What’s Not Bad for a Normal Concert isn’t Good for a 12/30 Concert

12.30.12 (@fulmercg)

Historically the night before New Year’s Eve, 12/30, is one of the biggest nights for Phish to let loose. It’s the last night to really open up and let loose before the more time-constrained NYE sets on 12/31. Phish is treating every run of shows like their own little mini tours which doesn’t play well for an NYE run. The NYE run used to come as the head to what they’ve been doing touring all year. Coming off a larger tour provided them with insight that simply practicing can’t: what works in jams, what doesn’t, and what each songs potential was.

This isn’t to say that they are playing poorly, Trey is playing better than any other time in 3.0. But, as Mr. Miner said yesterday, we expect Phish to play their songs well. Some great examples of a particularly lively Trey from last night would be from as early as the first set. The Divided Sky features fantastic shredding by Big Red. Ocelot, too, provided a nice backdrop for impressive rock and roll playing. But it’s not the type-1 guitar playing that we travel and pay money to see, it’s the unknown improvisational abyss that Phish would send us into  more nights than not.

True, the first night (12/28) was exciting. The Tweezer was outstanding and was held up by some other fun yuletide jams in Wolfman’s Brother and Twist. But last year also featured a fun first night to which the following nights only fell flat.

So, let me return to my point in the first paragraph about how NYE traditionally was built up from their touring all  year. What were the least-impressive NYE runs of 3.0 (or ever)? Answer: 2011’s and [unless tonight’s show is absolutely insane and can make up for the past two nights while still making tonight special] 2012’s. What do these two runs have in common that other NYE runs don’t? Neither had a fall/winter tour leading up to it. Phish still was touring in the fall/December of 2009 and 2010 like most other years Phish toured. Now the NYE run is just seen as a mini tour rather than a year-end celebration, a compilation of all their best playing. An NYE run isn’t as special when Trey wakes up in his NYE apartment, throws on an expensive black shirt, and runs to MSG just in time for soundcheck.

Do they not remember the specialness of these dates, especially 12/30? And no, I’m not just blaming Trey, Fishman seems to be cutting what could be amazing jams short by simply drumming lightly into nothing or just tapping his ride until everyone comes to a halt. That’s just what happened in Down with Disease last night. Disease started off very slow but showed potential as it started building up. After a couple pretty cool jam segments (which no one seemingly wanted to take the lead in), the band reached this heavy pattern. It was bad ass, unique, and a perfect springboard to even heavier and more impressive jamming. I remember turning to my friend and saying “Fishman should be pounding this”, my friend said, “yeah, why isn’t he rolling, this is some heavy stuff”. Fishman let the amazing jam just fizzle away. Why? Was a cookie-cutter 20 Years Later that important?

We had the same problem in Carini. The sounds coming from the jam were impressive, but were ONLY impressive in the context that something came from the sonic goo. That type of jamming isn’t special if it just floats away into nothing, like almost everyone expects it to now. That being said, it was some dark and dirty stuff, but then Trey whiplashes us by starting a painfully ordinary Backwards Down the Number Line out of nowhere. With a rocking, but horribly placed Julius after that.

Official 12.30.12 poster

The Slave that closed the was fantastic though. The patient jam within held an eerie Little Drummer Boy tease in it from Mr. McConnell. The Hood encore was also good.

This wasn’t a BAD show. This was a bad 12/30 show. The NYE run is losing it’s magic. The band should be less focused with making a visually stunning NYE “gag” and more focused on making the four nights a celebration of their music from that year. I think this can only really be fixed by touring in November and early December again. It seems to be the biggest difference between this year, last year and the rest of the touring years of every era. 2011 and 2012 were WAY better than 2009 and 2010 as far as the entire year’s worth of music and jamming goes, so why would the NYE runs be the opposite? It just has to be the fact that they have no momentum going into the holiday runs.

I mean, just think of this setlist (with similar playing) was used on 12/30/93, or 12/30/94, or 12/30/97, or 12/30/98, or 12/30/99? We’d be in the crowd saying “what the hell is wrong with them tonight?”.

Some other highlights from last night include a particularly melodic and fun bass solo in Ya Mar (right before Trey ends the song), and an unfinished My Friend into Antelope.

Let’s see what tonight brings us. Perhaps they will have me eating my words tomorrow. I certainly hope so.

Is the Tweezer Reprise opening set III, coming after the countdown, or closing the run? Let us know below:

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