A Portrait of the Past

Posted in Uncategorized with the tags , , , , on January 12th, 2014 by Mr.Miner
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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The Best Is Yet to Come

Posted in Uncategorized with the tags , , on January 8th, 2014 by Mr.Miner
12.28.13 (Jake Silco)

12.28.13 (Jake Silco)

This past run at Madison Square Garden completed a modern maturation process of long form jamming that started in Long Beach 2012 and crystalized at Dick’s two weeks later. Until their Long Beach tour opener of August ’12, Phish had spent the three-plus years of their comeback getting their improvisational skill sets back up to speed. During this period, the band focused their improvisation in small stints, contained mostly in jams of 10-12 minutes. Upon completion of Summer Leg One in 2012, Phish was ready for the next step—a step that their fan base had been drooling for since their return. It was time to stretch things out into the adventure-filled excursions that had made them famous. This past weekend at MSG, Phish culminated this contemporary re-evolution, leaving themselves in a place of utter musical glory from which to turn the next page on their career.

12.28.13 (J.Silco)

12.28.13 (J.Silco)

When Phish came back in ‘09, many saw the band’s move as nothing more than nostalgia on the coattails of a hall of fame career. Very few fans foresaw this type of improvisational evolution; very few fans believed that the band would return to place of musical dominance. Well—those people were sorely mistaken, as Phish has now ascended through their initial five-year burst—from their reunion to their anniversary—and are now armed with new sounds, new effects and a slew of new material in preparation for the Wingsuit era.

Comparing the runs of Dick’s 2012 to MSG 2013 would seem like a legitimate debate, but such an argument would be blind to the continuum that Phish has been traveling for the duration of this time span. If Long Beach cracked the door and Bill Graham’s third night of ‘12 wedged it open, Dick’s Rocky Mountain revelation provided the gateway for the band to pass through, embarking on a musical journey of growth that has brought to the here and now. The jamming of New Year’s ’12 flowed directly from the style of Dick’s, while Summer ’13 built upon all of that with an infusion of new approaches. In Fall ’13, the band continued to polish their jamming as Trey stepped to the role of rhythm we all love so much, boasting their best modern tour to date. And all of that led up to last week’s stand at MSG that capped this process of redevelopment with the most prolific four-night affair we have seen in ages.

12.28.13 (Jake Silco)

12.28.13 (Jake Silco)

Were it not for each and every step of this evolutionary path, Phish wouldn’t be where they are now. While fans will always argue for their favorite shows and favorite jams, it’s high time we all took a step back to see the forest from the trees—Phish has not only reclaimed their past virtuosity, they are pushing forward and forging new musical paths, all while on the brink of the next chapter of their storied career.

Madison Square Garden was, simultaneously, a sentimental celebration of all that has been and an anticipatory explosion of all that is yet to come. For those of us that have kept the faith and believed in this band through all the bumps in the road, we have reached the promised land. 2013 delivered us to Gamehendge, that special place in our minds and hearts where all is right with the world and we share common bonds of bliss and redemption. Where will 2014 will bring us? Nobody can tell. But with our hearts firmly in the right place and thirty-year smiles plastered on our faces, the sky is the limit.

12.30.13 (Andrea Nusinov)

12.30.13 (Andrea Nusinov)

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The Garden of Eden

Posted in Uncategorized with the tags , , , on January 6th, 2014 by Mr.Miner
12.28.13 (Jake Silco)

12.28.13 (Jake Silco)

The level and diversity of improvisation over the four nights at Madison Square Garden to end the year were absolutely mind-bending. I spent my afternoon listening to all the major jams from the run for the first time through, and now I am as jacked as I was walking out of the shows each night! Amidst a celebration of all that was and will be, the thing most deservedly touted is the state of Phish right now. To put a final stamp on their thirtieth year, the guys unfurled jams of all shapes and sizes in a holiday run that lived up to its potential and surpassed it, in one of the finest year-end displays of all-time.

12.28.12 (J.Silco)

12.28.12 (J.Silco)

Phish revved up its improvisational gears midway through the first set of the 28th, using some loose and gooey “Wolfman’s” funk to indoctrinate the crowd to the four-night party. Though “Sand > Piper” formed a smoking couplet to kick off the second set, the true gem of the show came via “Steam.” Finally exploding like we all sensed it could, “Steam’s” jam got deep, demonic, and excessively dirty. Harnessing a thick, larger-than-life, mechanical vibe, the guys brought the show to its highest peak through heavy, effected grooves in “Steam’s” most prolific version to date.

The next central, open jam sequence came on the 29th, and it stole my heart the moment it happened—“Down With Disease,” “Carini.” This one-two punch for the ages provided untouchably magical moments to which this entire year has built toward. Each jam was note perfect and both reached the highest planes of creativity, veering down alternate paths of sinister ideation. “Disease” took us on a psychedelic journey of staggering beauty, traveling into the void and back again, in an undeniable musical triumph. “Carini” harnessed the grit and urban glamour that defined Madison Square Garden Phish jams of the mid to late ‘90s, with filthy, monstrous grooves that made time stand still while engulfing and uniting the consciousness of the entire audience. Both jams exploded with fresh sounds and even fresher ideas as they, collectively, covered a ridiculous amount of sacred territory. The smoothness in which the band morphed back into the end of “Disease;” the heights to which Trey rocked the Garden back and forth with his Echoplex in “Carini” like MJ crossed over John Starks and the rest of the Knicks before tomahawk dunking on Patrick Ewing; the fluidity of both jams which were seen to ultimate completion; this was 12.29 the right way. This was a fucking dream.

12.29.2013 (Jake Silco)

12.29.2013 (Jake Silco)

Many New Year’s Runs over the years have featured one night in which the band took less risks and didn’t go for it quite as hard as the other three, but 2013 was not one of those Holiday Runs. The band just kept on trucking, knocking down the doors of the 30th’s second set with a hugely exploratory and very cohesive “Chalk Dust Torture.” Bursting through the composition, Trey took the helm and brought the jam to an initial peak of catharsis with one of his most emotional solos of the weekend. When the jam reached a mellow juncture where it sounded as though it might move into “Taste,” things were just getting going. Phish went on to weave together a delicately driving adventure that touched on many feels without totally settling into any of them. The band never lost their connection throughout, however, crafting a totally different type of centerpiece than we heard the night before in “Disease” and “Carini.”

12.29.13 (J.Silco)

12.29.13 (J.Silco)

Later in the set, after completing a relatively contained “Mike’s Groove,” Phish tore into the usual “Groove” connector “Simple,” and this is where our next highlight jam blossomed. Bleeding out of Trey’s guitar solo, the band entered into a slow, wide-open conversation that evoked the feel of a loose, late night, festival jam. Entrancing the audience with this ethereal passage, the band would soon segue into “Harry Hood,” forming an extremely tender final portion of the set.

The central jam sequence of New Year’s Eve, uncharacteristically, came during the third set in the post “Auld Lang Syne” paring of “Fuego > Light.” If one thing can be told by the dramatic placement of their new song and it’s mini, outro segment, it is that “Fuego” will be the next big jam in this Phish universe. The only Halloween song delivered with any improvisational flair, look for “Fuego” to jump into second sets all over tour this summer. And then they dropped into “Light,” introducing the improvisational main event of New Year’s Eve.

12.28.12 (J.Silco)

12.28.12 (J.Silco)

Shortening his guitar solo at the onset of the jam, Trey led the band into the fray more quickly than usual as they formed a light, percussive canvas with a distinctly celebratory vibe. The guys were fully locked together as they navigated this unique musical ground, and the feel of the jam remained this way for some time. And then it turned straight nasty. Lending a hard edge to “Light’s” final segment, they guys fully dug in during this third-set gem, and the final monster Phish jam of the weekend.

It’s quite clear that for a New Year’s Run, Fall Tour makes all the difference. This year, the band’s short fall run propelled them to incredible musical heights over this holiday run as opposed to past years where they have scrambled, after an extensive offseason, to put together four shows. This year at Madison Square Garden, everything came together in a perfect storm. Riding the momentum of fall, the excitement of a new album, and the outpouring of love and devotion of their community on their 30th Anniversary, Phish threw down a run packed with jams for the annals of time, making us fall in love with them all over again thirty years later.

12.28.12 (Andrea Nusinov)

12.28.12 (Andrea Nusinov)

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Thirty Years Later

Posted in Uncategorized with the tags , , , on January 2nd, 2014 by Mr.Miner
12.31.13 (Andrea Nusinov)

12.31.13 (Andrea Nusinov)

What a finale! Capping a year of shows that were etched into our collective memory one by one, Phish destroyed Madison Square Garden over the course of four nights in a style unseen since the late-Nineties. Dropping a bevy of timeless jams, sought after bustouts and an array of new material, the guys showcased all the reasons that they are now—after their thirtieth year of existence—riding a wave like never before in their career. In a calculated move, Phish filled their Holiday Run with nine sets of exclusively original material, showcasing their eclectic musical virtuosity that won over all of our hearts in the first place.

12.31.13 (A.Nusinov)

12.31.13 (A.Nusinov)

Over the past couple years, the band had fallen prey to their extensive autumnal offseason, rolling into Madison Square Garden with little momentum and dropping spotty performances. This year, however, following a fall tour and the recording of a new album, that was not an issue. Finely oiled and playing with precision from the first set of the first night, the guys made no bones about their single minded holiday mission—to take care of business. Through the course of four nights, Phish nodded to their roots, the three “eras” of their career and a bright future, bringing the audience on a musical tour de force that cut to the core of this grand experiment. I said before this run that it had all the ingredients to become the most prolific stand of the modern era, and lo and behold, that is exactly what happened.

On each night the band dropped top-level improvisation, the likes of which we dream. “Steam,” “Disease,” “Carini,” “Chalk Dust,” and “Light” led the way with outlandish, mind-bending excursions that we will be listening to until the end of time. “Wolfman’s Brother,” “Sand > Piper” and “Simple” played supporting roles in the open jam category, while “Stash,” “Twist,” “David Bowie,” “Harry Hood” and “You Enjoy Myself” anchored the band’s structured improv—all pieces with ample playback value.

12.31.13 (A.Nusinov)

12.30.13 (A.Nusinov)

But this holiday run was about so much more than jams. This run was a celebration of our four musical super heroes from Vermont, and their illustrious thirty-year history. The band’s own nod to their earliest days culminated in an unforgettable second set of New Year’s Eve atop a faux tour truck in the center of the Garden. Ever lessening the gap between themselves and their audience, Phish replicated the stage set up of their first-ever show at the University of Vermont and played a set’s worth of über-old school material, the most recent of which was “Glide” debuted in 1991. Along side a divine “Reba” and a closing “Split Open and Melt,” the set featured the central Gamehendge tales of  “Colonel Forbin’s Ascent > Fly Famous Mockingbird,” “Icculus” and “Lizards.” And amidst “Icculus,” Trey cut to the chase, instructing the audience in the ways of The Book, imparting the message of Gamehendge to a new generation on the most high profile night of the year. In another setting in another time, one might have taken move as being drenched in nostalgia, but as Phish has now reached a modern peak that few believed was possible, this message was an affirmation of all that was right in the land of Lizards as we crossed the threshold into 2014.

12.29.13 (A.Nusinov)

12.29.13 (A.Nusinov)

Beyond celebrating their unequaled past, however, this holiday run also kick-started the future as the band brought back most of the songs from their Halloween set. Phish interspersed their Wingsuit material throughout the four nights, highlighted by the dramatic placement of “Fuego” directly after midnight on New Year’s Eve. While all the other new songs were delivered in straightforward fashion, “Fuego” featured a tasty improvisational segment in a sure-fire preview of the next big jam in the Phish universe. Each new piece brought a jolt of excitement, as it evoked memories of Halloween while upping the ante of what is to come next summer.

To end their thirtieth year, Phish—finally—played a modern Madison Square Garden run that both upheld and paid homage to their prestigious past in the World’s Most Famous Arena. Scribing an unforgettable four-night chapter in their ever-expanding legacy, Phish—the four-headed, one-minded musical monster of Vermont—proved, once again, that it has no parallel in the history of live music.

12.31.13 (Andrea Nusinov)

12.31.13 (Andrea Nusinov)

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Musings on MSG

Posted in Uncategorized with the tags , , on December 10th, 2013 by Mr.Miner
Madison Square Garden '09 (Brian Ferguson)

Madison Square Garden ’09 (Brian Ferguson)

Madison Square Garden is one of the most celebrated Phish venues in the land. Playing the Garden for five consecutive years between ’94 and ’98, the band continued adding shows to their stands in each year but ’96, topping out with a four night stand in 1998. Four-night stands at MSG seem commonplace in the modern era, however, as this upcoming holiday run will be the third in three years. No building has hosted Phish more times than MSG, and these upcoming shows will,  coincidentally, be their 28th, 29th, 30th, and 31st at the World’s Most Famous Arena. And this year the band will have a full head of steam heading into New York! On the heels of a smoking fall tour and recording their next album, Phish’s momentum will have had little time to slow come December 28th, unlike the past two years in which the guys didn’t play between Labor Day and the New Year’s Run. Needless to say, the time is near, the mission’s clear.

12.2.09 (W.Rogell)

12.2.09 (W.Rogell)

Though the band has played the Garden at least three times a year since their return, only a few of those nights have truly stood out—namely, 12.31.10, 1.1.11, 12.28.11, 12.28.12, and 12.30.12. If I had to bet, this year will be different. Does this year have the potential to go toe to toe with 1998′s hall of fame run, also a four-nighter at MSG? If the band plays their cards right and really throws down, perhaps we’ll have a debate on our hands. Wouldn’t that be something? It would have to be the best stand of the era, but coming off the hottest tour of this era, why not?

What used to define those legendary mid-to-late ’90s shows was a certain grit and grime that matched the old school arena congruently. This fall, with Trey laying back on rhythm more than at any time during this era, jams took on a far gritter and psychedelic feel than at any time in 3.0. If fall tour was any indication, and it always has been, we could be looking at the dirtiest MSG shows of a notably clean modern era. And wouldn’t that be the perfect way to cap a truly monumental year of Phish?

As a fun exercise, I ran through my memory and have posted my favorites of everything in MSG history. Enjoy!

Best show: 12.31.95

New Year’s ’95 was the peak of everything Phish had done in their career up to that point; a culmination of their career. Many fans view this show as the band’s finest night of music, thus is needless to say that it comes in 1st in MSG history.

Best Set: 12.29.97 II

This set delivers for the duration with not a singe lull. Jams for days, one of the best “Tubes” of all time and impeccable flow. The only weakness of this set is a fairly routine “YEM” that doesn’t quite do the rest of the set justice.

Down with Disease -> David Bowie -> Possum, Tube, You Enjoy Myself

Best Run: New Years 1998

Four outstanding nights of music, ending what I believe is their best overall year of their career.

Best First Set: 12.31.98

Nobody was quite sure what had hit them when the lights came up after this one.

1999 > Mike’s Song > I Am Hydrogen > Weekapaug Groove, Ghost -> Ha Ha Ha > Cavern

Best Third Set: 12.31.95

One of the best “Weekapaugs” of all-time and monster “YEM.” Plus a couple rarities to cap things off.

Auld Lang Syne > Weekapaug Groove > Sea and Sand, You Enjoy Myself, Sanity, Frankenstein

Best Encore: 12.30.97

The best encore in history, regardless of venue.

Carini – > Black-Eyed Katy -> Sally Reprise > Frankenstein

Best Modern Show: 12.31.10

A colossal night of Phish with a second set for the ages

Best version of (parentheses represent close seconds):

Tweezer: 12.28.12 (12.30.94) 

Reba: 12.31.95

Mike’s: 12.31.95

David Bowie: 12.29.97

Wolfman’s Brother: 12.28.98

You Enjoy Myself: 12.29.98

Piper: 12.30.11

2001: 12.29.98

Antelope: 12.29.97 

Weekapaug: 12.31.95 (12.31.97)

Harry Hood: 12.30.95

Gin: 12.30.10 v. 12.29.12—pick em (only versions)

Twist: 1.1.11 (12.28.12)

Ghost: 12.31.98 v. 12.31.10—pick em

Down With Disease: 12.29.97

Carini: 12.28.98 (12.30.12)

Light: 12.2.09

Tube: 12.29.97

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TTFF: The Gems of MSG

Posted in Uncategorized with the tags , , on January 18th, 2013 by Mr.Miner

12.28.12 (Graham Lucas)

The highlights of the Holiday Run make quite a formidable playlist, boasting many versions of the year and some jams that move beyond 2012 into the creme de la creme of the era. Enjoy!

Tweezer > Maze” 12.28 II

This refined, multi-faceted and fully-realized “Tweezer”—my pick for best of the era—leapt onto the top shelf of 2012 offerings on the very first night of the run.

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Ghost > Piper” 12.31 II

Another gorgeous New Year’s Eve “Ghost” highlighted the 31st and paired up perfectly with this relentless “Piper.”

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Harry Hood” 12.30 E

Trey remains incredibly active throughout this “Hood” and the rest of the band responded beautifully, vaulting it into the elite versions of 3.0.

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Wolfman’s Brother > LDB > Wolfman’s” 12.28 I

Swanky funk interplay mixed with holiday cheer resulted in a surprisingly original take on “Wolfman’s.”

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Disease > 20 Years Later > Carini” 12.30 II

This exploratory sequence stunned the MSG audience with its patience and sinister tone. “Disease” broke through the sterile playing of the previous three sets with a ever-darkening adventure while “Carini”—the most unique jam of the run—challenged any version ever played with its abstract and menacing path.

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David Bowie” 12.28 II

The band dropped the most impressive “David Bowie” of the year to closing out the first night.

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Slave to the Traffic Light” 12.30 II

It’s been a while since we heard a “Slave” that packed such an emotional wallop. At risk of sounding repetitive, I’d definitely give this version the nod for the best of the year.

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Holiday Wish List—Revisited

Posted in Uncategorized with the tags , on January 10th, 2013 by Mr.Miner

12.28.12, MSG (Graham Lucas)

Now that we have experienced the New Year’s run and spun the tapes several times, let’s go back to my wish list and see how Santa treated me…

1. “Waves”: This majestic song debuted at MSG on 12/31/02 and hasn’t returned to the The Garden since. Given that we’ve only heard one version this year (Deer Creek) and it was magnificent, I’m pulling for a big time “Waves” over the Holiday Run.

GRANTED—When the band dropped into “Waves” as the second song of the second set on the 29th, I thought we were bound for glory, But after a stellar guitar solo, the band pulled up into an ambient washout and moved into “Caspian.” Nonetheless, the played the song, albeit with severe case of blue balls coming hand in hand.

2. The “Tweezer” of the Year: Though there were many quality “Tweezers” this year, especially on the second leg of summer, Phish has yet to throw down a colossal 2012 version. Here’s hoping we get a mega-”Tweezer” filled with the funkified urban grit of New York City.

GRANTED—Phish dropped far and away the best “Tweezer” of 2012 on the 28th. Taking the jam far into the unknown and on a psychedelic joyride, the band granted my most sought after wish with the best “Tweezer” of 3.0. I’ve been spinning this one non-stop since the run ended. What a treat!

3. Unexpected Jams: We all know the band will jam “Rock and Roll,” “Disease,” “Light,” and “Piper,” and I can’t wait for each. But I also wish to be blindsided by one or two jams from unexpected vehicles a la Worcester’s “Roses” or Atlantic City’s “Birds.” The songs that these jams stem from are irrelevant, it’s all about the element of surprise.

DENIED—No surprises jams popped up over the run, as all chunks of improv stemmed from familiar places. Interestingly, the band didn’t jam two of the shoe-ins mentioned above, leaving “Rock and Roll and “Light” out of the spotlight in New York City.

4. New Material: Just yesterday Mike posted a picture of himself playing bass in The Barn. What if, in addition to routine practice, the band was polishing off a couple new songs? It’s high time for some fresh setlist material, and though it’s doubtful we’ll see any during a year-end run, a kid can dream, right?

DENIED—No surprise here, as Phish stuck to their catalog less three surprise New Year’s Eve covers. Last year, Trey spoke about an impending album for which now they band now has six months to record before tour begins. With Trey’s Broadway musical about to open and a TAB tour rumored for the spring, let’s hope this still comes to fruition. Joy is now four years old and the band needs a new album to refresh their rotation—badly.

5. A Fully Realized “Twist”: After working this jam during Leg One, including one of the standout excursions of 2012 in Cincy’s “Twist,” the band shied away from exploring the song during Leg Two. Carrying such profound improvisational potential, it would be a shame to see another standard version of “Twist” over the Holiday Run.

DENIED—When the band inserted “Twist” into a prime spot on the 28th, right after “Tweezer > Maze,” I had grandiose visions. Phish proceeded to played a solid but contained “Twist,” bookending the song with “Little Drummer Boy” teases to the delight of all. An intense, connected jam fit into the contour of the night, but it won’t make any holiday highlight reel.

6. Smooth Segues: This year featured a host of silky segues, from “Sand -> Nellie Kane” to “Light -> Sally” and “Lighteca” to Sand -> Ghost.” Hopefully the guys will take their time between songs and merge some with stunning fluidity—an element that always ups the ante of any song pairing.

DENIED—The MSG shows featured a few smooth song pairings in “Tweezer > Maze,” “Ghost > Piper” and “Theme > Fluffhead,” but the guys never executed a legitimate segue, let alone a silky smooth one. It seems that segues come out when the band is more in the groove of a tour and playing together more often.

7. A Jammed Out “Crosseyed”: Phish has featured this Talking Heads cover as part of their rotation for the duration of this era, but seldom have they used it as a jam vehicle. The band has been more inclined to springboard into high-energy rock and roll from “Crosseyed” than into any sort of adventure. Bill Graham’s version, however, reminded us of the profound depths the guys can plunge with this song, and hopefully over the Holiday Run we see another such rendition.

DENIED—Surprisingly, “Crosseyed” didn’t make an appearance at the Garden, and to be honest, I’m glad they left in on the shelf rather than playing a standard rock version.

8. A “David Bowie” With Teeth: It would be great to see a revitalized version of this once-prolific jam that has turned rather stale in the 3.0 era. Chances of this, however, feel like they are slim to none.

GRANTED—Out of the blue, Phish threw down one of the better “David Bowies” we’ve heard in this era to close the second set on the 28th. Capping the night with a gritty and intricate run through of their early classic, the band infused notably energetic interplay into the jam. While no modern “Bowie” has evoked the ethos of its mid-90′s heyday, the version on the 28th was just what the doctor ordered—and it holds up quite well on playback.

9. “Wolfman’s” or “Bathtub Gin” In Set Two: Both of these songs have turned into tame, unidirectional first-set jams. I hope to see the band place one or both of these under the spotlight during the main event, as each song has been begging for some love for quite a while now.

HALF-GRANTED—Although neither song made a second set, they were both placed in slots of prominence as first set closers. “Wolfman’s” grew wildly creative as they left the song’s generic groove for more dynamic funk jamming. Then, of course, they seamlessly folded “Little Drummer Boy” deep within the jam and came out of it with an unconventional blues build before hitting the top—an awesome version all around. “Bathtub Gin” was the half of the wish that wasn’t granted. Many fans dug the energetic, guitar shred-fest on the 29th, but this version was far to similar to all the other ones from this era to get me too excited. Enjoyable? Sure. But extraordinary? Far from it.

10. Passion: Whatever happens at MSG and whatever songs are played, let’s hope the band comes with a serious intent to blow the room apart. Madison Square Garden is a venue of great legend in Phish history, though the band hasn’t treated the round room to a full-on musical assault in this era. Let’s hope this run contains that elusive MSG show we’ve been dreaming about since the band’s ’09 return.

GRANTED—If one thing is for sure, the band delivered all four shows with passion. Even the contained rocker on the 29th was delivered with zest and energy, especially after setbreak. The guys were having a blast on stage for the duration of the run and their happiness and energy oozed through every selection, from  ”Tweezer” to “Character Zero.” My football coach used to say, “Whatever you do, do it full speed,” and there’s no doubt Phish adhered to that philosophy. This wish was largely in reference to the 2011 run in which the band seemed go through the motions, and they couldn’t have been more different in their delivery this time around.

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Gauging the Garden

Posted in Uncategorized with the tags , on January 8th, 2013 by Mr.Miner

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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A Garden Party

Posted in Uncategorized with the tags , on January 3rd, 2013 by Mr.Miner

MSG 2012 (Graham Lucas)

Since New Year’s Eve, many people in the online Phish community have been making meaning of the band covering Ricky Nelson’s “Garden Party” to open the final show of the year. Though investigating the origin of the song, one can find potential significance in this seemingly out-of-the-blue selection.

Ricky Nelson became a childhood star on the 1950s television show The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet. The show was set in 1950s suburbia and conveyed an idyllic image of American family life. Nelson started his music career by playing songs on the popular show, and in the late ‘50s he branched off from his family’s sitcom and formed an early era rock band. Nelson became one of rock and roll’s first teen idols and became known for his excessively clean cut image. Between 1957 and 1962 Nelson charted 30 Top 40 hits, more than any other artist besides Elvis Presley and Pat Boone.

Garden Party (1972)

Though Nelson continued to record albums, his success was stymied by the British Invasion of the 1960s. Consequently, he gravitated towards country music, becoming a pioneer of the country rock genre. After his change of tune, however, Nelson reached the Top 40 only two more times in his career—once in 1970 when he recorded Bob Dylan’s “She Belongs to Me” and for the final time in 1972 with “Garden Party,” a song written in reaction to the following incident. Nelson performed as part of a “Rock and Roll Revival” concert at Madison Square Garden on October 15, 1971, sharing the bill with other early rock legends, Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley and Bobby Rydell, among others. Nelson emerged on stage looking different than his fans remembered him, sporting the ’70s fashion of  bell bottoms, a purple velvet shirt and shoulder-length hair. Though he began with his older classics, Nelson soon played his new country-rock material and was subsequently greeted with boos from an audience who didn’t approve of his stylistic shift. He left the stage mid-set and didn’t return for the show’s group finale. Nelson wrote “Garden Party” in disgust, documenting this experience. Confident in his new musical direction, the lyrics of “Garden Party”—“You can’t please everyone, so you gotta please yourself”—became his personal creed.

12.28.12 (G.Lucas)

Fast forward to December 31, 2012. Phish decided to debut Ricky Nelson’s song in Madison Square Garden 26 years to the day of the plane crash that took Nelson and his band from the world. While the move was a clear nod to the American legend, Nelson’s “Garden Party” clearly held parallels to Phish’s experience in the modern era. Phish has always endured a hypercritical fan base, something that Trey, himself, noted in 1997’s documentary, Bittersweet Motel. The level of public critique has only increased in 3.0 due to the onset of Phish blogs, podcasts and the always-expanding use of Internet discussion forums. As a burgeoning population of seasoned fans all have particular ideas on the way Phish shows should be played, band analysis and criticism has reached a high point in this era. Whether it’s more bust-outs, not enough funk, a lack of a second jam in “Mike’s Song,” the need to shelve “Time Turns Elastic” or playing less songs per 90-minute set, everyone has an opinion on the band’s performances and isn’t shy about sharing it. The fact that Phish fans care so much about what form the band takes is a testament to their undying passion, though I’m sure if the band members ever tuned into the omnipresent online discussions, they’d be quite amused by the copious demands. Sometimes, a sentiment in the fan community is so widespread and intense that it’d be nearly impossible for it not to get back to them. Some modern examples of this are the ardent endorsement of 2011’s Super Ball festival and the overall disappointment after the lackluster Holiday Run of the same year.

12.31.12 (J.Herzog)

Perhaps Phish’s inclusion of “Garden Party” was their own coy response to their rabid fan base, embracing Nelson’s motto of being true to themselves in the face of any and all critique. By following up “Garden Party” with “Possum,” a song that is universally considered to be overplayed in this era, and “Roses Are Free,” a song from which everybody and their mothers have called for more jams, it’s hard to ignore this probability. While “Garden Party” may have been a playful musical retort, it’s quite dubious that the maneuver represented anything more than that towards their fan base—a loyal cadre they have consistently gushed over for the duration of their careers. Phish has enjoyed one of the famous love affairs in music history with a fan base that would travel to the end of the earth to see them perform. More likely than a jab at their loyalists, “Garden Party” was positive affirmation of their own place in time. The message didn’t feel like a defensive “Hey, quit your bitching!” but rather a mature statement saying, “Everyone is welcome to have opinions, but we are here to please ourselves. Take it or leave it.” Understood in this regard, such a statement simultaneously frees their fan base to be critical and allows the band not to worry about it at all.

In all likelihood, the cover of “Garden Party” had a bit to do with several aspects of the night—the fact that Phish had, literally, created a garden out of the Garden for New Year’s Eve, the 26 year anniversary of Ricky Nelson’s passing and a tongue-in-cheek comment to their feverish fan base that Phish will be Phish. And in the end, though fans will be fans, I don’t think there is anyone who really wants them to change. If they are happy, we are happy and if we are happy, they are happy. This has worked for 30 years, and if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

12.31.12 (Richard Lawless)

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Golf Shots in the Garden

Posted in Uncategorized with the tags , on January 2nd, 2013 by Mr.Miner

12.31.2012, MSG (Jesse Herzog)

If any holiday embraces the theme of good times and fun, it is New Years Eve. For their fourth and final show of 2012’s Holiday Run at the Garden, Phish manifested this theme through three sets of high-energy rock and roll. Remaining largely within song structures, the band treated 20,000 fans to a rousing performance while infusing humor throughout the final set of the year. Playing with authoritative command, the band shook the World’s Most Famous Arena for over three hours highlighted by a golden sequence of “Ghost > Piper” in set two. After letting it all hang out on the 30th, the guys got back to polished rock music in their 2012 swan song and showed that even an improvisationally contained show can bring the house down.

12.31 Official (J.Flames)

Upon entering MSG on New Year’s Eve, fans were greeted by a floor and stage covered in Astroturf while “actors” dressed in country club attire were spread throughout the floor playing an array of lawn games such as mini-golf, badminton, and croquet. Additionally, the stage was covered in plant life with trees, shrubs, and assorted flora providing the feel of a true garden. Phish musically referenced their surroundings right off the bat with an out-of-the-blue opener of Ricky Nelson’s 1972 song, “Garden Party,” inspired by his experience at a Madison Square Garden concert. Through the lyrics to the song— “it’s all right now, I learned my lesson well / you can’t please everyone, so you gotta’ to please yourself”—it was clear that the guys had were going to have a blast in their year-end finale, and their musical confidence oozed from their high octane performance all night long.

The meat of the show transpired, as usual, in the second set with an eye-popping run of songs that were connected quite smoothly, though only “Ghost” and “Piper” were given room to breathe. Continuing their modern era New Year’s Eve tradition, “Ghost” transformed into the improvisational centerpiece of the night. Sparking the jam with hard-edged playing, the band united in a section of groove that saw all members contribute equally to the mix. Before long, however, the guys followed Trey’s lead out of conventional territory into an uplifting plane of harmonic convergence. Sprouting patient and soul-caressing leads, Trey spearheaded the most transcendent passage of the evening. Cascading guitar melodies brought the jam to its peak while coaxing spot-on piano accompaniment from Page. Reaching a plateau of creative reverie, the guys had, once again, sculpted a phenomenal New Year’s Eve “Ghost” to go along with the standout versions from ’09 and ’10. A mellow denouement to the jam brought the music smoothly into “Piper.”

12.31.123 (Jeff Thomas)

Juxtaposed against the beautiful music of “Ghost,” Phish blasted off into a full throttle version of “Piper.” Trey carved out gritty leads amidst a musical fury in which the band connected as well as they did all night. This high-speed chase upped the intensity of the second set and never relented as the band flexed their improvisational muscle throughout this torrid rendition. Trey’s leads and rhythm chops stood out at the guiding force of this voyage as he dictated the path and tempo with Fishman tightly glued by his side. When the jam did finally come to an end, the guys only took a moment to merge with the most prolific song of 2012, “Light.” Placed in the middle of the New Year’s second set, a monster version of the seminal jam felt imminent. Trey took a spectacular solo within the contained portion of the jam—something he did in virtually every selection of the night—but when the time came for the band to spring into the ether, they, instead, relaxed into an ambient washout and revved up “2001.” Keeping the setlist moving where it might have benefitted from a bit more improv, the guys closed the set with a run of “2001,” “Horse > Silent,” and “You Enjoy Myself,” none of which separated themselves from average versions. The second set, however, featured non-stop action from start to finish, and a certain flow to the action, fitting the vibe of the show congruently.

12.28.12 (G.Lucas)

Who knows what prompted the band to create a golf-themed third set of New Year’s Eve—perhaps it’s a hobby of their golden age (Trey and Page’s at least!) or perhaps it was a natural extension of “Kung’s” runaway golf cart marathon that was actually staged during “Chalk Dust”—but as usual, the band took it the extra mile. None of my friends nor I picked up on the golf-themed setlist in real time, but when I saw a tweet about it after the show it seemed hilarious that we hadn’t noticed. “Sand > Wedge,” “Fly Like an Eagle,” “Wilson,” “Lawn Boy,” “Driver,” and “Iron Man” made up the post midnight set, all with a golf references right in their titles. Later someone noted that “Party Time” (Par-Tee Time) kicked off the comic-laced set, leaving only “Tweezer Reprise” as the only non-golf related song in the set, but what an exclamation it made for the midnight hour! Following a rambunctious golf cart marathon within a compact “Chalk Dust,” the band, with assistance of their trusty New York City dance troupe, counted down to midnight. And after the tradition of “Auld Lang Syne,” they busted into their most adrenalized song in their catalog (which had been looming since the 28th) to ring in 2013, “Tweezer Reprise.”. Complete with strobe lights, dancers and a diva, Carrie Manolakos, belting out vocal melodies alongside Trey, “Reprise” created quite the midnight festivity!

“Tweezer Reprise” (J.Thomas)

Once the balloons had dropped and hugs were exchanged throughout the crowd, the band kicked into 2013 with a scorching dance session in the first ever third-set version of “Sand.” Though the show’s final set played out without much jamming, the band managed to throw three entertaining curve balls into the stanza with the debut of Steve Miller Band’s seventies anthem, “Fly Like an Eagle,” a rearranged, a cappella version of “Lawn Boy,” and the first full version of Black Sabbath’s “Iron Man” with Page playing the role of Ozzy Osbourne. Once again, fun was the pervading theme of the night.

Page recognized the onset of Phish’s 30th anniversary year during the encore, a year that allegedly holds a large touring docket the band. But this night was about finishing 2012 in style. This New Year’s show ended what was unanimously heralded as the band’s best year since their 2009 return, and in the heart of New York City on a stage they have made their home, Phish delivered a robust and celebratory performance. Thirty years deep and still going strong—only the Phish from Vermont.

I: Garden Party*, Possum, Roses Are Free, Rift, Sample in a Jar, Alaska, Mike’s Song > Walk Away, Weekapaug Groove, Character Zero

II: Birds of a Feather, Ghost > Piper > Light** > Also Sprach Zarathustra > The Horse > Silent in the Morning, You Enjoy Myself^

III: Party Time, Kung > Chalk Dust Torture > Auld Lang Syne > Tweezer Reprise^^ > Sand > The Wedge > Fly Like an Eagle*, Wilson, Lawn Boy#

E: Driver, Iron Man##

*debut, **Auld Lang Syne tease, ^Birds of a Feather tease, ^^With Carrie Manolakos on vocals and backup singers, #a cappella, ## first full performance

12.31.12,  MSG (Richard Lawless)

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