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. tela's_muff Says:

    Forgot Halcyon will be gettin In the building tonight. He moved away from CO before Dicks, and the kid is due for a big show. Sending good energy his way. Get some Halcy

  2. c0wfunk Says:

    I have gravitated towards more blues and soul myself so maybe that is it.

  3. bobby weird Says:

    i’m with play it leo from page 1. every show is precisely what you make of it. why pay money and spend time only to be massively disappointed b/c your subjective expectations were not met 100%???

  4. Albert walker Says:

    Plus he wasn’t just shredding

    Serious melodic and harmonic shit in those fast ass lines back then

    Shit 95 stash. Cat would drop that jazz knowledge

  5. Albert walker Says:

    Page and mike have been given a bunch more space and stepped up

    Hence brilliant full band jams like dicks light

    But the days of our Jedi jam leader good or bad are long gone

  6. Spasm Waiter Says:

    @miner- I just went through leg 2 of summer and found nothing less impressive. I just felt the playing was tight rock amd roll. there was simple no exploration. And no crown jewel of the show which most shows had this summer. Also fewer of those ambient outros and segues.
    I was obviously joking on the fluffet comment & appreciate your honest assessment.

  7. Albert walker Says:

    Sorry bout all the bitchin

    I’m a cubs fan and Troy is my soriano. I like to bitch.

    Splayed 30th and were back in the game

    Have fun kids. Have the studio up and running. Gonna make some terrible but creative and strange original music.


  8. c0wfunk Says:

    Word bobby.. As Yoda said to link when asked what’s in the cave on dagoba …. Only what you take with you…

    Some seem to thrive on this expectations game though and the big payoff when jackpot is hit. Maybe it adds to the tension and release of the thing when youre seeing every show. Certainly makes for entertaining reviews. Nobody would show up to a site with reviewer who has no criticism and just enjoys everything and just says man that rocked.

  9. c0wfunk Says:

    Yoda said to Luke.. Auto spell thinks I’m talking legend of Zelda apparently

  10. BrandonKayda Says:

    I need to listen to some old mid 90s Phish again. It’s been too long.

    Hope the hose is dropped tonight.

  11. Blakeson Says:

    I hear you AW, their 94 chops were so crisp and fresh (many a 94 show I’d just watch Fish all night), but like cowfunk I really appreciate the experience and deep tool box of the whole band now. Maybe this is part of the head/heart thing. And part of what I meant by some of last night’s playing as personally challenging (and fun) for them as group improv.

  12. xpun Says:

    I loved the energy last night was surprised when I saw track times this morning. Really seemed to me that the songs were all much longer.


    I just saw 30&31 last year and thought the first two nights have blown those away as I think anyone would agree.

    15 year anny of 12-30-97. One of my fav live phish experiences and going to hang with the same guys tonight that I shared that run with. Looking forward to that.

  13. Oldskool Says:

    Funny how a bad review brings out all the lurkers

    Not really sure what the debate is…it was fuckin 12/29! A hallowed day in Phish history. Go listen to the 12/29 shows from ’93-’03 and then go listen to last night. Come on, man (in Keyshawn voice)

  14. purplehumpbackwhale Says:

    my ticket was falsly listed as an Event Level Suite for last night. i wrote a thing to stubhub when i got home, they gave me $150 credit to my account and refunded $150 to my card… so i just used the credit to buy a ticket for tonight. was supposed to take tonight off but i guess we find ourselves in the bilding somehow no matter what

  15. c0wfunk Says:

    Not sure if that includes me but I ain’t been lurking. Actual shows bring me out 😉

  16. BNCB Says:

    Pre party puff session on LES. All invited.

    Oldskool, werd.

  17. DaNcInG fOoL Says:

    mike seems off this run.

  18. gavinsdad Says:

    His scarf seems on.

  19. btb Says:

    I also noticed that Mike was a little lost a few times.

  20. Yemaroo Says:

    Thanks to all for the positive reviews of last night’s solid, fun, high energy show. Some of us love the jamming, some love the funk, some love the high energy rock, but just because a show isn’t sufficiently “cerebral” – whatever that means, or didn’t include a 45 min storage-type jam, doesn’t mean it was “sterile” or a “snoozefest.” Last night was a blast and I couldn’t be happier to see these shows. Everyone enjoy. Maybe, let’s stop thinking and enjoy the music.

  21. c0wfunk Says:

    I’d argue a 45 min storage jam at msg would be quite a snoozefest. Blah who wants to be the only one dancing with a bunch of dudes and their arms crossed. That shits meant for late night at festies!

  22. c0wfunk Says:

    Now thematic circle of fifths improv with a driving rising sound.. That’ll get the place rocking!

  23. roberto luongo Says:

    Ya that Vegas Wolfmans. Who liked that. I hate when phish used to challenge their audience.

    Mike looked extra fuckin creepy last night.

  24. bob dylan Says:

    Blah who wants to be the only one dancing with a bunch of dudes and their arms crossed.

    ^i do. What do i care if those around me aren’t jamming.

  25. bob dylan Says:

    I take this shit way too seriously. Gonna step off and go to robears. At least he’s still funny.

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