Nine of the sixteen Phish shows that have occurred on December 30th have been located at Madison Square Garden. In each of the eight MSG performances that preceded last night’s show, the December 30th gig had fallen on night three of the New Year’s Eve run. This placement has typically allowed the band to use the previous two shows to get loose, build up a good head of steam, and then udderly crush some skulls on the 30th. Counter to this trend of strong performances occurring in this particular place in space-time is the band’s historic tendency to be more tentative and less adventurous on the opening night of a given set of shows, especially after an extended period of time away from each other. Last night’s show thus represented the ongoing battle between two equally strong and opposable forces that wrestle for control of the band of Jedi each time they take the stage. Which side would win the day… the dark or the light? I haven’t seen the movie yet… but I’m guessing the good guys currently have the advantage.
By now you have hopefully read @lumpblockclod’s MSG precap and seen his rankings of all the 12/30 shows on twitter… you’ve talked to your crew about it and probably relistened to the gig a time or two. Therefore you already know that the show was pretty great (#6 all time) as far as those performed on the 30th go, and probably top two or three for holiday run openers. But that’s not why you’re here, is it? You come to these recaps for the chum in the water. The feeding frenzy of the sharks hungry for the battle over the bloody entrails and rotting, oily, flotsam is about to begin as we dissect this Phish and throw it back overboard before the next one is hooked.
Photo © @Phish_FTR
“Sample in a Jar” is a great opener. It is a safe song that most people love. Nailed it… confidence built, let’s see what we can do to build some swagger. “Free”... yeah… you like that? YOU LIKE THAT! Very smooth and sexy. The interplay between Trey and Page as the booty bounces to the rhythm is delicious. Great muscle tone and an awesome build. Short but studly… like the drummer. We got a couple of great performances of “Simple” in 2015, listen to Bend (7/22/15) or Magnaball (8/21/15) again after you hear this one. This version is not at all as adventurous and it dissolves before a real jam can develop, but the composed section is tidy and well decorated. “Back on the Train” is upbeat and rocking as a general rule and this one is no different. The track this one takes veers alarmingly close to “Alaska” right around the “5:15” mark but stays safely within the confines of the Yukon Territories as it chugs eastward to Yellowknife in the Northwest Territories.
“Waiting All Night” offers a breather… and nothing more… pretty sloppy fingering on Trey’s part in the early going, but at least he said he was sorry, very much sorry, and he said it a lot. Let’s sail on.
The “555” is the next train through the yard. This one is all about Fishman people… wowza the drumming is on point. Great support from Page throughout. Big bombs from Mike. Trey does some drippy finger painting in the mud towards the end and gets pretty dirty in the process… but seriously focus in and check Fish on those sick beats. “Roggae” is maddeningly delicate and this one moves like incredibly viscous lava on a low incline. Sooooo sloooooow...but gorgeous. Blazing rivulets of incandescence making stars on it’s dark undulating surface as it proceeds inexorably downslope toward the haunted house at the bottom.
Photo © @BoneyDiego
The ghost of Laura Olsher explains why we are afraid of “Dogs” and this one lurches out of the front gate with plenty of bark, gives a cursory bite or two, but scampers away before any serious damage is done. Solid three minutes of headbanging if you are into that kind of thing. I am… but I could stand to do it for a little longer if you know what I’m saying. “46 Days” offers more of the same, albeit at a slower tempo. Great opportunity for my signature dance move (the fisty stomp) and the first set is over. Clocking in at just over an hour. Which… other than the sloppy “Waiting All Night” is my only real complaint about the set. I’m guessing the boys delayed their start due to the long lines at entry. Maybe open the gates earlier tonight?
I had “Chalk Dust Torture” for my FIRST set opener in the tour tournament guys… thanks! That’s my bad of course. They have been CRUSHING this song in second sets all year...why change now? I Chip Kelly’d my fantasy team in the playoffs. Not smart. This one is chaotic and feels like “David Bowie” riding a “Llama” chasing an “Antelope” during the composed section. The jam which follows is nothing like that at all. It is an undulating groove that is both spellbinding and mesmerizing. Deep brain massage. This stuff makes you smarter just listening to it… it’s like an aural version of that Limitless pill. Set this on repeat and you will be in Stephen Hawking’s league in no time. Strong hints of “After Midnight” then “Light” are presented and deconstructed before the jam decays through some stunning ambience into “Ghost.” Pretty awesome. Must listen.
“Ghost” is just the bread in the old song > new song > old song reprise sandwich. The fresh meat “Can’t Always Listen” is an amalgamation of “Going Down the Road Feeling Bad” and “My Problem Right There” with a touch of the Dude of Life. The song has a message. Things aren’t as bad as people say. The stars are still shining and the world keeps spinning. Don’t worry...be happy! Project the positive into your universe and that is what you will get in return. Stop barking at the shadows. They aren’t real. The spectral form of “Ghost” reprises and dissolves into the aether. Which is of course comprised of a stunning array of electromagnetic “Waves” and energized particles that coalesce into an outro jam of lush textural ambience that soothes the soul. Bartender...get me a drink!
"Ghost" -> "Waves" – Photo © @UNOlkerPhoto
This “Bathtub Gin” is delicious. Once again cannot say enough about the stick work of Tubbs the hairy beast man. Dude is a monster. The soaring reconstruction of the song from the jam is outstanding. Great communication between all four. Every piece put in it’s right place. Late set “Mike’s Song” is always a good sign. When Page stands up it is time to get down. Dirty dirty tricks. Nasty nasty licks. Fishman crushing AGAIN. “Bouncing” - like Heineken - is for the ladies. This “Weekapaug Groove” would have been a solid set closer on it’s own… but you wanna go seamlessly fuse a “What’s the Use?” into that crease… I’m sure as hell not going to stop you. So deep. So quiet. So empty, yet so full, simultaneously. Hyperdimensional. Space. Man. Far. Out. Back into the groove, an “Auld Lang Syne” tease, more sick Fish beats, back to “What’s the Use?” and end set. “Character Zero” is widely held as a cock-punch encore but I love it soooo… yeah. A great start to the run. Another lap around the sun is complete.
Happy and healthy 2016 to you all… have fun tonight.
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