Words by: Brennan Lagasse | Images by: Adam McCullough
Phish :: 12.28.12-12.31.12 :: Madison Square Garden :: New York, NY
“We can stage a runaway golf cart marathon!” And that they did. Who else has a song with a line like that in their catalogue, let alone would stage a whole New Year’s Eve spectacular around it? Phish, that’s who. But before getting into the band's insanely creative New Year’s Eve antics to welcome 2013, marking their 27th performance at the world’s greatest venue, Phish offered three sold out shows at the venerable Madison Square Garden (MSG) in New York City.
|Jon Fishman by Adam McCullough|
Friday’s show kicked off the New Year’s run in style. Marked by high fan anticipation, Phish is coming off what many feel is the bands best year of live music since their return in 2009. When the boys took the stage, they offered a relatively tame, but ultimately tight first set. That pattern would largely be shared throughout the four shows of the run, however on this night the final song of the set was a little different. Unlike the majority of the rest of the songs played, “Wolfman’s Brother” left its normal structure and showcased a purely unique funk jam that waved into blasts of the Christmas song, “Little Drummer Boy”.
“Wolfman’s Brother” shared a distinctive groove and sent the MSG audience into setbreak rearing for set two. This evenings set was some the best of the four shows offered. A six song set with an electrified “Maze”, incredibly tight “Fluffhead” and scorching “David Bowie” to close, only supported the monumental jam coming out of “Tweezer”. In fact, the “Tweezer” jam was so hot the rest of the set would’ve still been celebrated even if wasn’t as tight as it was, though what was played was undeniably high quality Phish. Ultimately, this evenings “Tweezer” will be listened to for years to come. It was simply transcendent.
|Trey Anastasio by Adam McCullough|
If there was a dud in the bunch of this year's MSG run, Saturday was the show. Overall, it was another tightly played rock and roll show, especially the first set. It just didn’t have the punch that a vast majority of fans travel from all over the country to see what this band can do. It was one of those nights where if it weren’t Phish, the show would be fully hyped because it was in fact a fun night of music, but in the end highlights from the other three nights of the run stand out in a much brighter way. Set one showcased several fan favorite tunes, several of which have either in years past or recently offered top-notch jamming (“Rock and Roll”, “Halley’s Comet”, “Bathtub Gin”).
However, even “Reba” was relatively contained in terms of improvisation and the obvious attempts to break out of the standard song box just didn’t happen. When “Waves” dropped as the second song of the second set, many show-goers thought liftoff was inevitable. It’s a song that holds some of the highest potential as a jam vehicle in the 3.0 era (listen to the 5/26/11 Bethel soundcheck if you haven’t already done so a thousand times). However, it too failed to leave its primary structure. The set raged on as a rocking set of music, as did the show as a whole, but nothing spectacular, especially in comparison to what heard on Friday, ever materialized.
After one ripping show and one largely standard show, the door was left wide open for night three. Set one kicked things into gear much like the previous two first sets. Tightly played high energy rock and roll was the theme, and Phish continued the trend. Song selection was particularly solid in this set, as can be heard in well-played versions of “Dived Sky”, “Horn” and the increasingly played “Ride Captain Ride” as highlights.
The spotlight for this night came, not surprisingly, in set two. If there are two sets that stand out musically from this run, its set two, night one, and set two night three. “Down With Disease” led second set off with a resulting groove of pure brilliance. Spacey, deep and a little out there are fair adjectives to describe the unique jam that morphed out of “Disease”. And then things got dark. The darkness that started in “Disease” is something Phish fans haven’t heard much of in recent years. “Twenty Years Later” seemed almost premature coming out of the jam due largely to the deepness of the 19+ minutes of music. However, the selection was well placed, flowed, and continue a dark train of cohesiveness. But no one was ready for what transpired during “Carini”. At the time I thought I was listening to perhaps Tool, not Phish. Like the “Tweezer” from Friday fans will listen to this tune for many years to come. There is simply nothing else like it-pure psychedelic madness that you have to hear for yourself. Add a soring “Slave to the Traffic Light” to end the set and a patient “Harry Hood” encore, and there you have not only a top contender for the run, but a marvelously crafted chunk of Phish music that will not be forgotten anytime soon, even if many feel adding “Show of Life” after the “Hood” in the encore was unnecessary.
|Mike Gordon by Adam McCullough|
There have been more than a few notable New Year’s Eve performances put on by Phish, notably the famed 12/31/95 show that took place at none other than MSG. But for the most part, Phish fans anticipate the goods for a New Year’s run taking place in the shows leading up to the 31st and that’s most certainly what took place during this time around. That said, this New Year’s Eve show was beyond a good time. Phish offered three solid sets, rocking the crowd from beginning to end, and took us all on a uniquely Phishy ride to welcome 2013 that was just as much random as it was madly creative.
Set one was again full of tightly played tunes with the notable debut of “Garden Party”, a Ricky Nelson tune to welcome us to the night’s festivities. The crowd was beyond amped and the energy translated through the fans and the band throughout the evening. The climax of set one was found in a high octane take on “Mikes Song” that segued oh-so-smoothly into a rocking “Walk Away”.
Just as the highlights from this run were largely found in second sets, the same was seen on the 31st. While improvisation was not the driving force behind this set two the dance party theme was. Songs like “You Enjoy Myself” and “Light” didn’t quite go as deep as many would have hoped, but when “2001” dropped every single body in MSG was moving, shaking and partying like it was 2013. “Ghost” and “Piper” were by far the highlights of the set and musically for the evening. “Ghost” didn’t stretch on for too long, but did open up a beautiful jam that was largely shared in egalitarian fashion between all four band members. Lead guitarist Trey Anastasio took home the standout award during this jam though as a few melodic passages he offered were simply the stuff of blissful Phish magic. Drummer Jon Fishman kept a sinister beat while bassist Mike Gordon dropped smooth bombs before an explosive “Piper” brought the intensity of MSG to a peak. If you’re going to listen to anything from this show the “Ghost”>”Piper” will not leave you hanging.
|Page McConnell by Adam McCullough|
Set three was party time, and opening the set with “Party Time” fit the mood in more ways than one. The set was a sort of rollercoaster as the band shifted into one of their Phishier tunes in the catalogue with “Kung”, where a runway golf cart marathon ensued by two golf carts butting against each other. It was beyond weird at first, but funnier and more entertaining by the second. As the golf carts started chasing each other, more golf carts appeared with dancers hanging out of each car. Madness ensued for the rest of the evening. A ripping “Chalk Dust Torture” brought us to the huge balloon drop, welcoming 2013 with a segue into the traditional “Auld Lang Syne”. Out of nowhere, after the band members took their turn hitting soft golf balls into the crowd that also fell from the venue’s rafters with the balloons, “Tweezer Reprise”, which was hanging out there to be played since night one, brought the third climax of the night. Joined by female vocalist Carrie Manolakos, the rocking tune took on a new feel and the party atmosphere ramped up even more when ultimately it seemed it couldn’t get much higher.
The rest of the third set, including encore, was the stuff of pure mind-messing Phish from days of lore. Truthfully, until “Driver”, I didn’t really pick up on the whole golf theme, but looking at the setlist everything had a hint of golf in it. From the debut of Steve Miller’s “Fly Like an Eagle” to the lights going out as the venue’s screens showed off a Wilson golf ball before the band dropped into “Wilson”, the set was nothing short of a incredibly good time. A gorgeous a cappella take on “Lawn Boy” was a treat, as was keyboardist Page McConnell addressing the crowd during the encore. He spoke of 2013 marking 30 years of Phish and captivated the crowd before nonchalantly asking Fishman to drop a beat for him. The beat busted into the bands first full take on the Black Sabbath classic, “Iron Man” rocking out the last few notes of the show, and leaving every audience attendee in Phishland as fired up as one could be possibly be for what the Phish has in store for 2013. It’s a year that’s staring with rumors abuzz concerning potential festivities the band hopefully has in store to celebrate their 30th year. When looking back at a remarkable 2012 summer tour and incredibly fun New Year’s run, one can only wait with baited breath for what’s shaping up to be a special year of Phish.
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