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MSG2: "Show of Life" Still on the Board for NYE

Posted 4 years ago by sausagemahoney - 54 comments Link:

The date December 29 has historical significance to Phish fans. Back in 1994, the New Year's Run followed a magnificent fall tour that had seen the band deepen and extend its improvisations, learning to move quickly and sometimes abruptly from one idea to another, from one riff to a variation to chaos to deep space and then back. The month between 11/12/94 at Kent State and the end of the tour in particular featured consistently sophisticated and exploratory second sets the likes of which Phish had never been able to deliver before. After taking a couple of weeks off for the holidays and a warmup the night before, Phish showed up on December 29, 1994 and emotionally demolished the ancient Providence Civic Center with possibly the most storied single jam in its history. As readers of this site know, the 35-minute, multi-part Providence "David Bowie" recently placed first in the working group's (admittedly off-the-cuff and informal) poll of Phish's greatest jams. Even those (like me) who wouldn't rank it number-one have to acknowledge its immense significance and wondrous beauty.

That was the start of it, but Phish's December 29 exploits didn't end with 1994. The following year's New Year's Run is generally regarded as the best the band ever delivered. But although 12/31/95 is deservedly the pick of that run as a complete show, the best single moment of the run (and the most eloquent summary of what Phish learned on the road during its strongest touring year) was probably the transcendent "Bathtub Gin" -> "The Real Me" -> "Bathtub Gin" from December 29 in Worcester. And even as great as those high points from Providence and Worcester were, for the best single 12/29 set, you probably need to look to the masterful funk- and segue-filled second frame of the 1997 show at tonight's venue, Madison Square Garden.

On the one hand, if you're a glass-half-empty kind of person, you could point out that Phish hadn't hit those heights on any December 29 since that night 15 years ago. But it's probably worth using the other hand instead. The second leg of summer 2012 was at least a little bit of a fuck-you to people who have worried that Phish's best days are behind them, that they're not really challenging themselves, that they don't play together often enough to really maximize their ability to play together as a band, etc. These concerns are justifiable. But the stretch between Long Beach and Denver was Phish's best tour since June 2004, and maybe since the summer of the year before. Given that recent run of excellence, there was every reason to believe that Phish would show up big and sweep away everybody's bad memories of last year's dismal MSG run. Last night's show, particularly the colossal "Wolfman's Brother" and the second set bookends of "Tweezer" and "David Bowie," was a good start.

Well ... tonight was a lot more like December 29, 2011 than December 29, 1997. This is not a blanket condemnation of Phish in 2012 or a prediction that they won't deliver great shows the next two nights. But this was a below-average show even for 2012, with a good but safe first set and then a second set that felt like another first set.

Don't get me wrong, the first set was certainly good enough and you could see it leading to bigger and better things. (I watched the show on the webcast, in case you want to use that as a pretext for discounting what I'm about to say.) When I was a post-secondary student and complete dork in the mid-1990s, I wrote a long boring critical-theory post on that had absolutely no influence whatsoever. It was called "Height and Width" and proposed the idea that there are two obvious ways to think about how good a show is. One is height, or the peak quality of the music during the show. Another is width, the overall quality, absence of low points, consistency of playing. What you think about tonight's first set, and whether you prefer it to last night's, broadly speaking depends on whether you put more value on peaks or on consistency. Last night's first set was pretty bad until the excellent "Wolfman's," and I wouldn't fault you for rating last night higher based on that alone. But I still preferred tonight's combination of (1) fail-safe first set tunes, like "Mound," "Sugar Shack," "Halley's," and "Reba" with; (2) tunes that usually show up (and often disappoint) in the second set, but are much more palatable in the first set, like "Rock and Roll" and "Limb" and "Wading." I don't think you can legitimately compare tonight's "Gin" to last night's "Wolfman's." This "Gin" brought some napalm, but only for a minute or so. It was the sort of short burst of intense energy that Phish can emit in its sleep. Overall, at just 10 minutes the "Gin" didn't see the kind of development we saw in last night's "Wolfman's," or in the 8/7/09 or 5/28/11 "Gins" that are the class of 3.0.

The other thing to note about the set was that a promising, slowly building "Reba" jam was completely undermined by the crowd, which for no apparent reason lost its mind and began screaming, eventually drowning out the band, who seemed confused. This "Reba" was slllooooowww, like the Lawn Boy version, and was developing a silky and narcotic texture before the yelling started. Who knows what Phish actually thought about it, but as a practical matter that was basically it for the "Reba" jam, which was Fishcorded shortly thereafter.

But ultimately, the takeaway from tonight's show is that the second set didn't really deliver anything after a promising first 20 minutes. The "Golden Age" opener gave us some nice major-key soloing before dropping back into the main riff and letting Mike Gordon have some shine on the bass guitar. When Trey reemerged, he hinted at "Sand" before the groove collapsed, leading Trey to start "Waves." I love "Waves." It's sort of a shame that, as a consequence of Phish playing many fewer shows than they used to, "Waves" has been heard only 24 times in its entire performance history, fewer appearances than "Reba" or "Bowie" used to make on a given tour. You wonder how it would develop with more regular play. This "Waves" had a speedy tempo and a short, exciting middle jam, but no real final jam after the last chorus, only a short ambient bit before Trey got bored and started "Prince Caspian." And after that there's really nothing to report, a short set full of standard versions of decent songs that didn't jam. There are some setlist notes we could discuss if you're into that. It was a good Saturday night out, but not the sort of show, and especially second set, that you'd hope to see Phish play on December 29 at the World's Most Famous Arena.

Before you angrily disagree with me in the comments: like I said earlier, it's just one show, and it was still an excellent rock and roll concert by anyone's standards. It just wasn't anything memorable by Phish standards, even for 2012 Phish. I will be tuned in tomorrow and I see no reason not to expect something more in line with Friday night than with tonight.

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Brandonclick77 Reply
Ive always thought a New years run should deliver the goods as far as amazing jams and unique setlists, but the last few runs have been kinda duds... Mix it up,play a 4 song 1st set,bust out some Radiohead covers or do a 2nd set electro dance party,why the heck not??? It drives me nuts when I know this band is capable of so much more...
Score: 0
Miges311 Reply
Im going to go ahead and angrily agree with you in the comments. Gin was good and left me craving a great set two and instead got basically a second set one.
Score: 1
Cantaloupe Reply
I begrudgingly admit there is a lot of truth to what you've said. A fair, and reasonable analysis, if a little overdone on the whole 29 thing, and the "even by 2012 standards" stuff.

Consistency and energy were the name of the game tonight. There may not have been peak moments like the previous night's Wolfman's or Tweezer, but the energy was there from start to finish tonight.

I found it to be quite well composed. An interesting and unique setlist that kept the energy up and was more focused on getting off than on getting deep. But I take it as one night of a four night run, from a band that focuses on making each night so distinct that they might as well be a different band each night.
Score: 2
sloth2112 Reply
Good post! Show lacked a flow/continuity.. Gin was okay, but not ripping. Golden age jam was pretty! Anyhow, hoping for a roaring 30th!
Score: 0
Jacculus Reply
Jacculus Yikes. -2 for my apparent poor attempt at some levity. My sincere apologies to @sausagemahoney. Did not mean that as a knock on your well-written review.

I personally thought the show was underwhelming (from the couch) as well. However, I have a feeling it was one of those shows that would've been real fun to be at with the high level of energy.

Anyways sorry again.
Score: 2
HST79 Reply
HST79 Like Sausage, I've been around since Gadiel's page was the site to go to for Phish info. as well as Since 95' I have always read reviews, I remember one I read in 97' of some fans bashing Phish for doing "Roses Are Free", which I took offense too being a Ween fan. Anyway, I used to pick apart every set list, note, flub and it does all come down to : Your Personal Experience At the Show. I've seen bad shows but had a great time, as well as GREAT shows but terrible times (Too crowded, Annoying people, etc...) I've learned to keep expectations lower and then hopefully be surprised. I watched tonight webcast and it did seem a bit "stock" but that's just our view. I can guarantee there were some newer fans that loved every minute of it and maybe had a mind blowing I did @ Deer Creek 95'. OK, I'll stop blathering...but I do KNOW this...Phish has already peaked, and there should be NO hopes out there that they will all of a sudden turn into the band they were in 94-97. Thanks. -Zane
Score: 11
lumpblockclod Staff Reply
lumpblockclod Outstanding review. Couldn't agree more. Let's hope last night proves to be the outlier. After all, Leg2 of Summer Tour, good as it was, had a few clunkers itself (OKC, BGCA2 etc.).
Score: 2
Sprachtor Reply
Sprachtor Still having a hard time stomaching last night. Show gives a most historical date in Phish's history a bad name. But whatever, maybe I won't add this one to my shows seen.
Score: 1
llama Reply
I think they know what they're doing up there.
Score: 5
PersnicketyJim Reply
PersnicketyJim Well put review. One thing that stood out to me (on my couch) was how much Sugar Shack seemed to knock them off balance. They got comfortable and warm quickly by opening with Crowd Control and then nailed Mound. By placing Rock and Roll fourth, I thought they were making a statement and foreshadowing greatness. Then Trey and Mike chat and joke, Mike counts off...and the momentum was gone. I love the Joy version, but they simply can't play that song live.

I suspect the fact that they failed Shack again got into their heads and was responsible for the almost freakishly slow Reba. I was still excited, though, because I thought a chill Reba could set up an extra chill chill. And when Fishman transitioned to rimshots I rose to my feet. But it didn't go anywhere special, and part of me took the crowd's subsequent freak out that then occurred to be a collective kick to the band's behind—almost saying, 'c'mon, let's get this show on the road.' (If it was simply a glowstick war, then I think it was inappropriate, except that it may have been a sign that the band had lost control.)

I thought there were some great glimmers thereafter, and generally feel like it was a bookends show. The only other perspective I'd add is how much the decision to kill Waves with Caspian bothered me. What a missed opportunity to construct something memorable! Again, good review and tonight holds plenty of promise.

Score: 2
TwiceBitten Reply
TwiceBitten I posted this to the review page:

I won't go so far as to call last night's Phish show disappointing. I got a face value ticket the day of and I danced till my knees were sore, but I could tell before the show was over that this was going to be a completely forgettable show. A fun rock concert for sure, but nothing that I'll come back to.

I actually think the band performed admirably given the very out-of-touch crowd response. At least twice during the show (during Reba, and I think Waves), the crowd started screaming for no apparent reason, and I think this really threw off the band. It's like the audience wanted the boys to ejaculate prematurely, and sure enough they did, time and again, spilling into big rock peaks in nearly every song. Problem was, each peak sounded the same as the last and only lasted for 45 seconds at a time.

To top it all off, the crowd was almost completely silent when Phish took the stage for their second set. I mean really, talk about showing enthusiasm in the right v.s. wrong places... I may be over-analyzing this all, but it really feels like the crowd didn't want or expect anything deep and thus were repaid with a very surface level show. I was feeling some of the same vibe on the 28th, but Phish played through it, giving us a broader range of musical offerings.

All that being said, the Golden Age > Waves deserves at least one listen. The Caspian had some decent trilling. Reba had a nice composed section, but a rather standard jam, with the whistling section starting 11:45 minutes into the tune. The encore was also really solid, with a nice spotlight on Page during Coil. The crowd went nuts when the band picked up their instruments again after Grind.

A high energy show for sure, but lacking considerably in substance. Definitely listen to 12/28 though, that show was great.
Score: 4
mcgrupp81 Reply
I was at last night's show. As for the knock on the random screaming that happened in Reba, that incident was a testament to the abundant energy that was flowing that night. I thought the 1st set was solid enough. I agree that the 2nd set was basically a second 1st set. The nail in the coffin was when Bug started. The crowd was waiting for anything, Hood, Yem, etc. and they went to Bug. I did enjoy the Golden Age/Waves segment and that Suzie jam was tight. I thought Kuroda was solid on lights last night, especially during Reba.

I think that the biggest thing here is that Phish is not playing fall tours anymore. The New Years runs suffer for it. I don't hold expectations for the next two shows, but hopefully they have at least one jam laden set.
Score: 4
1_to_fluff Reply
I absolutely agree that the crowds screaming is what prompted phish to end that reba jam. And that really pissed me off. The same thing happened with the squirming coil after a few minutes of page bringing me to a state of musical bliss with his piano like he always does, everyone just started screaming and ruined it. I dont see how so many people can just be so disrespectful to the music.
Score: 4
ginseng_sullivan Reply
I agree with the review. But every Phish show is still a Phish show! So immediately it was awesome anyway. Looking for good things to come the next two nights!
Score: 1
PhishMarketStew Reply
PhishMarketStew Big difference between these 1st two shows. Where Fishman was loose and willing to follow on night 1 he seemed overly concise and unwilling to change the beat anywhere during night 2's performance. Page and Trey really didn't seem to be listening to one another and Mike was either out front in the lead or doing his own thing. The Suzy sounded so interesting because nobody seemed to playing off of one another, just independently of one another. There were some highlights like that rapacious Gin, parts of Golden Age and that Waves outro but all in all it sounded like a totally different show. Expect big things these next two nights though, especially from Light & Ghost.
Score: 0
gladtobeaglenn Reply
gladtobeaglenn Agree with OP. I was at this show and was also confused by the mass freak out during the quiet space in Reba. I thought it was a glow stick war, but I didn't see anything out of the ordinary. This was a show with little or no flow. Fast songs followed by slow songs with abrupt segues connecting. Also, Trey flubbed the start of Squirming Coil. All in all, I thought 12/28 was more solid, especially from Wolfman on. Also, is it asking too much to expect at least one or two breakouts or new tunes during a 4 night run?! Did they rehearse at all before this run??
Score: 0
ObviousFool Reply
ObviousFool I'm gonna have to agree for the most part that while the show had its moments, the final effect was mediocrity at its finest. Crowd Control opener....Sugar Shack derailment....still some beautiful jamming out of Golden Age to start the 2nd set...sounds familiar to 2nd night at Bill know what happened next? 3rd night Bill Graham. I have a feeling the boys are just fine and planning to melt some faces tonight. Oom pa pa bitches.
Score: 1
doglogin Reply
doglogin You all do realize that these are (almost) 50 year old guys playing up there. They also have to save some songs for a three set NYE show. I think the two big culprits for the disappointment are: 1. fans think that Phish is ageless and can still jam like they were in their 20's so expectations are WAY too high. 2. I think the band would benefit from dropping a day and just doing 3 shows.
I wouldn't go as far to say that last night was awful. The second set definitely lacked flow, but the playing was fine and they seemed to be having a great time up there. I think that people need to leave their stopwatches at home and just go with it. A 20minute version of a song does not automatically qualify it into Phishtory.
I still think that the first night (28th) was a fantastic show! Last night was a good show.
Keep the vibes positive and just have fun!
Happy New Year!!
Score: 4
MiguelSanchez Reply
MiguelSanchez don't sleep on 12/29/98. that show was the real deal. other than extending the 12/29 goodness out one more year, i agree with that review.
Score: 1
jagxjr84 Reply
I'm not sure I can agree with everyone here. I think if you take into account Page's comment to on the pre-show interview on 12/28 saying he's having the best time of his life, and the setlist from 12/29 -- it was definitely his show to shine. Wading, Waves, Coil and others -- he really shined.

A nod to Kuroda too, the lights - especially the background "space" look during Hailey's, the blue and turquoise during Waves and the Rainbow mix during 46 days were all beautiful.

Granted, I was not old enough to have seen them in the early 90's, and my first shows were in the few years prior to the hiatus, but what I've seen from them this year, including the last two nights has been great.

Maybe the web-casts are not doing justice to the shows, but the crowd energy was palpable and the show was awesome, if even just short of legendary.
Score: 0
walstib Reply
walstib One has no chance of enjoying the moment at hand if they are continually waiting for a different moment.

Seems to me people want something specific that fits into the boxes of "Ok for first set" or "OK for second set" or "their supposed to play this way in the 2nd set" that they cannot enjoy whatever comes their way, whenever it comes their way.

If a song is enjoyable its enjoyable, no matter when it's played. If you're night can be ruined by song placement than you probably shouldn't bother at all because the band will do whatever they please and you'll still be waiting. I will never understand how the previous song makes a damn bit of difference to the current song, hence the term set killer.

Must suck to live that way.
Score: 8

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