As we're now in the Chinese Year of the Horse, it’s a good time to reflect on the whereabouts of our trusty steed last year. No, I don’t mean that four-house carriage that gallops us through city to city and delivers us to ever more distant horizons of musical bliss. For Phish, 2013 was a year of bounty, sharing with us heartfelt music, compassion, gratitude, and joy. But among this spoil of riches, there was one conspicuous absence: “The Horse.” Despite the reasonably consistent presence of its “Silent in the Morning” companion in the song rotation, not a single Horse was trotted out during 2013. The last time they “slung the basket off” was on NYE of 2012; but, keeping this old friend in the stable last year couldn’t have been more fitting.
The night of the “Garden Party,” moving into 2013 and their 30th year anniversary, Phish proclaimed that they were “going to please [themselves].” The phans who weren’t happy with who Phish is, as a band (or as those phans would say, “has become”), could leave the party if they wanted to. 2013 was the year of not trying to meet someone else’s expectation, but the year of owning and appreciating your own. For Phish, 2013 was a celebration of Phish. We saw it at Northerly Island during Harpua, when we all learned that only Phish does Posternutbag “the right way”; we saw it on Halloween, when Phish stamped their own name in the lineage of celebrated classic artists; and we saw it during the MSG run, when not a single note (besides Auld Lang Singe) was produced that didn’t have its origin in the creative ensemble standing before us—the same ones who had been standing there for the previous 29 years.
2013 was a year of clear vision and direction. Maybe NYE of 2012 was that turning point, when the guys unburdened their horses and set off in a new direction. One thing’s for sure, they haven’t had to do it again since. Whereas “The Horse” relates one man’s decision to turn away from a relationship torn asunder by a significant rift, there was no turning away last year. As we all know, Phish has broken up with themselves, and us, before. But, there was no moment in 2013 when it seemed time “to set a different course.” The course was set, the path was clear, and Phish followed it through to the end. 2013 was a celebration of the unique relationship between Phish and the phans and the thirty years we’ve spent together. There was no waiting “until [their] dying day to confess what [they] have seen.” They confessed it directly to us in the vast catalogue of songs they’ve authored, in their visits to old haunts, in the set-break video surveying the relics of days gone by, and in the acknowledgement of their humble beginnings at the center of MSG. From that vantage point, I’m sure the course looked incredibly clear, both from whence they came and to thence they go. If Phish never sets a different course again, I won’t be disappointed.