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. TreasureReprise Says:

    @AW actually just threw on my “Downtown Top-Ranking” tee today!

    Miss you guys here!

  2. Albert walker Says:

    Nice man. Tell everyone me and K say what’s up.

    Hopefully see you kids out west this summer

    We got Charles Bradley live and número group spinnin45s for NYE here

    Should be chill.

  3. TreasureReprise Says:

    Will do…only Skye and his lady here from our core crew. Missing a lot of good people here this year. Only got to see GD for a split second yesterday too.

    That NYE party sounds legit, enjoy!

  4. TreasureReprise Says:

    Off to Blue Bottle to recharge….peace.

  5. lifeboyo Says:

    This made it’s rounds here yet?

  6. bob dylan Says:

    I thought I was left out of the roll call til I realized I was poser. Fuckin el dude left with a bang at least.

    Anyway. I like how miner rolled it off his sleeve at the end of the article. I’m not in such a roll off the sleeve mood today. The waves non jam still had my ass chapped. Hopin it was trey kickin down to the sat night New York crowd and that we get a ridic show tonight before the nye rocker.

    Come the fuck on. Jam shit out.

    End rant. Least were making good memories.

  7. bob dylan Says:

    Don’t post nye spoilers. C’mon.

  8. alf Says:

    look on the bright side, at least troy didn’t force rift on the GA jam when that terrible idea popped into his head

  9. BNCB Says:

    Silly an I will go dig for you AW. Get ready for photos, approve or disapprove.

  10. tela's_muff Says:

    For real @Alf. Heard that shit coming. Waves was a nice choice.

  11. bob dylan Says:

    It all started with crowd control and Robear turning to me and saying “crowd control, this show is gonna be a scorcher”


  12. bob dylan Says:

    Nah, I’d have gone with the golden age into rift if they brought waves ready to deliver right after. Who chops off waves???!!

  13. BNCB Says:

    Sumodie, call me wood ya?

  14. Albert walker Says:

    I have to fuckin work tomorrow. Fuck.

  15. Blakeson Says:

    I gotta say some of you are an easy mark. Phish has been playing song-based sets since forever. I saw almost every 94 show and those tours were riddled with head-stratchers like last night. Some nights they really do like to play within the bounds. I would even surmise that it can be more challenging for them to have the focus on individual playing rather than group mind (like Page’s extended solo in Suzy, Mike’s in Boogie On, and even Trey in Caspian or Velvet Sea). Now if they did this every night we’d have a problem. I can feel for those whose sole ticket was last night, but that’s always been the gamble. Miner’s ‘cerebral engagement’ line is the heart of of the problem. Sometimes the band’s focus is a HEART engagement (arguably like last night), and the head and its expectations, attachments and consequent criticism is at the wrong show.

  16. butter Says:

    Treasure Rerise! Have a pour over for me.

    Agreed DF I thought 1st jam in waves was massive

    Last nights show doesn’t surprise me one aye oota

    Good write up Miner, tellin us how you really feel. I can appreciate that.

    Balance of run hangs on tonite:

    MSG OR MehSG ??

  17. bob dylan Says:

    Brooklyn hat coming out tonight. No holds barred.

  18. butter Says:

    But the only Waves of the year sans a second jam


  19. gavinsdad Says:

    All relative. All my “old timer” friends were in the bldg.

    Miners thoughts are his. Obviously many agree w him. Lack of exploration will not equate to a “bad show” to me. Shitty playing will equal a bad show. They were fierce last note in more than a few places. Just not that “4 headed beast” already alluded to this am.

    Bring on the next one.

  20. Albert walker Says:

    In 94 though blakeson which I also did a bunch of Fish and Trey had chops for days to support a typical more individual solo shreddy style night

    His playing just isn’t as interesting anymore when he shreds. Feels nostalgic.

    His peaky rawky jazz shred runs have left the building

    Not saying last night was bad. Shit they sounded tighter than night I IMO.

    Just as a musician and music fan not that interesting for me.

  21. butter Says:

    Furthur was surprisingly brilliant last night.

    Incredible Cassidy jam in the 1st set, and set 2 was highlight strewn peaking with other 1 > vioala lee with totally deconstructed jam

    Now expectations are a bit up for NYE

  22. bob dylan Says:

    Blakeson. We don’t have expectations. We WANT jams. We do NOT WANT a waves without a jam.

    Harder for them to have one dude solo? Wtf?

  23. bob dylan Says:

    I didn’t think the playing was bad last night either @gdad. Just not my preference.

    Ill take a rawk show as long as there’s a centerpiece.

    Same old argument different day. Not saying jam every song. But give us one to take home and you’ll hear gushing. I think the sat night crowd could handle it. Go get another beer or something.

  24. bob dylan Says:

    That wasn’t all at you gdad. Just agreeing in line 1

  25. MiA Says:

    Set I: Possum, Sample in the Jar, Backwards Down The Number Line, Alaska, Axilla, Scent of a mule, Roses are Free

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