After the amazing show of 12/30, people were of two minds about New Year's Eve. Most people figured that there was no way that the show would live up to the previous one. Others had more hope. In either case, excitement was high before the show, as is only proper for 12/31.
This show starts with a what if. I tried to sit with my friends George and Elayne, but we couldn't find seats together. As a result, instead of sitting with close friends, Melissa and I sat near a bunch of screaming people who were more focused on the fate of various balloons and the state of their cocaine supplies than the music Phish was playing. I wonder if this review would be a lot more positive if that were not the case.
The show started off interestingly enough. Taking a page from the Disco Biscuits play book, they finished the "Wilson" from the night before, before starting "Mike's Song". Like most 2003 versions, the "Mike's" was short and didn't really go anywhere, but the "Weekapaug" part of this complete breakfast got my blood pumping early. The "Auld Lang Syne" tease served as a reminder of where I was, what I was doing, and why I should be excited about it.
I know that people in general don't want to read about “Guyute”, but something impressive happened in this one. During the fast part of the jam after the jig part, Mike and Trey were having a long conversation. They played their difficult parts perfectly while having the chat. That made me become even slightly more impressed with the band.
A solid “You Enjoy Myself” served as the likely set closer. Normally NYE sets run close to an hour. Instead though, we got a slamming “First Tube” which then led to the other Disco Biscuits moment, finishing the 12/30 “Tube”. The setlist games were pretty fun and you have to appreciate anything that has the result of giving us longer sets and shorter setbreaks. The first set break was under a half hour.
The first real highlight of the show was the start of the second set. The “Stash” was long and interesting, albeit more melodic and spacey than high energy. When paired with an energetic “Seven Below”, this worked really well. One Yinged, the other Yanged and this was a great half hour of music. While the rest of the set did little for me (the “Chalk Dust” -> “Slave” > Chalk Dust” was a lot better on paper than it was live), at least we were going to get one peak worthy of this run.
After four days it was finally upon us. My side stage seats let me know that it was a car behind the curtains, but I was dying to know what they would do with it. The setbreak music made me even more curious, as they played a lot of songs with a car theme. I didn't see how they would be able to fit the car onto the stage until the set started and they moved Fishman's drum kit. Then the car came down and many, many, many marching band performers came out on stage, to the tune of “Jungle Boogie”. I think if I were sitting anywhere else in the building, I would have been amazed by this, but unfortunately, I was right by the stage. I could see the trap door opening to let people in through the car. It's better to have illusions sometimes.
2004 started off the way that every year should. After a brief “Iron Man” instrumental, we got a long, exciting “Runaway Jim”. The first ten minutes of the song were just okay, but then Trey counted out a jam to Fishman and things really took off. The jam became an energetic thing that vaguely reminded me of “Satisfaction”. After six minutes or so of playing that theme, it went into a spacey build jam like the end of “A Day in the Life”. That was the tension, the release was the return to the jam. A minute later they did the build jam trick again, this time to a different theme. This was a great jam and I was getting extremely excited for this set. Maybe this show would rival the previous one!
...Or maybe it wouldn't. Perhaps “Simple” should have the line, "What is a band without buzzkills?" because that is the role that that song takes on these days. Two of my favorite jams of the year - this “Jim” and the Philly “Twist” from the Thanksgiving Run - were ended by a segue into “Simple”. That is reason alone for me to root for its retirement, or at least a return to the Summer 1994 anarchistic versions. Follow that with a sloppy “Reba”, and the set seemed lost. The best thing about this part of the show was a sign that someone was holding up in the air, "Just doing some stretching." It's nice to see fans with a sense of humor.
Speaking of which, we got a return to the wackiness during “I Didn't Know”. The vacuum section morphed into a cover of “Feel My Heat”. This was classic Phish silliness, and the joke continuing during the “HYHU” that followed. "Can you feel that?,” Trey asked, “That's Henrietta's heat!". This is the sort of wackiness that I always hope for in a third set environment.
As I was walking back to my hotel after the “Frankenstein” encore, I was pretty down on this show. The stunt seemed more confused than anything, lacking the style of the giant hotdog or the obvious theme of the “Seven Below” snowstorm. The sets were all inconsistent; every one had some mediocre moments. Now that I've had a day to fly home (and catch up on my sleep some on the airplanes), I'm a little more positive about this.
Sure, it's not 12/31/95 or Big Cypress, but this is a welcome addition to the NYE pantheon. Between the setlist games, the two great jams, and a few minor bits of wackiness, this did what a NYE show was supposed to do. It was a capping bit of wackiness to end a really good four show run. I can't really ask for anything more than that.