A Portrait of the Past

12.31.13 II (Scott Harris)

12.31.13 II (Scott Harris)

If there has been one constant throughout their 30-year career, it has been Phish’s ability to keep their audience on its toes, expecting the unexpected. And on New Year’s Eve, they band flipped the script once again, ditching their tradition of an elaborate midnight gag in favor of a stripped down set of old material to pay homage to their 30th Anniversary. From the stage last year, Trey and Page mentioned the significance of their thirtieth year only in passing. But on the last night of 2013, the band gave the ultimate nod to their past, performing a retro second in a very special setting.

A video that started as the first set ended was integral in setting up the entrance of the band’s first equipment truck, labeled “JEMP.” And to make room for the truck, the crew began rearranging the floor at the Garden! Always seeking to shrink the gap between themselves and their audience, for their thirtieth birthday, Phish was going to perform—literally—amidst their adoring fans, in the round at Madison Square Garden! The GA East became the front section; the rail monkeys watched from afar, and Phish performed an momentous set of music.

Not only did the guys play atop their JEMP truck, they replicated the exact setup of their very first show at the Harris-Millis cafeteria at the University of Vermont in 1983. Not only were the details in the staging, such as the hockey stick mic stands and Kuroda’s miniature, four-can lighting rigs, but they were also in the music. Fish and Page played on bare bones kits, while Mike and Trey used their original Languedoc guitars. In this era of larger-than-life Phish experiences, the simplicity of the JEMP set became its spectacle. Gone were the sprawling improvisations and gargantuan effects we had witnessed over the past three nights; all that was left was Phish in their purest form—exposed and vulnerable. And it was a sight to behold.

12.31.13 II (Scott Harris)

12.31.13 II (Scott Harris)

Despite having played the song two other times since Coventry (interestingly, both at MSG), as soon as “Glide’s” signature drumbeat broke the silence of setbreak, my mind raced back to 2004’s mud-laced apocalypse. The message of the moment was both literal and powerful as the guys looked at each other and sang, “We’re glad, glad, glad that you’re alive.” Back when this song fell apart during that fateful Vermont weekend so many years ago, as band members were enmeshed in mortal struggles, few could have predicted that we’d gather nine years later to celebrate life, love and Phish at Madison Square Garden. But here we were—and the band’s musical acknowledgement in “Glide” dripped with this poignancy.

Tearing into “Llama,” Phish was off and running into a frame of music that nobody would soon forget. Comprised completely of old-school staples, the most recent of which was 1991’s “Glide,” the guys worked through a setlist of elusive crowd favorites that pointed to a simpler time. The dramatic drop into the first performance of Gamehendge’s “Cololnel Forbin’s Ascent” since UIC 2011, brought a roar from the enraptured crowd. But it was the nearly note-perfect rendition of the notoriously difficult, “Fly Famous Mockingbird” that left fans’ jaws on the cement floor in New York City. It’s been a hot minute since Phish navigated this composition as deftly as they did on New Year’s Eve, and to see them nail it on the year’s biggest stage infused my heart with awe and gratitude.

The interlude of “Fuck Your Face” set the table for the improvisational highlight of the JEMP set, a soaring and passionate “Reba.” One could only imagine the thoughts—or lack thereof—going through Trey’s mind as he gazed into the rafters of the Garden while emoting one of his most heart-tugging solos of a weekend that was filled with them. As Trey drifted off to his happy place, weaving magic out of thin air, we closed our eyes and joined him in that familiar Eden that has fed our souls for the past three decades.

12.31.13 (A.Nusinov)

12.31.13 (A.Nusinov)

And then that familiar vamp of “Icculus” arose from the center of the World’s Most Famous Arena. One could feel a shift in the energy in the building as people attuned their senses to what was transpiring. It was only proper that during Phish’s 30th Anniversary set, that we’d get a visit from Gamehendge’s higher power. Thirty years later—while Billy Joel played second fiddle at Brooklyn’s Barclay’s Center— Trey screamed at his audience, every bit as exuberant as in the ‘80s, imploring us to “Read the fucking book!”  It was 2013—almost 2014—and the sun was shining in the Land of Lizards.

Pairing “Lizards” with a concise, retro take on “Split Open and Melt,” Phish concluded their intimate main event. The juxtaposition Colonel Forbin’s entrance into Gamehendge with one of the Phish’s earliest entries into atypical, cerebral jamming provided a glimpse into both ends of the band’s earliest musical spectrum. In this carefully selected setlist, every piece had a meaning and every song had a purpose. The message was lost on no one.

Within the context of a single set, Phish had brought us on a joy ride through their formative years. For a band that is always moving forward, to take a momentary step back and perform the JEMP set was nothing short of sacred. What better way to showcase their reverence for their own past, than to recreate it right before our eyes. For about 65 minutes on New Year’s Eve, time stood still and we witnessed a portrait of a time long gone by. And when the lights came up, thirty years later, we were still upside down.

12.31.13 II (Andrea Nusinov)

12.31.13 II (Andrea Nusinov)

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558 Responses to “A Portrait of the Past”

  1. phlorida phan Says:

    Tampa Bitches!!!! I have a couple extra bdrooms for some of you wook ass mother truckseters!

  2. bob dylan Says:

    just got the mike album email. i love the logo of the LP with a mouth in the middle. dude is out there.

  3. George W. Kush Says:

    any Iron & Wine fans? Always thought his music kinda was lame but havn’t dug into it. Announced a small theatre show near me

  4. Gavinsdad Says:

    GW – go see him. Don’t even worry bout the albums. I&W put on an excellent show. Caught them in 11.

  5. vapebraham Says:

    guyute!

    1st weekend of JF is a go!

  6. phoammhead Says:

    Jungle Jam in three days!

  7. George W. Kush Says:

    word GD.

  8. Type III Jamming Personality Disorder Says:

    [/jazzfesttalk]

    Sometimes it’s not just the Maze, it’s the connection/pathway to it that causes the loosening of the … Digestive System.

    yeah MiA, the intro song is key. having a breather is needed.

    so I know the conversation has moved past this but I had to figure it all out…

    while there are obviously a whole host of songs that have led into and followed Maze throughout its 283 song history, here are the top ten:

    Preceders:
    [Opener] 24
    Fee 21
    Bouncin 15
    Sparkle 10
    2001 10
    Guelah 10
    Lengthwise 9
    Poor Heart 9
    Makisupa 7
    Reba 7

    Followers:
    Bouncin’ 25
    Glide 14
    Fee 12
    Forbin’s 11
    Golgi 10
    IDK 9
    Sparkle 9
    Guelah 7
    Fluffhead 6
    Cavern 6

    In general, the most typical lead-in tunes are “set ups” and the most typical following tunes are breathers or ones where the band can rest for a bit after the shredding of the Maze peak. Obviously, there are exceptions all over the place on that and those are the ones we notice.

    And I did check, MiA, to find that there has not been a Bouncin’, Maze, Sparkle. But there has been a Sparkle, Maze, Bouncin’… (07.03.1992, Brixton Academy, London, England).

    now back to the news…

    [jazzfesttalk]

  9. George W. Kush Says:

    Gdad, type of show to eat some fudge and chill or more high energy?

  10. Jerome Garcia Says:

    Phish plays 1st wknd of Festivus & I’m strictly a 2nd wknder = BALLS!

    Small consolation that Greensky is playing 2nd wknd which bodes well for late night offerings CRB should be doing another sunrise show at Tips & that Phestie Phish < Phish. But still stings. Oh well.

    Does this mean Spring Tour?

  11. bob dylan Says:

    Love iron and when. If I had to guess having not seen them, I’d say sit down and drink your wine.

  12. bob dylan Says:

    Mr C, if you’re out there. Thanks for shaming burritos and pimping tacos. I went back to tacos and haven’t looked back. The ratio is way better.

    I also stopped eating peperoni after this video. Dude makes good points.
    http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=u5AZhjhbxf8

  13. George W. Kush Says:

    @BobD, the few times I have seen Van Morrison, it was lots of old timers on lot with plaid tablecloths eating cheese and meats drinking bottles of chianti with the straw-based bottles. Comical but somehow appropriate. Also, good precious and red grapes go hand in hand for me. 2nd to the hops of course

  14. snow Says:

    This is too crazy- There is a guy on 710 espn right now who broke off his engagement and is moving out of his house because his wife is Kaepernick fan. The hosts are dumbfounded and the producer is counseling the guy to not take football so seriously. Classic Seattle – a nutter calls in and they take it all serious like they are marriage counselors.

    MANIA i tells ya.

  15. Kaveh Says:

    @Miner: email sent to your address linked to this site…just a head’s up. Thanks.

  16. Jerome Garcia Says:

    Trucking mtgs lilum…had me away from my cpu this AM. You’re hitting both wknds & Daze Btwn correct? $$$ decision. We’ll meet up & boogie down the 2nd wknd. Don’t sleep on Fiya Fest which should be the Fri of 2nd wknd. After 10 Jazz Fests coupled w/ getting older & bringing up the sun each & every my group now front end loads daytime activities ie Fairgrounds on Thurs Fiya Fest on Fri & sleep pool dinner Sat & Sun followed by doubling up on shows until the breaka breaka Wed – Sun. I also stay thru Tues & close it proper at the Maple Leaf on Mon after dinner at friends who live there.

    It’s about a 5.5 hr drive from Houston to NOLA depending on construction & traffic in Baton Rouge on I10. Made that drive many a time…

  17. Jerome Garcia Says:

    TX swing before/after Festivus would be $$$

  18. Jerome Garcia Says:

    But I’ll probably be broke & will have used a hefty portion of my PTO so maybe better if just a one off.

    FYI that Widespread will get 4:30-7PM on the Acura Stage (main stage) & play one long set & encore; but they typically always play Thurs of 2nd wknd. I would assume Phish will be given the same latitude since they’ll almost certainly be the final set on the main stage on the 1st day of the 1st wknd.

    Good chance of another show at UNO Lakefront Arena which is a bit of a haul from downtown or Municipal Auditorium.

  19. vapebraham Says:

    flirting w/ idea of both wknds and daze btw. 10 days away from wife and kids. is that acceptable? probably not. oh, but how sweet (and expensive) it would be.

  20. Jerome Garcia Says:

    Whoops…Phish playing Sat of 1st wknd…hard to say if they’ll be given the expanded 2.5 hr time slot but sure as shit hope so.

  21. Phamily Berzerker Says:

    Also saw a leak that the phish from vt may be playing at wanderlust bc. Ed of july.

    Yoga festival + phish = optimal mound to meatstick ratio

  22. Mr.Miner Says:

    you guys think there is ANY chance of NOLA being the start to a spring run? MGB goes until 4/6, so doubtful anything will be squeezed in between.

  23. Jerome Garcia Says:

    vape it’s my dream to do that one yr; Thurs 1st wknd – Tues aft 2nd wknd. But unless you’ve got a place to stay on the cheap it’ll cost ya several thousand & your synapses might break. PEDs necessary to power through. But if you have some real clean fluff & choice Ringwald then doable.

    Love NOLA. Fess fo lyphe!

  24. Jerome Garcia Says:

    Miner we were hoping you’d know brah 😎

  25. Jerome Garcia Says:

    Yo Phoamy McPhoam catch as much of Karl D as you can whilst at Jungle Jam. Zach Deputy’s there’s too so they should be doing their Ray Charles tribute which is dope.

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