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. BingosBrother Says:

    Trey is on record as digging on that Robin Thicke rip off.

  2. Phamily Berzerker Says:

    Where is announcement video?

  3. Jerome Garcia Says:

    sumo NOLA is worth visiting at some point before you die. Glorious old world city. Unlike any other in the US. Has a bit of a SF feel to it or perhaps SF has a NOLA feel to it. Great food. Incredible music. Wonderful architecture & neighborhoods. Funky feel. Freaks afoot. Phish could be the perfect reason to get you & G down there.

    Also for those thinking about JF keep in mind that the night time shows which were spurred by Phish’s previous appearance in ’96 is where it’s at. Fairgrounds is great fun; food is as good as the music. Take a look at the NWFJFGs (Nearly World Famous Jazz Fest Grids) for what went down at night last yr; talk about embarrassment of riches:

  4. jtran Says:

    for jazz fest, what is the best neighborhood to stay in? I’d assume it’s not very necessary to stay near the fair grounds b/c music there ends early, right?

    Looking at some airbnbs kind of between french quarter and fair grounds, others a bit further southeast I think

  5. Phamily Berzerker Says:


  6. bearito Says:

    Mid-City @ Tran. Rent a pad near the fest on Esplanade. There are a few B&B’s in the area as well. Walk to the fest. Be close to the cab stand for cab transport for night shows (my favorite aspect of jazz fest)

  7. Kaveh Says:

    Afternoon roll:


  8. sumodie Says:

    JG, I realize NOLA is a special place and most worthy of a visit. Maybe I don’t get excited about JazzFest because I know it’s never been a real possibility for me anyways.

    Stoney, thnx for the Yuri Gagarin psych link! Spinning now….


  9. DaNcInG fOoL Says:

    Sumo dry goods makes all their money from shipping

  10. Jerome Garcia Says:

    bearito is a NOLA local & knows what’s up. I’d also add the Fauborgh Marigny & western edge of Bywater which are very close to Frenchmen St & Quarter. But if you’re planning on hitting the Fairgrounds the majority of the days then Midcity is a good choice as bearito says. Gotta get to Tips for a late night show. Place is like church.

  11. DaNcInG fOoL Says:

    Fuck I’d love to hit New Orleans

  12. Jerome Garcia Says:

    December is a great time to hit NOLA as well. Anytime really except maybe the heart of summer. Sorry…I know you know…I just get a little excited talking about NOLA.

  13. Kaveh Says:

    BBers…a note. My wife (and friends) used airbnb.com to book at place in NYC for the NYE run. Saved some money and have the comfort of a two bedroom apartment with large living room only 5 block away from MSG.

    So, I would check into this site, if you haven’t, for NOLA. We like the fact that we feel more like at home. Get a bunch of BBers together and get a place and have a blast! Plus you will have quite a bit of money.

    My two cents….

  14. jtran Says:

    marigny – that’s a spot that seems to have some decent priced lodging options!

    hard to find a spot in NOLA on wook budget

  15. DaNcInG fOoL Says:

    When is Mardis gras?

  16. Jerome Garcia Says:

    Yeah jtran it’s a tourism driven town & as such they charge more for ‘peak’ season/special events. Marigny is great IMO. Most evening events are w/in walking distance.

    Also if you’re thinking of going to JF hurry up & get your airfare. Shit is muy caro.

  17. DaNcInG fOoL Says:

    I like knowing when the next phish show is.

  18. sumodie Says:

    King Crimson – Live in Ashbury Park ’74

    Bill Bruford – Drums, Percussion
    David Cross – Violin, Viola, Mellotron, Electric Piano
    Robert Fripp – Guitar, Mellotron
    John Wetton – Bass Guitar & Lead Vocal

    Of the live Crimson recordings I’ve heard, this one is near the top. Apparently many a diehard Crimson fan considers this a terrific live show too.

    Track #5 is all improv

    Go get some orange…

  19. Jerome Garcia Says:

    Bingos pg 14 not too late for a res. Hoteys expensive that wknd. Shack up w/ vape & keep it honest.

  20. MiA Says:

    Asbury, Ashbury, 220, 221 …

    Great show Sumo.

  21. MiA Says:

    Get them before they run out!!!!

    Mike Gordon Morse Code Journal/Pencil Set

    Say it in Morse code. Set includes four different pencils with foil stamped lyrics (from ‘Overstep’) and two tour journals. Journals are made of 100% recycled papers in Portland, OR, printed with soy-based inks, and fits perfectly in your pocket (32-page dot grid interior, with rounded corners and saddle-stitch binding). Measures 3.5 inches by 5 inches. Everything in this set is USA Made. Please note: This item is in pre-order status and will ship on or around February 21, 2014.

  22. Lycanthropist Says:

    Fuckin a! Phish reruns to jazzfest. My backyard

    So stoked. I second the air bnb suggestion.

    Words of advice. Book now if you wanna go. Half of it is already booked years in advance

    Time to rage it lycan style !!

  23. Jerome Garcia Says:

    Words of advice. Book now if you wanna go. Half of it is already booked years in advance.

    ^Lycan knows. Hurry up & buy!

  24. Lycanthropist Says:

    Yeh we ar booking today

  25. Jerome Garcia Says:

    So perhaps no mas Beacon runs for ABB next yr but hopeful that Bowlive will be over the same dates in Mar 2015 when I’m in NYC @ MSG for NCAA Champs.

    Love me some Soulive.

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