Only one show into the new year, and we’ve already got a keeper. Was anybody surprised? On New Year’s Day, Phish dropped a top-to-bottom smoker with one of the outstanding second sets of this era in which the improv never stopped. Crafting a slick setlist to cap the run, Phish tore MSG apart in their first hurrah of 2011, not to mention the first set, whose final four-song sequence also caught fire. In a not-so-bizarre case of prognostication, everyone in the building knew from long ago that this night would hold something special, and when Phish delivered so flagrantly, it made me think.
Advertised separately on their website as “1.1.11,” the band began hyping this show before the holidays even began. And with that in mind, of course they came out and played a ripping show. This brings me to the question of Phish’s current intent when they step on stage, something that I’ve been pondering since the end of this show. In my opinion, the band has now reached a level of proficiency where they can play a two sets at that level at almost any time (once they’ve got a few shows under their belt). But what determines when they decide to go big? Sure, they band was “on” on January 1st, but they have been “on” for quite some time now with very few inconsistencies. And while Phish killed the entire set with tight jams galore, but for one piece of transcendent music in “Simple,” its not like they were throwing down mind-numbing magic; they were giving each jam the creative attention it deserved without concern for what was coming next—something that hasn’t always happened. They were playing with the carefree energy and focus that characterized several nights this fall, and they were doing with the support of a well-crafted, non-stop setlist. Hence we all freaked, and rightfully so, Phish played a stellar show by anyone’s standards. But in terms of start-to-finish shows, why only on the first (and for one full set on New Year’s Eve)?
Many say that Phish alters their type of show to access different sectors of their fan base. But to that I ask, “Was anyone you encountered after 1.1.11 disappointed that the band jammed too much in the second set?” Doubtful. Everyone left Madison Square Garden exactly how Phish wanted them to—jacked to the sky over the best show of the five-night run. Perhaps this possible “premeditation” took place because of a pre-planned New Year’s Run that Phish wanted to end with a bang. But why don’t they come out and play all killer, no filler second sets more often, when that’s—empiracally—what everybody wants to hear?
Others may say that the band can’t just turn IT on and play like they did on the 1st whenever they want. But what about the previous four shows when every time the band took an improvisational risk—approximately once a night—they found, arguably, the best jams of 2010 in Worcester’s “Harry Hood,” and “Seven Below,” and Madison Square Garden’s “Ghost.” Additionally, the band also took “Tweezer” on its most exploratory jaunt of the year. My point is, Phish did seemingly, turn it on at a moments notice over the New Year’s Run, and they did so with ease and overwhelming success. Surrounding these musical treasures with various song sequences, each stood alone as the shining star of their particular show. But on New Year’s Day, Phish decided to improvise passionately all night long instead of in fifteen minute bursts— something not so outlandish, but had profound effect.
On January 1st, Phish didn’t play the best show of their life, but they certainly played one of the most impressive shows of the this era. The band chose a great setlist, but we all know that setlists, alone, don’t make a show. With cohesive jamming throughout, Phish underlined the night with a smooth second half in which each song got full and proper treatment. But was there ever any doubt? Was it was any “harder” for Phish to play a show like January 1st than it was to play any other on the run? I’m not sure. I do believe they intended to make 1.1 the best show of the run—and that they did. I believe that Phish can pretty much do what they intend to do onstage these days; it’s not like the turning of the calendar gave them magical jamming powers. So why wouldn’t they play shows like that throughout the holiday run?
I’m not trying to downplay 1.1.11 at all; I absolutely loved the show. But let’s hope that when we are making best of 2011 lists, we’ll remember January 1st as a show that raised the bar for the year, and not one of its greatest moments.
I: My Soul, Tube, Runaway Jim, Foam, Guelah Papyrus, The Divided Sky, Round Room, Walk Away, Gotta Jibboo, Reba > Walls of the Cave
II: Crosseyed and Painless > Twist, Simple, Sneakin’ Sally Through the Alley, Makisupa Policeman > David Bowie
E: Fee, Frankenstein
Jam of the Day:
“Bathtub Gin” 7.3.10 I
Another peak at the now-available remasters courtesy of Phish Inc.
DOWNLOAD OF THE DAY:
3.20.1992 Broome County Forum, Binghamton, New York
One of my favorite Spring ’92 shows, this SBD was highly circulated back in the analog era. With two sets of early-school fire, and a top-shelf. early-90’s “Antelope,” I highly suggest pulling this show if its not already in your stash.
I: Wilson, Reba, Brother, Glide, Rift, Fluffhead, Maze, The Lizards, Mound, Run Like an Antelope
II: Mike’s Song > I Am Hydrogen > Weekapaug Groove, Sanity, The Sloth, The Mango Song, Cavern, Uncle Pen, Harry Hood, Cold as Ice > Terrapin > Cold as Ice, Possum > Secret Language Instructions > Possum
E: Lawn Boy, Fire