Alongside the storied Phish traditions of Halloween and the summer festivals, the New Year’s Eve run of shows are the most eagerly anticipated by fans in any year. When this run takes place at Madison Square Garden – the world’s most famous arena, in the epicenter of the Phish fan base – the level of pre-show hype is practically off-the-charts. Performing their 20th show at MSG tonight, it is like entering their own post-season, after a very successful year. Three and a half months off their last performance – 9/14/11, the benefit for Vermont flood victims – and on the heels of a strong end to the last tour including several strong performances in Chicago and Denver, would Phish come exploding out of the gates? Or would the “marathon not a sprint” mentality give us the proverbial warm-up show? The turnstiles crank on 7th avenue, while couch tour nation settles in at home. Let’s do this.
8:07 brings the lights down. “Free” starts things off – oddly, the first ever opener! Not quite the nod to #OWS that “Crowd Control” might have been, but a welcome sentiment to start open the festivities. Then the first “Glide” in 89 shows since it’s last appearance on 12/4/09, also at MSG, tight and well-played with an extended “silent moment” before the final verse. Swiftly into the first “Possum” in, well, one show! The fifteenth “Possum” of 2011... and perhaps not the last! :-) Energetic to the core, “Possum” does what it is supposed to do, crush MSG with the power rocking blues. A short discussion then produced “Cities.” A soft, mellow, and directionless “Cities” that looked destined for a quick exit instead picked up considerably with a great and distinctly non-”Cities”-like jam at the end, deep, dark, Mike-led, and coming to a quiet, understated (and frankly premature) ending, this was the first of what one hopes will be many such exploratory excursions over the course of the run.
“Curtis Lowe” follows, settling in to its semi-regular rotation since being reintroduced to the repertoire on 5/31/09 at Fenway Park. “Stash” is next and we are offered a cliff-notes version; always welcome and perfectly enjoyable, but not a version we’ll be discussing a month or a year from now. The first “Contact” of 2011 (last played 8/13/10, 59 shows, and the first ever at MSG) follows, to the crowd’s delight. Then quickly into a stock “Sample” followed by “Kill Devil Falls” a song that began 2011 with such promise at Bethel Woods. Compact in the extreme, this version is ditched – though without much crowd objection – in favor of “Bathtub Gin.” Patient to begin, this one builds to a pleasing peak, though leaves us pregnant with potential. Does it compare favorably to other great “Gins?” Perhaps not, but who cares, an energetic punctuation to a solid if uneventful set of music, with the “Cities” and “Gin” being the highlights. End of set @ 9:30, set time ~83 minutes. Solid. Well-played, sir. But in all fairness, let’s call that the warm-up set. Good times ahead. We’ll be back in fifteen minutes.
OK, we’re back: lights @ 10:04, “Birds of a Feather” @ 10:05. An especially short version without much of a real jam, “Birds” gave way to “Carini” that featured an unusually repeated “lumpy head” lyric. An opening to deep space presented itself, and the intent was there, but the band instead bailed in favor of a sweet segue into “Tweezer.” (10:21) The jam starts with Trey playing almost a “Golden Age”/”Manteca” vibe and grooved hard before a “Streets of Cairo” tease, before bailing via a short spacey transition to “My Friend My Friend.”
A brief but sweet segue into “Rock and Roll” pivots the momentum of the set with a nice “Birds of a Feather” jam mixed in. Then a full segue into “NICU” followed by a fun “Bouncin’.” “Hood” was not especially good in the beginning, but the jam more than made up for any technical indiscretions. Awesome warm reds and purples from Chris Kuroda and, pleasantly almost no glow sticks. While last year’s phenomenal Hood from Worcester was built around a slow, steady and beautiful plinko jam, this jam had more searing notes from Trey coming at a much more rapid pace and deep, rich bass notes that were tighly woven together and worked perfectly. As did last year’s 28th show in Worcester, “Bug” followed to close out the set. A relatively long segue from the Hood hinted at something other than the Bug which seemed to shift the momentum that had built through the Hood.
A quick three song encore of “Tube”, “Rocky Top”, and “Tweezer Reprise” clocked in at nine minutes and closed out the first of four from the new Garden. Although rare to see as an encore, “Tube” wasn’t particularly well executed. An upbeat, as always, “Rocky Top” had the Garden dancing and the exclamation point that is always “Tweezer Reprise” did not disappoint.
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Mike Gordon: September 23, 2017
7 hours ago
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