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. George W. Kush Says:

    30min Fluff ftw

  2. btb Says:

    I don’t like trucks, Gamehenge, in the round performances, MSG, or Toby….so I thought the set was lagging and just mediocre overall.

    B-

    Sup trollz

  3. halcyon Says:

    Like the write up this morning. Love that second set.

    Cool link posted Heady. I have to get my hands on some Heady Topper. Struck out all last year. Even my trips to VT every spot that would carry heady t was gone.

    Anyone have Eclipse by FiftyFifty in Truckee? Have heard some great things and was going to purchase the other day, but couldn’t justify 40$ for a bomber when Hop Ranch was plentiful at 8.00.

  4. BingosBrother Says:

    They look so tiny and vulnerable in that picture. Gutsy performance. Naked.

  5. vapebraham Says:

    the words tiny, vulnerable, gutsy performance, and naked make me think of Alex Honnold. free solo ascent champ.

  6. bob dylan Says:

    http://youtu.be/LDKvGxG5UXE
    ^scents soundcheck 7.15.03

    Who went to this venue? From the pic is looks cool. Oh yeah, and the jam is worth your time too.

  7. jtran Says:

    to all arcade fire haters: there’s a long article int he latest rolling stone about them, with tons of quotes from win butler.

    your hate is justified. that guy just sounds like a huge douchelord.

  8. Stoney Case Says:

    think the TYF set the boldest thing they’ve done. So proud of Trey. His hands are not what they once were, and he dug real deep to pull that off. the interplay between him and Page during Mockingbird is the stuff dreams are made of.

  9. vapebraham Says:

    back in the day, phish was not a jam band. they were a band that would drop your jaw on the floor with an impossibly fast, furious, aced Uncle Pen complete w/ laser beam guitar tone. every note clean and perfect. see 8.6.93 Uncle Pen.

  10. Phamily Berzerker Says:

    ^ and then you wake up after he webcast is over…. 😉

  11. bob dylan Says:

    You guys love the clean shredding but hate on umphreys. Things that make bob go hmm.

  12. vapebraham Says:

    love me some vintage phish. and i loved that truck set. Mockingbird did not get off to a flying start and there was a moment at the very outset where things could have gone south. But they pull it together quickly and beautifully. that forbin’s > mockingbird were indeed the stuff of dreams. and i’ll take that reba to the 3.0 reba championship games.

  13. Stoney Case Says:

    what is ‘umphreys’?

    vaper, he shook that early hiccup off and slayed. “You can do it Trey” thought the over 35 crowd to themselves. it was a collective push of support

  14. vapebraham Says:

    did someone say clean shred? see 8.6.93 Slave at the zoo, no less.

  15. dorn76 Says:

    Scents. Big version.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jxb7zesVpNU

  16. George W. Kush Says:

    good link BobD. I think that Scents shows up in the Leaked SBDs Project compilation as well. Fish’s snare sounds so flat in 2.0. Lacks the “pop” so characteristic to his sound in pre-hiatus and current era.

  17. HeadyBrosevelt Says:

    @bob d- i went to that show (one of only 2 2.0 shows that i attended)- i thought the venue was cool- very pretty surroundings. i would love it if phish played in utah this summer and revisited that venue. i remember security being very lax- i was surprised because of the stories i had heard about utah. the place was not very full- i think it was a “skip” show. i saw a lot of “zombies” walking around lot- i am happy i have not seen too much of that in 3.0- brighter scene these days.

  18. the Baker Says:

    I’m just a little verklempt. A little emotional, little verklempt. Talk amongst yourselves. I’ll give you a topic…

    http://usat.ly/1eOXhPG

    ^awesome pics!!!

    Thanx JEMP
    Thanx Host

  19. stapes Says:

    Was at that UT show too. Great little venue. Not full at all. Smoking show taboot.

  20. ren Says:

    “You can do it Trey” thought the over 35 crowd to themselves. it was a collective push of support

    ^will be 35 in a few weeks…but that’s exactly what I was doing at that point in time. Amazing vibes being passed that set. I’ll get choked up every time I respin that Forbins/Mockingbird…until there is no more time for me to pass.

  21. little umbrellas Says:

    ‘TYF’ dig that stoney.

    ‘moonshine and og jack herer’. now that does sound nice.

    Oi@KushDubya, 4/16/99 was my first time seeing Trza. (mind explosion…. shortly followed by my first time seeing Phish. Shoreline 99 with Phil)

    7/15/13 SASS soundcheck into 8/12/24 SASS, Double Dipp

  22. little umbrellas Says:

    Baker’s Verklempt like Vankmen. Echto

  23. Type III Jamming Personality Disorder Says:

    You guys love the clean shredding but hate on umphreys. Things that make bob go hmm.

    yup

  24. little umbrellas Says:

    and also at GeorgeKush, ‘Leaked SBDs Project compilation’

    meow? tell me more.

  25. little umbrellas Says:

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    Alpine: Alpine Beer
    Paso Robles: Firestone Walker Brewing
    Petaluma: Lagunitas Brewing
    San Diego: Ballast Point
    Santa Rosa: Russian River Brewing

    Colorado
    Boulder: Avery Brewing

    Delaware
    Rehoboth Beach: Dogfish Head Brewing

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    Oakland Park: Funky Buddha Lounge
    Tampa: Cigar City Brewing

    Indiana
    Munster: Three Floyds

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    Grand Rapids: Founders
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    Lakewood: Southern Tier Empty Pint

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    Akron: Hoppin Frog
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    Bend: Deschutes Brewery
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    Salt Lake City: Uinta Brewing

    Tucker’s best brew pubs/taprooms for food quality

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    Agoura Hills: Ladyface Alehouse & Brasserie
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    Sarasota: Darwin’s On 4th
    Winter Park: Cask & Larder

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    New Albany: New Albanian

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    Portland: Lion’s Pride

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    Baltimore: Of Love & Regret

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    Minneapolis: Northbound Smokehouse

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    Portsmouth: Portsmouth Brewery

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    Brooklyn: Tørst

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    Asheville: Wicked Weed

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    Hood River: Pfriem

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    Ardmore: Tired Hands Brewing

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    Waterbury: Prohibition Pig

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