Phish | 12.03.09 | MSG Night 2

Words by: Brian Bavosa | Images by: Dino Perrucci

Phish :: 12.03.09 :: Madison Square Garden :: New York, NY

Phish :: 12.03 :: MSG
Night two of Phish's Madison Square Garden party was a tale of two "Cities." The first set, while featuring some hot numbers, seemed the most disjointed of the four thus far and may end up being the most forgettable.

Starting strong with a raucous "Punch You in the Eye," which brought back memories of the epic New Year's 1995 show that opened with the same tune, and Joy jam-vehicle "Backwards Down the Number Line," by the time "Axilla I" hit the adrenalin was pumping through our collective veins.

A mid-set "Boogie On Reggae Woman" foreshadowed the funk that would dominate set two and featured Gordon on his new "meatball" pedal and found Trey teasing some "Macarena" riffs. "Stash" was exploratory, slowly walking up to the edge of the precipice and peeking over but never quite leaping. Unfortunately, the next portion of the set killed any momentum that had been built up.

An always welcome, lounge lizard "Lawnboy" saw many in the upper seats enjoying empty space, while Trey's new opus, "Time Turns Elastic," seemed to divide the crowd. This new number has established a love it or hate it relationship with the fans. I fall in the latter category, as this tune is better left for Trey's solo gigs in an orchestral setting. While the ending section of the song does get the juices going, the journey to get there just doesn't translate well. A hot "Julius" closed the set and saw some fiery fretwork from Trey, but the second half of the set seemed to drain the energy from MSG.

Phish :: 12.03 :: MSG
What we know now is that night two was all about set two. Not a down moment, this setlist was simply gigantic. Kicking off with "Down With Disease," it was the first moment all night that the band seemed to stretch their collective legs and take things out a bit with two or three distinct jams, ranging from the funky to the spacey to the downright rocking. Clocking in at nearly 20 minutes, "DWD" bled into "Piper," which showcased a quick peak before a jam that devolved into sonic wildness, weirdness, and clickity-clacking.

If "Time Turns Elastic" is Trey's new orchestral-inspired, slightly geeky masterpiece, then "Fluffhead" is its cooler, older brother that gets high in the parking lot and lands all the chicks. A song that shines in Phish 3.0, "Fluffhead" has been back in heavy rotation, much to the delight of fans new and old.

The Talking Heads' "Cities" was another extremely welcome treat and again saw the band deliver on some very relaxed funk before an absolutely slamming "Free." I've said it before and I'll say it again, "Free" is the quintessential Phish song - lyrically, stylistically and spiritually. Gordon owned this tune, like always. "Halley's Comet" followed and the slight flub didn't even matter as the Garden was bouncing to the line, "I'm going down to the central part of town." MSG is not only the central part of town, but might be the central vortex of the world's greatest city.

Phish :: 12.03 :: MSG
As the short jam tried to find its legs, Trey signaled the band to blastoff with the drum kicks of "Also Sprach Zarathustra," commonly referred to as "2001." While the band was cooking this set, lighting guru Chris Kuroda was tossing a broad palette of colors across the Garden, truly playing along with the band for the duration. The rainbow textures he used during "2001" were simply mind-blowing. Packed into six or seven minutes, "2001" still manages to "go there" with the super space funk, albeit in a smaller package than in years past. Phish 3.0 seems to be the grown up version of the same band. There is no doubt, they can still blow it up, but in a different way.

As Fishman began riding his cymbals, signaling the set closing "David Bowie," the place just about erupted. Another old school gem, set two of MSG's second night will stand out as one of the best in a long time. The playing was very good, but might have looked slightly better on paper than it actually was. Don't get me wrong, it was super enjoyable, and much like the previous night's heavy hitters, if you didn't dig this set you simply don't like Phish.

An encore of "Character Zero" saw the place raging, with white lights illuminating the entire, fist-pumping arena. It served as the perfect exclamation point to a huge second set that completely blew the first out of the water. With rumors swirling of special guests (a repeat of Halloween's "Loving Cup" with New York's own Sharon Jones perhaps?) for night three, the stage is set for Phish to do what they have always done best: top themselves when few thought they could.

Phish :: 12.03.09 :: Madison Square Garden :: New York, NY
Set I: Punch You In The Eye, Backwards Down the Number Line, Axilla I > Taste, Boogie On Reggae Woman, Stash, Lawn Boy, Time Turns Elastic, Back On The Train, Julius
Set II: Down With Disease > Piper > Fluffhead, Cities > Free, Halley's Comet > 2001, David Bowie
E: Character Zero

Continue reading for more pics of Phish at MSG...


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