Thursday 12/29/2016 by phishnet


[Editor's Note: We'd like to welcome back guest contributor David Goldstein for this recap. - lbc]

Irrespective of your political affiliation, can we all agree that the two months since Phish last played a rock show have been, to put it neutrally, interesting? This goes double for New York City residents, most of whom are still coming to grips with the fact that Trump Tower, once synonymous with a lousy restaurant for unimaginative tourists, has since been transformed into an impenetrable fortress of intrigue. And in a case of unintended consequences only rivaled by Faith No More inadvertently enabling Limp Bizkit and Korn, Twitter, once used predominantly for celebrity gossip and ranking jambands into tiers, could now be partially responsible for launching a new nuclear arms race. The Chicago Cubs also won the World Series.

What I’m obliquely trying to say here is, more than any time in recent history, GOOD GOD could we all use a Phish show right about now. And few numbers in Phishstory spark the imagination as much as 12/28. Everything is on the table, anything feels possible, and we get to do THIS four nights in a row in a city in which Trey Anastasio can relax in his own bed. Expectations are rightfully though the roof given the stunning quality of the recent four night Las Vegas run, in addition to the fact that night one of the Garden holiday shows has resulted in some goodies in the recent past; in particular the “Little Drummer Boy” inflected “Wolfman’s Brother” from 12/28/12, the monstrous “Tweezer” that occurred forty minutes later, and on 12/28/13, the best version of “Steam” played to that date - a Fishman scream-fest anchoring an otherwise average show. The energy in the city was palpable within a five-block radius of Madison Square Garden; let’s see what the boys have in store.

Photo © Rene Huemer
Photo © Rene Huemer

Phish proceeded to open the first set with their acapella arrangement of “The Star Spangled Banner;” something which they also did at the Garden a little over twenty years ago. But the state of American democracy on 10/21/96 was somewhat less volatile than it is now, and I’m not betting on this choice of an opener being a mere coincidence. Jon Fishman’s active participation in the Bernie Sanders campaign notwithstanding, Phish has generally been an apolitical band, with people of all stripes using their shows and community as a pleasurable means of escape from daily life. That said, Phish are also decent people with young families who aren’t completely oblivious to the current state of affairs. While I could be entirely incorrect, I interpreted the opener choice as their means of acknowledging that ‘we’re no happier with the President Elect than you are, but we’re all in this together, and have the Garden for four nights, so let’s rock the fuck out of it.’ They then proceeded to do exactly that with “Stealing Time from the Faulty Plan,” perhaps in reference to the minds of a large swath of New Yorkers on November 10th, which I can state from experience were unquestionably blank.

And this concludes the political overtones of both this Phish show and this recap of same. After briefly thanking the audience, Trey turned to Fishman and introduced the next song as “being sung by my favorite vocalist in Phish,” which seemed to portend “Ass Handed.” Instead, we were treated to a bustout of the Loaded chestnut “Lonesome Cowboy Bill,” which was flawlessly played and very welcome. This was followed by a standard reading of “Free,” the first song of the evening in which Chris Kuroda got to showcase his latest toy; lights on the ceiling of Madison Square Garden. It wasn’t enough to simply bathe the band in light, now CK5 is illuminating the audience as well, an effect that is extremely cool, and even led Justin Bieber manager and longtime Phish fan Dan Kanter to tweet that the only other time he had seen Kuroda do such a thing was, well, on Bieber tour. May the man’s creativity and lighting budget both continue to be bottomless.

Solid versions of “Train Song” and “Prince Caspian” followed, the latter of which contained a nicely rocked out microjam with the requisite false ending that has become standard for that song. Unfortunately, I ended up hearing most of it from the hallway of the 100s section, trapped in the bar line behind two dudes that ordered $70 worth of fancy mixed drinks (FYI: The value play at the Garden in terms of both deliciousness and ABV continues to be a 12 oz bottle of Dogfish Head 90).

Roggae” continued its stellar run in 2016, featuring much Garcia-style fanning towards the end evocative of a ’77 “Sugaree,” and “Funky Bitch” was solidly played, despite the LCD screens showing what appeared to be pink origami cranes hovering over a golf course green. “Halfway to the Moon” was slightly more expansive than usual, and the bustout of Taj Mahal’s “Corinna” was a nice surprise, and marked the first time yours truly has seen that song since February 2003; the infamous evening in which B.B. King held Phish hostage for over an hour. Standard-great versions of “Stash” and “Cavern” concluded a solid, if unspectacular, warm up set marked by some unique song choices and a high level of playing throughout, though unquestionably an appetizer for the second set bounty that was to follow.

Photo © Herschel Gelman
Photo © Herschel Gelman

Set II began with “Wolfman’s Brother,” hardly the most common second set opener, and the boys wasted no time in getting down to hard, wah-inflected funk immediately after the lyrics concluded. Trey was working with a dirty-rock tone while mixing in his echo effects, and Page opted for the clavinet for nearly the entire jam, resulting in fourteen minutes of abject nastiness more akin to “Sneaking Sally” improvisation than what we’ve come to expect from “Wolfman’s.” Nobody complained.

I received a text message at the beginning of “Golden Age” stating “if this is 60% of the Vegas version, then I’ll be happy.” Well then. If in 2008 you listened to the fifth song off of the third TV On the Radio album and immediately thought “yeah, Phish is totally gonna turn this into a major jam vehicle in eight years,” I welcome you to help me pick some winners for my IRA. The Vegas “Golden Age” was twenty-five minutes; its MSG sibling was a mere twenty-one, and proceeded from clavinet funk, to a minor key staccato jam with a tumbling Fishman groove, to full-on calypso before concluding with another soaring jam in the key of F Major that, like Vegas before it, segued triumphantly into “Simple,” still the daddy of all F Major Trey riffs.

Debating the merits of the Garden “Golden Age -> Simple” with that of its Vegas counterpart is essentially akin to quibbling over the first two Godfather movies; your personal preference is just that, but no sane person will deny that they’re both masterpieces.

Photo © Jake Silco
Photo © Jake Silco

An oddly placed “Chalk Dust Torture” was standard and pleasant, played at its now usual Bobby Weir tempo. Then “Martian Monster” repurposed the dirty funk of the recent “Wolfman’s,” and appeared to contain a slow build chord progression similar to “Tweezer Reprise.” Yes, Phish then proceeded to throw a full-on “Tweeprise” jam smack into the middle of “Martian Monster” with Trey singing “Your Trip is Short” in the style of “Step Into the Freezer” because why the hell not? When Phish is playing at this high a level, such antics should be anticipated, and no reason that all of the second set goodness should only be relegated the forty-three minutes of WolfmansGoldenSimple madness.

Wingsuit” was an ideal cool down, I appreciate “Possum” more when, like here, it’s played at a swampier tempo than usual, and if anyone tells you that they don’t like a “Good Times Bad Times” encore, they are not to be trusted. Finally, I would be remiss not to mention that some enterprising Mets fan actually threw Page a Mookie Wilson jersey prior to the encore. The legendary ’86 Mets squad of which he was a part could likely appreciate this Phish show in that both were relentless and slightly prankster-ish, with a good deal of attitude that’s been rightfully earned. Any drop off from the Las Vegas shows would appear to be non-existent. Buckle up.

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, comment by TwiceBitten
TwiceBitten Great review. Echoes my sentiments exactly. I liked this better than 12/30/10, 12/28/11, 12/28/13 MSG openers. About as much as 12/28/12 and 12/30/15...maybe more.
, comment by PhloatingInTheBlimpALot
PhloatingInTheBlimpALot Nice review of the first night, and thanks for the pro-tip on the value beer at the Garden.
, comment by Ferpetesak
Ferpetesak I thought I detected more of a political under/overtone but I'll defer to see what happens on NYE.
, comment by 90invjcc
90invjcc Solid review and I agree with all that was said. Especially the shout out to my favorite brewery. Cheers! Here's to a rockin' holiday run!
, comment by AzimuthCoordinator
AzimuthCoordinator Leave your stupid politics out of my show reviews.
, comment by Mr_Draned
Mr_Draned What a good time it was last night.
You wrote an excellent review that really captured what occurred!
, comment by MarvinTheMartian
MarvinTheMartian Good review. On the train headed into penn station right now. Ready to rock and/or roll. Hoping to catch a Bowie tune tonight. Not going to complain if we continue with the skipping of Big Boat tunes. Have a great show everybody!!
, comment by peacey
peacey No seriously, leave your stupid politics out of the show reviews.
, comment by cactusclub
cactusclub Great review! Night one had a very America the Beautiful theme in all it contained.
, comment by cactusclub
cactusclub Great review! Night one had a very America the Beautiful theme in all it contained.
, comment by the_vultures
the_vultures Great description of the show but the political potshots are not really necessary or appropriate.
, comment by hdorne
hdorne Thanks for the excellent review. I agree that while Phish are an apolitical band, this moment in our country and world is not merely a political one. I have a feeling, given the lyrical nature of much of Big Boat and last night's choice of opener, that the band might be finding it harder to simply jump on trampolines and sing about antelopes while the world is going insane.

The reviewer has every right to speak to his/her political interpretations, and the reader has every right to disagree. Telling someone to shut up isn't what we're about.
, comment by the_vultures
the_vultures Alright then... Well the people angry about Trump or whomever can carry on being paranoid and miserable. I'll carry on enjoying the music and the rest of my life. I agree that censorship is not a great path, but I don't come onto this message board to read amateur political commentary that basically stoops to calling people stupid because they did not vote the way the reviewer did. Sorry. It's a valid opinion. It's not a political website.
, comment by JesusFreak
JesusFreak I'm both a phan and a DJT supporter. Not all phans think alike... and I'm sure that the band would have sang The Star-Spangled Banner regardless of who won the election. Fuck your face!
, comment by Spector322
Spector322 The 10/21/96 star-Spangled Banner was for the NY Yankees who were playing in the World Series.
, comment by EdwardGRobinson
EdwardGRobinson I'm both a phan and a DMT supporter.
FACTSAREUSELESS I think the review was needlessly political. I'm sorry, but you're reaching badly with assuming that Phish is making a political statement with the Star Spangled Banner. Does this mean they were also making a political statement when they played it a couple years ago at Saratoga?

Regardless if you were pro-Trump or pro-Hillary or anti-both, adding this element to the review was neither appreciated or appropriate. Major turn off.
, comment by HHood
HHood I thought TSSB was as a sign of support for Trump, almost a pre-inauguration celebration welcoming the New King. I relistened to Martian Monster, but played it at half speed and backwards. Now here is where it gets weird. Around 4:47 (from the end of the song) there are faint teases of from Floyd's Mother. Then I slipped on my thinkin' cap and thought, wait a tick, is Phish questioning if we should build the wall?

I thought the review was just fine. Rock on David!
, comment by Spoonie_B
Spoonie_B Damn, people, relax. He thought he had an interesting insight into why Phish opened the show the way they did. I think he did too, but whatever. That kind of thing gets into show reviews constantly. This one happened to be political. Hey, newsflash, Trump phans, his election is alarming for a lot of people. It's made the end of the year highly politicized. It's a fair thing to imagine, especially knowing Fish's politics, that the band might have meant that as a gesture of unity and pride. Your censorship is worse than any opinion.
, comment by Happyone
Happyone "And this concludes the political overtones of both this Phish show and this recap of same."
Why interject politics into your review at all??
Time to move on David, Hillary and the Dems lost...we live in a democracy and your side did not win the election this time. Leave politics out of Phish, not sure why this is so difficult for you libs to understand.
, comment by Wilsonwasframed
Wilsonwasframed I'm gonna have to agree that this is not the place for you to discuss your dislike of the President Elect. I know many Phish fans that support Trump(including my wife). We met many like us at Dicks this Summer, as well. Don't act like Hillary was the answer to anything(especially considering the widespread failure of Obama over the last 8 years).
, comment by fluff_hen
fluff_hen Great review, buckle up yeah! The political commentary was entirely appropriate given the Star Spangled Banner opener.
, comment by hdorne
hdorne I find it funny, all the people voicing their displeasure about the political bent of the review, only to post more incendiary political opinions than those found in said review. Like, you literally say this isn't the place for politics, then immediately interject your own political opinion to shoot back at the reviewer. Just funny.
, comment by Gophishn
Gophishn Great Review!Looking forward to your thoughts from the 29th.
, comment by Dressed_In_Gray
Dressed_In_Gray This review needed a competent editor. The politics are completely uncalled for in this post.
, comment by Runaway_Jay
Runaway_Jay Yea. I'm gonna add to the sentiment here that no one wants to hear how you were fucked up enough to think the band was making a political statement with the star spangled banner. Your atempt to use your political paranoia to fill up some space in your review is lame and uncalled for.

Not a Trump supporter..
, comment by MaybeSoMaybeLot
MaybeSoMaybeLot Loved this review. Our crew felt there was clearly a nod to the past few months with the SSB opener, without being overt or one sided.

Making a statement without really saying anything at all.

Everyone take from it what you will, but for us this opener was significant and most appropriate to be mentioned in a post show review. Personally, I would have felt this review was missing something if it did not go there.

Great job as always, and what a fun time.
FACTSAREUSELESS I commented above already, but I want to add something, David. I have found your writing on this site to be some of the best and most entertaining prose put forth in my time on the site. This article was also well-written, and I will look forward to your future contributions as well.

I think, though, that you must admit (by virtue of the comments above) that your assumption of a general consensus around you that "...(Yeah), we're no happier than you are..." was misplaced, at best.

We've been through a challenging time in our nation over the last 12 months. It's a tumultuous time of change and hope and fear and uncertainty. Now, we come together and celebrate something we all have in common which is the wonderful music of our favorite band. It should be left alone in that sense.

Phish, if they were making any statement at all with their opener, was saying that "we love our country and we love all of you, regardless of anything", and I seriously doubt were taking political sides. To suggest that they were is beyond the level of presumptuous, and a great offense to many of us who don't think as you do on the issue and also love the band just as much.

In short, if you are going to presume to speak for the band on such a sensitive and explosive topic, you'd better have a quote or at least a documented source, or put the comment into the recycle bin.

I say this because the last thing we want in this forum is more of what we have all had to endure over the last year. It's been painful enough. Please leave it alone and let us ring in the New Year with joy and alongside the community we want to celebrate it with.

Thank you.
, comment by the_vultures
the_vultures There is no incendiary commentary here at all... Certainly nothing as provocative as what was said in the review. A couple people said they are Trump supporters, which is about as "incendiary" as saying I had bacon for breakfast (which was delicious).
, comment by redshutter33
redshutter33 I also had a suspicion that TSSB was a statement of unity amidst a divided country (and crowd!). The reviewer was in his right to point that out. Thats about where it ends. To assume that all/most fans are anti-trump is unfair. Political affiliation does not dictate musical preference. Do you think that only people who voted democrat can get down to an unbelievable Goldenage, or appreciate the whimsical nature of a Martian Monster with a Tweezer tease? That's precisely the reason that I go see the band. To check out from all that bullshit. Years ago I was at a Pearl Jam show where Eddie bashed George W throughout the entire show. It was so distracting and took away from the music. Not to mention half of the venue probably voted for W.. Its nice that aside from a Bernie dress here and there, the band stays out of it.
, comment by ghostlightparty
ghostlightparty I thought the first set was awful, it put me to sleep. The wolfmans was pretty good, and the golden age was good NOT great. The MM/tweeprise i thought was stupid it did nothing for me. completely average show but no one wants to admit that because you spend good money to see a show.
, comment by ScarletBegonia__
ScarletBegonia__ Anyone else catch the Playing in the Band tease before Simple?
, comment by Blunts
Blunts How could you leave midset (and that early within the set) for beers while you're reviewing them?

I'm confused.
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