Following two strong shows on 12/28 and 12/29, Phish climbed on stage on Saturday, December 30 with an opportunity to elevate the 2017 New Year’s Eve Run to a rare status. Most years, the band needs a night or two to settle into the NYE run, thus producing a show or two that’s of a lesser quality than the best of the run. Think: 12/28/97, 12/27/10, 12/29/12, and 12/29/16. It’s often understandable that there will be a “dud” in the run, seeing as the band is focusing all their energy on four shows in the middle of winter, when their main approach is across month-long tours.
What made 2017’s NYE Run different, heading into 12/30, is that both 12/28 and 12/29 had produced spectacular jams in “No Men In No Men’s Land,” “Twist,” “Chalk Dust Torture,” “Ghost,” and “Split Open & Melt,” as well as solid micro jams in songs like “Tube,” “Your Pet Cat,” “Everything’s Right,” “Blaze On,” and “I Always Wanted It This Way.” The song selection had been inspired for the most part, and the overall flow of each show had been purposeful. Halfway through the run, the band had failed to produce a dud, and were poised to bring MSG to its knees, rightfully honoring their banner hanging in the rafters.
There is perhaps no greater day in the entire Phish calendar than December 30. As a young fan, you’re passed along shows like 12/30/93 and 12/30/97 to understand the band’s history and major growing points. The concept of The-Night-Before-The-Night is introduced: one of the most celebrated aspects of Phish lore, always expect The Show, the night before a holiday or particularly hyped performance. Think: 8/14/96, 8/12/98, 7/25/99, 12/1/03, 12/30/09, 10/30/10, 10/29/13 & 12/30/16, among a few others. Hence, if the band were to both continue the upward trajectory of the run thus far, and honor the historical importance of the 30th of December, it was clear going into the Saturday night show at MSG, that they were going to need to bring the big guns to the table immediately.
With that said, I’m not sure there’s a stronger way to start a single show than “Mike’s Groove” + “Tweezer.” Perhaps had they jammed the “Mike’s” and “Groove” portions? But, wouldn’t we just be splitting hairs then? The fact that 12/30/17 and 8/12/11 are the only two shows since 1991 to feature a “Mike’s Song” and a “Tweezer” in the first set really says all you need. The band came to throw down on December 30th 2017, and seemed to know out the gates they were producing a historical performance. Following the classic “Groove,” Trey signaled “Tweezer” with a devastating approach to the riff, and a sinister grin, knowing he’d just caused the entire arena - and those on couches at home - to lose their collective minds. The overall power Big Red must feel in moments like that is simply awesome: “I could slow it down a bit here and play “The Line” while you all settle in, but nah, let’s fucking play “Tweezer!”
And it’s not just your standard, run-of-the-mill, the-excitement-is-in-the-opening-riff, 3.0 First Set “Tweezer.” No. This is a near-20-minute euphoric jam that peaks so blissfully, it actually alters the overall trajectory of this terrifying and twisted year, providing some much-needed jubilation and positive energy for the world. Listening back, there’s a clear out for the band at 10 minutes and 41 seconds. The work could’ve been done, the purpose served, onto the next song. “We played “Tweezer” following “Mike’s,” happy?” But like the best shows of 2017: 7/18/17, 7/25/17, and 9/1/17, there’s nothing to stop the band as they push forward with a jam that would gladly serve as the Set II Centerpiece of any 2009 - 2016 show.
How does one follow a mid-first-set “Tweezer”? With a hilarious sing-along take on “Ass Handed,” of course! However in the world Phish has taken Dad Jokes to the Most Famous Arena in the country on NYE weekend is beyond me, but God Bless them all the more for it.
The slightly rare, “Kill Devil Falls” - only 5 performances in the last 52 shows - follows in perfunctory form, allowing everyone the chance to catch their breath. “Bathtub Gin” essentially reprises the euphoric build in “Tweezer,” and the relentlessness of the final few tension & release peaks threatens to bring Kuroda’s new center-ring lighting rig right down from the MSG ceiling. It was quite a moment, even on the couch from afar, as I feared my TV might shatter right in front of me, the band was simply playing with so much fire and tenacity at this point in the show. It’s not a rare thing for the band to reach a moment of this much energy at least once in a show, but for it to have already happened multiple times through such BIG songs, here in the early stages of Q2 is quite rare. While those in MSG were scrambling to pick their faces up from the bouncing floors of the room, those of us at home and on Twitter were scrambling the find an equivalent set in 3.0. Really, the only options are 8/31/12 and 7/25/17, right?
The first “Brother” in 216 shows appeared in RHCP Freaky Styley fashion, and only elevated an already superlative-laced set. My mind immediately went to 4/4/98, as this felt like the perfectly placed moment for a song that’s been a true rare treat ever since Summer 1992. “More” closed down the set as it always does. Though this time, I asked myself, as the band sang out their increasingly politically-charged chorus, are they in fact singing about themselves, and moments like these? Is there in fact, something more than this.
How to open a second set after playing a first set like that? Well, with “Tweezer,” “Mike’s,” “CDT,” and “Ghost” off the board, there’s really only one option: “Down With Disease.” Of its 277 performances, 86 have opened Second Sets. The roar from Gordo’s bass, the 70’s arena-rock solo, it’s the perfect tune to shake-off the setbreak beer and get you moving again. In following a high-octane First Set, the band used “DWD” to both explore effect-heavy, wall-of-soundscape improv, and the major-keyed Allman-esque jamming they’ve been so enamored with these last few years. A sprawling, near-30min jam, it was the perfect reset and continuation. The final soaring jam brought back many memories of the Reading version from 2013, a performance that encapsulated the communal glee shared during the band’s 30ths year. Closing out with ‘Woo’s’ from the crowd, it also brought back memories of the famed “Tahoe Tweezer” a song whose importance still lingers over the band & their fanbase some four years later.
A direct segueway to “Steam” signified one of two things, either the major jamming portion of the show was concluded, or we were entering Jam-Filled Territory where anything was fair game. Clearly the band was feeling the latter as “Steam” faded from its final chorus into an Ambient Jam that brought to mind the best of Summer 1998, as well as the recent “Crosseyed & Painless” and “A Song I Heard The Ocean Sing” performances from The Baker’s Dozen. Perhaps, most notably, the “Steam” jam offered Fishman the chance to truly show off his chops on the Marimba Luminas, an instrument that, to this point, four years after their debut, had been solely reserved for gimmick jamming and the midsection of “Mercury.
“Light” always seems to find itself in sets like this - 8/19/12, 7/13/14, 9/4/16 - and while the groove-based jamming it found itself in was ultimately ripcorded for “Farmhouse,” the placement and short jamming that followed only added to the epic quality of the show. And yes, about that “Farmhouse.” No show is perfect, nor should it be. FYF had an “Alaska” mid-Set II, and Jam-Filled had a “Julius” Encore. Find me the best 10 Phish shows of all time, and I’ll find you a blemish in each. No matter, perfection isn’t worth seeking when you’re creating history. Like many recent performances of the song, it featured a patient and beautiful solo that provided a brief moment of reflection before a torrid “Antelope” tore the walls down again.
Of its 87 performances, 20 “Sleeping Monkey’s” have been followed immediately by “Tweezer Reprise.” Of them, only one - 12/6/97 - came outside of the encore slot. It was a perfect encore call for a show of this magnitude. There are few rules of Phish shows, but one of them is that you want your show to have a “Sleeping Monkey” encore. One of the band’s favorite jokes, Page’s most-requested songs, and one that always finds itself in the middle of historic shows, this performance was on par with its best, before fading into on last raucous celebration in “Tweezer Reprise.” Watching Trey jump around the stage while repeatedly playing one of the best riffs he’s ever written is a true joy and a reminder that he just might be the luckiest guy on the face of the Earth.
So now we are faced with one final question of 2017: Can Phish go 17/17 at MSG? Can they go 4/4 on the 2017 NYE Run? According to this writer, the last NYE Run to go 4/4 was 2003. The last to do so at MSG was 1998. It’s a rare feat, and often times the spectacle of the 31st is too much for the band. Fair enough that 12/31 is often about something beyond just a rock show. But where they are right now, following one of the five strongest shows of 3.0, anything seems possible.
Happy New Year to all reading! Hope you have a wonderful & healthy 2018!
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