Phish - 12/30 - You Enjoy MSG
New York City must bring out the best in Phish. Would it be safe to say that a band of musical diversity feels sane in an insane place? Why, wasn’t the epic New Years Eve ’95-’96 held at Madison Square Garden? With runs like Big Cypress, and Madison Square Garden ’95-’96 to live up to, these shows were going to be special. So special in fact, that the band ordered in a camera crew to web cast the show for those who couldn’t make it inside. If that wasn’t enough pressure to bring the heat, then the common “12/30 is always the best show of the run,” claim comes into play. Overall, they brought the fire, but did not come out as the best Phish show ever, either. As this was my first Phish show, I had an open slate as to previous encounters, however, listening to many recordings, I know when Phish can be at their best.
The Talking Head’s classic, “Cities” loosened everyone up and allowed the room for David Byrne’s repertoire to expand into more musical exploration. The ground then shook with the ever-so rocking “Chalk Dust Torture.” Trey Anastasio found himself noodling for quite some time, as Mike Gordon kept him in line with his skittering bass lines keeping up right beside Trey’s fingers. The tempo went back to a funky laid back vibe with “Gumbo.” Then there were songs that didn’t stand out musically perse, but the fact that “Quinn The Eskimo” and “Halleys Comet” were brought out, extracted huge appreciation from the crowd. During Hailey’s, Mike Gordon set down the acapella bass line as Trey and Page harmonized with the lyrics over dubbing their band mates vocals. Gordon juggled the acapella bass line, while playing an alternative line on his bass, which Fishman assisted with by keeping the beat as a guideline. “Camel Walk” brings on the heat, to the point where in the middle the PA system went out, but the band continued to rock on, causing the crowd to override the volume the bands monitors were pushing with the “Camel Walk” chant. The first real heavy jam occurred during a standard “Maze” (standard still being excellent), being the first to justify the direction the set was going. McConnell and Anastasio connected and gave each other some leverage to develop a smooth and well achieved peak. “Driver” cooled down the venue, bringing the night to its softest moment, most likely the beer or bathroom break of the set.
What goes up must go down as the boys just showed, but sometimes if the first song is bouncy enough (which Maze certainly is) then things come back up. “Bathtub Gin” did just that, grooving along at a moderate pace, making conditions right for Page McConell to bring a blues style with his playing to a song that is not all that bluesy. The structure of the song sped up, moving into the infamous improvisation territory, led by Jon Fishman, controlling everything between the power of his two drum sticks. Continuing the theme of bathtubs, the band brought out a gem from their Halloween show. Little Feat’s “Fatman In The Bathtub” gave them the creative license to get into a funky swamp groove that Phish’s repertoire does not promote all too often. “Timber” was six minutes of Phish getting into their psychedelic role. Trey toyed around with different rhythms of his playing, while Fishman and Gordon kept things glued together in the state of jam. Immediately following “Timber” was a fiery filled rendition of “Golgi Aparatus,” displaying the energy of the crowd at its first set finest chanting along to “I saw you, with a ticket stub in your hand.” While Golgi showcased the classical movements that Phish incorporates in its jam sections, “Character Zero” was the stripped down rock and roll jam. Nothing out of the ordinary, but was not a horrible set closer.
One of my highlights of the night started off set two. “Tweezer” was 18 minutes of funky trippy nonsense that ruptured the sanity that was left in the crowd, and pushed boundaries of music like I’ve not seen too often before. As soon as the rest at the five minute mark arrived, the remaining 13 minutes consisted of a field day abundant with friendly musical chemistry. Every single one of the musicians was grounded, yet heightened their playing together to create a surge of top-notch jams, and would stay that way for the rest of the night. Trey Anastasio’s stuttering and screeching solos were complimented by the light playing of Page McConell. Trey dumped off his solo to trade-off for the rhythm guitarist position, enabling Mike Gordon to let loose, take the spotlight, and get funkier than he does in legitimate funk tunes like “Funky Bitch”. Fishman was nothing short of the MVP, showing that it is possible to spice up a piece of music, and also be the one to hold together a structured canvas for the other musicians to open up as well. A song that is very contrastive, “My Friend My Friend”, begins as a light but bold orchestral-rock frenzy, but turns into a dark heavy atmosphere in its second half. Like almost every song in the second set, Trey Anastasio wailed away packing a punch with loops and tight articulation of the notes that his guitar could provide. The dark mood picked up slightly into “Axilla 1,” made interesting by the piano playing of Page and Jon Fishman’s drumming that lingers with a quality out of a Led Zeppelin tune. After Axilla came my second highlight of the night; “Fluff Head.” This piece brought out the best in the crowd, because almost everyone was dancing along, jumping, singing, and raging it proper in (arguably) the best venue to see a concert. Phish nailed the instrumentation to the point, even alternating the “Fluff came to my door” lyrics to “Fluff came to New York.” This riled up the crowd, as the sizzle of musicianship carried on throughout the crescendos that Fishman made notable, not found to often in rock music today. As the jazz section played out, it was a sharp decline where Page got his last licks in and then pushed back into the heavier part of the song. When the end was near, a huge eruption of bliss came over the Garden as “Fluffhead” was chanted to bring the number to a close.
The crowd was itching for a jive esq song to groove to, and “Boogie On Reggae Woman” did just that. Mike Gordon mutated his bass with synthesized effects, and Trey found himself doing the same while playing on the off beat in a rhythm guitar role, but occasionally switching to taking a few solos of his own. As if the earth was shaken, a heavy low note settled in, Fishman laid down a beat initiating the beginning to a decent version of “2001.” Rising from a dark and mystic mood, Trey Anastasio started off the beginning of “Suzy Greenberg” followed by the rush of glow sticks and cheering all around. The jamming was standard for Suzy, but 3/4 of the way in, the wailing was extended to an increase in time for a solo until both Page and Trey both layered their soloing , bringing an exciting end to set two. With it being about 11:15, one would not expect anything besides an expected “Tweezer Reprise” but, since we’re talking about Phish, the typical fan enthused “Run Like An Antelope” started up. While it was a little shaky to start, a Fishman fill allowed everyone to get on the same page and push the level of musicianship even higher. The tightest part came as the “run run run run” chant started, followed by the fading out of intensity. However, as the form of Antelope slipped into the black, Trey threw down the riff for a 3 minute fun rendition of “Tweezer Reprise.”
Over all the night had its selection of jams, but also had mature and spot on execution of everything, leaving little to nothing to complain about. As this is New Years Eve Eve, you must wonder what NYE is going to bring to the table, and even more intriguing is what New Years Day will consist of as it is the first Phish has played on 1/1.
New York, NY – Photo by Dave Vann © Phish 2010 – Taken from Phish’s Facebook