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. jtran Says:

    aw liking his decision more today

  2. DukeOfLizards Says:

    This time will be different
    Until I do it again


  3. BNCB Says:



  4. Mr. Palmer Says:

    Have no fear. I will bring the jams into the city with me today.

  5. 20 Minute Halley's Says:

    I would say I feel ruby’d for the fact that I am alive this morning and ready to tackle another day in the city. I hope everyone has a wonderful day of grazing through manhattan. see you all tonight.

  6. 20 Minute Halley's Says:

    ps the stage deli closed its doors…found out yesterday.

  7. GaberT Says:

    “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.”

    That sentiment is a HUGE stretch. Lots of true fans who listen quite closely and are just as picky as any were plenty enraptured. Mound and Reba and Waves and lots of other tunes don’t always have to be taken to the nth degree. Yes, jams are amazing and a key part of the live phish experience, but the essence of the jam is the “unexpected” …it was a fairly straight show, but played well, sorry if that wasn’t what you expected, but the phish comes in many flavors. Buy the ticket, go for teh ride.

  8. BNCB Says:

    Duke, ill just shut up now. That’s what I get for giving the crowd credit. Trey does know this crowd. Jam chasers are doomed.

  9. candyman Says:

    To anyone who watched the webcast…i think it was during the second set, cactus pulled out what looked like a little container and then with great stealth popped some kind of pill I’m guessing. Anyone else notice? Let’s start some conspiracy theories….anabolic steriods…I mean did you see Mike’s guns when he wore the sleeveless shirt first night? Gotta be juicin.

  10. MiA Says:

    The glow stick “toss” and screams were prevalent on the webcast.

    Thank goodness there weren’t more jam vehicles in a show that was OKC’d

  11. Baxter Says:

    I loved last night’s show. The energy was awesome, the playing was tight, sounded so great to me.

  12. BNCB Says:

    MSG Reba……drowned out by a glow stick war.

    Re: MSG

    I rest my case.

  13. BNCB Says:

    Lots of high energy piques the last two nights. Great run for that aspect.

  14. tela'smuff Says:

    for real the one thing i’ll disagree here with Miner is giving the show lower grades than OKC. OKC doesn’t get enough credit for its utter averageness.

  15. Dr pronoia Says:

    I converted two ladies – mom in her 50s daughter around 19 – from Ottowa who were stuck in town and “just wanted to see a concert at MSG” with ZERO idea who Phish were

    I broke it down for them pre show, we raged the whole time, and I finally smoked out the daughter while her mom laughed at her

    They loved the show. Multigenerational Tourist noobs from Ottawa.

    Admit that seeing it thru their eyes enhanced it for me too

    A deep storage waves and they would have imploded

  16. BNCB Says:

    Murray Bagels = the Chronic

    Duke, no one here saw any glow stick action durin that crowdgasm. Smallest glow stick war, ever?

  17. Dr pronoia Says:

    Tonight will restore the faith. Sunday will take us to the Church of Jam

  18. BNCB Says:

    Dr P, storage Waves. That’s all I’m sayin. It was right there for the taking…

  19. TheVic Says:

    Night 1 IMHO was fantastic — 2nd set killed, 1st was more than solid and encore was sub-par. Keep in mind I have not re-listened to the show yet, but last night was confusing. I heard flubs in Mound, Reba and more, but when I don’t hear a crisp Reba I’m immediately bummed due to how much I like the song. I tend to agree with Miner about jamming, but only to a point, because I like to hear Phish songs. I expect set 1 to be filled with contained songs with a couple of highlights but I like set 2 to be space. As far as I’m concerned, opening nights rule; I would pick the 30th over the 29th any day of the week; but when Phish comes to town I go! I expect tonight to be more of what Miner looks for.

  20. MiA Says:

    It wasn’t a “war” it was a toss.

    MSG is a loud arena. Subtle songs get lost. Reba and Slave are casualties and have been since ’94-’95 when they quit playing smaller theater and arenas.

    Apt quiet attention by everyone in the crowd is mostly gone. Chatterers.

    So it is.

  21. elTbone Says:

    There is a huge difference between being jaded and being discerning. I’ve been obsessed with this band since I first saw them in ’92. I find it straight up FRUSTRATING being a phan at this point. Dick’s 1=AMAZING. Last night=BORING. I am glad I didn’t pay for a ticket (let alone travel to NY).

  22. MiA Says:

    I guess I’m saying respin the Reba in headphones and probably a better experience.

    Off to vape and do some gardening.

    Peace everyone.

  23. Mr. Palmer Says:

    I enjoyed the Reba, Gin and the Golden Waves from the webcast.

    Can’t wait for tonight.

  24. sumodie Says:

    After last year’s expectations got crushed, i think it’s a mistake to come to MSG with Dick’s level expectations

    Band sounds more fluid than last year but clearly having such a long break is not conducive to the band’s level of interest in jamming.

    I don’t think the MSG spotlight and the audience are to blame; it’s the lack of fall tour and festive (family) holiday atmosphere. The run must bring a lot of inner circle phish family & friends together.

    As i posted late yesterday, last night’s show in the middle of tour would be very annoying, but last night i enjoyed the high energy rush. Dunno if i’ll still be as satisfied if the next two nights provide more of the same (tho i still intend to have a blast, duh, i’m in nyc)

  25. sumodie Says:

    No doubt webcasting last night would be very frustrating

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