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. butter Says:

    i found that if you listen to “Marvin Gaye” pandora, you will hear tons of familar sampled music from various hip-hop artists

  2. roberto luongo Says:

    also if you fools aren’t into Royal Trux

    this album Thank You produced by Neil Youngs producer David Briggs is real rock n roll. none of that furry boot caped shit. 90’s releaes on Drag City. just dirty improv laced scum rock.

  3. roberto luongo Says:

    this is the other epic Shuggie track – Sparkle City

  4. Jtran Says:

    thanks, i’ll grab it when i get home

  5. sumodie Says:

    RL, no go, looks like mediafire has upped their game as they know it’s shuggie and instead recommend we buy it from amazon

  6. roberto luongo Says:

    watch your headphones on that shuggie

    pulled kinda hot from the vinyl

  7. alf Says:


  8. alf Says:

    EZ – you miss jtran’s link from last pg? epic

  9. roberto luongo Says:

    new one I just put up works Sumo

    it sucks they do that cuz they are all vinyl pulls. recorded music isn’t illegal to share I don’t think. just can’t sell it.

  10. roberto luongo Says:

    that is fuckin crazy. 3 drops fresh headed not sure I could ever come back from witnessing that shit.

    holy fuck. and I thought Phish shows were velveeta.

  11. bob dyan Says:

    @RL, hunter thompson and bourbon are from kentucky

  12. bob dyan Says:

    so we seeing suggie tomorrow alf?

  13. alf Says:

    shuggie interview on bbc from a couple days ago

    can’t get the page of just the 15 min interview to load, but listened to it yesterday in the longer 180 min show broadcast. not a bad selection of tracks for a radio show either

  14. bob dyan Says:

    so now mediafire is acting like ticketmaster. they deny you and then route you to their friends.

    permission denied:
    “Inspiration Information” by Shuggie Otis can be downloaded from one of these fine retailers.

  15. alf Says:

    gonna shoot for the show at BB kings in april bob d

    on dive house union tour this week

  16. roberto luongo Says:

    OK kids dog walking time

    this Shuggie works I believe.

  17. MiA Says:

    Zappa and Shuggie (and Johnny)

  18. alf Says:

    ^new shuggie track at about 138ish on that link and interview starts around 2:07

  19. roberto luongo Says:

    cool link MIA

  20. bob dyan Says:

    nah EZ, that one is blocked too. mediafire really steppin up.

  21. kayatosh Says:

    along w/ the 9.22.99 las cruces show, i’ve been checkin out set I of 9.25.99

  22. roberto luongo Says:

    Crazy. I downloaded it 5 min ago. Is there a better share site?

  23. kayatosh Says:

    great FZ & SO post, maurice.

  24. sumodie Says:

    RL, dont worry about it

    But, maybe dont label the dl as Shuggie

    Otherwise, peeps have been praising Dropbox, which doesnt have an upload size limit either

  25. d Says:

    after reading miner thoughts on the run, and as i have for the most part agreed on miner’s assessment of shows in 2012 as they’ve progressed through the year, i feel it necessary to mention the replay value has of the 1st set of the 30th, especially ocelot thru antelope.
    also, tweezer, called as strongest of the year by miner here, is a statement as most of the 2nd leg tweezers were fuckin great. Those tweezers were outlined by miner in a feature that i thought was rich with song description and breakdown, version to version, and I was wondering how tweezer from the 28th would play in that comparative context.
    When I heard the 28th tweez at the time, i was loving trey’s initial rhythmic build to peak and ready to bust solo, thought it was epcot, and it was then interrupted by page’s overiding piano riff/lead that replaced trey and veered the jam on. dicks, kc, char, sf tweez all raged, in that order otherwise separate from msg. would like to hear miners comments.

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