Monday 01/02/2012 by pzerbo

YEMSG4 - NYE RECAP

Happy 2012, Phish fans! Apologies for being tardy with this better-late-than-never recap, though we assume many of you were also raging/recovering/traveling. Perspectives on the first three shows of the run up to NYE varied widely from total love to moderate puzzlement to mild disappointment. To be fair there has been something to justify all of those opinions; as always, the only opinion that should matter to you is your own. Let’s walk through the action as we finish our trip around the sun and flip the calendar!

A compact and rollicking “AC/DC Bag” gets the NYE show on the road, followed swiftly by “Wolfman's Brother” with a strong if brief type-I jam. Solid if uneventful versions of “Scent of a Mule” and “Stealing Time From the Faulty Plan” keep the high-energy opening sequence flowing, before dropping down to the NYE stand-by breather “Lawn Boy,” making its seventh NYE appearance. “Gotta Jibboo” and “Farmhouse” then settle the set into a more sustainable groove.

Then the only real setlist surprise of the evening, the rarely performed (and very welcome) “Pebbles and Marbles,” made only its second 2011 appearance. “Ocelot” shuffled through before the big gun of the first set, “Fluffhead.” They missed the power in the “Fluff came to New York!” line that they so victoriously nailed on the last few MSG performances (12/3/09 and 12/30/10), but more than made up for that minor indiscretion with an explosive “Arrival” section that came damn close to blowing the roof off MSG. This dramatic, building-shaking conclusion to “Fluffhead” provided a powerful ending highlight to a perfectly fun, if fairly pedestrian set. Head out to the splendid new concourses for a beverage and a stroll... and be back in fifteen minutes.

The second set predictably and appropriately kicked off with the Fishman-penned “Party Time” and the money set was off to the races. The cream of the 3.0 crop of jam vehicles, “Light” offered the first genuine exploratory improvisation of the evening and was primed for potential greatness. Instead it was somewhat forcefully abandoned in favor of T.V. On the Radio’sGolden Age,” Phish’s cover theme song of 2011. A pleasant “Theme From the Bottom” is next, followed by “Heavy Things” that featured an especially vibrant solo from Page.

Ghost” is up next, a brave setlist call following the monster version offered in the exact same slot at last year’s NYE show that proved to be the highlight of that run. This year’s version (and the remainder of this set) took a different approach – where last year was innovative, soaring, full-band-inspired hose, this year they went more for the visceral, power-chord rock throw-down. With the exception of the brief vocal jam in the “Sneakin' Sally through the Alley” that followed, the rest of this set was pure and single-minded dance force. If your preference is “wine and cheese” Phish where listening among band members and subtly prevail, you’ll want to retract your pinky and put down your glass, because the rest of this set is coming at you fast and furious.

This approach culminated in the short but manic “46 Days” that left the building rocking as hard as anytime in the almost thirty years I’ve been attending shows here. “Suzy Greenberg“ closes the book on set that was clearly the best of the three on this night, offering a final half hour of classic head-banging that inspired the 18-year-old in all of us. Whereas last year’s $-set was filled with more stunning improvisation, outside of the “Light” this year we were offered a rocking party soundtrack, one that was honestly and convincingly delivered. Good times. Let’s take our second intermission and get psyched for the final frame.

The midnight set goes off @ 11:45-ish with the first NYE “Cavern” since 1998. Then the main gag theme comes from “Steam” curiously (and potentially worrisome) the only original Phish song introduced to the repertoire in 2011. Most of you have probably seen the action – live, webcast, via YouTube, and presumably soon enough from Phish’s official vimeo site – but the blow-by-blow from our setlist:

Prior to “Steam,” a steam kettle and hot plate went off on stage, with Trey acting like he was attempting to put out the steam. Shortly after the song began, steam also came from the floor near the soundboard area. An amp (with the steam kettle on it), a keytar, a bass, a vacuum, and a few lights were then lifted off the stage. A woman in the front of the stage tossed a “Steam” sign into the front row, then rose with a barricade and security guard before eventually being lifted up over the band. Several other aerialists (clothed in various casual attire, equipped with black backpacks emitting smoke and lights on their backs) subsequently rose up from the crowd and ascended and descended several times. The first aerialist counted down to midnight, at which point balloons were released from the ceiling. The aerialists later returned with lights in their hands for Down with Disease, which also featured Trey and Mike being raised up and back down a few times before finally rising several feet on hydraulic lifts.”

The focus on “Steam” among fans has mostly been about the gag, but it is in fact an exceptional version of the song, on par with that offered amidst the fog of Golden Gate Park on 8/12/11 at Outside Lands. There are only six to choose from but if you are a “best versions” fan, you have a candidate, a remarkable fact since it was performed in such a chaotic setting. You try to do your best work while being levitated in front of 20,000 fans, and/or having hundreds of over-sized balloons whacking you in the face, a point made clear by Trey when he was visibly angry that a designated balloon popper was late on his cue (though at the other end of the spectrum, the childlike joy expressed by Mike and Trey after finishing their levitation act was evidenced by their celebratory lap around the stage). “Auld Lang Syne” > “Down with Disease” is an entrenched tradition: including the 12/31/93 debut, this combo has now rung in the New Year on five occasions.

The balance of the post-gag third set will not be confused with one of the better segments of this or any other run of Phish gigs, but “The Wedge” kept energy and emotion high as band and crowd alike settled into the home stretch. “Alaska” – no fan observer of The Phish wants to open up the year in critic mode, but that is a setlist call that only a mother can love in such a high-profile slot. “Wading in the Velvet Sea” can and often does work in this late-show slot when coming off of a dramatic jam or high-energy rocker; when placed after “Alaska” though, it is a hard choice to defend. A nondescript if always crowd-pleasing “First Tube” closes the set. After a long night of music and nine sets in four days, the band summoned enough energy to deliver a wonderful “Slave to the Traffic Light” to send the crowd into the New York night.

So, was this the greatest of Phish’s many NYE runs? For even the most charitable reviewers: no, it wasn’t. There were minor improvisational highlights sprinkled throughout to be sure: “Cities” from 12/28, “Mike’s Groove” from 12/29 with the stellar transition from “CDT” to “Hydrogen,” “Piper” from 12/30, and “Light” from 12/31. They rose to the big moments in NYE and came up with an entertaining and innovative NYE gag. “Not at their best” Phish, at MSG, during the holidays is a formula for a great time, and they are still the best value in rock and roll and deliver an honest and professional show. What the run lacked was a sense of distinctiveness – other than the gag, these shows could have taken place anywhere, anytime; there was no unifying theme, or sense that this was a summation and exclamation on all that was best from the proceeding year. The shows were fun from start to finish, but that can be faint praise: at least among those friends and acquaintances with whom I’ve exchanged thoughts, the first impression is usually “I had such a great time with my friends, being in the city etc.” and not “I was blown away by those shows!”

Regardless, it WAS a great time. So, huge thanks to Phish and their staff for a wonderful 2011, the mostly excellent staff at MSG, and all the fans whether in the building, watching from home or observing from afar. Minor criticisms aside, Phish, Madison Square Garden and New Years is an undeniably special tradition. I hope that this exact thing happens to us, just next year!

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Comments

, comment by HARRYHOOD213
HARRYHOOD213 Very well written, honest assessment. Good stuff and Happy New Year Everyone!
, comment by ADAWGWYO
ADAWGWYO Nice bi-partisan review. Fair enough

Happy New Weir Phanners!!
, comment by watsiyem
watsiyem Great write up as usual zerbo!
, comment by Sprachtor
Sprachtor Very good pzerbo but I think you are being generous calling that Slave wonderful.
, comment by Ourayphan
Ourayphan A concise look and I agree with the "could have been anywhere" line.
8 shows this year and the set lists all looked very similar, in one way or another, to this one.
, comment by HarpuAdam
HarpuAdam Agree with everything said. I think song selection and placement really hurt the overall performances every night.

I also got a bit pissed about killing the light jam. Could just be my skewed view, but I think Trey lost confidence in going "deep space" for this run. Especially after that cities jam ended so awkwardly by just falling apart to nothing.
, comment by jawrat
jawrat okay guys, please come back to miami next year. lol
, comment by Dressed_In_Gray
Dressed_In_Gray That Steam was rockin'. One of the few NYE gags that will translate well to tape.

Otherwise, the lack of a fall tour really showed during this lackluster run.

, comment by phisherman
phisherman @Dressed_In_Gray said:
That Steam was rockin'. One of the few NYE gags that will translate well to tape. Otherwise, the lack of a fall tour really showed during this lackluster run.
i couldn't agree more, the lack of momentum from fall tour hurt this run. i hate to be a bummer, but this run was kind of weak. the gag was super fun and that 25 minutes of nye was very memorable. the rest of the night was kind of a letdown as far as songs went, but definitely a great night.
, comment by finch460
finch460 A quick second of fun sillyness..

Did anyone think at the VERY BEGINNING that Trey was teasing Funk 49? I sort of had a feeling that they would bust it out. Could've been interesting and fun.

Back to reality, this show was a ton of fun. I will say that I was a lottery winner and was on the floor, so my opinon is skewed towards "OMG AWESOME!" The gag was really cool and different, and the Steam jam was really nice. Light was the highlight, but there were still a lot of floor'rompin jams. Totally cool and really fun. Thanks Phish!
, comment by gratefulkeith
gratefulkeith Very enjoyable. Epic? No but still the most fun thing to do in all the world even if it was on my couch. Let's hope for another banner year by the greatest band in the world. Hopefully with them working on a new album we'll get some new material for next summer and possibly a return to loring for another epic festival.
, comment by harroldHOOD
harroldHOOD nice to read a fair review of this show...well done!
, comment by HARRYHOOD213
HARRYHOOD213 Even inviting Reba to the party would have made a hell of a difference!
, comment by captsensible
captsensible That's the way I saw it too. For re-listening, I'll be lingering on set 2. HNY!
, comment by cuddlyandmuscular
cuddlyandmuscular yep

loved night one

loved first set of night two

loved second set of third night especially the piper

enjoyed parts of first and second sets on nye.. thought musically speaking the third set was lacking though in terms of FUN 100% all nights
, comment by Sprachtor
Sprachtor @finch460 said:
A quick second of fun sillyness..

Did anyone think at the VERY BEGINNING that Trey was teasing Funk 49? I sort of had a feeling that they would bust it out. Could've been interesting and fun.

Back to reality, this show was a ton of fun. I will say that I was a lottery winner and was on the floor, so my opinon is skewed towards "OMG AWESOME!" The gag was really cool and different, and the Steam jam was really nice. Light was the highlight, but there were still a lot of floor'rompin jams. Totally cool and really fun. Thanks Phish!
No, actually it sounded like Possum to me.
, comment by RobesPierre
RobesPierre This review does an amazing job of playing down the fact that this run was incredibly weak. Definitely the worst nye run of all time, and maybe one of the worst four night runs ever. Barely any real musical interaction. It was four nights of trey ripping the same solo over a bunch of greatest hits. There were a few cool moments, cities tweezer, piper, cdt. I felt like they werent paying any attention to each other at all. When mike and trey were doing something cool fish wasnt paying attention and when fish and mike started to do something cool trey just killed the jam,,, as he's so prone to do.

I hate to be such a downer.... Wait... No I don't. This run sucked. I'll say it. It sucked.
, comment by GRalls
GRalls Was at night 1 and 2, caught NYE on the couch. Sticking to NYE here, set 2 SMOKED from Golden Age through Suzy, with 46 Days being especially hot. Rest of the show was fun though probably not timeless. As for the entire run, it certainly fun and worth the $.
, comment by chiggidy
chiggidy A Phish show is the Happiest place to be for nye anywhere on the planet...that's all I know.
, comment by nuggz
nuggz MSG is a pretty bad ass place to see a show, let alone for in a row. First time to NYC and second new years run, Miami 2003_2004. Had a blast and enjoyed every minute of it. No matter what, I am glad to have had this great experience with my lovely wife and my best friend. The three of us have now gone to Hampton, Indio, Tahoe, and MSG shows together since 2009. Doesn't get any better than that! too badthe world ends before new years 2012, otherwise we'd like to see them in San Fran next December ;)
, comment by characterzeroo
characterzeroo I went to first three nights and yes they were NOT the most memorable shows I have ever seen - but YES I would do it all over again. Can not think of anything better to do for those nights around NYE. So lets keep it in perspective!
, comment by TheProfessor
TheProfessor I gotta stick with Robes on this one. Re: the review and the shows themselves. I loved seeing new, fiery, albeit short versions of classics. But I'm gonna have to go back to the clock on those final 2 sets on 12/31. I swear Set III was only an hour long.

My issue with this run was simple. Too much starting and stopping, not enough flow. That means that there are hot songs, not hot sets, and that's what this run was missing.

I am always glad, glad glad to be a part of the Phish NYE tradition and hope it continues for many more years, but I don't want them to become a nostalgia act because it will just turn their biggest fans, the most emotionally connected ones, into a bunch of cynical, unhappy critics.
, comment by mgouker
mgouker Thanks for posting your review, pzerbo! I enjoyed the show with my family from a couch in Florida and I only saw the last two nights of the run. I liked both shows, but I didn't find them as stellar as some of the shows we saw in the summer. Nevertheless, it looked like a lot of fun and I envy those who were there - if only for the crazy "Chalkdust", the slithery "Sand", a "Piper" with delicious improv, and THAT "Fluffhead". Also, I *really* like the song "Steam" and I'm glad they played it so well. I must admit that I thought the effects were a bit cheesy in the summer, but the way the song was played in California and now at MSG has made a believer out of me. Happy New Year, to you and yours!
, comment by mgouker
mgouker I almost forgot... the Divided Sky on the 30th was also quite nice. It boggles the mind about how they can nail a song that complex and then wail for two measures in the wrong key in Axilla.
, comment by Abe_Froman
Abe_Froman @nuggz said:
Doesn't get any better than that! too badthe world ends before new years 2012, otherwise we'd like to see them in San Fran next December ;)
YES. I'm new to the Bay Area, although I've seen two shows this fall at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium, and I can't get "12.14.12, San Francisco" outta my head. It would be a sweet venue for Phish.
, comment by TheWiggler
TheWiggler To quote St. Thomas Aquinas: "To one who has faith, no explanation is necessary. To one without faith, no explanation is possible." I feel that way about the guys, even if they don't pull off everything, every run. It's great to know they do the things they do, and provide for us something so meaningful. I enjoyed the shows.
, comment by andrewrose
andrewrose Trey needs a reset. He seemed stuck in a wanky rut for most of this run, unwilling to go deep when the opportunity arose, instead often opting to start a new song (and often a poor choice of one, at that). It's a trend that reared its head more and more often through the end of summer, and sadly the time off did not seem to help. When the band did spend a little time jamming on a song, all to often an all too familiar Trey rocking-out on a bluesy tension and release solo, and nothing more. I don't think there's anything more sadly telling than how often this year Trey "teased" Streets of Cairo. When I see that on setlists now I see it as a sign that he was in the middle of another weak solo and didn't know what to do. When the band did show signs of an actually interesting jam emerging (like the 12/28 Carini) it's cut ridiculously short. I just don't get it. Hate to say it, but really, really disappointed in this run.
, comment by sohappy
sohappy Weak run for sure.
I think NYE runs have so much hype and expectations. Its hard to live up to that.
They should do warm up shows before NYE runs, festivals and halloween. To many expectations to be falling flat.
This NYE run was the probably their weakest NYE run ever. Kind of sad after such a good year.
, comment by shaunfunk
shaunfunk 3 positives and 3 negatives

Positive

1. The boys kept that Superball future sound in the mix (could have heard more but its still there)
2. The 29th in general, a late second set mikes groove - not used to them (esp with cdust)
3. They played a new years eve run!

Negative
1. Lack of flow
2. New year's gag wasn't very creative or phishy
3. The impossible ticket situation

Three things I saw for the first time at a phish show
1. A fight during boogie on reggae woman
2. Madison Square Garden's new look - (i miss the old MSG with the free for all catwalk)
3. The guy who got completely naked on NYE
, comment by ImissJohnnyBgoode
ImissJohnnyBgoode I think Alaska is a GREAT song. I had no issue with this choice at all...
, comment by AnalogKid
AnalogKid Great summary. I only saw NYE (thanks to some of the best friends ever), and agree fully with your sentiments. Except that I'd say that the Gotta Jiboo was the peak of their powers for the night. All hands were on deck for that jam. There was some good stuff after that, but the Jiboo possessed a focus and intensity that all the other highlights lacked.

Still, I am NOT complaining. Like Essex Jct., I felt honored and exhilarated to be there. My first MSG NYE was a great time with great friends in one of the planet's greatest cities! I danced my ass off, met some new people and brought in the new year with a bang!
, comment by Dreamer
Dreamer Personally, I don't mind the high-energy rock and roll style that made up the vast majority of the run (although I'm always for some type II, outside the box, jams as well), but I was a little surprised with the lack of "phishiness" from the run...no vacuum, no a cappella, nothing along the lines of a Sanity, Makisupa or even Buffalo Bill (let alone a Harpua or Icculus). It's not like I would expect this kind of stuff all the time, but during a 4 night NYE run a MSG it just seems like the eclectic side of Phish would make more of a showing.

That being said, I had a blast at the only show I was able to make it to (the 29th) and I can't wait for the summer (hopefully Bethel becomes an annual stop).
, comment by jonesgator
jonesgator It's tough not to read the tea leaves of Phish 3.0. There was no fall tour to speak of, no Halloween show, no new music in the shows, and a seemingly lackluster New Years effort. After two previous breaks, one of them being several years in duration, it seems like we could be seeing the end of Phish. Maybe some more time off will do them some good, but the creativity seems to be missing.
, comment by mcgrupp81
mcgrupp81 I saw the first 3 shows on the web and the last one at MSG. Just felt like the band was holding back. I agree with other comments regarding the fall tour. Outside of NYE 2002, this was the first NYE since 93 where there was not a single fall show played. I think the days of seeing a full blown Fall Tour are over. A smattering of shows each year is within reach, but nothing more. I'll take what I can get.
, comment by Ambient
Ambient Since "steam" was the only new phish song from 2011 it only makes sense they would jam it into the New Year. I kept hearing TTE teases and was kinda disappointed trey didn't go into it, I could tell Fishman was ready to rock that tune. Ultimately I was a little let down when they went into DWD instead. But 3rd set really picked up with that Alaska-> Velvet Sea Combo. Like a fine wine or an Oh Ke Pa -> Suzy those two songs belong together.
, comment by Commander_Riker
Commander_Riker How do you sell a belt buckle with a SOAM theme and not play SOAM, seriously?
I can't expect to get any rarely played songs at any time, that's what makes them rare, but other songs missed that would have made this run great that are relatively common are:
LimbxLimb instead of Wedge
It's Ice instead of Tube
Lizards instead of Slave
Reba instead of Maze
I would even take Suskind Hotel over Alaska at that particular spot in the show.
This is not hard to imagine is it?

Now here's an alternative viewpoint for you banter lovers:
I can tell you without a doubt in my mind if a full gamehendge with narration was done on the 29th or 30th, that is all anybody would be talking about. And of course the gag.
, comment by fanman900
fanman900 There where a few surprise song choices, most i would have like to see changed. i totally agree with Mr_Riker, a Lizards and a Reba would have been nice. Just got to wait till summer i guess!
, comment by tubedss
tubedss i loved the RUN! can't wait to enter the lottery!
, comment by Zwright
Zwright Went to 28 and 29.
I remember the shows being very fun, of course.
Upon relistening, I feel t hat the 28th is strong, memorably show.
The 29 was fun but suffered form disjointed song choices.
Still, loved every minute.
, comment by MattyC710
MattyC710 I am going to be the lone dissenter here. I had a blast at all 3 shows I went to - 29th, 30th, and 31st. Sloth> YEM right out of the gate on the 29th? Pretty damn awesome. I'm not going to go off on details of each show here. Although I do believe the NYE gag was creative and a special moment to me. Golden Age, 46 Days and Suzie Greenberg in the 2nd set were definitely great as well.
Anyways, I think you guys are being waaaaay too critical of the band here and are kinda being wet blankets. Go ahead and lay it on me. I really don't care. It is a damn shame to sit here and read one negative or "unhappy" review after another. I am very grateful to have seen the boys at the Garden for the first time. I know this puts me in a position of not having any perspective in regard to previous runs. But you simply can't deny the specialness of seeing them at MSG on a New Year's run. Nowhere else I would rather be. Most importantly, they are moving in the right direction and will continue to do so. Just gotta believe!
, comment by 1withefluff
1withefluff Here we have a band that has achieved something great. I think there is so much pressure on these guys to live up to all of the expectations they have set in previous years that it makes them nervous. Most notably trey. Furthermore, not many bands have a website full of fans who think the world is ending if the band doesn't seem connected through every set song and segue. I believe that those who were dissatisfied in the shows are much more likely to post something on here complaining than those who loved them. No doubt the band reads at least SOME of these reviews... They are indeed human beings, after all.

I think they would benefit from a tentative setlist written before the show. I also think that trey needs to loosen up, lose his inhibitions, and not be afraid to plunge deep into the stratosphere at times that are simply beckoning for said groove.

that being said. much love to phish and what they do. They sure as hell made me smile more than a few times over the run and I was watching from home. regardless of a little shakiness, their music has most certainly changed my life and I love seeing how this band has evolved over the years.
, comment by AlbanyYEM
AlbanyYEM @MattyC710 said:
I am going to be the lone dissenter here. I had a blast at all 3 shows I went to - 29th, 30th, and 31st. Sloth> YEM right out of the gate on the 29th? Pretty damn awesome. I'm not going to go off on details of each show here. Although I do believe the NYE gag was creative and a special moment to me. Golden Age, 46 Days and Suzie Greenberg in the 2nd set were definitely great as well.
Anyways, I think you guys are being waaaaay too critical of the band here and are kinda being wet blankets. Go ahead and lay it on me. I really don't care. It is a damn shame to sit here and read one negative or "unhappy" review after another. I am very grateful to have seen the boys at the Garden for the first time. I know this puts me in a position of not having any perspective in regard to previous runs. But you simply can't deny the specialness of seeing them at MSG on a New Year's run. Nowhere else I would rather be. Most importantly, they are moving in the right direction and will continue to do so. Just gotta believe!

Oh Kee Pah> YEM of the island run this was not. Hate to say it, but my number one disappointment of 3.0 is the disappearance of ANY kind of jamming in mikes and yem. Sure, its a nice song choice, "song" being the operative word here.
, comment by AlbanyYEM
AlbanyYEM Alright, so I decided not to be a dick about it and give them some credit. 3 months off, no practicing? I mean really, what did we expect? I think expectations were a bit off the mark for this run, tho it makes sense given the way they played in '11. I think what we can take away from this run is that the band needs a fall tour in the rotation in order to play the new years run up to par. Sorry if this is obvious, but I dont think that we should take away doomsday scenarios about the end of phish from a poorly calculated scheduling issue.

We saw them take a *huge* leap forward this year with numerous jams patiently developing to maturity, juggernauts in dwd and rocknroll, and the solidification of a veritable first set winner in wolfmans. A few shows had the mystical flow that really does seem to transcend time, and we really did reach the point of a few shows reaching the "all-time" discussion rather than the 3.0 asterisk.

I might get hated on here, but I'd honestly rather they didn't play a new years at all if they're not properly warmed up for it. Combine ridiculous hype, expectations, webcast, etc with a band thats not ready and you get safe, high energy shows. I don't mean to discourage those who were there or anyone who really loved the shows; by all means enjoy the shit out of phish. That's what everyone does this for. I think that they may have learned the lesson in terms of practicing, though, because that axilla was truly cringe-worthy. One of the worst flubs I've heard since Coventry. I make this point not because I'm nitpicking about how every song needs to be played perfectly (I'd rather every show had multi-flubs and a couple long jams) but to illustrate the point that I think it was obvious to the band that they needed more practice.

Though fall is not gonna happen this year, and red light will coerce them to play MSG or Miami new years, I think they got the point that they should practice a substantial amount before hopping on stage next new years. A couple of warm-up shows a la Worcester 10 would be a good idea too. I guess the main point in all this rambling is that this run should serve as an impetus for next year rather than a litmus for this year. Just my $.02, but each year seemed to progress nicely from the year before in terms of risk taking, and I'd watch out for them next year!

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