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
***Unfinished

12.28.12 (Graham Lucas)

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673 Responses to “A Sterile Saturday Night”

  1. Erock Says:

    Mr minor I’m sorry that your role as a critic forces you to think of shows in this manner. Yes there was no jamming on this night but that’s what happens with the ebbs and flows of a four night run. Were you in the building even? Wile it was a “song based affair” it was hardly a snooze fest and everyone was rocking. Maybe it’s time to just enjoy shows for what they are.

  2. sumodie Says:

    Reba screaming (& likewise during Coil) was puzzling tho ultimately the energy rush was kinda cool (even if i never want that to happen again). Did it somehow give troy the msg to go all cawk rawk? Maybe

  3. patrickstash Says:

    etree has crashed

  4. KimchiMcGee Says:

    Mr. Miner wouldn’t be much of a music critic if all he did here was blow the band with rave reviews of each and every show. I’m too busy to listen to every show and rely on MM to help pick out the highlights of each run. Thank you MM for keeping it real and letting us know when the band disappoints.

  5. sumodie Says:

    Off to Academy Records down on 18th st

    http://www.academy-records.com/?no_redirect=true

    How late is that bucky ball art display electricified? Certainly not all night…or?

  6. timezone Says:

    The Suzy was sick, a and there were definitely some other highlights, but it seemed like trey went deaf mid-RnR, and except for when he opened his eyes and stood back during Suzy, he didn’t respond to anything the rest of the band tried the whole night. It was quite the letdown after Friday night. I think they knew it, and the First Tube encore went a ways toward making amends. Hopefully they rest up and Trey remembers to listen tonight.

  7. c0wfunk Says:

    Sugar shack was really tight to my ears. Nice to hear such polish in a random tune like that

  8. greatquux Says:

    miner – just because there was little type II improv doesn’t mean there wasn’t any. the improv was contained inside limb, gin, waves, caspian, suzy, and 46 days (not to mention the coil and 1st tube encores). that’s the incredibly tight improv they just couldn’t/wouldn’t do in 2.0 (though they were still phish and i still loved ’em then). i could NOT STOP DANCING last night during set 2, despite having a few hours’ sleep and walking around the natural history museum all day. can’t wait for tonight!

  9. InAMinute Says:

    Phish has much more often than not in their history played Saturday night specials. Last night was one of them. Super high energy. I thought the huge cheer during Reba was a massive compliment to the band with the crowd feeding off of and giving back serious amounts of energy. Still can’t believe they didn’t go into 2001 post golden age. That place would’ve exploded though.

  10. PigSong Says:

    I’m pretty stoked on Phish. Webcasted last night – wasn’t disappointed, although I spent the time playing games and drinking some good beer with family.

    That said, none of my n00b inlaws were particularly hooked. I’d probably have a tougher time convincing them to give up the house again tonight.

  11. BingosBrother Says:

    We’re standing on a phiscal cliff.

  12. sumodie Says:

    ” I thought the huge cheer during Rebawas a massive compliment to the band with the crowd feeding off of and giving back serious amounts of energy”

    Same here

  13. MiA Says:

    Great to see so many lurkers … unlurking.

  14. ren Says:

    Definitely woke this morning with the “Saturday Night Special” thought in my head and yes, not all too uncommon. Just hurts that much more during a holiday run.

    But so it goes…ebb and flow. Ready to double down tonight with last nights foil to maximize the experience.

  15. tela's_muff Says:

    High energy and tight playing are words I hope to hear less of in 2013.

    Loose, free flowing, liquid groove, crack-like rhythm, deep jam. More of those.

  16. TreasureReprise Says:

    I left MSG last night pretty frustrated too. Completely agree about the lack of jamming. I came to fully realize how awful the remodel is for Phish shows there. I was on the floor, but at set break, trying to find friends elsewhere in the venue proved to be a fool’s errand.

    Two reasons I will always come to MSG anyways:

    1. The crowd energy. They just get IT. That huge rousing cheer was point in case.

    2. If Phish continues to only play 5 shows over the course of a 9-10 month span, I will be in attendance.

    Haven’t been on here in a while, but has there been speculation about the NYE gag being “G” themed?

    (M)eatstick 2010
    (S)team 2011
    (G)???? 2012

    If there’s a Ghost tonight will Gamehendge actually happen? There hasn’t been any save for Bag which is peripheral to the story anyways, no?

  17. Jake Says:

    When the crowd starting going nuts during the quiet part of the Reba jam, that’s when I knew it wasn’t going to be the right crowd for a big jammer night. the band probably noticed too: “wait, we just got really quiet like we might take this out somewhere, and the audience is just making as much noise as they can…”

  18. DaNcInG fOoL Says:

    If it’s the 4 months off that is the reason for this then why have some of their best shows in the last few years been after they’ve had 6 months off?

  19. TreasureReprise Says:

    Edit: 4 shows, not 5…but the point is made.

  20. glennw Says:

    I love reading your feedback. It’s immersive, the closest to MSG I’ll get from my couch. Listening to Friday’s Bowie now on awesome cans and thinking that Phish is like an NFL season. Despite any perceived “mo” there’s no telling what may happen on any given day.

  21. DaNcInG fOoL Says:

    Waves had one of the better first jams ever. Too bad they forgot the second jam.

  22. angryjoggerz Says:

    the lack of jamming in set 2 was particularly harsh after the set break video of Trey geeking out on his pedals and talking about the storage jam.

    Phishy prankiness.

  23. Jake Says:

    @sumodie –

    We tried to see Buckyball post-show yesterday, it was off

  24. DaNcInG fOoL Says:

    What did trey say about the storage jam?

  25. Mr. Palmer Says:

    stop trying to figure it out. It just is. Tonight will slay brains

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