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”

  1. voopa Says:

    Everyone at Kaiser seems to recommend complete alcohol abstention. Guess they haven’t heard that it helps prevent stroke…and is fun…

  2. Leo Weaver Says:

    I still haven’t tried this, thought I’d ask you fellas. can the pax handle keif? I assume it’d be a little dicey considering it uses a screen, but maybe if it’s compressed…anyone?

  3. ren Says:

    @kaya- you don’t want to hear this…but I’d veto the vape for a few more days. Knew I was getting sick before the run (same time every year!)…saw doc… had meds…upper resp. refused to turn the corner until I back off the trees. 2 days should do it

    @neems- hit those Hartford shows and likely helped contribute to those puddles. Was running around with a breath mint dropper full and being VERY generous. Also had a camcorder (hi8 LOL!) with me during all of my lot antics and balloon huffing for the run…need to dig that shit up.

    I’m either chasing dabs or dabs are chasing me! Never done it…have the means to make some….don’t think I can hold out much longer!!!

  4. kayatosh Says:

    sticking w/ abstinence.

    just spun the 8.31 carini. $$$. Never would have dreamed back in 97 that carini would become such a killer jam vehicle.

  5. Leo Weaver Says:

    Ahh the 99-00 sweet breath…so minty and delicious.

  6. butter Says:

    ok Voops, i was probably projecting my not knowing which one they were going to play onto Mike, lol….. but i did hear Trey tease Bowie into, which can be a variety of sounds

    dont let them get you hooked on pharmies over there at Kaiser, they love to slang

  7. butter Says:

    yes Kaya, had a few years off drinking, minus a glass of wine now and then.

    started drinking beer again in 12 and gained back 20lbs instantly. nothing like i used to drink. but still 2-4 a day, obviously not healthy for me. esp considering my history. tacked on another 15lbs over fall and holiday, so gaining back 35 of the 58 i’d lost. thats depressing in itself both physically and mentally.

    it was easy to quit in 09 when i was in the hospital for it. but after a solid year and half without any, i felt great. the docs say thats the hard part, after you’ ve healthed yourself up and no longer have the aches and pains associated with your addiction, you look at everybody else and say “hey, why cant i do that”

    aint no time like the present to make a change

  8. butter Says:

    the good thing is no physical addiction now, and that would be a good time to quit

  9. voopa Says:

    Right on butter, and no joke about Kaiser and the pills. I’m researching everything carefully.

    I think “feeling better” is what got me in the hospital after a long time of denial, occasional abstinence and never confronting things properly. But this time it’s gonna be different, right?

  10. Kaveh Says:

    Going back to Light’s 2012 version discussions: Just spun the Alpine Light; very nice version. Not quite as ground breaking as Denver’s, but a nice floating second half. Now starts the Ghost.

  11. kayatosh Says:

    what a tale, butter. it really is a slippery slope. tolerance and then dependence ramp up quickly. and it seems like alcohol takes a heavier toll than herbalizing and ultimately turns into a dead end. gotta keep a handle on it, recognizing when it’s become habitual and not just recreation. easier said than done.

    in 2nd half of ’12, went from red wining almost daily to IPAing daily. cheaper and lower alcohol, but easier to throw back. glad i’ve never been a hard alcohol type. That can get ugly quick. see don johnson.

  12. Luther T. Justice Says:

    Did someone say Don Johnson?

  13. gavinsdad Says:

    Bell’s Hopslam coming to Philly for the first time. estimated arrival last week of Jan.

  14. Leo Weaver Says:

    You should really break out the pastel linen jacket for the midwest shows Luther. Well, assuming it’s not 110 deg again.

  15. kayatosh Says:

    so easy to turn to booze to deal w/ stress.

  16. kayatosh Says:

    great don johnson interview in the most recent RS. that dude partied and partied w/ just about everybody.

  17. Kaveh Says:

    Bell’s Hopslam

    ^ Tasty; taken in stride of course.

  18. tela's_muff Says:

    Luther has best tour vehicle. Perfect for tall people.

  19. MiA Says:

    I need a tall person vehicle.

    #notamidget

  20. makisupa Says:

    Happy new year BB

    Nice writeup on the Tweezer, butter. Great videos by mkdevo and LL, really feel the energy – Starlight was just crazy good also in 2012

    Glad the NYE run went down smooth for those there.

    Keep up those music rec’s, BB, you drop the knowledge.

    Santa brought a Dave’s Picks subscription – merci Saint Nick! looking forward to Shapiro’s next vault drop

    15 years since Island Tour. Time for another.

  21. Leo Weaver Says:

    ^And not too bad for shorties…

  22. Willowed Says:

    If Crockett and Tubbs faced off against Hall and Oates, who would win?

  23. tela's_muff Says:

    Oates mustache wins that battle everytime

  24. Kaveh Says:

    I’m leaning Hall and Oates; for some reason I think they have a scarier side than Tubbs and Crockett.

  25. tela's_muff Says:

    I would be all over a BB fishing trip. Just need a show to pair that with.

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