A Sterile Saturday Night

12.28.12 (Graham Lucas)

Shows like Saturday night’s at Madison Square Garden leave me scratching my head, wondering what, exactly, the band was intending to do. Following an opening night that laid the groundwork for a stellar run, the guys came out on one of the holiest days of the Phish calendar, 12/29, and barely attempted a lick of open improv. Following Denver’s revelation and a monumental “Tweezer” on the 28th, one had to expect at least a chunk of musical risk-taking on night two. But with one sonic body blow after another, they guys made it a point try absolutely nothing. There is no doubt that they played their songs quite well, and nobody can take that away from them, though we expect Phish to play their songs proficiently at this stage of the game. However, if we are calibrating shows by their level of cerebral engagement—music that enraptures one’s wildest imagination—12/29 was the least impressive of the year by leaps and bounds.

12.29.12 Official (J. Flames)

Before going any further, let me state—once again—that I go to Phish shows to see them jam; to witness the band weave musical memories in real time. If I wanted to listen to Phish songs, I could throw one of many CDs to happily meet that desire. But shows are supposed to be something more. Phish shows are the times when we have the privilege to be awed by the superhuman powers of the most magical musicians on earth. But there was nothing magical about last night at all. With little rhyme or reason, the guys sculpted a piecemeal setlist that possessed no direction or vigor whatsoever. I would love to write about the improvisational highlights of the show but there were none. Zero. Zilch. A few minutes of bland, quasi-connected, atmospheric funk out of “Golden Age” represented the band’s only attempt at any sort of jamming. Even songs like “Rock and Roll,” “Reba,” “Bathtub Gin” and “Waves” that almost always feature exciting improv were delivered in straight forward and unspectacular fashion. There were plenty of high-energy moments—specifically “Suzy Greenberg” and “46 Days”—but those are meant to be the supporting cast, not the lead actors.

The concern that now comes into play for this Holiday Run is whether the 28th will wind up as the best show of the run, just as it was a year ago. It felt like Dick’s provided a pivot point in the development of modern Phish. It seemed that the guys had their hearts rededicated to sophisticated musical experimentation, and that the “hit or miss” aspect that has annoyingly pervaded 3.0 was a thing of the past. But after last night’s song-based snoozefest, that all seems like wishful thinking. Perhaps the 29th was just a bump in the road, but by anyone’s standards, it felt virtually inconceivable that the band would pull out such a performance on Saturday night at the Garden. But they did. And there is nothing to do but smile, put it behind us, and comeback on the 30th for a massive bounce back night of improvisation.

I: Crowd Control, Mound, AC/DC Bag, Rock and Roll, Sugar Shack, Reba, Halley’s Comet > Limb By Limb*, Wading in the Velvet Sea, Bathtub Gin**

II: Golden Age > Waves > Prince Caspian*** > Boogie On Reggae Woman, Suzy Greenberg, Bug, Cavern, 46 Days

E: The Squirming Coil, Grind, First Tube

*Follow the Yellow Brick Road tease
**”Susie Q” quote from Fishman
***Unfinished

12.28.12 (Graham Lucas)

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673 Responses to “A Sterile Saturday Night”

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  1. PigSong Says:

    Reba and Gin sounded really great here. I can’t imagine they made it a point to try absolutely nothing. Obv attempts with Golden Age and Waves, guess they just didn’t stick it.

    Two more!

  2. MiA Says:

    Loved the Reba. Gin was a better Gin than most. I’ll take those “zero, zilch” jams pretty much over most of ’09’s (minus Gorge)

    Golden Age’s jam was fun. But it was like they jumped on the diving board and it was too stiff for any real acrobatics.

    Leaves more jam vehicles for tonight.

    Not a lot of new tracks though.

  3. play_it_leo89 Says:

    Miner – I love your site, and I hardly ever post or comment here, but I think maybe part of the issue you may have had with last night is that you seem to take each and every show as a be-all-end-all of how Phish is going to perform from here on out. I don’t mean to be disrespectful at all – that’s really not my style at all. But after 12/28 you said:

    “Tweezer proved that the music of Denver was no mile-high fluke, but a legitimate turning point in the course of the band’s modern chapter.”

    After the very next night you write:

    “…after last night’s song-based snoozefest, that all seems like wishful thinking.”

    I get you’re disappointed. But maybe that might have something to do with the fact that you’re putting so much pressure/such high expectations on the band to play amazing each night, and when they don’t, you feel dissatisfied. I’m not trying to tell you how to feel – that’s obviously not for me to say. And there’s a legitimacy to your feelings because they are just that – YOURS. I guess I’m just trying to remain in the positive. I’ve been seeing shows since ’94 and I can honestly say that I’ve enjoyed well over 95% of those I’ve seen. For me, one major reason is that I leave all my expectations outside once I step through the doors (or, in the case more recently, once I put on the headphones). Sure, I like – no, LOVE – to experience wonderfully expiramental jamming and risk-taking, but I know that if it were to happen every single night, every single show, it wouold cease being amazing, and just be the norm. And to me that’s always been the beauty of Phish – they have never been the norm.

  4. tela's_muff Says:

    Show was beat. Agree with sentiment on how can they play a show like that given Dicks and the shit show last NYE run? That’s both head and ball scratching to me.

  5. vtspeedy Says:

    I was watching on a horrible, choppy stream, so I wasn’t sure whether the choppiness was the stream or the show. Both I guess – no flow.

  6. Shred Says:

    Hate to say it but they can’t get it up @ msg. Not sold on run. Can’t believe dicks is the new msg esp since nyc has the history and is home.

  7. sal good Says:

    Agreed. First set was terrible. Reba completely lacked any direction and fishman started his ending drum roll prematurely to put a merciful end to trey’s slop solo. I did like golden age a bit more then the author did. However, when the structured part of waves was slightly botched it seemed as though the band got spooked and lost any confidence to jam. Obviously trying to maintain any musical momentum and musical continuity for a new years run without a fall tour is impossible. These end of the year runs should be the cherry on top of a year long journey of musical expression. Instead, it feels as though the band is starting over. We all know how last year played out and its very possible the same thing can happen this year. Phish is all about gathering momentum from night to night and linking together musical ideas. Without fall tour, the link is interrupted and NYE runs fall short on inspiration.

  8. Al Says:

    We all have our “off nights”, don’t we?
    And I say this without having listened to one note, yet.

    If the jam doesn’t come naturally, it simply doesn’t happen.
    If they tried, we would say it all sounded forced…

    Maybe it is just honest to play on and just deliver a Rocker Show.
    But I’m definitely sure I’ll find my gems even out of last night…

  9. Al Says:

    @sal good
    100% agreed.

  10. Willowed Says:

    When jams are sparse and the outlook is bleak…..run the ole Pig and Whistle.

    It works every time.

  11. lifeboy-r-dee Says:

    is it possible that without a fall run, the band is just not as well oiled as they are when on summer tour? i’m sure they practice a lot before hitting MSG but it’s hard to replicate the momentum of a full tour, such as this past summer.

  12. DukeOfLizards Says:

    The majority of the crowd got exactly the show they were looking for. I’ll leave it at that.

  13. Sugarmag Says:

    No or little exploratory jamming? True. But a rocking fun show To my ears. Lots of energy. I have no problem with a show like that.

  14. Willowed Says:

    I had a blast. Was it a Saturday night rock show? Yup.

    I’m cool with it.

    I think we all go for the jams. But if you look at it, off the grid type jams happen once, maybe twice a show, if you’re lucky. So you’re going to see 20-30 minutes of improve a night if you’re only going forcthe jams. Doesn’t seem worth the investment if you ask me.

  15. Dr Pronoia Says:

    I’m a quarter of the jam chaser Miner and others here are, and I still agree 100%

    I enjoyed the experience and everyone around me was raging hard, but apart from disappointment at how unrealized waves ended up, I couldn’t remember what had been played on the way home from the show, and it wasn’t a headspace issue

    I was OK with Reba and Gin, and GA tried to get there, but that’s about it. Very little replay value at all.

    That said, I”m really excited for tonight and am confident we’ll achieve liftoff

  16. Willowed Says:

    Improv not improve….sorry.

  17. c0wfunk Says:

    Ahhh expectations.

  18. Plopcopter Says:

    I don’t always agree with miner, but this show assessment could n

  19. Yemaroo Says:

    Disagree, Miner. Fun show. Upbeat and energetic. Garden had many full-on, everyone having a blast moments. The moments that only happen in the garden. Rock and roll, Reba, and gin had some great jamming. Second set was non-stop. Songs in second set didn’t even matter because energy was really high on all and some mike and page solos were solid. Trey was also taking some great leads. Thoroughly enjoyed.

  20. Tweezer Says:

    Last night’s set 2 was the shortest set I can remember in 3.0–65 minutes. The second half of the set was set closers; it seemed like Phish just wanted to get off the stage last night.

    Agreed about the concern with Miner about which way this run could go. I remember sitting here a year ago thinking, ok it’s the 30th, now Phish will turn it on.

    Does anyone else feel that maybe it’s time to retire Boogie On? The quick 5 minutes of white boy funk can’t touch what they used to do with the tune in ’99.

  21. Plopcopter Says:

    Not have been more accurate. At no point in the evening did this show push any boundaries, at all, what so ever. After the 28th, I to am surprised and confused. With that said, it was a good night, just a concert that makes you go “hmmm”, and not in a good way.

  22. Levi Says:

    It’s predictable that the Saturday night show is a jukebox string of songs. It’s the night the wall street traders take their girlfriends to see Phish. They don’t want 45 minute mindf**k jams. Don’t read too deeply into it. Sunday will have more jams.

  23. c0wfunk Says:

    Totally fell asleep during bathtub .. The setlist leaves me wondering – how does a drummer quote Suzie q? Was he singing it?

  24. BNCB Says:

    We got a Caspian where the ‘Waves’ storage jam could have been. Then we got a ‘Boogey On’ where the ‘2001’ could have been. At that point I knew it wouldn’t end well.

    Great times in the city. Already sick of Phish rawk.

    NYC crowd. Not a Phish crowd. Half the Phish kids are MiA.

  25. [Not Tom] Says:

    As hallowed as the 29th is in Phishtory, don’t forget that the phenomenal 17 minute Back on the Train dropped on the 30th. That is still my favorite 3.0 NY run jam. So, I’m still hopefull for good things to tonight.

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