Off the Shelves in 2012

Posted in Uncategorized with the tags , on January 29th, 2013 by Mr.Miner

Jones Beach 2012 (Shelly Siegel)

Bustouts—some live for em, others are apathetic, but they always make for entertaining talking points in the fan community. Here are my top bustouts of the year that just past.

6) “Buried Alive” 6/7, Worcester, MA— More significant than the fact that Phish played “Buried Alive” for the first time in a year was the fashion in which they played it. By opening Worceter’s first show—and the entire year—with the old-school instrumental, the band gave an implicit message to fasten our seat belts for the oncoming ride. Not only was the show that followed one of the year’s best, but 2012 was the most impressive year of the modern era. Evoking the days of old school musical antics, the guys wrapped this show’s smoking second set with a “Buried Alive” reprise out of “Cavern,” the perfect finale to the opening night of 2012.

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Loaded

5) “Sweet Jane” 6/29 Noblesville, IN—One of everybody’s favorite songs from Halloween ’98′s Loaded set, “Sweet Jane” hadn’t been played  since that amazing night in Vegas. Instigated by a sign in the front section of Deer Creek, the band took the Velvet Underground cover off the shelf for only first time in 352 shows and played it for only the third time in their career. This feel-good anthem got the second night in the cornfields underway in stellar fashion and spurned a set filled with rarer selections.

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4) “Shaggy Dog” 6/22, Cincinnati, OH—Riverbend’s 2012 installment featured the most impressive first set of Leg One, including the bustout of “Shaggy Dog” for the first time since Fall ’95 (574 shows) and the second time since since 1988! A relic of Phish’s earliest era, this was a song most of us first heard on the Ian’s Farm tape of 8/21/87 and certainly a piece that most in attendance in Cincinnati had never heard live. This bustout was an early sign that this would be an awesome night by the Ohio River.

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The White Album

3) “Happiness is A Warm Gun” 7/3, Wantagh, NY—In the middle of Jones Beach’s first set of the weekend, the band plucked this Beatles classic out of thin air. Having performed the song only once during “The White Album” set on Halloween ’94, the gap between versions clocked in at 658 shows! Needless to say, this was a first for most of the crowd on Long Island that night. I’ve always loved this song, making this bustout especially meaningful for yours truly. You gotta’ love the Phab Four playing the Fab Four in any format.

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2) “Roses Are Free Jam” 6/8, Worcester, MA—If I was being shamefully subjective, I’d put this moment at number one. After April 3, 1998 in Nassau I jonesed for another “Roses” jam very badly. Salvation finally came in the swamps of Florida as Phish dropped a monumental version to bring up the sun of the new millennium, but since that timeless passage brought the darkness into light, the band had strictly used the Ween cover as a straight forward cover sans improvisation despite the launch pad it presented. Pretty much every time it dropped over the next decade, friends and I would exchange looks of sarcastic anticipation in jest of the routinely ignored possibility. Needless to say, when the band didn’t stop the song and swam into open waters during the first set of Worcseter’s second show, my head nearly exploded. This was the moment for which I’d been waiting for so many years, and the subsequent jam was one of my favorite parts Leg One.

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Little Feat

1) “Skin it Back” 7/3 Wantagh, NY—I remember looking at old-school setlists in The Pharmer’s Almanac back in the day and seeing a song called “Skin It Back.” Upon looking it up, I learned it was a Little Feat song. Hmm, Little Feat, that band of “Waiting For Columbus,” that album my buddy rocked so often in high school. That’s about as far as I ever got with the song until this summer. As Phish began the song to kick off the Jones Beach stand last summer, I and many others were sure we were finally getting the return of “Spanish Moon” for the first time since Halloween 2010, but the band was digging much deeper. Within a verse or so, it was clear what was going on, Phish had exhumed that song I read about so many years ago—”Skin it Back!” This performance represented the biggest bustout of all time—literally—with a gap lof 1,417 shows between appearances, and when the band jammed out the song to commemorate its return they left little doubt that it would be an occasion that every fan would remember.

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Miner’s Top 10 of 2012

Posted in Uncategorized with the tags , , , on January 25th, 2013 by Mr.Miner

12.28.12, MSG (Graham Lucas)

It took a ton of deliberation, crossing out and remaking lists to come up with my favorite jams of 2012. I pondered not even trying to pare down Phish’s prolific year to a “Top 10″ because there are plenty more jams that are outstanding, but when it comes down to it, these are my favorite pieces of music from 2012. Don’t read too much into the rankings, as deciding on an order was quite the ordeal and I flip-flopped places many times before settling on this one. Enjoy the music and come back next Friday to check out the ten jams that I would put just behind these. A great weekend to all.

10. “Down With Disease” 12.30 II, MSG

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9. “Rock and Roll > Ghost” 8.15 II, Long Beach, CA

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8. “Twist” 6.22 II, Cincinnati

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7. “Light > Ghost” 7.1 II, East Troy, WI

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6. “Carini” 12.30 II, MSG

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5. “Crosseyed > Light” 8.19 II, San Francisco, CA

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4. “Chalk Dust Torture” 8.31 II, Denver, CO

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3. “Undermind” 8.31 II, Denver, CO

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2. “Tweezer” 12.28 II, MSG

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1. “Light” 9.1 II, Denver, CO

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Trey Goes to Toronto

Posted in Uncategorized with the tags , , on January 24th, 2013 by Mr.Miner

Last Friday, Trey traveled north of the border for the first time since his ’06 arrest, kicking off his brief winter TAB tour at Toronto’s Danforth Music Hall. Phish Thoughts had photographer Jesse Herzog on the scene to capture Trey’s first international performance since his 2008 comeback, and today I share with you some of his shots from the night up north.

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1.18.12, Toronto, Ontario (Jesse Herzog)

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1.18.12 (Jesse Herzog)

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1.18.12 (Jesse Herzog)

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1.18.12 (Jesse Herzog)

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1.18.12 (Jesse Herzog)

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1.18.12 (Jesse Herzog)

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1.18.12 (Jesse Herzog)

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1.18.12 (Jesse Herzog)

 

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2012′s Type II All-Stars

Posted in Uncategorized with the tags , , on January 23rd, 2013 by Mr.Miner

12.28.12, MSG (Graham Lucas)

And here are 2012′s all-star jams. The ballots please…

FIRST TEAM

“Light”—Overflowing with creativity virtually every time out, “Light” takes home the 2012 MVP trophy in a runaway contest. Beginning with AC’s “Lighteca” and ending with the Dick’s now-household version, “Light’s” improvisational campaign went unmatched by any other jam. Each rendition seemed to build on the one before until the song’s outing in Denver leaped into the conversation of all-time jams. “Light’s” 2012 season was the best by any song in the modern era.

Best Version: 9/1 Dick’s

Most Underrated Version: Alpine Valley 7/1

Other Versions of Note: 6/16 A. City, 6/23 Star Lake, 7/8 SPAC, 8/17 SF

“Tweezer”—Phish’s classic launchpad finally returned to prominence last year, stepping up its game over leg two and finishing with a bang at MSG with the defining version of 3.0. Steeped in feel-good, bliss-laden jams over the second half of summer (aside from Bill Graham’s foray into abstraction) every time “Tweezer” dropped during Leg Two, a treat ensued.

Best Version: 12/28 MSG

Most Underrated : 8/17 Bill Graham

Other Versions of Note:  6/10 Bonnaroo, 6/24 Blossom, 8/22 Kansas City, 8/26 Charlotte, 9/1 Dick’s

“Ghost”—“Ghost” came to play in 2012 and easily lands a spot on the year’s starting five. Following a breakout season debut at Worcester, “Ghost” continued to perform at a high level all year long with its two of its most profound and uplifting performances coming in Long Beach and MSG.

Best Version: 6/7 Worcester

Most Underrated : 8/15 Long Beach

Other Versions of Note:  7/1 Alpine Valley, 7/6 SPAC, 9/2 Dick’s, 12/31 MSG

“Carini”—Phish dropped three monstrous versions of “Carini” last year—Worcester, Dick’s and MSG—that all traveled in different directions illustrating the diversity of the jam. Spanning blissful ambient textures, groove based improv and dark, mindfuck abstraction, “Carini” featured some of the year’s best jamming.

Best Version: 12/30 MSG

Most Underrated: 8/31 Dick’s

Other Versions of Note: 6/7 Worcester, 6/10 Bonnaroo, 6/30 Alpine Valley

“Golden Age”—This new era cover finally broke last year after a largely contained 2011 campaign. Bursting at the seams from early in the year, the band expounded on “Golden Age” throughout both legs of summer tour. Often dipping into hard funk grooves and sometimes moving beyond, there was no shortage of highlight versions for a song that has been begging for this treatment since its Albany debut. Hopefully the band has settled on this type of improvisational role for the appropriately titled 3.0 anthem.

Best Version: 7/3 Jones Beach

Most Underrated: 8/25 Lakewood

Other Versions of Note: 6/24 Blossom, 6/30 Alpine Valley, 9/1 Dick’s

*****          *****          *****          *****

SECOND TEAM

This year’s second team of jam vehicles is quite a formidable squad in its own right, illustrating the increased diversity of launchpads last year. Each of these boast definite consistency and at least one amazing version.

“Down With Disease”—Though “Disease” didn’t hold the same place of prominence as in other recent years, the song still sprouted some quality jams. Two underappreciated versions came in Cincinatti and San Francisco, and the best versions of the year—by far—kicked off the second set of 12/30 at MSG.

Best Version: 12/30 MSG

Most Underrated: 6/22 Cincinnati

Other Versions of Note: 6/29 Deer Creek, 7/7 SPAC, 8/17 SF

“Piper”—“Piper” maintained its rock solid position in the regular rotation, always containing the possibility of a significant jam and most of the time delivering.

Best Version: 6/8 SPAC

Most Underrated Version: 6/30 Alpine Valley

Other Versions of Note: 6/15 Atlantic City, 8/22 KC, 9/2 Dick’s, 12/31 MSG

“Twist”—Phish expounded on “Twist” more in 2012 than in recent years when they primarily used it as a contained jam. This song produced one of the year’s top jams with Cincinatti ominous excursion while the other standouts traveled in a more melodic and ambient directions.

Best Version: 6/22 Cincinnati

Most Underrated : 7/4 Jones Beach

Other Versions of Note: 6/15 Atlantic City, 8/29 OKC, 12/28 MSG

“Rock and Roll”—Though “Rock and Roll” remained in significant rotation, most often producing some sort of exploration, only two versions jumped off the stage—Long Beach and Pelham. Other’s provided solid chunks of jamming though probably won’t make any tour highlight reels.

Best Version: 8/15 Long Beach

Most Underrated : 8/24 Pelham

Other Versions of Note: 6/20 Portsmouth, 6/30 Alpine Valley

“Chalk Dust Torture”—”Chalk Dust” snags the fifth spot on the second team on the strength of its final three outings of summer. Building the jam in magnitude over these three versions, the band crafted one of 2012 indelible jams at Dick’s during the Fuck Your Face show.

Best Version: 8/31 Dick’s

Most Underrated Version: 8/25 Lakewood

Other Versions of Note: 8/28 St. Louis

*****

One-Off Type II Gems:

“Roses Are Free” 6/8 Worcester,” “Birds of a Feather” 6/15 AC, “Back on the Train” 6/28 Deer Creek, “Waves” 6/28, “Fee” 7/1 Alpine Valley, ”Sneakin Sally” 7/6 SPAC, “Simple” 8/18 SF, “Crosseyed” 8/19 SF, ”Limb by Limb” 8/28 St.Louis, ”Undermind” 8/31 Dick’s, “Runaway Jim” 8/31 Dick’s, ”Sand” 9/2 Dick’s

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Jam of the Day:

Crosseyed > Light -> Sally -> Crosseyed” 8.19

The signature jam sequence of 2012.

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The Resounding Echoes Grow

Posted in Uncategorized with the on January 21st, 2013 by Mr.Miner

Barefoot Bob (1975-2013)

Perhaps the most rewarding aspect of the Phish experience is the people we meet while on the ride. Amidst personal exaltation and sonic revelation, the friends we make are the most lasting treasures of the traveling circus we call home. So many of the people we hold dear at this point in life we have met through the interconnected circles of the Phish universe. As we have gotten older, however, many of us in the Phish community have dealt with unexpected losses of people with whom we have shared such powerful life experiences. There is nothing more heart-wrenching than a kindred soul plucked from the earth before his time, and on January 7, the community lost another dear friend who was taken from us far too soon. Robert Eckhart, known to many as Barefoot Bob, succumbed to cancer at the young age of 37.

Bob was a significant presence in the Phish world in several ways, specifically through his participation on Phish.net and Twitter. Sharing his passion for Phish, The Grateful Dead and other bands with fans far and wide, Bob actively reccomended his favorite shows and provided copies for anyone who needed them. He helped initiate the Phish Twibe Listening Party, a weekly online get-together for participants to listen to and discuss classic Phish shows. Above all else, however, Bob was an exceptional person. His love for people and enthusiasm for music were catalysts for the formation community and close friendships, and his influence moved far beyond those who were lucky enough to meet him in person.

Barefoot Bob (right)

When Bob was diagnosed with tongue cancer in May of last year, he went through painful surgeries to have part of his tongue and the lymph nodes in his neck removed. This was followed by many difficult radiation treatments, and when his doctors finally thought he was cancer free and all he had left was to rebuild his body and learn how to speak and eat again, tumors began to appear around his stomach. The only course of action was a brutal schedule of chemotherapy. For a time, it looked like an experimental trial conducted at the University of Chicago would provide Bob and his family with a bit more time together, and he even had hopes of attending some of December’s New Year’s shows at MSG. Sadly, though, Bob’s health quickly declined. Thankfully, he and his family were able to spend one last Christmas together. Bob leaves behind his wife, Danelle, and two sons, Joseph (7) and Noah (6).

The community to which Bob gave so much of himself is now giving back to his family. Both Phish and Phish fans have generously donated more than 50 prizes for a raffle and an auction to raise money for a memorial fund  which will help pay for the education of Bob’s young boys. The prizes for the raffle include an autographed Fishman, show-used drumstick, a $100 Ticketmaster gift card and a wide variety of concert prints including a Boston 20th Anniversary Pollock. There are even more items available through the auction, including a set of two 2010 SPAC Pollocks and a set of three 2010 Atlantic City Duvals. To enter the raffle, just make $20 minimum donation to his memorial fund and then forward your email receipt to bobmemorial2013@gmail.com.

The Eckharts

Watching our community rally around Danelle, Joseph, and Noah has been truly special, and you can contribute to this effort. Please consider entering the raffle, bidding in the auction or donating to the fund today. You’ll have a chance to pick up some incredible Phish memorabilia while helping out a family in need. We ask you to dig deep and give generously. That’s the way that Bob lived his life, and you can honor his memory by doing the same.

Complete rules for the raffle, as well as links to the auction and more on Bob’s life and courageous battle can be found here.

LINKS:  Memorial FundRaffleAuction, & Memorial Site

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Jam of the Day:

Waves -> Undermind” 8.15.11 II

From what I gather, this UIC show was one of Bob’s favorite in recent years.

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TTFF: The Gems of MSG

Posted in Uncategorized with the tags , , on January 18th, 2013 by Mr.Miner

12.28.12 (Graham Lucas)

The highlights of the Holiday Run make quite a formidable playlist, boasting many versions of the year and some jams that move beyond 2012 into the creme de la creme of the era. Enjoy!

Tweezer > Maze” 12.28 II

This refined, multi-faceted and fully-realized “Tweezer”—my pick for best of the era—leapt onto the top shelf of 2012 offerings on the very first night of the run.

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Ghost > Piper” 12.31 II

Another gorgeous New Year’s Eve “Ghost” highlighted the 31st and paired up perfectly with this relentless “Piper.”

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Harry Hood” 12.30 E

Trey remains incredibly active throughout this “Hood” and the rest of the band responded beautifully, vaulting it into the elite versions of 3.0.

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Wolfman’s Brother > LDB > Wolfman’s” 12.28 I

Swanky funk interplay mixed with holiday cheer resulted in a surprisingly original take on “Wolfman’s.”

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Disease > 20 Years Later > Carini” 12.30 II

This exploratory sequence stunned the MSG audience with its patience and sinister tone. “Disease” broke through the sterile playing of the previous three sets with a ever-darkening adventure while “Carini”—the most unique jam of the run—challenged any version ever played with its abstract and menacing path.

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David Bowie” 12.28 II

The band dropped the most impressive “David Bowie” of the year to closing out the first night.

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Slave to the Traffic Light” 12.30 II

It’s been a while since we heard a “Slave” that packed such an emotional wallop. At risk of sounding repetitive, I’d definitely give this version the nod for the best of the year.

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Holiday Wish List—Revisited

Posted in Uncategorized with the tags , on January 10th, 2013 by Mr.Miner

12.28.12, MSG (Graham Lucas)

Now that we have experienced the New Year’s run and spun the tapes several times, let’s go back to my wish list and see how Santa treated me…

1. “Waves”: This majestic song debuted at MSG on 12/31/02 and hasn’t returned to the The Garden since. Given that we’ve only heard one version this year (Deer Creek) and it was magnificent, I’m pulling for a big time “Waves” over the Holiday Run.

GRANTED—When the band dropped into “Waves” as the second song of the second set on the 29th, I thought we were bound for glory, But after a stellar guitar solo, the band pulled up into an ambient washout and moved into “Caspian.” Nonetheless, the played the song, albeit with severe case of blue balls coming hand in hand.

2. The “Tweezer” of the Year: Though there were many quality “Tweezers” this year, especially on the second leg of summer, Phish has yet to throw down a colossal 2012 version. Here’s hoping we get a mega-”Tweezer” filled with the funkified urban grit of New York City.

GRANTED—Phish dropped far and away the best “Tweezer” of 2012 on the 28th. Taking the jam far into the unknown and on a psychedelic joyride, the band granted my most sought after wish with the best “Tweezer” of 3.0. I’ve been spinning this one non-stop since the run ended. What a treat!

3. Unexpected Jams: We all know the band will jam “Rock and Roll,” “Disease,” “Light,” and “Piper,” and I can’t wait for each. But I also wish to be blindsided by one or two jams from unexpected vehicles a la Worcester’s “Roses” or Atlantic City’s “Birds.” The songs that these jams stem from are irrelevant, it’s all about the element of surprise.

DENIED—No surprises jams popped up over the run, as all chunks of improv stemmed from familiar places. Interestingly, the band didn’t jam two of the shoe-ins mentioned above, leaving “Rock and Roll and “Light” out of the spotlight in New York City.

4. New Material: Just yesterday Mike posted a picture of himself playing bass in The Barn. What if, in addition to routine practice, the band was polishing off a couple new songs? It’s high time for some fresh setlist material, and though it’s doubtful we’ll see any during a year-end run, a kid can dream, right?

DENIED—No surprise here, as Phish stuck to their catalog less three surprise New Year’s Eve covers. Last year, Trey spoke about an impending album for which now they band now has six months to record before tour begins. With Trey’s Broadway musical about to open and a TAB tour rumored for the spring, let’s hope this still comes to fruition. Joy is now four years old and the band needs a new album to refresh their rotation—badly.

5. A Fully Realized “Twist”: After working this jam during Leg One, including one of the standout excursions of 2012 in Cincy’s “Twist,” the band shied away from exploring the song during Leg Two. Carrying such profound improvisational potential, it would be a shame to see another standard version of “Twist” over the Holiday Run.

DENIED—When the band inserted “Twist” into a prime spot on the 28th, right after “Tweezer > Maze,” I had grandiose visions. Phish proceeded to played a solid but contained “Twist,” bookending the song with “Little Drummer Boy” teases to the delight of all. An intense, connected jam fit into the contour of the night, but it won’t make any holiday highlight reel.

6. Smooth Segues: This year featured a host of silky segues, from “Sand -> Nellie Kane” to “Light -> Sally” and “Lighteca” to Sand -> Ghost.” Hopefully the guys will take their time between songs and merge some with stunning fluidity—an element that always ups the ante of any song pairing.

DENIED—The MSG shows featured a few smooth song pairings in “Tweezer > Maze,” “Ghost > Piper” and “Theme > Fluffhead,” but the guys never executed a legitimate segue, let alone a silky smooth one. It seems that segues come out when the band is more in the groove of a tour and playing together more often.

7. A Jammed Out “Crosseyed”: Phish has featured this Talking Heads cover as part of their rotation for the duration of this era, but seldom have they used it as a jam vehicle. The band has been more inclined to springboard into high-energy rock and roll from “Crosseyed” than into any sort of adventure. Bill Graham’s version, however, reminded us of the profound depths the guys can plunge with this song, and hopefully over the Holiday Run we see another such rendition.

DENIED—Surprisingly, “Crosseyed” didn’t make an appearance at the Garden, and to be honest, I’m glad they left in on the shelf rather than playing a standard rock version.

8. A “David Bowie” With Teeth: It would be great to see a revitalized version of this once-prolific jam that has turned rather stale in the 3.0 era. Chances of this, however, feel like they are slim to none.

GRANTED—Out of the blue, Phish threw down one of the better “David Bowies” we’ve heard in this era to close the second set on the 28th. Capping the night with a gritty and intricate run through of their early classic, the band infused notably energetic interplay into the jam. While no modern “Bowie” has evoked the ethos of its mid-90′s heyday, the version on the 28th was just what the doctor ordered—and it holds up quite well on playback.

9. “Wolfman’s” or “Bathtub Gin” In Set Two: Both of these songs have turned into tame, unidirectional first-set jams. I hope to see the band place one or both of these under the spotlight during the main event, as each song has been begging for some love for quite a while now.

HALF-GRANTED—Although neither song made a second set, they were both placed in slots of prominence as first set closers. “Wolfman’s” grew wildly creative as they left the song’s generic groove for more dynamic funk jamming. Then, of course, they seamlessly folded “Little Drummer Boy” deep within the jam and came out of it with an unconventional blues build before hitting the top—an awesome version all around. “Bathtub Gin” was the half of the wish that wasn’t granted. Many fans dug the energetic, guitar shred-fest on the 29th, but this version was far to similar to all the other ones from this era to get me too excited. Enjoyable? Sure. But extraordinary? Far from it.

10. Passion: Whatever happens at MSG and whatever songs are played, let’s hope the band comes with a serious intent to blow the room apart. Madison Square Garden is a venue of great legend in Phish history, though the band hasn’t treated the round room to a full-on musical assault in this era. Let’s hope this run contains that elusive MSG show we’ve been dreaming about since the band’s ’09 return.

GRANTED—If one thing is for sure, the band delivered all four shows with passion. Even the contained rocker on the 29th was delivered with zest and energy, especially after setbreak. The guys were having a blast on stage for the duration of the run and their happiness and energy oozed through every selection, from  ”Tweezer” to “Character Zero.” My football coach used to say, “Whatever you do, do it full speed,” and there’s no doubt Phish adhered to that philosophy. This wish was largely in reference to the 2011 run in which the band seemed go through the motions, and they couldn’t have been more different in their delivery this time around.

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Gauging the Garden

Posted in Uncategorized with the tags , on January 8th, 2013 by Mr.Miner

12.28.12, MSG (Graham Lucas)

Boasting incredible highs amidst a lot of well-played music, MSG’s 2012 installment was certainly a good time. Phish bounced back from a poor showing last year at the Garden, and considering the four months off between performances, they sounded practiced and polished. The band was sharp as they closed out a year widely considered to be their strongest since their return, however, their daring side only came out in spots. The risk taking that prevailed over the past two years was curbed significantly, amounting to less than one serious jam per set and leaving the run feeling fairly clean. When Phish did jump into the unknown they met with incredible success, begging the question of why they didn’t make the leap more often. Phish played most songs with strength and precision, though setlists were, generally, composed of standard rotation songs with very few surprises. And while the band fed off the big city energy—a hallmark of MSG shows—when looked at in the context of 2012, the holiday shows didn’t necessarily hold up to the year’s best offerings. To highlight the run, the band dropped three jams—“Tweezer,” “Down With Disease” and “Carini”—that belong on the top shelf of this era, but when it came to putting together whole shows, the guys fell a bit short.

12.28.12 (G.Lucas)

It’s not surprising that this era’s most musically complete holiday runs—2009 and 2010—followed fall tours. Without being in the groove, or at least in close proximity to a run of shows, it’s tough for Phish to step on stage for four days and crush. It’s also not surprising that the band played less-than-spectacular run in The Garden, a once-legendary venue that has hosted mostly middle-of the road shows throughout this era featuring stellar moments here and there. Over these four nights, the highs were, undoubtedly, quite high, but the band played a lot of filler throughout the run where it felt like they were on cruise control. Included in these parts were four first sets that didn’t bring much to the table aside from “Stash” and “Wolfman’s” on night one, and a solid, though far from amazing, “Bathtub Gin” on night two. With a week of space separating us from the year-end run, let’s look back at the four-night flow.

The band came out of the gates with a bang on the 28th, setting hopes and improvisational expectations fairly high for the next three nights. A very solid opening show featured a six song second set, a gorgeous 20-minute “Tweezer” that immediately jumped out as the strongest of the year, the most creative take on “Wolfman’s Brother” in quite some time, and a strong supporting cast of “Stash,” “Maze” and “David Bowie.” A “Little Drummer Boy” theme ran throughout the show illustrating the band’s playful side and giving the show a dose of holiday cheer. After the dust settled on the four night run, an argument could be made for the 28th being the most balanced and complete shown of the run.

12.29 (Shelly Siegel)

The second night at The Garden fell incredibly flat on these ears, effectively crushing any momentum built on the 28th. With nary an attempt at any true improv, each song translated as a painfully standard rendition. “Golden Age,” although jammed a bit, didn’t hold up to the many standout versions of the year, and when Trey bailed out of a potential “Waves” jam in the second slot of the second set for “Prince Caspian,” one got the feeling that it would be one of those uninspired, song-based shows. And that is precisely what transpired. The 29th holds virtually zero replay value, and even the highest point of the night—“Bathtub Gin”—relied on linear, guitar-led shredding. While this type of show may work for some, in my opinion, it translated as one of the band’s least impressive efforts of the year. The clunker on the 29th left the fate of the Holiday Run hinging on the 30th. And Phish came through in droves.

12.31 (S. Siegel)

The second set of the 30th was —easily—the set of this Holiday Run, featuring 40 minutes of sinful improvisation balanced by stellar versions of “Slave” and “Harry Hood” to cap things off. The meat of the set—“Disease > 20 Years Later > Carini”—was the one time in New York that the band constructed a phenomenal run of jamming. Over the course of 2012, multi-song sequences like this one comprised many of the year’s overwhelming highlights, and this chunk of dark music echoed the times when the band really built a passage that amounted to more than the sum of its parts. Both “Disease” and “Carini” hold up as their respective versions of the year, while “Carini’s” ominous psych-rock textures—about as rare in recent Phish as a great “YEM”—could be championed as a jam of the era. Most of the creative improv of 2012 has focused on uplifting themes, thus this segment of the 30th stood out that much more. Although Trey made one of the most head scratching, vibe crushing and out of place calls of all time with “Number Line” out of this mind-bending story, one couldn’t really complain after such extensive theatrics. And to resolve the supernatural meat of the set, the band served up glorious versions of “Slave” and “Hood,” both of which featured incredibly dynamic work by Trey and hold up as blue-chip versions of the era. When all was said and done, the band had dropped one of the top sets of the year that didn’t take place in Colorado.

12.31 (S.Siegel)

Throughout history, New Year’s shows have often been musical afterthoughts of their respective runs, and since the return, only 2010 showcased a New Year’s show that was the best of its run. This year, after the 30th, one hardly expected the band to match or top their masterful performance—and lo and behold, they didn’t. The first and third sets of the 31st were both well played and incredibly straightforward, highlighted by high-energy rock and roll. Though par for the course, those sets are usually sandwiched around some substantial music in the second set, but this year’s main event featured only one memorable song pairing in “Ghost > Piper.” The fourth consecutive New Year’s Eve “Ghost” reached sublime planes of harmonic interplay and “Piper” contained torrid, full-band jamming at a break-neck pace, but for three sets of music, a twenty-minute takeaway is fairly slim pickings. This show was very fun, no doubt, and had the run included a bit more meat, it would have fit congruently. New Year’s Eve was very fun experience and certainly didn’t fall flat like the 29th, but as the memories fade, it will hold little replay value.

Aside from the few centerpiece jams of MSG—which were undeniably awesome— 2012’s Holiday Run was relatively tame. The highs were quite high, but when considered as full two-setters and a complete run, the shows fell short of 2012’s best offerings. If one gets off on tight, high energy Phish, there was plenty of that to go around, but if one is questing for adventurous jamming, the run had just enough to make it palatable. For whatever reason, there seemed to be a prevailing sentiment in the community before these shows that the band was going to host a blowout in the Big Apple, returning MSG to its legendary status in the pantheon of Phish venues. And while the run certainly didn’t disappoint anyone and contained enough timeless moments to be considered a success, it won’t go down in history as eternally memorable.

12.28.12 (Graham Lucas)

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A Garden Party

Posted in Uncategorized with the tags , on January 3rd, 2013 by Mr.Miner

MSG 2012 (Graham Lucas)

Since New Year’s Eve, many people in the online Phish community have been making meaning of the band covering Ricky Nelson’s “Garden Party” to open the final show of the year. Though investigating the origin of the song, one can find potential significance in this seemingly out-of-the-blue selection.

Ricky Nelson became a childhood star on the 1950s television show The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet. The show was set in 1950s suburbia and conveyed an idyllic image of American family life. Nelson started his music career by playing songs on the popular show, and in the late ‘50s he branched off from his family’s sitcom and formed an early era rock band. Nelson became one of rock and roll’s first teen idols and became known for his excessively clean cut image. Between 1957 and 1962 Nelson charted 30 Top 40 hits, more than any other artist besides Elvis Presley and Pat Boone.

Garden Party (1972)

Though Nelson continued to record albums, his success was stymied by the British Invasion of the 1960s. Consequently, he gravitated towards country music, becoming a pioneer of the country rock genre. After his change of tune, however, Nelson reached the Top 40 only two more times in his career—once in 1970 when he recorded Bob Dylan’s “She Belongs to Me” and for the final time in 1972 with “Garden Party,” a song written in reaction to the following incident. Nelson performed as part of a “Rock and Roll Revival” concert at Madison Square Garden on October 15, 1971, sharing the bill with other early rock legends, Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley and Bobby Rydell, among others. Nelson emerged on stage looking different than his fans remembered him, sporting the ’70s fashion of  bell bottoms, a purple velvet shirt and shoulder-length hair. Though he began with his older classics, Nelson soon played his new country-rock material and was subsequently greeted with boos from an audience who didn’t approve of his stylistic shift. He left the stage mid-set and didn’t return for the show’s group finale. Nelson wrote “Garden Party” in disgust, documenting this experience. Confident in his new musical direction, the lyrics of “Garden Party”—“You can’t please everyone, so you gotta please yourself”—became his personal creed.

12.28.12 (G.Lucas)

Fast forward to December 31, 2012. Phish decided to debut Ricky Nelson’s song in Madison Square Garden 26 years to the day of the plane crash that took Nelson and his band from the world. While the move was a clear nod to the American legend, Nelson’s “Garden Party” clearly held parallels to Phish’s experience in the modern era. Phish has always endured a hypercritical fan base, something that Trey, himself, noted in 1997’s documentary, Bittersweet Motel. The level of public critique has only increased in 3.0 due to the onset of Phish blogs, podcasts and the always-expanding use of Internet discussion forums. As a burgeoning population of seasoned fans all have particular ideas on the way Phish shows should be played, band analysis and criticism has reached a high point in this era. Whether it’s more bust-outs, not enough funk, a lack of a second jam in “Mike’s Song,” the need to shelve “Time Turns Elastic” or playing less songs per 90-minute set, everyone has an opinion on the band’s performances and isn’t shy about sharing it. The fact that Phish fans care so much about what form the band takes is a testament to their undying passion, though I’m sure if the band members ever tuned into the omnipresent online discussions, they’d be quite amused by the copious demands. Sometimes, a sentiment in the fan community is so widespread and intense that it’d be nearly impossible for it not to get back to them. Some modern examples of this are the ardent endorsement of 2011’s Super Ball festival and the overall disappointment after the lackluster Holiday Run of the same year.

12.31.12 (J.Herzog)

Perhaps Phish’s inclusion of “Garden Party” was their own coy response to their rabid fan base, embracing Nelson’s motto of being true to themselves in the face of any and all critique. By following up “Garden Party” with “Possum,” a song that is universally considered to be overplayed in this era, and “Roses Are Free,” a song from which everybody and their mothers have called for more jams, it’s hard to ignore this probability. While “Garden Party” may have been a playful musical retort, it’s quite dubious that the maneuver represented anything more than that towards their fan base—a loyal cadre they have consistently gushed over for the duration of their careers. Phish has enjoyed one of the famous love affairs in music history with a fan base that would travel to the end of the earth to see them perform. More likely than a jab at their loyalists, “Garden Party” was positive affirmation of their own place in time. The message didn’t feel like a defensive “Hey, quit your bitching!” but rather a mature statement saying, “Everyone is welcome to have opinions, but we are here to please ourselves. Take it or leave it.” Understood in this regard, such a statement simultaneously frees their fan base to be critical and allows the band not to worry about it at all.

In all likelihood, the cover of “Garden Party” had a bit to do with several aspects of the night—the fact that Phish had, literally, created a garden out of the Garden for New Year’s Eve, the 26 year anniversary of Ricky Nelson’s passing and a tongue-in-cheek comment to their feverish fan base that Phish will be Phish. And in the end, though fans will be fans, I don’t think there is anyone who really wants them to change. If they are happy, we are happy and if we are happy, they are happy. This has worked for 30 years, and if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

12.31.12 (Richard Lawless)

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Golf Shots in the Garden

Posted in Uncategorized with the tags , on January 2nd, 2013 by Mr.Miner

12.31.2012, MSG (Jesse Herzog)

If any holiday embraces the theme of good times and fun, it is New Years Eve. For their fourth and final show of 2012’s Holiday Run at the Garden, Phish manifested this theme through three sets of high-energy rock and roll. Remaining largely within song structures, the band treated 20,000 fans to a rousing performance while infusing humor throughout the final set of the year. Playing with authoritative command, the band shook the World’s Most Famous Arena for over three hours highlighted by a golden sequence of “Ghost > Piper” in set two. After letting it all hang out on the 30th, the guys got back to polished rock music in their 2012 swan song and showed that even an improvisationally contained show can bring the house down.

12.31 Official (J.Flames)

Upon entering MSG on New Year’s Eve, fans were greeted by a floor and stage covered in Astroturf while “actors” dressed in country club attire were spread throughout the floor playing an array of lawn games such as mini-golf, badminton, and croquet. Additionally, the stage was covered in plant life with trees, shrubs, and assorted flora providing the feel of a true garden. Phish musically referenced their surroundings right off the bat with an out-of-the-blue opener of Ricky Nelson’s 1972 song, “Garden Party,” inspired by his experience at a Madison Square Garden concert. Through the lyrics to the song— “it’s all right now, I learned my lesson well / you can’t please everyone, so you gotta’ to please yourself”—it was clear that the guys had were going to have a blast in their year-end finale, and their musical confidence oozed from their high octane performance all night long.

The meat of the show transpired, as usual, in the second set with an eye-popping run of songs that were connected quite smoothly, though only “Ghost” and “Piper” were given room to breathe. Continuing their modern era New Year’s Eve tradition, “Ghost” transformed into the improvisational centerpiece of the night. Sparking the jam with hard-edged playing, the band united in a section of groove that saw all members contribute equally to the mix. Before long, however, the guys followed Trey’s lead out of conventional territory into an uplifting plane of harmonic convergence. Sprouting patient and soul-caressing leads, Trey spearheaded the most transcendent passage of the evening. Cascading guitar melodies brought the jam to its peak while coaxing spot-on piano accompaniment from Page. Reaching a plateau of creative reverie, the guys had, once again, sculpted a phenomenal New Year’s Eve “Ghost” to go along with the standout versions from ’09 and ’10. A mellow denouement to the jam brought the music smoothly into “Piper.”

12.31.123 (Jeff Thomas)

Juxtaposed against the beautiful music of “Ghost,” Phish blasted off into a full throttle version of “Piper.” Trey carved out gritty leads amidst a musical fury in which the band connected as well as they did all night. This high-speed chase upped the intensity of the second set and never relented as the band flexed their improvisational muscle throughout this torrid rendition. Trey’s leads and rhythm chops stood out at the guiding force of this voyage as he dictated the path and tempo with Fishman tightly glued by his side. When the jam did finally come to an end, the guys only took a moment to merge with the most prolific song of 2012, “Light.” Placed in the middle of the New Year’s second set, a monster version of the seminal jam felt imminent. Trey took a spectacular solo within the contained portion of the jam—something he did in virtually every selection of the night—but when the time came for the band to spring into the ether, they, instead, relaxed into an ambient washout and revved up “2001.” Keeping the setlist moving where it might have benefitted from a bit more improv, the guys closed the set with a run of “2001,” “Horse > Silent,” and “You Enjoy Myself,” none of which separated themselves from average versions. The second set, however, featured non-stop action from start to finish, and a certain flow to the action, fitting the vibe of the show congruently.

12.28.12 (G.Lucas)

Who knows what prompted the band to create a golf-themed third set of New Year’s Eve—perhaps it’s a hobby of their golden age (Trey and Page’s at least!) or perhaps it was a natural extension of “Kung’s” runaway golf cart marathon that was actually staged during “Chalk Dust”—but as usual, the band took it the extra mile. None of my friends nor I picked up on the golf-themed setlist in real time, but when I saw a tweet about it after the show it seemed hilarious that we hadn’t noticed. “Sand > Wedge,” “Fly Like an Eagle,” “Wilson,” “Lawn Boy,” “Driver,” and “Iron Man” made up the post midnight set, all with a golf references right in their titles. Later someone noted that “Party Time” (Par-Tee Time) kicked off the comic-laced set, leaving only “Tweezer Reprise” as the only non-golf related song in the set, but what an exclamation it made for the midnight hour! Following a rambunctious golf cart marathon within a compact “Chalk Dust,” the band, with assistance of their trusty New York City dance troupe, counted down to midnight. And after the tradition of “Auld Lang Syne,” they busted into their most adrenalized song in their catalog (which had been looming since the 28th) to ring in 2013, “Tweezer Reprise.”. Complete with strobe lights, dancers and a diva, Carrie Manolakos, belting out vocal melodies alongside Trey, “Reprise” created quite the midnight festivity!

“Tweezer Reprise” (J.Thomas)

Once the balloons had dropped and hugs were exchanged throughout the crowd, the band kicked into 2013 with a scorching dance session in the first ever third-set version of “Sand.” Though the show’s final set played out without much jamming, the band managed to throw three entertaining curve balls into the stanza with the debut of Steve Miller Band’s seventies anthem, “Fly Like an Eagle,” a rearranged, a cappella version of “Lawn Boy,” and the first full version of Black Sabbath’s “Iron Man” with Page playing the role of Ozzy Osbourne. Once again, fun was the pervading theme of the night.

Page recognized the onset of Phish’s 30th anniversary year during the encore, a year that allegedly holds a large touring docket the band. But this night was about finishing 2012 in style. This New Year’s show ended what was unanimously heralded as the band’s best year since their 2009 return, and in the heart of New York City on a stage they have made their home, Phish delivered a robust and celebratory performance. Thirty years deep and still going strong—only the Phish from Vermont.

I: Garden Party*, Possum, Roses Are Free, Rift, Sample in a Jar, Alaska, Mike’s Song > Walk Away, Weekapaug Groove, Character Zero

II: Birds of a Feather, Ghost > Piper > Light** > Also Sprach Zarathustra > The Horse > Silent in the Morning, You Enjoy Myself^

III: Party Time, Kung > Chalk Dust Torture > Auld Lang Syne > Tweezer Reprise^^ > Sand > The Wedge > Fly Like an Eagle*, Wilson, Lawn Boy#

E: Driver, Iron Man##

*debut, **Auld Lang Syne tease, ^Birds of a Feather tease, ^^With Carrie Manolakos on vocals and backup singers, #a cappella, ## first full performance

12.31.12,  MSG (Richard Lawless)

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