that all seems like wishful thinking. Perhaps the 29th was just a bump in the road, but by anyone’s standards, it felt virtually inconceivable that the band would pull out such a performance on Saturday night at the Garden. But they did. And there is nothing to do but smile, put it behind us, and comeback on the 30th for a massive bounce back night of improvisation.

I: Crowd Control, Mound, AC/DC Bag, Rock and Roll, Sugar Shack, Reba, Halley’s Comet > Limb By Limb*, Wading in the Velvet Sea, Bathtub Gin**

II: Golden Age > Waves > Prince Caspian*** > Boogie On Reggae Woman, Suzy Greenberg, Bug, Cavern, 46 Days

E: The Squirming Coil, Grind, First Tube

*Follow the Yellow Brick Road tease
**”Susie Q” quote from Fishman

12.28.12 (Graham Lucas)

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673 Responses to “A Sterile Saturday Night”

  1. [Not Tom] Says:

    @cow – yes Fishman sang part of the chorus once or twice laughingly.

  2. gavinsdad Says:

    My friend and I tried our best to milk every ounce of energy out of that set, rolled with the set list choices, the bag and Suzy in the same show, etc. back of floor east was tight at times, discombobulated at times, and one minded at times. For my only show of the run we made the best of it.

    I enjoyed the extra sauce on the LxL, I feel like the Gin is absolutely worthy. I liked the Golden Waves quite a bit. It’s always funny when I read a review like this…I say this with someclear hindsighting: I think I fall into the fluffer camp so readily because my foundation with Phish was from when Phish was a type 1 rocking precise proggy band. I have a fine time without tons of improv. Certainly I enjoy the open exploration the best but I got my money’s worth last nite regardless.

  3. Dr pronoia Says:

    Going to be a dark day on the board

    Getting there early to post up close in GA west tonight

    See you fellas there for the epic rebound

  4. Aaron Says:

    This show was a good “prom” setlist. Good dance vehicles, more slow moments than us REALLY old-schoolers would like, and no solos that made any effort to leave the chord and tempo they started in. My first-ever Phish show was Prov. ’94 (18 years ago last night) and this was not that. But it seemed like most of the people there had a lot of fun. Some really great Page moments last night anyway. Will be a great show to listen back to on a drive or something. Not the best to be at for this old guy, but whatever. Still Phish!

  5. BNCB Says:

    Next time I come to NYC it will be without Phish. Such an awesome place to visit. But going in to MSG so early for these rawk shows is kind of ruining the experience.

    Phish at Dicks.

    Restaurants and shopping and museums in NYC.

    Fuck Boogie On!

  6. Jyogi Says:

    Respectfully I must disagree. It was the perfect Saturday night rager at the Garden. High high energy throughout from both the band and crowd. Straight ahead balls to the walls rock and roll. From my experience following this band for the past 20 years they have nights where the jazz influence is with them and musical improvisation is the focus and other nights where they just put their heads down and try to blow up the joint.
    Last night was clearly the latter and from the get go the did exactly that. Highlights include Bag into R & R, a monstrous Gin to close the first set, golden age flawless and groovy, perhaps the highlight – a dunked out Boogie on with solos from Page and Mike a la Tube 12.28.97 into a high high energy Suzy. The crowd was raucous throughout. 46 days to close was as one fan said ‘a total face melt’. I left this shoe feeling it was better than Friday from top to bottom. More consistent energy. Friday had better ‘moments’ but the first set was a snoozer until Wolfmans. I have no doubt that upon relistening last night’s show will rank itself with the high praise for a Saturday night barn burner befitting NYC. Tonight the jams will come. It is all good to those with an open mind free of the burden of preference and the shackles of expectation. Peace

  7. BNCB Says:

    LxL was sweet. First set delivered more for me. Loved Golden Age, liked Waves. Over the rest of set 2 before it started.

    Obviously danced and shared the Love with the Universe the whole time. Broadway Treigh can’t derail that aspect.

  8. [Not Tom] Says:

    Remember Boogie-lope? That was also on the 30th

  9. c0wfunk Says:

    Ahhhh Miami.

  10. BNCB Says:

    Tom they are not here to jam. They are here for high energy New York rawkers. Miami was full only Phish fans.

    This crowd is not sure how to even listen to bliss in reflective quiet.

  11. Al Says:

    Show opener tonight: Tweezer reprise – and all is forgotten
    Show opener tonight: Sample in a Jar – oh, oh, oh….

    Hoping for a long Birds, Scents, A Song I heard, Ghost and Melt.

  12. thedayman Says:

    Perfectly stated. Everything played well, but no improv to speak of. Ah well. Win some lose some. Night 1 tweez and bowie were siiiick

  13. [Not Tom] Says:

    That’s too bad BNCB but I hear you.

    Man did I enjoy Miami. Would an awesome place to be on NYE. Beach it during the day, get jammy at night.

  14. BNCB Says:

    2 jams in two nights. Back to the Turkey Shack!

  15. Al Says:

    I wonder whether Trey came off stage last night saying:”we played a bad show” or “man, that was a fun crowd, tonight!”

  16. BNCB Says:

    It was a well played show for the most part. I don’t think they care if they jam or not. Lots of slop too though.

    They practiced songs like ‘Funky Bitch’, not ‘Reba or Waves’.

    First set was solid minus Reba missed outro.

    Set two was lost on the Prince.

  17. Boris Says:

    Lots of disappointment last night, eh? Boris says phooey. Phooey Phooey Phooey


  18. Dorn76 Says:

    Half the people in the crowd cheer when they realize Page just said “New York” during RnR.

    That’s the audience. Phish kids around us were still having fun dancing through the talking around us and rolling with the classic Sat night special list.

    Not surprised or disappointed at all really. We all know the formula for multiple night runs. It’s not MSG ‘ 11. Yet.

    Even BNCB was on the ledge in SF. Starting to agree with the sentiment on NYC. So much other shit to do there!

  19. Dorn76 Says:

    Nice bumping in to Willowed and JDub.

    When in doubt…


  20. BNCB Says:

    Believe meter at less than 50% over Macy’s @ Boris.

    Treigh not helping.

    Crowd loved the show. This is the least Phishy crowd of 3.0.

    FTR, I am less high on night 1 than Miner. Post ‘Tweezer’ was everything I’ve heard enough of from Phish. The cut and paste mail in post 1 big jam, is played out. Maze ad Bowie were good. Yippee!

  21. 20 Minute Halley's Says:

    tale of two shows…had golden age developed into a spacey 2001, with that consistent start stop jamming, upping the shows jamming energy and not been rip-corded to an airy free fall in Waves; or then waves ambient outro not resulted in the waters of Caspian, and maybe “on the winds and underwater, under water…” segue into…(insert your guess here) then the show might have turned out differently.

    Said another way; the boys could have also played a second set consitenting of just TTE. The show definitely would have turned out differently.

  22. 20 Minute Halley's Says:

    If you can muster the energy to get up at 8:30 AM, then there are almost 12 hours a day to get “into” the city.

  23. [Not Tom] Says:

    Re: sentiment that NY is a place to visit sans Phish, that’s why I’ve been to NY 3 times but only one NYE run (which was Miami actually). I still need to go to a show at MSG no doubt, but if I’m going to spend my hard earned money traveling to the City of all cities it’s during late October or early November. If Phish wants to play MSG as part of a Fall tour again, sign me up first on the list.

  24. BNCB Says:

    Unless you walk in @5:15

    But thanks for the tip brah!

  25. 20 Minute Halley's Says:

    Into the venue? Back to your room?

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