Maybe expectations were too high, but the result of Phish’s four night New Year’s Eve run at Madison Square Garden has produced a lot of negative press. Blogs, message boards, and Twitter have become the battle grounds of contrasting opinions. While many fans maintain their stance that the shows were a huge success, other fans left the four night run wanting more. Phish undoubtedly got MSG rocking, but the run lacked the full band interplay many fans yearn for. I go to Phish shows for those moments when you turn to the person next to you, whether it’s a friend or a fellow fan, and you jointly share That Moment (the holy shit, can you believe this music moment). Although I left the weekend largely devoid of that feeling, there were some highlights and musical successes (I really enjoyed the shit out of 12/28). The shows featured high rock and roll peaks, Trey solos (too much Trey for me) and insane energy. In any case, prior to the run I put together a Wishlisht for the holiday weekend. Let’s take a look at see how we fared.
Tube – The first song of a three song encore, “Tube” lacked the full band exploration I had hoped for. Although the placement was unusual, which I happened to like, encoring with “Tube” prevented this funk monster from growing wings and soaring. I enjoyed it live, but the jammed out “Tube” we fell in love with is likely a thing of the past.
Mike’s Groove – Hearing an explorative Mike’s Groove was one of my biggest wishes and the result of 12/29’s Mike’s Groove is difficult to determine. “Mike’s Song” was ferocious but short and we have heard our share of these types of “Mike’s Songs” during “3.0.” Sandwiching “Chalkdust” then and segueing into “Hydrogen” looks sick on paper, and in actuality was fun live, but it sounds rough when you listen back to it. Either way the band seemed to dig it, which means they are still enjoying Phish (check out the pro shot video). The saving grace of this Mike’s Groove was the standout version of Weekapaug. Not only is this a must hear “3.0” version of “Weekapaug” but it’s interesting and patient. It also might rank as the top ‘Paug since the band returned to the stage. End result: “Mike’s Groove” wasn’t a massive but it was fresh, had a surprising segue and a killer “‘Paug.”
Waves – I was very disappointed we didn’t get “Waves” at MSG. I had hopes the jam vehicle would surface. The weekend featured a lot of Trey, maybe too much Trey, which is why I held on to my hope for “Waves” because the jam structure almost forces the band to jam as a complete unit; a facet of Phish’s playing that was lacking for the better part of the run.
YEM – Peculiar placement, but like I said, I tend enjoy odd song placement. This YEM shook up the set list structure, which is sick if the band pulls it off, but I felt like the rest of the set wavered. I enjoyed myself during this rendition of YEM, but it didn’t come close to the ’09 and ’10 versions at MSG. Does that matter? No. Is it what I wanted? Yup! Did I still have fun and enjoy it? You bet your ass I did. And it is acceptable to be a little let down, yet rage in the moment and still leave with mixed feelings.
Waiting for Columbus – Getting something from Phish’s 2010 Halloween costume was definitely a pipe dream and part of my lofty expectations; however, I am still baffled by the lack of Little Feat songs in the repertoire. Feat’s sound perfectly fits Phish’s current sound and I maintain my stance that “Spanish Moon” would be an amazing addition to the rotation.
New Material – We didn’t get any new material which is mildly disappointing. I would be thrilled if Phish released a new album in 2012 (past interviews hinted at it) and if they don’t release an album, I would be pleased with the debut of new Phish songs in a live setting. Although “Steam” isn’t “new,” its Phish’s newest song and boy did they deliver on this one. Not only was “Steam” the centerpiece of the New Year’s gag, but 12/31’s version of “Steam” might be the best take on it to date. The jam section was engaging, and was repeatedly peaked by Trey. Even if you aren’t a huge fan of this show, “Steam” deserves a listen or two.
Hood/Slave/Reba – So we only got two of the three songs that compose Phish’s Holy Trinity, but this run’s “Hood” and “Slave” were both stellar versions. Although 12/28’s “Hood” didn’t have a colossal peak, Trey’s soulful playing and the explorative interplay on the song was beautiful and definitely added to the “Hood is back theme.” I dearly missed “Reba,” but ending the run with “Slave” seemed fitting. After a confusing third frame on 12/31, the band closed the run with a gorgeous and invigorating rendition of “Slave.” Even though I lean to the “more critical” side of the run, Trey destroyed several solos during the run and this “Slave” is no exception.
Arena Rock – (Speaking of Trey solos!) There weren’t many straightforward arena rock tunes, but I felt like over half of the jams Phish played result in arena rock solos from Trey. While this produces great energy, it can become monotonous. It also deviates from full band improvisation; the reason I see Phish. Having said all of that, I have never seen Madison Square Garden erupt like it did during “46 Days.” In addition, Trey’s solos kept the energy in MSG at a high level throughout the run.
Plinko/Heavy Funk – Phish hinted at plinko in several jams, but never fully developed the idea. It felt like the band consistently chose to go in a different direction every time a short plinko section appeared. In addition it looks like the plinko theme has become a launch pad for Phish to delve into jams even when it’s not the key focus of the improvisation. Either way plinko/funk jams never unfolded leaving several tunes, especially “Sally” unfulfilled.
Bathtub Gin/Sand – 2011 was a big year for both “Gin” and “Sand” and in the last shows of the year Phish continued that trend. The band steadily built “Gin” on 12/28 until the song erupted and Trey took over. This is one of the types of jamming that keeps me coming to see Phish. I also think it’s a fair compromise between those who want band cohesion and raw energy. “Sand” followed a similar structure, but peaked a little too early and fell short of the plinkified version from NYE MSG last year. Ultimately, both versions extended the streak of good versions.
There is a lot to say about this past New Year’s Eve run and it seems like the phanbase is divided over these shows. To me, 12/28 is the best overall show from the run. I had a (Super) ball at 12/28 and thought so highly of it during and after the show, that my expectations were elevated for the following nights. Phish put together such a great show on the first night of the run, that I assumed that the next’s three nights would exceed expectations. The rest of the shows had their moments (stand out takes on “Piper,” “Light,” and “Steam” among others), but several jams were too brief and lacked patience. There were also odd/poor song selections in key slots in sets and a multitude of flubs. Clearly I am being overly critical and nitpicking, but that’s the point of “analysis.” All in all, the shows fit within the “3.0” formula but on a whole they do not stand toe-to-toe with the better – best shows of 2011.