New Years’ Eve – one of the most circled days of the Phish calendar. Throughout their career, the band has played several defining shows while sitting on the brink of January 1. New Year’s 1993, 1995, and 1998 jump right out as high points of the band’s year-end parties, leaving Big Cypress in a league of its own. Upping the stakes with three sets, a tradition started back in day, New Year’s Eve is the proverbial cherry on top; the icing of the four-night cake. While the first three nights usually provide the dark meat of the run, New Year’s Eve generally carries a more festive vibe. In Miami ’03, the excitement bubbled on December 31 just a bit more vigorously than usual, because other than 2002’s mediocre MSG comeback, the band prepared for their first full-scale New Year’s Eve since Big Cypress.
Phish responded right off the bat, starting off the last night of 2003 with the final minute of “Wilson” that they sidestepped with their opening transition into “Sand” the night before. Beginning the show with “Blap! Boom!…,” Phish tore into the final peak of “the song,” blending directly into the opening lick of “Mike’s.” Another bombastic opener, the band had now ignited the Miami shows with “Bowie,” “Piper,” “Wilson > Sand,” and “Wilson > Mike’s.” With a relatively standard run through the darkness, Phish got bodies moving immediately. Trey led with sustained melodies, warming up with a serious solo that drove this version. Struggling through several parts of “Hydrogen,” the band rejoined the same musical page as they dipped into a “Weekapaug,” fully loaded with traditional “Auld Lang Syne” teases that further amped the crowd for the midnight entrance into 2004. Though this “Weekapuag” went all over the place without any coherent structure, Trey provided a barely-audible vocal tease of “Jungle Boogie,” hinting at the cover that would open the third set.
With a whole lot of energy, but not much on-point improv, New Years’ Eve was underway. Stepping into a more simplistic piece, Phish followed up the opening suite with a safe journey through “The Moma Dance.” The momentum built over the first couple of nights had steadily worn off, as the band’s playing through the opening frame left something to be desired. Inexplicably, they selected one of their toughest compositions, “Guyute” to continue the set. As ESPN’s Chris Berman would say, they “Rumbled, bumbled, and stumbled” all the way through the piece, continuing the bumpy ride before completing the stanza with sub-standard fare in “YEM” and “First Tube.” Sprinkling in another dash of setlist creativity, the band moved from the peak of “First Tube” into the conclusion of the unfinished “Tube” from the night before. Stepping off stage after a lackluster set, Phish seemed to be losing the harness they had on their music for the first couple shows. But when they came back on for set two, the most awe-inspiring piece of the entire run would unfold.
The Miami “Stash.” If one was around in these days, the version needs no introduction. Retaking their firm hold over their improvisational chops, the band unleashed one of the defining jams of the post-hiatus era. Melting into the song’s canvas, the band settled into a near-silence to get started. The entire band illustrated a greater cohesiveness in the first few minutes of this piece than they did through the entire first set. Responding to each others’ subtleties, Phish invoked a precise musical interaction. Lifting off into an abstract excursion, the unique quality of this jam can not be overstated, and words would simply get in the way. Moving through darkness into sublime harmonies, Phish tapped into something greater on this occasion; one of those special times they channeled the outer universe. Getting into stunning ambient planes, Phish crafted a jam that will always bring chills with its memory. Language fails in instances of trying to convey the inexpressible, and this “Stash” was one of these deeply spiritual quests that people drive from sea to shining sea chasing down. Building out of heavenly textures, Trey brought the band back towards “Stash” with a prominent “Mind Left Body” tease that the band briefly latched onto before rejoining their original course, soaring into final peak to the actual “Stash” jam. Following this near-half-hour of soulful psychedelia, many looked up, aghast at the depths just reached. After a sloppy opening set, Phish came out and unveiled an other-worldly adventure that left people talking far after the show ended. Another example of the massive musical risks that defined this era, this “Stash” proved a spiritual cleansing that underlined the religious nature of the band’s most profound adventures.
This “Stash” brought the band’s crowning Miami moment, and though “Seven Below” continued with a strong follow-up jam, the show would musically fade from there. The set’s closing “Chalkdust > Slave > Chalkdust” felt completely forced for setlist entertainment, with two abrupt changes. And the third’s set marching band theatrics to ring in the New Year didn’t do much to salvage the music that came after. Though exploratory and moving through some unique segments, “Runaway Jim” meandered for a large part of the post-midnight jam. And to be honest, I don’t remember the “Reba” or the “Antelope” that came later in the set; and to me, that speaks volumes.
New Year’s third sets are rarely musically astounding. Representing the down-swing for the band, these final frames always seem like party time more than any earnest endeavor. By the time their ninth set in four days has come, more often than not the band’s focus has checked out. Though often filled with feel-good Phish, not since 1995 has Phish done something both creative and astounding in a New Year’s set; not that there’s anything wrong with that. The entire New Year’s show is generally an anti-climax, with the best music of the run almost exclusively coming over the previous nights. But who can beat a three set Phish party for New Year’s Eve? There’s no place I’d rather be.
Nobody knew it, but Phish would be gone only two seasons after Miami, disappearing into the mid-summer night. What seemed to be the re-ignition of a hallowed tradition became a one-and-done affair. But what a difference six years makes. Now, one day from our return to American Airlines Arena, the community is laced with a sense of joy and confidence in the future. With a vastly brighter landscape, Miami circa 2009 seems to be something that 2003 turned out not to be – a bold step into a limitless future. Gather your personal belongings, the ride is about to begin.
Jams of the Day:
“Stash” 12.31.03 II
DOWNLOAD OF THE DAY:
12.31.96 Fleet Center, Boston, MA SBD < Torrent
12.31.96 Fleet Center, Boston, Ma SBD < Megaupload
I: Axilla, Peaches en Regalia, Punch You In the Eye, Cars Trucks Buses, Stash, The Horse > Silent in the Morning, The Divided Sky, Sample in a Jar, Tweezer Reprise
II: Chalk Dust Torture, Wilson, Sparkle, Simple > Swept Away > Steep > Harry Hood > Prince Caspian, Character Zero
III: Also Sprach Zarathustra > Auld Lang Syne > Down with Disease, Suzy Greenberg, Run Like an Antelope, Bohemian Rhapsody*, Julius**
E: Amazing Grace**
*Phish debut; w/ Boston Community Choir
**w/ Boston Community Choir
Source : FM SBD