Wow. This was probably my favorite New Year's Eve in my whole life. (This was my thirteenth show, just for the record.)
Pre-show was choked with good vibes and smiley faces. If you saw a guy and girl on the way in to the main entrance yelling out "Get your free candy here" and "Get your free chocolate, Homer Simpson-approved!" (and another girl named Karen handing out stickers), that was me and my friend Jen. This was to be her second show and I'm sure all the friendly vibes helped her feel more comfortable.
Our seats were in section 116, behind Fishman and Mike. Don't ever let anyone tell you that sitting behind the stage sucks, at least not in MSG. This was the best sound my ears have ever had the pleasure of absorbing at a concert. Crystal clear. It was beautiful.
The crowd was tremendously pumped as someone (I wasn't really sure who) said something in a distorted voice. I couldn't understand what was being said, though. Immediately, they kicked into something that sounded familiar, but I couldn't place it. Karen was jumping up and down screaming something into my ear (“It's nuhnyhnneanniin!!") over and over, but it took a few times for me to realize that she was really saying “’1999’.”
Oh boy, what an opener. This was too much fun. The music was so upbeat, the traded vocals were perfect, and the crowd got into it like no other opener I've ever seen. After a couple of choruses, about ten differently costumed dancers wiggled and jangled their way on stage — honestly, I can only remember an orange person, and a man in a suit — they jitterbugged all over the stage as Trey and Company funkified on the main riff. There wasn't much of a jam in this song at all, but it really didn't require one. Mike and Trey let loose with a synchronized dance sequence that began with them doing a 180 degree turn from side to side while pointing their guitars at the crowd. At one point, six of the dancers stood behind Trey and Mike, held onto their shoulders and back, and supported them as they leaned backwards into the dancers' arms. They did this a couple of times until the dancers actually lowered Trey and Mike on the floor, leaving them lying on their backs, still funking away on what will probably be the most over-played song on the radio this week. After thirty seconds or so, they got up on their own accord and jammed for a couple of more minutes. Awesome, I tell you.
The Garden exploded as Phish came charging out of the gate with a smooth transition into “Mike's Song”. The verse and chorus section were standard and flawless; the real treat was the jam. The tramps jam was great. Trey was on. What made this show outstanding was the tightness of the jams and the fact that they were thoughtfully played. No careless wanking. Every jam seemed to have consistently intriguing themes. “Mike's” was brought to a spectacular climax as Mike led the way into an enchantingly soft post-tramps jam (in the place where “Simple” sometimes shows up). Gorgeous, must-hear, perfect. They came to a complete stop before “I Am Hydrogen”.
“Weekapaug Groove”. Mama, can this really be only the first set? “Weekapaug” was fiery, above-average by far. This was my fourth “Weekapaug”, and my first totally straightforward version. Mike got a super long solo in the beginning.. The guy behind me asked me for a lighter, and as I stood still trying to hear what he was saying, I noticed that the whole arena was shaking. No, not just shaking. It was an earthquake, The floor was bouncing up and down like we were at sea on rocky waters. Unbelievable. Trey was painting mountainsides from the beginning, got funky for a minute in the middle and took us to the sky by the end. It was a standard closing which I love so. A big, happy song, performed masterfully.
The crowd roared as Trey and Mike discussed the next song. Mike's shirtsleeves were glowing orange. Trey hit the digital delay loop
and a short time later “Ghost” kicked in as Fishman hit these roundish looking things with two sticks.
They really kept the energy level up throughout the whole show. It really flowed. This was my second Ghost and my first of 1998. Almost from the start, it was evident that the funk was gone; it had been replaced by melodic flourishes by Trey and Company that (in the words of Mr. Charlie Dirksen) sounded like it could have been composed music. In a show of continuous highlights, this “Ghost” jam was a highlight of highlights. After a long while, a palm-muted semi-funky jam emerged from the sweetness Fishman was driving this segment, and it was kind of interesting, but probably went on for a minute too long. At the time, I thought that it would have been something great for Page to vamp upon on his grand piano, but alas, it became more and more evil sounding until “Ha Ha Ha”. I couldn't help but laugh at this song and its evil ways. Lots of demonic fun going down here.
That was the best goddamned first set I've ever seen, and would probably be among the best second sets as well!
There was a shorter setbreak than I'd expected, so I was caught out in the hallway as the band came on stage. I abandoned the water fountain line and skipped on down to my gate to the beat of “NICU”. Out of “Tweezer”, I got my first “Cities”. Yeah! The jam was short but sweet, with some nice organ and clavinet work from Page. This soon withered away after five minutes or so. Trey went over to Page and I knew what was coming: “Wading in the Velvet Sea”. We all needed a cool down here and this was absolutely perfect. Gorgeous harmonies and sweet guitar mourning by Trey carried us through to the craziness that was “Antelope”.
Why is it that every Antelope I've seen just kicks my ass? I can't get enough of it. I'm surprised I don't have whiplash. During the middle of the raging jam, Trey hit a note and managed to bring the ham out of its E minor mode. It got mellow and pretty and it seemed as if they were subtly jamming on the D and A that the song begins with. This went on for a minute or two until they began to build it back up right back into the jam with some biting licks. For a second there, I though they might have been aiming to start the gearshifts again, which would have been a first, I believe. Pure energy emanated from the stage at that point and they brought us all to a few frenzies before the final climax. I felt as if I was galloping on a horse, seventy miles an hour, down a hill. The “Rye Rye Rocco” section was extended by a fair amount with a bass solo from Mike. Very danceable, as usual. As we set the gearshift for the high gear of our souls, Frankenstein stiff-walked in. Perfect, what else can I say? I knew this would end the set, but it was nice because I had figured that “Antelope” would serve that purpose. I love Page's solo in this. I wish he would use that (effect? keyboard?) during some jams. It was 11:10 p.m. when they finished.
There were ten minutes to go in 1998 when “Runaway Jim” started up. The quiet section contained slight “1999” and “Auld Lang Syne” teases. The jam hit a few peaks, and built up a lot of momentum, keeping it going for a wall of noise with about a minute left till midnight. This “Jim” was very short but intense. The band counted down with us from ten, fireworks went off at five seconds and the balloons dropped in the year 1999. Hugs, hugs, hugs segued into “Auld Lang Syne”. I can't say I paid much attention to the actual music, I was too happy. I spent half of this song shaking up the champagne bottle before handing it to the guy next to me to pop open.
Confetti and chaos were everywhere as “Simple” resounded through the arena with its insanely happy bounce. Trey was running around the stage popping all the balloons, running to the mic to sing a line, popping more balloons and so forth. “Simple” was very long, and very sloppy, but it didn't really matter. Watching Trey was amusing. Eventually, they developed a jam that grew dark and evil, and it went into “Harry Hood”. One word: experimental. The intro was tre' extended. I wouldn't have been surprised if they had segued into something else. For about a minute Trey bopped a balloon up and down with his guitar. I honestly don't know if the jam was exceptional, but it had me in tears by the end.
I thought for sure there would be a “Forbin's” or “Harpua” encore. I was still under the impression that they were going to somehow explain the whole stage setup/dancers thing.
There was a lot of discussion before the encore of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”. Page seemed confused when Trey went over to him... I enjoyed it, but I guess I was kind of in denial that it would be the last song I would see for at least six months. I was sure there would be something after it, Oh well, I can't say I was exactly disappointed.