For a change, there were going to be wrinkles in our usual New Year's tradition. There would be a new venue and a new city. Huddling in protected areas of the lot in a desperate attempt to stay warm would be out. Going on a pre-show beach run would be in. For once, there wouldn't be a late December trip to the dirty, dreary cities of the Northeast. Instead, we'd get to go to a dirty, sunny city down south.
The first obvious beneficiary of the scene was Shakedown. Freed from the usual constraints of a winter show, it was hopping. The cops just let people set up tents and do whatever they wanted. There were two weird things about the scene though, there was a lot of meat for sale in the lot (this vegetarian actually had a hard time finding something to eat) and the scalpers were out and getting desperate. One almost got into a fistfight with a random hippie who was just trying to miracle someone. It was a scary moment, especially for someone like me whose word association to "Miami" is the murder of his friend Oren here in a car jacking in 1988. Fortunately, nothing became of the fight, and we went back to lying in the warmth before it was time to go in.
American Airlines Arena isn't going to win too many points from the Phish crowd, at least not from Section 309. It made a bad first impression as it didn't have nearly enough bathrooms. The whole point of building these new venues is to not have that kind of issue. The food was expensive, even by venue standards. There were no merchandise stands at all set up in the upper level, so if you wanted a shirt, that required going up and down two flights of stairs. Security was very tight at checking tickets even in the upper levels. All throughout the show, they lit up every single aisle in order to keep them clear. Even though the seats weren't bad in theory (second row in the upper level, a quarter of the way back Mike side), the stage seemed very far away. The acoustics weren't very good, especially in the first set.
The actual show started out oddly. We were looking around, trying to figure out the pattern of the coloring of the seats and speculating about what was behind the large black curtain over the stage when the lights went out. Much cheering. A minute or two passed though and the band failed to come out. They started piping music over the PA and the house lights actually came back on. People booed. Quickly, they turned them out and the band came right out.
The set opened up with a deep space jam. This was a fascinating moment. Would this be a new song? Would they just open up with a weird jam? Alas, Fishman ended all of my speculation about two minutes into it by starting the “Bowie” fill. It's not that “Bowie” is a bad song mind you, but there were just so many interesting possibilities there that didn't come to fruition.
The set started out strongly, if not spectacularly. The “Bowie” and the “Tweezer” were solid, but won't be making top ten lists. The set didn't really come into its own until “Frankie Says”. Yes, “Frankie Says.”
The version didn't start out too promisingly. There was some confusion to the lyrics and it sounded like the whole, "Lost my mind/Lost my way" part wasn't sung. They made up for that, though, with an interesting jam out of the end of it. It started out a bit spacey, with Trey using the effect that he used a lot during the Loaded cover set. This jam soon turned angry and just kept going and going and going. As on the summer tour, any song at any point could go anywhere. I figured this jam would be the highlight of the show. It turned out it was just foreshadowing for the second set.
After a “Llama”, we were to get another treat. For the first time since the Hiatus ended, we were going to get a traditional Fishman front man song. Hearing the “HYHU” theme brought back all sorts of memories. Alas, those memories didn't help out Jon. He forgot the second verse of “Love You” and was first forced into some scat singing before finally improvising, "I can't remember the words/but it doesn't matter/because I can't sing either/so I guess it's time for the vacuum cleaner." He made up for it with his post-song antics. While everyone else just kept playing “HYHU”, he raised his arms in triumph, did a few victory laps, and did a band introduction. It was just like old times.
Speaking of old times, the second set was a flashback to the old days of Summer Tour 2000. There, the ever present “Gotta Jibboo” second set opener was something to lament. This tour, though, it was a bit of a novelty. It was well played too, so there's definitely nothing to complain about there. They came to a complete stop and played “Suzy”. I figured this would be a breather tune. Little did I suspect.
The jam between the first and second verses was nice. It was a Page-led groove jam that went on a bit longer than I was expecting (in a good way that is). As a result, I took notes to see if the second music break would also be longer than usual. This bit started five minutes and forty five seconds into the version. Nearly fourteen minutes later it would still be going strong. The third verse would never actually be sung.
No, this wasn't a long vamp on the “Suzy” chords. Rather, it was a heavy metal inspired jam. It took off where the “Frankie Says” went, and went much further with it. I was hearing hints of Led Zeppelin and Jimi Hendrix themes throughout the jam, but I think that was just the tone rather than any actual teases. Phish rarely play like this and the show is worth hearing solely for this jam.
That was the peak of the show. Sure, it was nice to hear the cheer for "filter out the Everglades," back to a Big Cypress roar and we did get the fun of the double double entendre encore, but when people talk about this show, the focus is mainly going to be on the segment starting with “Frankie” and ending when “Taste” started. This wasn't an all time classic by any means, but it was a solid addition to the tradition of great New Year's Run shows.
(Author's note: this, and my other reviews of this Run, were written only hours after each show, without a chance to listen to the recordings.)