IT can be good to take a break. You catch your breath, relax your limbs, clear your head... feed your soul. Five months into 2013, as we near July and Phish's impending Summer Tour, the highlights of their 2012 MSG New Year's run still sound fresh and fantastic, even if my $0.02 about them are not.
12/28/2012: The run opened with a first set that, on the whole, tended to exclude the possibility of disappointment. While the set concluded well with one of the finest versions of “Wolfman’s Brother” in recent memory, and “Tube” was tight, “Stash” had a jam segment that aimlessly meandered about. As you have likely heard, this show is all about the second set, which opened with a twenty minute “Tweezer” that featured “hose” in its most readicculus sense. The “Tweezer” jam, about nine minutes into the song, soared in a melodic, bewilderingly-gorgeous way, even as Trey began to call only the hettiest of whales in an atypically expert usage of his well-worn pitch-shifter. While the improvisation in the rest of the “Tweezer” ranged from hit to miss, it was mostly hit, particularly when Trey began a catchy theme that the band locked in on to bring things to a fierce peak. And I count myself among those fans who far prefer to see the band improvise and take serious risks, even if things don’t always gel, than perform yet another typically-straightforward-but-still-fun jam in [INSERT NAMES OF YOUR FAVORITE JAMMING TUNES HERE]. The rest of the second set was for the most part well played. Even the show-closing “GTBT “ was strong, though, and given this show’s demonstrable highlights, you should download it if you have yet to hear it. A portion of the proceeds from Live Phish support The Mockingbird Foundation, so please support this site by supporting Live Phish -- a win-win for both you and the Foundation!
12/29/2012: Unfortunately, this show was as weak as 12/28 was strong. (And it helps fortify the rule that to have “above average” shows, there must be an “average” that factors in “below average” shows, too.) “Reba” and “Gin” are certainly good in the first set, but not really “must-hear good,” unless like me you're obsessive and you must hear everything that Phish performs, of course. (I have listened to this "Gin" at least five times at this point, but it's still not a top version of the song, given the song's awe-inspiring history. See the jam chart for ideas if this version blows you away.) The power of these jams is what “average-great” Phish is all about, though. We are supposed to get jams like them at Phish shows. Phish is a great band. They perform great improvisation and wonderful music. “Par for the course” can be and is GREAT, particularly if, like me, you completely suck at golf. That said, if you're one of those fans who doesn't have time to hear everything except for the most thrilling of highlights, then skip the "Reba," but hear the "Gin," because this is still a "Gin" worth hearing, even if it's not a top 25 version.
The second set, like the first set, is as a whole not worth hearing again, even if its highlights (like the first set’s “Gin”) are worth multiple listens. It certainly doesn't suck, and it opens with a strong "Golden Age." (In my opinion, no Phish show in the history of the band has ever, truly “sucked,” despite what you may have heard. There are hundreds of shows I never need listen to—as a whole—again, but not one of them "sucks." And if you're thinking that Coventry's music "sucked," please reconsider.) Page and Mike and Fish are the real stars in the "Golden Age" opener, and it's a highlight for sure. Trey betrayed a lack of practice in “Waves,” his “looseness” detracting from the version as a whole, at least to careful (uptight?) listeners. But Trey is quite brilliant in “Fuckerpants" (check it out even if you're not a "Caspian" fan), and the show on the whole is well-played, arguably as consistent an effort overall as the impressive 12/28 show the night before. But with no significant highlights beyond the foregoing, this ain’t a show I intend to listen to again… unless, perhaps, one of you artfully flames the deafness clean out of me, igniting a spark to listen again.
12/30/2012: A good first set. (How many times have you said that about a first set?) “Divided Sky” and “Back on the Train” are wonderful songs and these versions do not disappoint. "Ocelot" is good, taboot. The set-closing “Antelope” is another short-but-strong version of this magnificent rock song. But this nevertheless isn't a set that inspires multiple listenings. The second set, on the other hand, is clearly a “well above average” set of Phish. “Down with Disease” and “Carini” are largely excellent. At one point in “Down with Disease,” I thought a segue into “Carini” was imminent, but it didn’t occur (“Carini” did follow “Twenty Years Later” a song later, though). Trey also began repeating a theme toward "DWD's" end that I found (and still find) a bit annoying, but whatever. The “Carini” in this set, as wild as it is, is a mixed bag. It's very improvisational, and while I think it's worth hearing for sure, some fans might find parts of it noisy, scrambled and directionless. Regardless, don't go into it expecting the greatest "Carini" ever. (There's a chart for those.)
The second set itself is a “highlight," though, given how effortlessly smooth it is. Trey is very soulful in his solo during “BDTNL" in particular, and the rest of the band plays exceptionally well, too, making this a stand-out version of the song. (Was Trey bromantically playing this version of “BDTNL” for Tom Marshall, who was likely in attendance? Do you care? No? Not that there is anything wrong with that?) This is not to say that the “BDTNL” was perfect, because it wasn’t. But then neither are lasting frendships. And while the “Slave” in this show is only “ok,” and therefore arguably below average, “Hood” is patient and wonderful, and easily above the norm for “Hood.” This show as a whole is therefore easily recommended, and you've probably already heard it... but please check it out if you haven't.
12/31/2012: (Click on this hyper-linked date to see the setlist and read a summary of the “gag” of this golf-themed New Year’s gig, which I have no comment on, except “FORE!”) None of the volunteers who run this site were sufficiently driven by this three set, obviously very enjoyable, night of Phish to review it on this blog... even those who attended the show. (This is the Phish.net’s blog for f’s sake. What the Hell are you lazy people notpaid for!?!?) But in their/our defense, I suppose no one was inspired to review it at least in part because they didn't want to deal with the flames after calling the first set what it was: through the motions, at best. "Solid, I guess," said one, "Below average, even for a first set," said another, in an MSG bathroom line. "Garden Party" was an amusing opener and debut, to be sure, but it's not the sort of song you'd expect a rock band of Phish's stature to open with at MSG on New Year's Eve. (Then again, perhaps this is to Phish's credit...) Anyway, the "Mike's Groove," for example, is fine, and who doesn't enjoy a first set "Mike's Groove??" But Phish has usually played it with more intensity in the past than this version. The set was and is FAR from a despicable wookery, to be sure, though, if only given the “Character Zero” that closed the set quite well, no doubt entertaining the hundreds who heard it echoing off the walls of thoroughly-soiled bathrooms MSG-wide.
No one even offered to review Phish's 2012 New Year’s show as a "Guest Blogger" for Phish.net (yes, we love guest bloggers!). Perhaps because they would have felt obligated to overrate the second set, as many before them have done, because IT IS SO MUCH BETTER THAN THE FIRST SET!!! Had they bothered to post a review, they might have felt an urge to say things they might later regret (after being flamed). Things like, “The ‘Ghost’ was very pleasant, but let’s face it, forgettably so. It was forgettably pleasant. And while ‘Piper’ is SIIIICK and SPECTACULAR for the most part, too, we all love these songs, and they are usually at least ‘solid,’ right? Yes, Page and Fish in particular are great in 'Piper' (Fish was tearing it up all night frankly), but if you’re impressed by these versions, then check out any ten versions on the jam charts of ‘Piper’ and ‘Ghost’ at random, and prepare to be blown away. And geesh a large part of the ‘Light’ in this second set is meh (average) at best, and even its tease of ‘Auld Lang Syne’ isn’t that great. Sure, the set ends with one of many fans' favorite Phish songs, ‘YEM,’ but this version seemed through-the-motions. Nothing worthy of giving one’s left nut to play, much less hear. But damn, this set was MUCH MUCH better than the first, even if it’s not worth a second listen.”
Indeed, if anyone had tried to review the music of Phish’s 2012 New Year’s Show on this blog, they may have chosen to focus on the third set, which is a BLAST to listen to, and I’m sure was a heck of a lot of fun to experience at MSG, surrounded by friends. This third set is among the many reasons I love Phish and try to see them whenever and wherever possible. Is it musically “above average” or “must hear”? Sortof, in part, I guess, maybe, but it’s extremely entertaining, what with its unique, golf-themed song choices after Phish ripped through “TweePrise” (arguably Phish's most popular song) to bring in the New Year. The “Party Time” and “Kung” third set openers are cool (“Kung” has a long spacey intro, taboot), and “Wedge” is the set’s musical highlight other than the “Sand,” because it has a two minute closing jam that is not a common feature of the song. A must hear for “Wedge” fans for sure. “Fly Like An Eagle” is awesome (a song I love, and I love that Fish used the ride cymbal so much, like in the original... though not enough..). And to close the set with an a cappella “Lawn Boy”!? Just a wonderful set! And then “Driver” and “Iron Man” encores, of course. Even if they weren't perfectly played, so what. They were entertaining and that was the point. FUN FUN FUN!! If someone left this show disappointed, that’s a shame. Even when the music is hit or miss, Phish almost always does SOMETHING to make you remember why it’s worth all the coin and energy to try to see them at every possible opportunity.
Summer Tour cannot come soon enough! And I sincerely hope that Phish opens with "Possum," and tears that filthy, ubiquitous, roadkill a new... "In A Hole." See you in Bangor! $0.02.
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