The much anticipated NYE show at MSG included both musical and theatrical highlights. The concert was the first time the band played at Madison Square Garden for New Year’s Eve since 2002. Each set was packed with Earth-shattering energy. Each set had its own highlights. The expected third-set silliness may have been the most impressively choreographed stunt the band has ever pulled off.
With Phish back in their natural setting of New York for New Year’s Eve, and the crowd abuzz with pure happiness, joy, and energy, all felt right in the world. The previous adjectives don’t just apply to the fan base lucky enough to get a ticket, but also to our favorite band on earth. Knowing the bar was set high for this show, Phish did not disappoint. Following a night that showcased a lot of popular songs out of order, the three-set celebration boasted far more song selection flow.
Set 1: Punch You In the Eye > AC/DC Bag > The Moma Dance > Scent of a Mule, Burn that Bridge, Weigh, Ocelot, Beauty of My Dreams, Gone, Rock and Roll
Set 2: Wilson > 46 Days, Sand, NICU > Down with Disease > Ghost, You Enjoy Myself -> Manteca -> You Enjoy Myself
Set 3: Meatstick, Auld Lang Syne, After Midnight, Backwards Down the Number Line, Piper > Free, Waste, Slave to the Traffic Light, Grind
Encore: First Tube
SET I: Warming Us Up
Phish greeted the rabidly excited crowd with a standard but well-played PYITE that popped right into AC/DC Bag. Bag was short, but Trey’s clean soloing at the end of the jam foreshadowed his concentrated energy that would carry us all through the rest of the night. Out of Bag popped another song, Moma Dance. Moma Dance started slow and deep, but didn’t seem to go anywhere special.
Scent of a Mule would be the last in the string of the four-song opener. This version didn’t contain a Mule Duel, but rather just Page’s solo followed by a bit of silence before going into the end. It’s important to note that Trey executed this version much better than Alpine’s.
Burn that Bridge finally made its debut after nearly a whole year of being played during sound check. I hope it sticks around, it’s upbeat and fun to listen to. The band took about a minute to talk to one another after following Bridge. The opening guitar licks to Weigh rang out.
Weigh was played pretty well on Trey’s part. This was only the second time it has been played in 3.0 and the first time of the year. The intensely composed song teed up a loose and laid-back Ocelot pretty nicely. Trey inserted a complete Auld Lane Syne tease right before sinking back into Ocelot’s ending.
Beauty of My Dreams followed; since the song had not been played since July of 2003 (133 shows), it officially had “bustout” status. Phish threw another curveball soon thereafter; they played the TAB song Gone for the second time ever. The last time it was played was during the last NYE run in Miami on 12/30. Gone was also included in the Festival 8 soundcheck that was broadcast over the Bunny radio station live.
The first set closed with a song that usually is used to open a second: Rock and Roll. This version followed the blueprint of last summer’s Jones Beach version; it was closed-ended and absolutely raging. Trey ended this set on about as high of a note as possible by exploding his hot load all over the collective face of the jaw-dropped crowd. After a few nights of Trey hiding from the musical spotlight when it came to jams, Big Red stepped back right into it in complete rock star fashion; a must hear version.
SET II: The Meat & Potatoes
Wilson opened up the second set. When used as an opener, it’s usually a statement that bigger things are to come. The audience chanting “WILSON!” may have been the loudest I’ve ever heard. Out of the ending chaos, Trey started up 46 Days; a short and high-energy version–nothing out of the ordinary, but fun nonetheless. We have yet to find a low point in this show.
When Sand came out of the end of 46 Days, my first thought is: Ok, here comes the jam. The jam quickly sank low out of the gates, very much to the crowd’s pleasure. The crowd started up the first MSG dance party of the night. Trey slipped into the background of the jam, very much like he has been doing over the past few nights; Hood, Tweezer, 2001, etc. Trey let the rest of the band throb off of each other while he played his usual quiet and quirky notes to accompany. However, his stepping back didn’t last too long, Trey stepped back up to finish the song with a rhythmic style of playing over the solid backbone that Mike and Fish had set up. Although the jam is short, it provides a nice 10 minutes of dense dancing music.
NICU was probably the only part of the entire show that could be pointed at as a low point. Trey botched multiple parts in it pretty badly. Almost as an apology, he ends it with another, but slower, ALS tease.
When one thinks about Down with Disease during a NYE show, they think of an over-the-top ragefest. In an unexpected move, Phish took this jam into outer space. Trey added a lot of intergalactic sounds over a fluttering canvass provided by the rest of the band. While keeping the loops going, and with Page’s powerful keyboards in the background, Trey starts up Ghost. In an era where Trey often awkwardly starts this song, this transition may be the most interesting yet (for Ghost). Eventually, the whole band is transitioned into the song once you hear the previous keyboard sounds and guitar loops fade away completely.
This Ghost, almost exactly the halfway point of the concert, would prove to be the greatest improvisational gem of the night, of the venue, of the run, and, some are saying, of the past two years. While I’m not sure I can hope on board of the “best of 3.0” train quite yet (further review is certainly needed), there is no doubt this Ghost will go into Phish’s massive highlight reel. The jam starts out normal, but once Mike and Fish get a solid groove going, Trey comes in with the confidence that seemed to be missing during the run’s other defining jams. The Hood jam from DCU and Tweezer jam from the night before were both top-notch, but Trey did almost nothing to make them top notch. While the Rock and Roll earlier in the show featured a cocky and healthy Trey, it was him soloing over the band. This Ghost is different in that it features Trey jamming with the band. In one of the very few examples of a 3.0 hose jam, this one is at the top of the charts. During the jam I get flashbacks of 9.22.99’s Bathtub Gin. After the band drenched the fans with their perfectly interweaved note manipulation, the theme of Ghost slowly crawls back onto the stage to end the song.
Ok, wow, Phish just played Sand, Down with Disease > Ghost; time to play a slow cool-down song and an energetic closer, right? WRONG! You Enjoy Myself. Holy moly. After the perfectly executed composed sections, Phish nods their head to the guys that have been hanging the Manteca banner at various shows throughout fall and right into MSG. The YEM jam quickly went into the first Manteca since 10.30.98 (301 shows). This was also only the 11th time Phish ever performed this song. Right after the Manteca segment, Trey rips back into the YEM-themed jam, and the whole band goes into numerous start/stops, exclaiming “CRAB IN MY SHOEMOUTH!”, from Manteca, each time. The jam is seriously awesome. The band exhibits such impressive improvisation going through the start/stops. The extended and heavy Bass & Drums segment featured even more stops. The vocal jam, obviously, was also Manteca themed and it all ended with a single mouth “POP!” from Trey before they left the stage for the second setbreak. We have a new term: You Enjoy Manteca.
Set III: MEATSTICK
While the crowd was naturally focused on the stage, all the dancers look forward in unison and shout “Meatstick!” with their arms stretched out. Then the same again, only on their knees. Sure enough, we were getting a meatstick–Phish rode in on their infamous giant hot dog for the third time in history. Phish desended from the opposite side of the arena, throwing fake hot dogs while long balloons dropped. The hot dog was set upon the stage, and Phish ended up playing over the looped Meatstick only to end it and exclaim “happy New Year!”; the band, along with all the singers and dancers, went on to sing an a cappella Auld Lang Syne. It was such a powerful and original way to do it–Phish officially just took it to another level.
After ALS, we dove right into the second After Midnight in 11 years; Trey rocked this one to the rafters. Instead of jamming it out, Trey opted for a Number Line. Although it would be hard to match last year’s NYE run Number Line (arguably the most intense type I version of the song), it comes close with intensity. However, I would have opted for a longer trillfest coming out of After Midnight.
The next highlight, is the segue from Piper -> Free. Often I feel that Trey forces the band to go into Free by strumming out the beginning of Free in the middle of another song’s jam. This was a natural segue. Also, it’s very important to note that Trey did about 20-30 seconds of his wah pedal funk. This is the first time I have heard him use this sound since ’03 or ’00. I pray to God that he starts bringing the funk back. Aside from that, the jam is rather uneventful.
The show ended with two beautiful versions of two beautiful songs: Waste and Slave. Each version, I think, is the best of 3.0. Waste is played perfectly–Trey played it with so much inspiration and beauty. The following Slave to the Traffic Light was amazing for any era of Phish. Trey hit such clean, explosive peaks at the end. This version is an absolute must-hear and will be played in my car over and over for a while.
First Tube, to use the cliche term, was the dot on the exclamation point. I usually don’t care for First Tube encores, but this one was played with less chaos and a really good ALS tease in it. Trey did it perfectly, into a song that doesn’t seem like it would be very forgiving for teases.
Because of the second set, Meatstick, and Slave, I would put this show above any NYE show since Big Cypress. The Meatstick stunt may be the best ever.