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.
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.
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.