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. kayatosh Says:

    9.22.99 las Cruces, NM

    miner has a cool writeup of this show in his book.

    i’ll be digging into the highlights of this one soon. looks promising.

  2. angryjoggerz Says:

    Never gone fishing before, but don’t eat fish, so probably not for me. Sounds fun to hang out on a boat, though.

  3. Dorn76 Says:

    heavy article GD posted earlier.

    on a lighter note, effin hilarious restaurant review…

    “The room smells of beef. A pianist taps out Billy Joel tunes perfunctorily while patrons leave half-empty glasses of beer on the worn spinet. ”

  4. MiA Says:

    SW is right. Walleye.

    Good stuff right there.

  5. marcoesq Says:

    9.22.99 is a pretty good show. 2001 1st set opener, sick Ghost, Jiboo, Mike’s..

  6. marcoesq Says:

    Awesome Gin, too. I might go spin that show right. now.

  7. makisupa Says:

    nice book rec, kaya. just got mine

    just drifted away on Dicks Tweezer 2011

    hitting 2012 Dicks Light now

    Gorge a solid bet this summer? Really love those hot August daze

  8. voopa Says:

    PB attended, has very nice things to say about that NM show.

  9. MiA Says:

    I really like the MSG Bowie. Respinning all of 12/28 II. Very nice set.

  10. bob dyan Says:

    someone sell me your car. this was an utterly wasted day. i need a car to drive to my job nearby im transferring to in a couple weeks.

    wake up early to take my girl to work so i can borrow her car. drive 45 mins to see a car that online was way better than it truly is. wouldnt start when i got there.
    drive back and go to a dealer to look at what they had. found something reasonable. put money down and they tell me i need to get a jersey license for driving it and tax will be cheaper when buying.

    driving home i realize that i cant change my id yet cause its all on file with my airlines to fly out of the country at the end of the month. call the guy up and he has to refund my money now which will prob be a check when they get around to it.

    tldr: still carless, cant get a car cause of id stuff and have a job soon.

  11. sumodie Says:

    12.30.97 Izabella, Hood

    I’ll take a hendrixian Hood anytime!

    12.30.12 encore Hood didnt really grab me. Nice yes, but not personally transcendent. I seem to be picky about Hoods

    The previous Slave was passionate, tho I think the Portsmouth’11 version is my 3.0 fav

  12. tela's_muff Says:

    @aj. I don’t eat fish either. Still love fishing. Not a Christian but love Christmas. Like moma dance but not a fan of funky bitch. Like traffic but not Steve miller. See how this works??? #jeromebrownforlife

  13. marcoesq Says:

    Hey anyone know what jam kicks off Miner’s DarkJamz mix? I feel like I’ve heard it so many times but can’t place it. Kind of MSG Carini-ish

  14. BNCB Says:

    Mango u need someone that knows cars to help u out. Wish I were closer.

  15. tela's_muff Says:

    I really dig that MSG Bowie.

  16. roberto luongo Says:


    you need a new girlfriend that lives in NYC

  17. angryjoggerz Says:

    If fishing is like Christmas, Traffic or Funky Bitch, count me out.

  18. roberto luongo Says:


    you need a time machine my friend. was just discussing yesterday how Tory doesn’t have the chops to carry Reba, Hood, SOAM, or Bowie anymore. shit I’d even throw Antelope in that grouping.

    anything that requires quick, slick, clean runs he just can’t carry anymore.

    Hood just make me want to leave these days. BORING.

  19. Mr. Palmer Says:

    AJ- catch and release baby.

    I’ve been pro- BB ph/fishing trip for a few years. Gotta pair up with a Jones Beach show as that is closest to where Spasm is located. Unless we head down to Miami and just go full blown Charter.

  20. BNCB Says:

    Music teacher was sick today. So for music class, I spun the MSG Tweezer for the kids and let them draw pictures.

    That jam is just so sick. The distinct sections.

    I have to say, Phish sounds MUCH better to my ears when they are dropping the full band improv than trying to march through the catalog of composed tunes. I think it’s time for. A stylistic shift, and more focus on jamming and improv. Less on being so stingy. Maze on the 28th? Bleck. Fluffhead? Same.

    Where are all the Halloween tunes?

    Juice and y’all could both be right re LDB. Kanter running around mSG with all access laminate. They’re definitely on Biebers crews jocks.

  21. roberto luongo Says:

    phish ruined Funky Bitch. Son Seals was one of my fav Chicago blues cats to catch back in the day. shit his bitch shot him in the face. that’s the fuckin blues.

    check this.

  22. Mr. Palmer Says:

    Been spinning these My Morning jacket shows from Portchester, NY this afternoon.

    They haven’t truly clicked yet for me but I’m trying to give them a real chance. Certainly need to see them live to get full effect.

  23. MiA Says:

    I rented a car for $450/mo once in California. Included insurance in my rate too. When you really think about it, it’s not that bad of a deal. Car insurance can be up to $200/mo in some places.

    Just negotiated with the car rental place. Called them up and told them the situation. They were fine with it as long as I wasn’t leaving the state.

    Of course I had a TX license, and they didn’t care.

  24. roberto luongo Says:

    MMJ is bad 70’s arena rock

    big sound. big hooks. and a show they pretend is different every night but in actuality it’s the same nonsense all tour.

    plus the lead singer cat could be up there with Win Butler in douchiest frontman contests.

    Bieber > MMJ IMO

  25. marcoesq Says:

    MMJ frontman does wear a cape. Just sayin

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