If you’re reading this, then by now you know: Phish recently played four shows at Madison Square Garden in New York City on and around New Year’s Eve.
They’ve done this kind of thing before, and it’s clear they’ve gotten pretty good at it. The four nights were laced with energy, jams, mostly tight playing, and a New Year’s Eve “gimmick” that deserves its spot on the shelf of really cool things Phish has done to celebrate a holiday. The run was a success.
One of the great parts about Phish, though, is nitpicking Phish, so without further adieu, let’s take a look at some of the things Phish did and didn’t do at MSG.
What Phish Did Do
Played four pretty complete shows – Regardless of any specific gripes over a particular set or jam, it was clear that Phish didn’t mail it in on any of these four nights. The run contained few of the lackluster moments or off nights that marked parts of the 2011 and 2012 runs, the last time the band went into the end of the year without a fall tour under their belts. Phish “went for it” at least once – and usually multiple times – each night at MSG, the results ranging from at a minimum interesting (pushing the boundaries of the last five minutes of the CDT, for instance) to spectacular (the Twist peak).
Added new jams to already-rich jam charts – Chalkdust Torture, Bathtub Gin, Twist, Tweezer – the rich got richer, with these already extensively-jammed vehicles all adding fine new entries to their respective history books. The first eight or so minutes of the CDT jam is some of the most locked-in and enjoyable playing of the weekend. The Gin now has a winning streak going for it at three standout outings in a row, and the peak of Twist may well have been the highest-hit point of the run. Tweezer was no slouch itself, showcasing some top-tier shredding from Trey in its initial segment, and climaxing with a gorgeous (if perhaps slightly overstayed) progression.
Played in an hour glass – The thing itself, the placement of it within the arena, the lights, the video on the structure’s top half, the band in silhouette, and the grooving, ambient No Man’s jam all added up spectacularly. Phish still makes a point of topping themselves.
Played a new song – It’s like a country song wrapped up in a cloak of modern day Trey-ness. Not bad! It’s probably best that it laid the Ghost to rest quickly and relatively painlessly, so as not to drag out what’s been the inevitable.
Played Waiting All Night – I don’t know that there’s ever going to be a proper placement for this song within a show that truly pleases even 10% of the audience. But when you’re at home doing the dishes its not hard to think, “This is nice.” I’ll stand by the beauty of Trey’s solo in this song any day, particularly while doing dishes.
Played another good Heavy Things – Say what you will about Heavy Things, but Trey can solo the shit out of this song.
Added new jams to not-yet-rich jam charts – Kill Devil Falls, No Men In No Man’s Land, Blaze On, and Light – all “newer” songs, all relative novices compared to the heavyweights listed above, all with fine new jams to call their own. Kill Devil Falls lit the fire that became the rest of NYE with a dark and throbbing beauty of a jam that hopefully signals even more excitement ahead for the once reliably-straightforward first set mainstay. The KDF jam also had the magic of making you forget that they’d just played Yarmouth Road four songs into a then-jamless NYE second set. The jams in No Man’s and Blaze On (along with the hour glass) cemented NYE as a night for the history books. The fact that both songs debuted this year, and the band so clearly enjoys playing them, is the sort of thing that doesn’t keep you up at night worrying about the future of Phish.
Opened a set with a Chilling, Thrilling song – Is there a better way to get a set going than with the weird, dead voice of Laura Olsher?
Played an Undermind that teased most of the setlist up to that point – Maybe one day Trey will tease the setlist to come, so people can decide whether to stay at the show or not.
Opened the run with Sample In A Jar – Another winning streak for Sample, having opened the last three runs in Miami 2014, Summer 2015, and now MSG 2015. It seems to work, so why not keep it going?
Encored with just Farmhouse – Ugh.
What Phish Didn’t Do
Rehearse – Maybe Phish did rehearse, but if they did it didn’t appear to be a serious rehearsal, more like the kind of rehearsal where they joke around, surf the internet, and eat food and stuff. There was a bit of slop littered throughout the weekend. Trey forgot to play parts of Mike’s Song (Mike’s Song!) with other notable rough patches coming in NICU, 555, Stealing Time … but at the end of the day, the playing was sound. They didn’t truly butcher anything like they’ve been known to do on occasion, and any rust never came close to staining a set.
Empty the vault – Phish had a stockpile of unplayed-in-2015 bustouts waiting patiently to be unloaded, but the band opted to keep them under lock and key. This isn’t a complaint, because odds are they’ll be out in the world again, and it’ll be that much sweeter once they are. Fluffhead, Tela, Sparkle, Pebbles and Marbles, Fast Enough For You, Sing Monica, Wombat … there are of course many songs Phish didn’t play in 2015, but these are some that always threaten to show up at least annually, if not more. The total omissions of new and thought-to-be-in the-rotation songs Sing Monica and Wombat are particularly surprising, given what seemed to be Phish’s apparent affinity for those songs in 2014.
Jam out Waves – Waves has been under water, if you will, for some time now, i.e. they don’t really jam the sonofabitch out. Despite it appearing regularly and exclusively in second sets, in slots where some jamming wouldn’t kill anybody, Phish has rarely been able to get it off the ground. The last great, exploratory versions were in Deer Creek 2012 and Worcester 2013, with a brief, nice-enough outing coming in Bend earlier this year. Besides those, though, there hasn’t been much to call home about. I love Waves, and can’t help but feel a little bit let down every time they get to the jam and it peters out after some ambience. Perhaps spending some time out of the regular rotation could serve it well.
Jam out Tube – Phish didn’t jam out Tube.
Jam out David Bowie – See: Tube.
Do anything new with the Chilling, Thrilling stuff – The three Chilling, Thrilling songs wheeled out for the run were the same three that had been the most consistently played since Halloween 2014 (and a good three they are). The band didn’t do much with any of them, relegating all to the first set and basically treating them like any other first set song. All were well-played, and this was definitely the tightest Your Pet Cat since Halloween, but their evolutions appear to be put on hold for now. Again, this will make it that much sweeter if and when they do extend one of these a bit, or bust out the second ever full version of The Birds, or perhaps a show-opening Chinese Water Torture, or maybe an Unsafe Bridge out of a Tweezer one day.
Play any Grateful Dead songs – Has the opportunity passed? Trey has to play Cream Puff War again with someone, right?!
Regardless of what Phish did or didn’t do, they played a hell of a four-show run, doing plenty to remind everyone why they’re still the best band in the land. To Mexico.