Saturday 12/31/2011 by lumpblockclod

YEMSG 2011-12-30 RECAP

Anticipation grows with each passing night of Phish’s annual new year’s run. Each night also carries with it the weight of past glories. December 30th holds a special place in Phishstory. On 12/30/93 the band played one of the greatest shows of their career to that point and a show that still holds up eighteen years later. A year later, Phish made their Madison Square Garden debut. The highlights of 12/30/97 are almost too numerous to mention: among them a mesmerizing “AC/DC Bag,” an epic “Harpua,” and two bustouts of “Sneaking Sally.” It’s possible the fog still hasn’t cleared from the 12/30/99 Big Cypress “Mike’s Song” and, more recently, 12/30/09 is one of the finest shows of the band’s 3.0 era. So expectations always run high on December 30th. Sometimes those expectations are met, and other times... not so much.

Which brings us to 12/30/11. Last night was not a bad show by any stretch. In fact, had this show occurred in the middle of summer tour, fans would likely be focusing on the outstanding second set “Piper” rather than debating the show’s shortcomings. But this show didn’t take place in the middle of summer tour. It took place on December 30th, in the world’s most famous arena. And, save for the “Piper” and a few other minor highlights, 12/30/11 simply couldn’t stand up to the ghosts of the past. Let’s go to the tape...

A “PYITE” opener always gets the crowd in a good mood even if the rendition is not a letter perfect reading. “Caspian” was somewhat oddly placed, though well enough played before giving way to a short “Number Line.” “Nellie Kane” is a perfectly pleasing selection from Mike’s bluegrass repertoire, but not much more to say about it. The “Divided Sky” that followed was one of the minor highlights of the set, as Trey put a fairly unique spin on the ending jam. An all too brief, but fiery and engaging “Sand” followed. “Vultures” was next and represented the first real setlist surprise of the night, but was unfortunately not well executed and had no real jam to it. The “Rift,” “Joy” sequence might have passed muster in June but, well, those ghosts of the past continued to haunt. Still, a “Quinn the Eskimo” closer can always put a smile on the most jaded fan’s face.

If expectations weren’t high enough already, the lackluster first set somehow built them up even higher. The band had to do something to inspire, didn’t they? Perhaps, but “Wilson” > “Axilla” wasn’t it. However, just when things were looking bleak (well, as bleak as things get at a Phish show), the band stepped up and delivered the finest improvisation of the run thus far with a “Piper” that seemed to move effortlessly from one theme to another before transitioning, fifteen glorious minutes later into a satisfying “Twist.” “Julius,” as it usually tends to live, seemed to contain a little extra something but the ensuing “Golgi” was served with a few clams from Trey. “2001” was probably as good or better than any recent version, with Page especially bringing his “A” game. Alas, the energy was squandered by following up the cathartic finale of “2001” with a poorly placed (and played) “Horse” > “Silent.” “Bowie” was next and certainly lifted everyone’s spirits and the band then opted for the mellow route, closing the set with “Coil” and Page’s outro solo. After Mike did his best to bring the house down during a fantastic “Boogie On,” the band sent us home with an all-too-appropriate “Good Times Bad Times.”

Let’s be clear though: while this show may not have lived up to the incredibly high bar of excellence Phish has set for themselves, it was still a ton of fun and there was absolutely nowhere I’d rather have been last night than at MSG. And I can’t wait for tonight. It’s New Years Eve and expectations are high.

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, comment by makisupaman
makisupaman Heartily agree with the analysis here, Good Times, Bad Times indeed (or to quote Dickens, "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times." ;) - Hope the Phish end the remarkable year 2011 with a bang! #couchterr
, comment by ForgeTheCoin
ForgeTheCoin A well stated and balanced review - thanks. Far cry from some of the reviews posted on the LivePhish site.... As I wrote there recently, I just don't think we are ever going to get another NYE '95, etc - but to balance that cynicism I will say that what we can expect are little gems to crop up here and there, like 12/30's Piper or 12/28's Cities, and lord knows we will enjoy the hell out of them. In this age of single-track downloading, I for one will cherry pick these tasty tracks and listen to them regularly, unlike the old days of devouring cassette after cassette to get that 'full show" experience...

Gonna be hard to top last year's Meatstick antics which I thoroughly enjoyed - very curious to see what tonight brings.
, comment by The_Optimistic_Vet
The_Optimistic_Vet The 30th has always been a big night historically. The author caught most of the big ones. But totally missed mentioning possibly the best one of then all: 12/30/2003. Miami. P-Funk. Craziest Tube ever. Just a bulldozer of a show from every angle. The energy was off the charts. LA Woman...

Don't forget the cornerstone show of of Phish' best four night runs ever. May even be the best holiday run ever.
, comment by derossx
derossx I think everyones assessment was fair. Just wanted to mention that they were challenged by a lot of sound issues too, but they kept their cool like real professionals and gave us a heartfelt performance. They are still and will always be my favorite band.
, comment by kidrob
kidrob Agreed, there would have been no better place to be than msg when phish is Playing a show.
, comment by mcgrupp81
mcgrupp81 How bout giving kudos to 12/30/95! A friend of mine thinks the Hood from that show is the best piece of music that Phish has ever produced and there's another guy in the Almanac that feels the same way. That show is hot from start to finish.
, comment by Slothberries
Slothberries @mcgrupp81 said:
How bout giving kudos to 12/30/95! A friend of mine thinks the Hood from that show is the best piece of music that Phish has ever produced and there's another guy in the Almanac that feels the same way. That show is hot from start to finish.
12/30/95 is an incredible show that is unfortunately never talked about because of what went down on the ensuing night. i urge anyone that has never given this one a listen to hit the spreadsheets. hood AND bowie are simply remarkable
, comment by nichobert
nichobert Good call on remembering 12/30/03 although I like it most for the Sand-> Shafty-> NICU segment, a unique sequence that flew under the radar with all the big flashy offerings on display. I believe that was the last version of Tube with a jam as well.

12/30/09 dropped that greatest Back On The Train ever although it also flies under the radar. Only Phish could play a country song that expands to 17 minutes with a spectacular improv segment and place it between Lifeboy & Velvet Sea, HYHU> Love Me> HYHU. Dig that Corrina, What's The Use?, Tela, Gone segment which is more cohesive than it looks at first glance.

12/31/10 had the legit Tweezer-> Light-> Theme segment

Cypress, oh man that 30th was awesome. Mike's sticks in my head the most, but the Limb By Limb, Light Up, Ghost, Antelope, Tweezer-> Taste and Ya Mar are near and dear to me.

98 had a lot of unique things going on as well. Coming out of the gate with Chalkdust, BBFCFM, Wilson is a good bone to toss out when you're planning on penning a love letter to the slow and psychedelic. The first set is a rollercoaster of weird sequencing (Roggae, Sparkle, Moma, Old Home Place in particular feels almost pranky in it's strangeness) but works fairly well.. The Frankie Says-> Maze and an extremely patient 1st set closing Reba are pretty stellar and give a good indication of where the 2nd set's interests will lie: crushing your skull into gelatin. The DWD starts as a flamethrower, spaces out then slowly builds back up before going back into the DWD peak, slightly premature, but less abrupt than a lot of similar DWDs that go type II and return. One of my favorite 'standard' Pipers follows with a nice build and some choice Page. Trey hits some 'next level' riffs in the following Caspian which slowly melts into some pretty ambient space and eventually a spot-on "> " segue into Squirming Coil. The Coil is one of those rare versions where everyone stays on through Page's solo. Some gorgeous Simplesque jamming ensues before turning into a huge wall of noise and a -> into a wonderful Slave. This is the kind of show for people who find the subtle melodic and textural manipulations of 98-04 to be engrossing instead of boring, but the second set's peaks and valleys are so methodically measured that I think it should have appeal to fans of earlier 90s & 3.0 Phish as well.
, comment by Harry__Hood95
Harry__Hood95 @mcgrupp81 said:
How bout giving kudos to 12/30/95! A friend of mine thinks the Hood from that show is the best piece of music that Phish has ever produced and there's another guy in the Almanac that feels the same way. That show is hot from start to finish.
That show was one of the first tapes I ever collected. Probably my favorite Hood ever.
, comment by andychatfield
andychatfield @lumpblockclod I really like what @yardbird58 said in the forum before this 12/30 show:
"Expectations are pre-meditated resentments."
, comment by icculusFTW
icculusFTW @nichobert said: I believe that was the last version of Tube with a jam as well.

Correction -- that would be 6-24-04. It's a fantastic version (from a fantastic show from a fantastic tour) if you haven't heard it:

6.24.04 Verizon Wireless Music Center, Deer Creek, IN

Set I: Loving Cup, Cities, Back On The Train, Vultures, My Mind's Got a Mind of its Own, Down With Disease > Rock and Roll

Set II: Tube, Antelope, The Wedge, Timber Ho, Prince Caspian > Simple, Walls of the Cave

Encore: The Squirming Coil
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