Gauging the Garden

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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725 Responses to “Gauging the Garden”

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  1. MiA Says:

    Well I guess Bingo’s isn’t here for this…

    I’m not sure where the prevailing sentiment came from but it wasn’t from here. This place thought MSG was gonna be OK. But what can you expect with 4 months off and a very laid back Trey tour in the middle of it.

  2. MiA Says:

    “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.”

    I think that’s true about most 3.0 phish. Even 2.0 and 1.0. A track or two per show if lucky.

  3. voopa Says:

    No Twist love. I am on an island.

  4. kayatosh Says:

    awake w/ sore throat. thanks for the piece, miner. agree w/ the sentiment.

    perhaps trey needs to revert back to the old wardrobe– more pepe shirts, less silk.

  5. kayatosh Says:

    pepe le pew that is

    http://joshua-morton.artistwebsites.com/featured/trey-anastasio-and-lights-joshua-morton.html

  6. Fee4zy Says:

    I think many look for stellar jamming in order to say it was a great show or run. I feed off energy. The energy was amazing. In the official Carini video, you can see the boys having so much fun. Smiling, playing off each other. That’s what makes it brilliant in my mind. There were some great jams. Really thick, dark jams. And although there weren’t as many as people would like, I’m really excited to see them this year. Watch them continue to grow. I’m still on a spiritual high from those shows, and that is what matters to me.

  7. Baxter Says:

    The 29th was the only show I could attend, and I thought it was great. Excellent playing, good song selection, but yes, not enough jams. Ah well, Saturday in NYC. Looking forward to 2013. Thank you Mr. Miner, always enjoy your perspective! Signed, a fan since 1987.

  8. clifton santiago Says:

    Who loved hearing Fly like an eagle?….You nailed it miner

  9. Guyute711 Says:

    Where are all you Notre Dame fans? Sleeping off the hangover?

  10. SillyWilly Says:

    I stopped drinking at the end of the first quarter.

    Man, that sucked.

  11. vtspeedy Says:

    Agree and disagree. I was lucky enough to get to Dicks, and my face is still melted. But I don’t judge my experience at a phish show in comparison to their very very best shows, I judge it compared to a) my expectations and b) some kind of “average” that I compute in my brain. And while pretty much the only phish I relisten to are the truly memorable jams and sequences, I find loads of pleasure hearing well-played songs at shows, as long as there’s some flow. So my take on the run is:
    28th – missed it.
    29th – webcast – yawn. Should have gone to bed.
    30th – on the floor – REALLY happy about the Number Line because I was afraid I might never find my way back from the depths. Spectacular set.
    31st – Section 106 – I was expecting a party. Delivered. Great fun and energy, good flow throughout. they played great, everyone danced their ass off. Perfection and no regrets.

  12. Guyute711 Says:

    That was 3 days of terrible football. I haven’t watched much college football this year and should have kept that trend going last night. All I know is Syracuse is the Pinstripe Bowl Champs!!! Oh shit their coach left for the Bills.

  13. st8 of mind Says:

    Good re-cap Miner. Thanks!

  14. SillyWilly Says:

    I, for one, think it’s an incredibly encouraging sign that many in the scene still crave the jams above anything else.

    I love that Miner continues to call for more jams.

    It feels like every time the band takes the stage they have an opportunity to create new and original music. When they pass on these opportunities, it feels like something is lost. There’s only so many Phish shows left. Maybe it’s 30? Maybe it’s 300? who knows?

    I guess the point, all along, has been we can listen to about 200 examples of 12/29.

    12/30/12 however will always only be 12/30/12.

  15. MiA Says:

    Hooking up is the magical part of the jam.

    I don’t like the jams when they don’t hook up.

  16. ren Says:

    Great post Miner!

    “Hooking up is the magical part of the jam.
    I don’t like the jams when they don’t hook up.”

    Agree completely MiA and think the boys feel the same. Before they earned their rep and got to where they are now they would trudge earnestly through jams trying to get there, getting their “A” for effort. More mature now, they know they have nothing to prove and are not really willing to force it any more. With so much going on in their lives its definitely not as easy to get all 4 on the same page….but when they are…..LOOK OUT!!!!

  17. borderline Says:

    “Par for the course” nice.

  18. GVizz Says:

    I’m not so sure that Miner will be happy until we get our four song sets back, which we know isn’t happening. I’d say the run went just as anyone could reasonably expect. We know what they are at this point. They’ll stretch some out, give us an evil jam here and there, and throw out a saturday night of hits. It’s always fun, so I don’t quite get where you’re coming up with the underlying tone of bitterness that they didn’t only give us the jams. We know they won’t do that, so don’t expect that they will.

  19. ren Says:

    Expectations are what they are….no matter how hard you may try to void yourself of them they are likely still there. A lot of what I enjoy about Phish is the “unexpected” that the band sometimes delivers. One can argue that there used to be more risk taking to get these unexpected moments…but on the flipside more flubs and attempts that fell flat.

    Looking back at 2012 it actually seems like the boys have been benefiting more from “structure”. Something like the FYF show provided enough structure to focus them in but still allow the creativity that we all salivate for. Structure doesn’t have to be the antithesis of improv…and I hope to see more of it from them in the future.

  20. neemor Says:

    “Structure doesn’t have to be the antithesis of improv”
    Hm.
    Now I’ll get nothing done at work, reumenating on this.

  21. Lifeboyo Says:

    I’ve gone back and listened to all four nights. I couch toured the 31st. I see people who want more type ii being a little let down but I can’t feel let down or dissatisfied. I think that because we are such an shaved fan community, people are frequently ratcheting the bar a few notches after the band drops a show like the 31st at Dicks or the 19th at BGCA. This goes on ad finetum until we’ve ground the meaning out of all this. I’m all for constructive crit, but I’m also appreciative that they play this many shows at all. I’m pleased to see two occasions where we got six song second sets. I’d like to see a three to four song second set, but that might take a bit. I expect to have highlight reel after runs like this, but I don’t expect it to span a few discs like Dicks did, they are two completely different animals.

  22. SillyWilly Says:

    “I’m not so sure that Miner will be happy until we get our four song sets back, which we know isn’t happening.”

    As if Miner can’t have fun and be happy, but also express the desire for more risk taking.
    I don’t think, as fans, we’re unhappy when we want more jams.

    Many people are complex enough and have the capacity to feel multiple emotions at once.

    Kinda like when you’re angry at your kids. Doesn’t mean you don’t love them. You can hold anger and love at the same time.

  23. roberto luongo Says:

    just remember kids. this rawkin type I band is not the 92-94 rawkin type I band. the chops and off the rails energy has been replaced by slower fingers and a bit more slop.

    as a result many of these rawkin affairs tend to all sound the same and lack any true hot improv even in the contained setting.

    starts to feel more like U2 or pearl jam and not phish. just too sterile. see TAB. Tory took a sick, dirty, funky band and turned it into journeyman era Clapton easy listening shtick.

    they can bring it in 3.0. problem is intent, intent, and intent.

    there have always been clunker shows but it’s those mid range shows that are less interesting to me than in the earlier years. you really need them to give it there all to bring it these days. the mid range shows just all are so similar.

    my .02c.

    have fun kids
    laterz

    Xeyed > Light > Sally!!!!!

  24. BNCB Says:

    Let’s all strive to be better people this year.

    Shout out to friends and family of @BarefootBob2 that might read this blog.

    Back to subbing today.

  25. jerseyjim Says:

    also stir into the four night stew: the gen adm on the floor of MSG. A game changer for the NYC crowd, and how the band interacts, no?

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