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. sumodie Says:

    Spiritualized coming stateside again…?

    Goat is playing Brooklyn about a week before Shuggie hits Manhattan in April. Too many shows to hit in that town, no way i could handle all those choices

  2. sumodie Says:

    VW, dunno about that Spiritualized tour. One site first announced it then said it aint happening:

    Hope you’re right

  3. vegas wolfmans Says:

    Damn. I was looking forward to that one. Sum0- have you heard that Goat album? I tried to post a link but it must be in moderation. Wild shit. I’ll up it to my orange when I get home.

  4. sumodie Says:

    Based on greenboard comments, seems like the Spiritualized tour is true but the dates may have been prematurely released:
    Spiritualized – 2013 Tour Dates
    03/17 – Burlington, VT @ Higher Ground
    03/18 – Pawtucket, RI @ The Met
    03/19 – New York, NY @ Webster Hall
    03/21 – Towson, MD @ Recher Theatre
    03/22 – Charlottesville, VA @ Jefferson Theater
    03/23 – Knoxville, TN @ Bijou Theatre
    03/24 – Lousiville, KY @ Headliners Music Hall
    03/26 – Nashville, TN @ The Mercy Lounge
    03/27 – Oxford, MS @ The Lyric Oxford
    03/29 – St. Louis, MO @ The Old Rock House
    03/30 – Indianapolis, IN @ Old National Centre
    03/31 – Chicago, IL @ Lincoln Hall
    04/01 – Milwaukee, WI @ Turner Hall Ballroom
    04/03 – Lawrence, KS @ Granada Theater
    04/04 – Denver, CO @ Bluebird Theater
    04/05 – Salt Lake City, UT @ Urban Lounge
    04/06 – Boise, ID @ Knitting Factory
    04/08 – Seattle, WA @ Neptune Theatre
    04/09 – Portland, OR @ Wonder Ballroom
    04/11 – Santa Cruz, CA @ Cocoanut Grove Historic Ballroom
    04/12 – Las Vegas, NV @ House of Blues

  5. sumodie Says:

    Looking forward to hearing that Goat album. Cant believe theyre from a tiny town in sweden, thats awesome

  6. tba Says:

    miner, after first listen live, i pooh poohed this show as well, but on a second listen and watch, actually found it above average. No it’s no 1/1 haha, but it’s not all bad. Just my two cents.

  7. KOOKS Says:

    Don’t agree with the days off in betwwen suumer tour and NYears. After 6 months off Worcester was pretty hot.

  8. tzara's Says:

    @sumo, sweet Spiritualized a mile or so from my place. Will be there, saw them a couple of years ago and it was a religious experience. One of the best shows I’ve seen.

    New Mystikal track. Pretty hip.

  9. vegas wolfmans Says:

    Tghost- Were you at CRB in Nov? Last time I was down that way. I hope those Spiritualized dates are legit. I’m late to the party on that band, but excited to get a taste of the live.

  10. vegas wolfmans Says:

    Also, how about those Seattle Fucking Seahawks?

  11. tzara's Says:

    Glowhawks! Dude I’m pamped. Atlanta should be afraid.

    Spiritualized is dank. That’s close to my place, so if you want to pre-funk a little at our place or in the hood, let’s make it happen finally.

  12. vegas wolfmans Says:

    Word. I was gonna try and get up with you before CRB, but was rolling 8 deep with kids from Bellingham and well, you know how that goes…

    Pretty apt pitchfork review on Goat:

  13. vegas wolfmans Says:

    And done uploading:

  14. tzara's Says:

    Was just listening to Goat. Loving that. Spinning Gonjasufi–A Sufi and a Killer now. Getting into the darkness tonight.

  15. vegas wolfmans Says:

    I tend to like bands that are described as “kaleidoscopic” and with live shows that are referred to as “the harvesting of souls”.


  16. tzara's Says:

    CRB was great by the way. Such a small intimate venue for it. Got a little rooster’d. Glad I went, thanks for the recommendation.

  17. tzara's Says:

    Have you heard Pond–Beard, Wives, Denim? Possibly kaleidoscopic. Definitely psychedelic. Big Star/Flaming Lips/Piper era Pink Floyd.

  18. vegas wolfmans Says:

    I thought so too. Really enjoyed the second set when they seemed to let it breathe a little bit more. That show is in my orange too if you’re interested. Goat with headphones before bed. Crazy dreams forthcoming. PEACE.

  19. vegas wolfmans Says:

    Thanks man. I’ve heard of them- couple dudes from Tame Impala? Will definitely make it a point to track it down.

  20. Sumodie Says:

    Vw, thnx for goat. Also late to the spiritualized game, won’t be sleeping on those 2013 dates if true

    Tzaras, caught the last tour, agreed about the religious exp

    Totally blew my chance to see CRB in the fall. Got the Boston sbd, I def missed a hot one. Bummed the Crowes are touring this year as I wanted CRB to keep it up

  21. Boris Says:

    Wow. That Goat band is a big pile of not my cup of tea. Oh well. I need a new band guys! Where is the talent? Where are the songs that move me?? Am I just getting old??

  22. tzara's Says:

    @boris, name a couple of things you like, I bet the BB will find you something you dig. If you like more of the pop-psychedelia, the Tame Impala record is getting a lot of love. If you like it more exploratory, try Godspeed You! Black Emperor–Alleluyah.

  23. sumodie Says:

    Orange test

  24. sumodie Says:

    My orange has Spiritualized’s 5.11.12 Washington, D.C. show, which was broadcast & uploaded by NPR. Spun that a lot last year

  25. vegas wolfmans Says:

    For modern psych rock recs, Dog Gone Blog is pretty good. Here’s their year end best-of list.

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