The Garden Party

12.28.12 (Rene Huemer)

After playing, what our site thought were, two good concerts but not quite up to NYE-run muster, Phish dropped a NYE show that will be remembered for quite some time. While nearly none of last year’s will be thought about much down the road and only little bits of 2010 and 2009 will be listened to in the future, that’s not the case with last night’s throwdown.

Friday night we were treated with some extended improvisation. Saturday we were treated to little experimentation during a song-based effort. Sunday we were treated to two pretty good jams but amidst some poor song placement. Last night, Phish was on the ball with great song placement, great energy, and great improvisation.

The band took the stage around 8:30 and opened with on of the most fitting covers possible; not only did it fit the night’s theme, but it spoke to the current phase the band is in so well. Take a look:

“I went to a garden party to reminisce with my old friends
A chance to share old memories and play our songs again”

Just the first lines of the song are stirring on so many levels. The stage looks like a garden, we were at Madison Square Garden, it’s a New Year’s Eve party, everyone in the arena are old fans, we were sharing memories and Phish was playing their songs for us again. Mike sang the lyrics perfectly over the poppy undertone.

“But it’s all right now, I learned my lesson well.
You see, ya can’t please everyone, so ya got to please yourself”

This certainly may speak to those that find it easy criticize the band (OPT certainly included) for their playing on a given night in this phase of their lives and careers. They might not care about not playing a fall/winter tour this year, they just want to go to MSG and play during their favorite time of the year and if we want to watch, we’re welcome to come.

Here are some more lines from the song that can be found particularly fitting considering the setting, band, era:

“Played them all the old songs, thought that’s why they came
No one heard the music, we didn’t look the same
I said hello to “Mary Lou”, she belongs to me
When I sang a song about a honky-tonk, it was time to leave”

“Someone opened up a closet door and out stepped Johnny B. Goode
Playing guitar like a-ringin’ a bell and lookin’ like he should
If you gotta play at garden parties, I wish you a lotta luck
But if memories were all I sang, I rather drive a truck”

12.28.12 (Rene Huemer)

Putting sentimental and meaningful lyrics aside, let’s get to the rest of this absolute party. After a couple of standard and well-played first-set songs, we reached a great Mike’s Groove. The thunder was brought with the powerful rendition of Mike’s Song before using Walk Away as the buffer before Weekapaug Groove. This Weekapaug Groove is one of the more impressive versions in recent years. Trey found a number of themes and patterns to work off of and Mike picked right up on them with both his normal bass and envelope-filtered bass.

When Phish took the stage for the second set, hopes were high. We were hoping for more of a Friday night second set than a Saturday night second set. And boy did we get what we wanted! When Birds of a Feather died quickly, I was praying they wouldn’t just quickly move through songs in TREY-DD fashion like they sometimes can. This was not the case thankfully.

Right out of the gates, Mike and Trey do a dizzying dance of notes around each other. Soon, Mike found his poppy-ass groove with Trey taunting him to go further with punctuating notes. The entire band took the jam a bit further, laced with Mike’s psychedelic bass playing and driven by Fishman’s ride. Towards the end, Trey plays a number of darting and descending licks with Page locked into them perfectly. The end of the jam showcases the full-band meshing they displayed all summer long, most often in songs like Light.


The end of the song fizzled away in almost a dreamlike state before starting Piper. When Piper comes after such an impressive jam,  you know they’re not done yet, especially on a night like this. The song built up very quickly to full speed and volume (which is often the case in 3.0). The jam features another build up thanks to Trey and Fishman’s pulsating beat. Trey puts down the landing gear on his guitar by bringing one section of jamming to a screeching finish but then goes over into his patented 3.0 funk with Fishman rolling all over the toms. Then as the song seems like it’s about to finish, Trey just fuckin’ SNAPS. With his eyes to the ceiling and his fingers to the fretboard, Trey released some insanely pent-up energy that he needed to get off his chest. I haven’t heard Big Red’s fingers move that quickly since the snap he had in the Woosta Boogie or maybe years earlier! This obviously begs the question, WHY DOESN’T HE SNAP LIKE THIS MORE OFTEN? Trey absolutely attacked his guitar in the end of this jam. WOW!

The jam sunk quickly and dramatically before entering the Light we all knew would be arriving at some point during the run, after all, it was easily their best piece this year. I was thinking it would show its head more as a 20-minute monster in one of the nights leading up to the 31st but it fits just fine here too. Although it’s probably the shortest version (at 8.5 minutes) played this year, it packs its own punch featuring a guitar solo with an Auld Lang Syne tease within. The jam quickly became ambient after the ALS tease and that’s when the drums hit.

2001 was ringing through the arena in true cosmic fashion. I always love when an indoor 2001 drops in the middle of an already psychedelic set. The pulsating chords Trey found served as the back bone to the dance party. The chords turned into some distorted note playing that I’ve never heard come out of Trey’s guitar before-a sort of crazy lick. Once Trey drops some digital delays all over the crowd as if spiders were spinning webs over the crowd, the drums stop for a mini breakdown before reentering 2001 and finding the final refrain.

The set closed with the much-anticipated YEM, although, aside from an impressive bass & drums section, isn’t too much to write home about.12.28.12 (Rene Huemer)

When the band returned for the highly-anticipated third set, the rolled in on a golf cart and Fishman was donning a goofy golfing outfit. With the grass, plants and foliage on stage, along with the turf on the GA floor, many people were thinking some sort of runaway golf cart marathon, but it was still hard to piece together, especially when Party Time opened the third set up. It certainly got the party started, but there was no real idea yet of what the whole theme was. When the silence at the end of Party Time turned into psychedelic noises, everyone was bracing for the first “KUNG!”. Trey was belting out the lines while holding a golf club. The band’s voices and background noises provided for one of the most eerie renditions of the song to date.

The Chalk Dust Torture completely took me by surprise, I wasn’t expecting that at all. During the song, golfers, many of them ‘little people’ (or whatever you’re supposed to say now) were driving golf carts across the stage, using two ramps set up in front of the stage with a little driving strip on the extended front of the stage. They would meet face to face sometime sand then kick it back in reverse down the ramps. One of the little people golfers got up on the golf cart for the countdown and brought us into the new year.

After Auld Lang Syne, the Tweezer Reprise that  finished what they started three nights before rang out. I actually was predicting it would be the first song after ALS but many people were thinking it would simple close out the run. I’m glad they placed it where they did because they had backup singers that really added to the song’s majesty. This version towers over others in energy and explosiveness. The chaos that typically follows Tweezer Reprise yielded eventually to the smooth grooves of Sand–a song they have had a lot of fun playing this year.

Sand was straight-forward, rocking, and typical for a 2012 version, nothing outside the confines of this closed-ended tune, but also nothing lacking fun. When Trey went past the closing licks of the song, I thought we might be in for another Dick’s-style Sand, but instead the jam gave way to Ocedoc strumming the beginning of Wedge.

Phish weren’t done with their tricks though. After Wedge they started up Steve Miller’s “Fly Like an Eagle”, only played before with Vida Blue in 2002. Fishman nailed the drums, Page played the heavy organ parts perfectly, and Trey nailed the solo sections with soulfulness and fun. Page really got the outro synthesizer parts nailed down well too.

Lawn Boy, which we knew HAD to be coming, was sang in a barbershop quartet style. A perfect ending to a perfect night. Well, that was almost the end.

They came back out for the encore just before 1am. Trey counted off to the beginning of Driver and then laughs and says “ok let’s start that again”. It almost sounded like he was playing the beginning of Summer of ’89 instead of Driver before fixing his mistake.

After Driver, Page asks “does anyone know who I am?”, then goes on to answer a fan by saying “no I’m not Tom Hanks”. After mentioning a few of his nicknames, he asks Fishman for a beat and then claims to be “IRONMAN!” This is the first time the Black Sabbath original was played in full with lyrics. The instrumental version of it was played on New Year’s Eve in 2003 and it was teased at shows in the 80’s and early 90’s too.

The heavy cover was an awesome way to close the show and I hope they bring the song into a more regular rotation now. I also hope to hear Garden Party again but I have a feeling that was a one-time thing.

Phish put on one of their most entertaining shows in the current era last night. It was packed with visual entertainment, comedy, fun, improvisation, great songs and covers, and long sets. It was a great way to close out a GREAT year of playing for them.

Let’s hope 2013 brings more great phish and MORE touring!