Sunday 01/01/2017 by phishnet


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

New Year’s Eve is a strange holiday. It’s an event that holds special significance for many and can indicate a time for rebirth. But mostly it seems like a large to-do which, for the most part, can be a let down. The novelty of staying up until midnight really only holds until you're twelve. And unless you’re married or in a long term relationship, as time ticks closer to midnight, searching the room for that guy or girl you’re looking to meet up with at midnight doesn’t always work out in your favor either. Resolutions on a whole are made that everyone knows aren’t going to make it to Valentine’s Day. The event on a whole can outweigh the meaning behind it. A good way to avoid this, as most of you all probably know, is to go to see live music on New Year’s Eve. Less stress, less mess. For this reviewer, I didn’t get the chance to do this but I was able to couch tour New Year’s Eve, so although there is really no substitute for being there, this is about as close you can get. Plus, as LivePhish loves to indicate, I get to watch it back on demand after the show which seems like a strange selling point but helps in the writing of these reviews.

Photo © Rene Huemer
Photo © Rene Huemer

Continuing the streak of a capella openers, “Don’t Bogart That Joint” started the evening festivities with a song that was a true bust-out and certainly came out of left field. Although most people were probably expecting a “Space Oddity” or “Free Bird,” the Waiting for Columbus song was well received (although possibly not known by many as well). Kicking the show off proper was the Chilling Thrilling song “Your Pet Cat” with all the requisite vocal samples. A short but on point version enfolds which was not unlike the original rendition from Halloween 2014. “Kill Devil Falls” gets started up by Trey and although there are a few brief shaky points it has a brief outro jam portion that lets Trey show off a little bit of machine gun action.

After a few minutes, a quick segue into “Back on the Train” occurs and as the band sings “Now I’m gone and I’ll never look back again” it seems like a farewell to 2016. There has been a lot of talk about how strong Trey’s tone has been in this run of shows and it really shines in this version. I’m not one to try to talk about music theory or even understand the various types of amps and pedals that Trey uses but there’s a fine chunkiness here. Trey switches to a more rhythm role in the back-end of “BOTT” and Mike and Page get to lead a fine dark groove that unfortunately isn’t played with for the next hour or so. I would love a more jammed out “BOTT” again. This version gets a bit beyond its boundaries a bit but gets reined back in after three or four very enjoyable minutes. “My Soul” is pretty standard but may be back in standard rotation so that’s kind of nice.

Photo © Rene Huemer
Photo © Rene Huemer

Lawn Boy” is one of the songs that, to me, is quintessential Phish. Quirky and like nothing else out there. If I’m at a show and seeing it, I’ll usually have a big smile as Page cheeses it up all around stage. On tape, it doesn’t always hold up. This version, has some excellent banter though with Trey talking about Mike’s old dreams from the club days. Trey talks about having much more stage than normal which is kind of a hint to the upcoming gag. But for now, Page gets to vamp it up in all the extra space. Mike takes his requisite bass solo and of course he kills it and takes his opportunity to walk around the extra stage space as well. A fine fifteen minute “Divided Sky” is the centerpiece of the first set (as it often is). Anchored by about a 90 second pause and with Kuroda’s lights enveloping the arena, the singular shot of Trey, eyes closed, barely smiling, sole spotlight, and 20,000 people screaming still brings me joy after seeing this band for 13 years. The entire band’s delicate playing following the pause is sublime. The rest of “Divided Sky” is typical of most versions, which in no way should be interpreted as a negative as it’s probably in the top 5 list for beautiful Phish songs.

Ya Mar” makes an unexpected appearance late in the first set as for some reason, I always think of it more as an opener in the repertoire. “Character Zero” makes an initially rough appearance in the penultimate slot. In a weird coincidence, William Christopher, the actor who played Father Mulcahy on M*A*S*H, died earlier in the day. “Character Zero” in the mid first set is a unique and uncommon placement (and I’m sure many, like me, thought it was just going to be a short first set) but the familiar opening to “Walls of the Cave” was started immediately by Page. “Walls of the Cave” turned 14 years old during this show and although this version can’t hold a candle to the debut version, it’s still one of my favorite first set closers and hits all the right spots for me (with Trey doing some cool little noodling in the opening sections that sounded atypical). This leaves the band in a good position for set two to start and the crowd is hungry for more.

Photo © Stephen Olker
Photo © Stephen Olker

Set two starts the party quickly with the immediate space and drumkick of “2001.” Something that may have been missed in 2016 is the mini-resurgence of “2001” with three versions (and now possibly four) being on the jam chart, which would be the most in a calendar year since 2000. It’s no Pyramid ‘99 obviously but this version still rips and watching people dance to “2001” is one of my favorite people watching moments at a Phish show as no one is having a bad time in that moment. The ultimate crescendo of 2001 crashes into “Carini” in proper fashion. Minor vocal flub aside, the Lumpy Headed one is dark and strong. The progressions and themes hit on by Trey and picked up by everyone evoke an old school Pink Floyd vibe right before Page comes in and Clavinets all over everyone. When the funk hits as Mike joins in it’s a full dance groove (with almost a taste of “Foam” mixed in).

The band slowly moves out of this and into “Twist” with a damn proper ->. “Twist” (the song portion) is as enjoyable as it usually Is and leads into a beautiful Bliss jam. Bliss jams are really why I love this band so much and continue to obsess over them. To be able to find joy and elation, even if only for a moment, from music is such a powerful feeling. And as Trey begins to move up that fretboard, it works for me. If it doesn’t work for you, I hope there is something that does. It’s important to have things like that in your life. “Twist” is short but really packs an awesome punch.

As the bliss fades away and “Twist” returns to form and ends, “Piper” starts up with a decidedly not slow build as Fish immediately careens into “Ass Handed.” And then again back to “Piper” and, like “2001” early in the set, recent versions of “Piper” have been outstanding after a few years of lackluster versions. This one fits the excellent mold. There is a very cool jam in “Piper” that feels like it could have slid into “I Always Wanted It This Way.” It’s during “Piper” that Trey takes his daily foray on the Marimba Lumina and Mike gets on the keyboards as well to help Page out. Trey on the ML as mentioned countless times elsewhere is a bit gimmicky but I don’t mind it too much here as it’s not a full on four dudes on Drums segment. On the webcast there’s a funny moment where it looks like Page is teaching Mike how to play the keyboard. And Mike actually smiles. This divergence isn’t too long and Trey and Mike move back to their rightful spot and “Sand” starts up. “Sand” is the typical locked in groove version which doesn’t vary too far from the main theme but is still 10 minutes of Type 1 goodness. It’s not one of my favorite songs to listen back to but hearing it live, it’s always fun to get down to. A beautiful “Slave” moves out of the tail end of “Sand” and, like in the first set, was probably thought of by many as the set closer but instead we get a bonus song of “More.” To some people, “More” probably sounds like pure cheese but I think it’s one of the strongest songs (not jam launch points) that the band has written in years.

Photo © Stephen Olker
Photo © Stephen Olker

The set break music leading into the third set seemed to center around certain musical legends that had passed in 2016 leading some speculation that the third set would be a tribute to those who were lost. Bowie. Prince. Cohen. Michael. But with the rain motif apparent on and above the stage, “Petrichor” seemed the most likely and that’s what everyone got. Guest musicians Natalie Cressman, James Casey and Jen Hartswick joined the stage on horns and Hamilton drummer Andres Forero would aid in percussion for a beautiful 20 minute “Petrichor” complete with dancers, rain, juggling, umbrellas and stage theatrics.

The New Year’s Eve gag does not translate well (or really at all) to tape which is unfortunate because unless you’re a real “Petrichor” fan, you may not listen to this again very often. But on video it’s really special and is similar to a Fantasia segment. This leads up to midnight (where it literally rains cats and dogs) and the obvious “Auld Lang Syne” and into a fun and always appreciated “Suzy Greenberg” with horns. A tight but brief “No Men in No Man’s Land” ensues (with some heavy and awesome percussion) and leads to the Big Boat twofer of “Breath and Burning” and “Tide Turns.”

Deep in the third set, I can understand many people’s consternation about placement here (and really with the subsequent “555” and “Ocelot” as well) but I’ll offer a brief counterpoint: although I get where you are coming from these songs were played in a unique manner (with horns and percussion) and will likely not be played live this way again so at least there’s a special quality to them. Unfortunately, watching this on the webcast it does seem that the energy sags a bit here. “Breath and Burning” I could have done without but “Tide Turns” with the horns I like a lot. “555” is very short and “Ocelot” is solid (but again, just not in the penultimate slot!). Some Trey banter introduces the guests and they close up shop with a rocking and frenetic “First Tube.” The encore is about what you’d expect for a guest filled night with “Loving Cup” sending everyone into the streets in 2017.

Photo © Rene Huemer
Photo © Rene Huemer

So all in all, what’s the summary? The second set is must listen. The entire thing. The first set was a typical for the era first set and the third set had an epic “Petrichor,” which again if you’re a fan, should be chased down in video format. The rest of the third set fell a bit flat to me. Which isn’t to say it’s the worst thing in the world Phish wise I’ve seen (I was at GP Night 2) but the moral of the story is the band is going to do what that band wants to do. To bring this all back around to “More,” the refrain of “There must be something more than this” is a really hopeful one. That things can always get better. That things always will get better. But what if this is it? Phish has been around for 34 years. That’s almost an entire career. That’s longer than I have been alive. Phish is entering 2017 with three shows in Mexico on the plate and rumors of thirteen day MSG residencies swirling around. Will there be a summer tour? Will there be a fall tour? No one really knows except for those four guys from Vermont.

What if there isn’t anything more than this? 35 or so shows a year. A Dick’s Run. NYE in either MSG or Miami. Mexico. The same big summer sheds. Is that enough? Should we want more? Should we get more? As I mentioned earlier, I couch toured this show and run which had some phenomenal songs, playing and jams. I couch toured Vegas. I couch toured Dicks. If this is what the band is putting out yearly on a consistent basis we, as a fanbase, should be pleased. And we should be wanting more. I wish I was there in New York for these shows. I wish I was in Vegas and I wish I was at every show (even GP N2). I always want more. I’m just not sure what we’re going to get.

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, comment by fluffhead108
fluffhead108 Great write-up. Fair all around.
, comment by PennPhan
PennPhan I beg to differ about Petrichor: Even just listening to the MP3 of Petrichor this morning was magical, and, to me, it was some of the most ethereal pieces Phish has done in 3.0. Loved it. It totally stands alone (not to say the Buster Keaton-ish skit wasn't a spectacle unto itself).
, comment by KingMob
KingMob I'll probably listen to this petrichor over the other version I got in Vegas.

The accompaniment made it so much grander, really filled it out and Trey's new rig and improved tone really shone.
, comment by gnosticaspirant
gnosticaspirant Of course we are all going to want more, because it's the most special and favorite thing on Earth for most of us. IMO, they're still setting a very healthy schedule each year. If 2017 is a lighter year, so be it. I think a lot of people forget they're all over 50 now. Things are going to slow down, and yes, inevitably stop, one day. Let's just appreciate what we have! Happy New Year, people!
, comment by thegripp
thegripp Great write-up. What's great about the write-ups is the traditional wavering of phan agreement and disagreement over Phish's level of existence.

The rub, for me, is that they still have the magic. We can all agree that 2016 was a fickle year all around, just a complex vestige left in our memories. The paradox of Phish is that we crave Phish to constantly hit the pulse of musical improvisation and be constantly challenging their own style, which is the same thing they've been doing for years. Every phan loves to reminisce of the sweet times they hit (I remember Fall of 2013 where every show had an intensity re-immersed the beauty of Phish's sound.) Why can't they sound like summer 94, or fall 97, or winter 03, or fall 13, or summer 15? This reflective nature of Phish cauterizes the caustic debate of "criticizing" Phish.

I do enjoy reading the comment section because, for the most part, phans actually read the comments section, unlike the nuts that leave comments on youtube videos. The variety of insight toward how to view Phish sheds a light over how complex Phish and their art really challenges us as phans. As I wrap up my 20th anniversary of being a Phan, this year has especially been a crossroads - they have pushed the elasticity of their performances, from plaintive to transcendental. What the best thing about Phish is, is that in the end, it's about enjoying what they're doing, because they are. Yes, 2016 had some extremely equivocal shows, but there will always be those shows that warrant a critical eye, only because Phish created a world with high expectations. MSG3 was such a treat, and still keeps me leery-eyed toward the future of Phish. I mean, for a band to stay fresh after 34 years by still embracing the old with the new, is fantastic.

Phish, yes, has transmuted their sound over the years: look at from 84 to 87, from 88 to 92, from 93 to 96, hell, from 96-97, their MO is about looking for new, abstract ways to outshine their preternatural tendencies. They are taking the old with the new, and still carrying the torch of improvitational mastery. They're legacy is the absence of legacy, to forget the past and move into the future. That's Phish

Next year will be the 20 year anniversary of 1997, the epic year of transition. They are not expected to change their methods, even though they have constantly passed that baton year after year. They're having fun, and were reaping the benefits. So let's enjoy their show, embrace the magical, castigate the negligible, yet anticipate the expectant change for which Phish has perfected. I'm glad Phish is in my life, and I hope that they continue to enjoy playing together.
, comment by Grateful_Dave
Grateful_Dave Good review. I was there, crowd energy def dropped in third set. But i like the fact it was new songs with horns. Not doing greatest hits from '91 GCH era.
, comment by Bogotafee5514
Bogotafee5514 Great review of last night! Couch tour'd whole run and very spot on for last night!! Second set is must listen and will be something every big time fan puts on regular rotation! Loved the Petrichor but will say Mercury could have worked too and its great to have a NMINML with horns! Yea should have probably stuck IAWITW after Piper in set II. Would have fit perfectly and made the crowd coming over from Brooklyn's Output edm venue proud!!!
, comment by Nomansjam
Nomansjam Set 3 was epic
Love was in the air
We are all exhausted from '16
Set 3 was a time to hope and smile☺
, comment by del4life
del4life The Phish killed this run. Nice review and happy new year to all !
, comment by JuSalles
JuSalles Still trying to "recover" from last night's show and feeling like an orphan after these 4 days.
, comment by Slewfoot
Slewfoot Hey,, can you please have Matt review the majority of future shows? Objectivity and optimism deserve to go hand in hand with this band.

Thanks and Happy New Year!
, comment by JMart
JMart With all the heads out there who were at the show, isn't it possible to find someone to do the write up who was actually there?

That being said, review was spot on. Petrichor to me was the highlight of the whole night. How anyone could say that the performance during it was anything other than wonderful, I'll never know. The appearance of the horns meant the setlist was going to be tightly planned (and thus no big jams), but I was okay with it. Everything sounded tight.
You just don't know what you're going to get with this band these days. The only thing that's changed is that now I don't mean that exactly the way same way I used to. On one hand, it pains me to watch the slow, inexorable decline of my favorite band. On the other hand, they can still bust out some pretty incredible magic when they want to, and I still just can't say no.
, comment by Mr_Draned
Mr_Draned When will we actually get a write up from someone in attendance? Being there is a major part of a Phish show, and having the ability to rewind and break down every minute detail doesn't really provide much better of a review. It merely provides a critics lens and not one of a fan.
Let's be real, most of these current couch tour reviews are written so the writer gets praise and recognition.
This was ok, but it was far from encapsulating the pure magic that was in the air NYE at MSG.
, comment by CarinCarpenter
CarinCarpenter Betreyed
, comment by Ravinus
Ravinus @ Mr. Draned...So true.
, comment by Arbs_Pheld
Arbs_Pheld The Garden was truly 'bouncin' this night...

Having missed the 12/30 show, I was pretty bummed that I missed out on Tweezer, Ghost, Gin, YEM, and some other good song selections from that night. However, the energy was so palpable on 12/31, I don't think I've ever been so amped up before for a Phish show!

Although the jams don't hold up to the night before, like Matt said, the 2nd set is nevertheless a must listen. 2001 happens to be my favorite choice for 2nd set openers, and again as Matt said, has seen somewhat of a resurgence this past year. Same could be said for that matter perhaps in regards to Carini, Twist, Sand and especially Piper.

This second set also serves as a microcosm I think for Phish 2016. People have been throwing the phrase 'micro-jam' around to characterize Phish's style of jamming more deliberately this year than the year prior (all the songs from the 2nd set clock around the 10 minute mark).

I could be wrong, but just throwing it out there, I think Trey's new tone has something to do with this more consolidated style of playing. That being said, we did get some lengthy jams from this New Year's run and from Fall tour. However, I think it's truly been Trey's tone that's been the primary focus this past year, rendering lengthy jams to be of secondary importance. While I still love and long for 20+ minute jams, I am equally enthralled with Trey's new tone.

Just want to end off here with a shout out to Mike and the rest, but particularly Mike who's playing I absolutely adore and love. Often times, if I'm not crazy into whatever the band is playing, I hone in on Mike and feel right back at home (still waiting for them to play Say Something again).

Overall a great run... looking forward to 2017 - the 20th anniversary of '97 (certainly my favorite era of Phish) - and we'll see what the test of time will say about Phish 2016.

Long live the Phish!
, comment by quest_to_save
quest_to_save Less is More...more or less
, comment by Miha_The_Fee
Miha_The_Fee I thought the whole New Years run was fantastic. The a cappella openers (the highlight in my opinion being Don't Bogart That Joint), and Set 3 being a true Phish landmark. I have been a phan since 1991, so 25 grand years. We should always remember that we did not have our phavorite band from 2004 until 2009! Five years of musical starvation, so couch touring MSG and welcoming 2017 from Slovenia (Europe) was a true gourmet extravaganza! I loved it all, and I never thought that they lagged or that they sagged! I thought the energy was full-on the entire time!!! This was the most energetic playing since Magnaball!!! Bravo Phish!!! You are true Martian Monsters so cheers to a grand new year. Please come back to Europe again! It's been 20 years since one of the most epic Europe Tours happened!!! Phish, we miss you over here!!! Happy New Year!!!
, comment by BeAFractal
BeAFractal The Magritte-inspired chorus line may or may not have been part of the original conception; it was the penultimate rendition, to be sure. Everyone knows (or should know) a Suzy, and she was born for Broadway. With all the critters, I thought an antelope might chase me out of there, but it was a beautiful buzz (not Bug ;) . I was privileged to see 18 Phish performances, and 2016 minus two minutes was a good year vis-a-vis Phish. Yay!
, comment by BeAFractal
BeAFractal Black Sea summer tour would be wild. Serboslavcroatian Monster. A CID I could drop in a heartbeat. ;)
, comment by UltraPH
UltraPH Respectfully, reviews should require attendance to the show. For me, Phish is a live experience that elicits an emotional response facilitated by enhanced sensory connectivity. I feel, Iistening back, watching videos, or reading reviews are purely about euphoric recall and not a substitute for the real experience.
, comment by nichobert
nichobert Best 3.0 msg run?

It's either this or 2010 for me

But I know some people really scoff at anything before 2015 for some weird reason (muh quantity!)
, comment by mikesgroove2390
mikesgroove2390 Honestly for a run 98 or 97
, comment by mikh2wg
mikh2wg From section 113, right behind Page's rig, I can tell you that he was definitely teaching Mike to use the Moog. Moogs are complex little machines and have lots of knobs and dials. They are not intuitive to play and do take some practice. Seeing Page try to show Mike the ropes on that thing in the middle of a jam was one of my favorite Phish moments. They were both having such a great time banging out synth sounds! It was fun to see them so comfortable and excited about exploring something new.
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