Saturday 01/02/2016 by sausagemahoney


Nobody throws parties on New Year's Day. Why would you? You probably went pretty hard the night before. Most of your friends probably did too. You have nothing left to drink in the house; you drank all the beverages. Some careless person knocked over the ficus plant. The carpet is fucked. Who is the couple asleep in the bathtub? When you wake up on January 1 you don't want more bright lights and loud music, you want pancakes.

Photo © @UNOlkerPhoto

Phish played Friday night at Madison Square Garden with an understanding of and respect for this dynamic. If you were looking for reasons to think this might not be a high-energy affair, you didn't have to search far. The previous January 1, in Miami, Phish had played the most generic and geriatric show of the entire 2014(-15) touring calendar. Then again, there's a ready counterexample! Their only 1/1 show previous to 2015, wrapping up the odd two-city, five-show run from 2010(-11) was actually pretty good, with an all-beef second set highlighted by a charming "Simple."

Both in terms of energy and overall quality, this show fell in between those two. It didn't explode out of the gate, or explode at all, really. The tempos were slow and swingy from the opening "Stealing Time from the Faulty Plan." The band was loose like a shaggy dog. The jams moved away from aggro rock blare toward the spare and the smooth; especially early on, Trey seemed to be trying to play as few notes as possible. Phish wasn't aspiring to take us on a boundary-demolishing psychedelic magic carpet ride with this performance; they were making pancakes. The audience were the convalescents nursing headaches on the sectional, sipping coffee and/or a Greyhound while watching college football. The band was the one motivated friend in the kitchen, flipping pancakes and frying bacon. The pancakes and bacon were good, guys! Even in the first set, somewhat.

"Undermind" was good! Trey for some reason refused to play the main guitar riff, and his initial solo was a little sleepy, but this is where things got interesting. Instead of hammering to an ending with Fishman's drum fills like a typical first-set version, they went into a Second Jam that eventually resolved into a tease medley. Reminding me of one of those set-closing 1991-93 Bowies, Trey cycled through the riffs of songs already played in the set, "Stash," then "Stealing Time," and finally "How Many People Are You?"

Photo © @Phish_FTR

"Ocelot" was good! It started at a whisper and faded up gradually, tempo again slow and swaggering. Trey's solo—again, not a ton of notes, but his notes were stated with force and commitment and the sequence he played them in made sense.

"Wingsuit" was pretty and nice because that's just how that song is.

"Run Like an Antelope" was good! Page coaxed the band into a fun little major-key modulation early in the jam. Page McConnell was a beast throughout the show, strong left hand, always contributing both musical ideas and energy. This "Antelope" never threatened to get out of control really, but it was masterful and energetic and a good time. Also: more teases.

"How Many People Are You" is a good song! You haters can sit n' rotate on this one. Its generous bpm alone makes it a standout in Phish's army of mid-tempo rock snoozers. Yes, it sounds like Tom Petty, but we're talkin' about the good Tom Petty, from "Refugee" and "Even the Losers" and "Listen to Her Heart," not the lousy Tom Petty from "Free Fallin'" and the Johnny Depp video. This jam could go places if the band ever cares to try.

Photo © @hersch

The second set didn't reach the heights of the first two nights of this run. There was no challenging, moody "Chalk Dust," no balls-out insane "Twist," no ecstatic hose spraying the assembled masses with "Bathtub Gin." Truth be told, even the secondary highlights from the first two nights—I'm thinking the "What's the Use?" interjection in Wednesday's "Weekapaug" or last night's excellent but instantly overshadowed "Kill Devil Falls"—surpassed anything from show #3, with one possible exception (more on that in a minute).

That said, the money set was still basically good value. "Down with Disease" is hard to resist, a familiar and trusted friend, still batting cleanup after all these years. The jam out of "Disease," as least initially, was as raucous as usual, but the band got all night, and after about 10 minutes they let some air into the room. Mike, who had seemed a little disengaged during the first set, came alive to provide the jam its glorious closing moments. Trey disagreed and downshifted into "Dirt." By this point the band seemed warmed up, finally. Trey's first-set struggles—missing sixteenth-notes in "Stash" and doing even worse to poor "Rift," which should be retired—resurfaced only in the bridge to a shreddy and stomping "Theme from the Bottom," which suffered its usual fate.

The final quarter of the show was the best one. If MSG3 has a contender for year-end playlists, it's this "Light." Trey stayed away from the pitch shifter, avoiding the dissonant harmonics he often uses as a springboard at the start of the "Light" jam. Instead, Page took the wheel, left hand rumbling, setting the pace and flirting repeatedly with the "Linus and Lucy" riff, leaving Trey no choice but to defer. The key moment comes around 7 minutes in, when Fish locks into a "Manteca" style shuffle, which carries the band for almost the entire remainder of this jam. Trey alternates between defining parameters with chords and exploring them with notes; Page shifts to the Rhodes and things get a little moodier; Mike emerges once again from his sarcophagus, temporarily. If you want a warning that the jam is about to peak and go nuts, listen for Trey's "Manteca" quote, then hold onto your hat. Certainly the highlight of this show, this version of "Light" is absolutely worth hearing by any standard, if you haven't already, which I suspect you have.

Photo © @Phish_FTR

As the jam dwindles, Page's piano seems to signal "Wading in the Velvet Sea," but that's still on the table for you guys tomorrow night. Instead we get "Fuego," which narrowly beat the 11-minute over/under thanks to a playful stop-tempo sludge-rock coda, and then a perfectly serviceable "Slave" closer. The stand-alone "Farmhouse" encore is one final reminder that this ain't last call at the party or disco, it's one last splash of champagne in your glass at a quiet New Year's Day pancake breakfast, and you don't have to do anything afterward except tuck yourself into bed. One thing's for sure, though: Saturday night will rage.


DAN'S KULINARY KORNER: Basic pork ragu

I don't have a pancake recipe. We eat waffles in this house, and the waffle recipe is proprietary.

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Season a 2 lb (more or less) hunk of pork shoulder heavily on all sides with salt and pepper. Melt 2 T olive oil and 2 T butter in a dutch oven, then brown the pork shoulder on all sides over high heat, about 2 or 2 1/2 minutes per side. Remove pork shoulder from the pot and set it aside for a bit.

Add 1 medium yellow or Spanish onion, chopped, to the dutch oven. Reduce heat to medium-low and saute for 2 minutes or so, or longer if you want more caramelization. Just be careful not to burn them; you can always reduce the heat or stir. Add 2 cloves garlic, minced, and saute the garlic with the onion for a minute or so.

Then add back the browned pork shoulder, along with 1 can (26 oz.) San Marzano tomatoes, 1 cup red wine, 1 small handful fennel seed, 5 sprigs thyme, 5 sprigs oregano and/or sage, and 1-2 T hot sauce (sriracha or Tabasco or Crystal or whatever). Bring to a boil, then put into the oven for 4 hours, flipping the pork shoulder every hour and checking the braising liquid, which should be about 1/3 of the way up the side of the pork shoulder. If you need more braising liquid, you can use red wine, tomato sauce, water, or some combination of those liquids.

When the pork shoulder is cooked, remove it from the dutch oven, take off the string tying the shoulder together (if there is one), and shred the meat. If you prefer a smoother texture (I do), strain the braising liquid to remove any solids, like spent tomato husks. At the very least you should pick out the herb stems, which are not strictly speaking "edible." Then return the shredded pork to the braising liquid.

Personally I think the best way to serve this is the obvious way, with pasta. You take a cup or so of the ragu and heat it at medium-low in a sauce pan. Then you boil some pappardelle in salty water for 2-3 minutes. While the noodles are still a little firm, take them out, then add them to the ragu in the sauce pan. Combine the noodles and the ragu and cook for another 30 seconds to a minute until the noodles are coated. Then put that on a plate, shred a ton of Parmesan or pecorino on it, and eat.

Pork Ragu with Pappardelle

If that sounds like too much trouble, you could also put it on a roll with mayo, lettuce, tomato, pickles, etc., sloppy joe style. Or you could add some fried potatoes or other tubers and turn it into a breakfast hash, topped with a fried egg. Or serve it over cannellini beans with some broccoli rabe or other bitter greens; the sweetness of the ragu should counterbalance any bitterness.

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, comment by jmediavi
jmediavi I feel a little better after reading your "pancake" rationalization. My first show was the amazing 1-1-11, which while re-listening to yesterday, has a first set that just keeps on giving, with a superb song selection. In addition to being my five-year anniversary show, last night was also my 30th, so I was hoping to land closer to the 1-1-11 end of the spectrum than we ultimately did. Song placement and selection didn't do much for me most of the evening, culminating in the choice of encore. I suppose it didn't help that it was my last show of the run, and that the night before had been such a hose-fest. As you say, tonight will probably be a barn-burner, so maybe I'll tune in for some leftover pancakes. :)
, comment by pistilstamen
pistilstamen The fucking pork ragu...appreciate that one as I 'discovered' 4 shoulders hibernating in the "First Annual Stand-up Freezer Inventory" this afternoon.

It's been a while since Larry King stopped by .net.
, comment by Dockerj
Dockerj Well, I guess I should have stayed in the city for tonight's show. Wow, unbelievable set list. I knew they were going to bring it tonight especially after that atrocity of a show January 1st. I've been enjoying phish shows since I was in 8th grade in 1994 and have been lucky enough to catch some the most memorable performances of their storied career. Highlights including a complete gamehenge, ken Kesey and the merry pranksters, jay z to name a few as well as some low points like Coventry. January 1st 2016 was probably top ten worst shows I've ever seen in over a 100. It obviously gets harder and harder to see as many show as I used to and it's unrealistic to expect a jaw dropper like tonight every time I am able to go but come on guys. Tonight's show was obviously an apology to the fans and had I not gotten food poisoning after the show from a fucking chili dog I probably would have stayed. Oh well, all is forgiven as usual bc I know ull bring the heat the next time I'm lucky enough to catch u live. Happy new year to all.
, comment by pureguava
pureguava Fantastic review. Insightful, passionate, and great citations!
, comment by Uakari
Uakari You want pancakes, come on man~!
, comment by Axilla2
Axilla2 I'm going to try this venison. Awesome recipe.
, comment by johnnyd
johnnyd I just acquired a pork shoulder. How thoroughly should I trim the fat? Leave it all on, take it all off, just leave a little?
, comment by lumpblockclod
lumpblockclod Come for the Recaps. Stay for the Recipes.
, comment by johnnyd
johnnyd I think the Kulinary Korner should be tacked onto all content.
Or at least some.
, comment by pistilstamen
pistilstamen @johnnyd said:
I just acquired a pork shoulder. How thoroughly should I trim the fat? Leave it all on, take it all off, just leave a little?
This depends on cooking method, but I never trim any of it. Pork fat has a melting point (obviously) and it just happens to pair quite well with the meat it is connected to ;)

If you cook it long enough (and fwiw, it's easier to 'undercook' a pork shoulder at low temps -i.e.,200-250- with the amount of fat/connective tissue available. If it's not falling apart and basically melting when pulled, you didn't cook it long enough) the good stuff will separate from the fat/sinew. I either smoke it or make what amounts to pig confit in the crock pot.

Using Dan's method, you may want to trim it to get more 'meat browning' on the sear vs. just searing fat.
, comment by tomwom51
tomwom51 I have to say that I completely disagree. This was one of the most focused and well played first sets I've ever seen with tons of great energy. The second set was beautiful and mellow enough to allow all of us that partied too hard the night before to get down without having to full on rage. Been re-listening to the show consistently. Can't get enough of it!
, comment by title3jimi
title3jimi @johnnyd said:
I just acquired a pork shoulder. How thoroughly should I trim the fat? Leave it all on, take it all off, just leave a little?
I would leave it all on. Dan's Ragu method is good, there's no reason to remove any fat as it adds flavor to the meat while cooking and can be picked out later. My only recommendation would be to lower the oven temp and cook longer and slower. It's only going to make it better. The only absolute when cooking pork shoulder: initially sear all sides in a high-heat oil (I typically use grapeseed) then cook it low and slow. The searing helps lock in all the juices while it is cooking and makes the end product much more moist.

Just my on cooking the hallowed pork shoulder, I sear it on all sides, place it in a dutch oven in an oven pre-heated to 200 and cook it for 6 hours, rotating it every hour or so to a different side. It's pretty easy, just necessitates being present. Check it often after 5 or so hours, I look for 195F interior temperature, or basically when it begins to pull apart fairly easily with a couple forks. If you get to that point, it's ready
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