Coming off a sequence of earth-shattering Phish in the second set of 12.28.98, fans filed back into the Midtown lair of MSG on the 29th, and few could predict what might materialize. When a solid opening frame set the table for the main event, however, everyone was eager to find out. The band opened up the second set with “Free,” it seemed that over-sized, mammoth rhythms would soon engulf the arena. But Phish took a different route. Showcasing a grungy, distorted, and slow-paced jam, this version sidestepped funk in favor of searing psychedelic textures. Trey offered screaming and dissonant guitar lines that dominated the musical landscape while the rest of band was immersed in slow, elephant-like rhythms. Without much full-band jamming, the guys wrapped up their opener and delved into “Limb by Limb.” This song-based start provided a stark contrast form the worm-ridden psychedelia of the night before, but the band was crafting a different sort of show. And when the inspiring Trey-led version of “Limb” concluded, the real meat of the set began.
Out of the silence came a sonic groaning that likened the sound of spirits opening one eye after hibernating for years in the rafters of The Garden. A subtle but collaborative soundscape emerged from nothing, as Mike and Trey played off each other amidst a quiet, ambient beginning. Commencing a gentle, cymbal-based beat, Fishman moved into more syncopated patterns as he framed the increasingly abstract experiment. Trey layered a “cow groan” sound that he had employed in several ambient Fall ’98 jams over Mike’s upper-octave melodies, contributing to a sonic amalgam very much in the vein of the band’s abstract fall jamming. And once Page added spacey effects to this musical tapestry and slightly shifted the band’s focus, everyone knew where this was heading.
Amidst this layered landscape, Fishman gently oozed his beat into “2001,” morphing the abstraction seamlessly into groove. Following the extended intro, Phish took off in a high-octane, funked-up sprint. Trey set spirits free with a repetitive and dissonant three-chord pattern at the jam’s onset (possibly a quote of Spiritualized’s 1997 single “I Think I’m In Love”) and all four members locked into a relentless uptempo groove. Trey’s distorted offerings gave way to sped-up, marksman-like lead lines that coaxed the whole band onto his cresting wave. Unquestionably the leader of this jam—and the entire set thus far—Trey took command of this version with shredding yet intricate leads that left any funk stylings in a vapor trail of his super-hero-like axemanship. Eventually coming to a mini-peak with prominent “Crosseyed” melodies, he burst out this tease like a banshee. With fingers dashing up and down his fretboard like an army of madmen, Trey took the jam through the song’s first “chorus.”
As Red burst into the second half of the jam with enthusiastic James Brown rhythm chords, it felt like this “2001” might transform into a buck wild filth-fest. But instead of maintaining a rhythmic focus, Trey returned to his exceptional lead playing, painting high-speed, staccato-esque licks atop Fish’s quickening beat and Mike’s assassin-like bass lines. The entire band locked into a furious dance escapade as The Garden spun like a high-flying, death-defying, 360-degree slam dunk. Trey continued to stand out as the leader of this passionate affair as his sense of urgency never let up for a second. And the band sailed into the song’s second “chorus.”
Bringing the scorching instrumental to a climax, Phish had harnessed the energy of 20,000 fans and beyond, in a nearly 20-minute ballistic throwdown. Following a randomly placed “Boogie On Reggae Woman,” Trey counted off into an all-time version of “You Enjoy Myself” to round out the set. And while “YEM” may very well have stolen the show, its mid-set running mate was the greatest “2001” in Garden history.
Jam of the Day:
“2001” 12.29.98 II
A torrid, four-piece chase through the galaxy.