[phish.net welcomes and thanks guest writer, Andrew Sinclair/@aisincl, for the recap of 12/28/18 - ed]
As the rain subsided and the nearby Queens power generator explosion (CK5 dress rehearsal?) was subdued, we all made our way to 33rd and 7th to kickstart the final run of 2018. Compared to the last few freezing years around MSG during the holidays, it was a welcome warmth and buzz that permeated the neighborhood. Tonight’s show felt like a montage for the entire year, combining stellar, patient tunes with hyper-speed jamming, delivered through thoughtful song selections and dedication to vocals. The Phish from Vermont are playing with vigor and continue to flex their muscles. Night 1. Thanks to Jon R and his family for the primo seating spot at center court, in between the two levels. Lots of room to get down on Rage-side, now we just need some audio.
We kicked things off with a fresh, new Kasvot Vaxt choice, "We Are Come To Outlive Our Brains," and this selection set everyone into a positive and joyous mood. This innovative glue in our magnet reminded us that the Halloween material is here to stay, and will continue to enhance the shows.
As we warmed up in the thick Garden air, another Halloween debut (albeit four years prior), "Martian Monster" set us up for blastoff. The crowd dug into a solid, Page-led groove that the boys had fun with, mixing up their pacing. As the track turned dark and mysterious, "Axilla" took over and brought out the intensifying energy that delivered Yuletide glimpses of a nice opening night rager. With the opening setlist warming up everyone, it was time to settle into a welcome standby. "Free" added some always-welcome funk beats midway through, leading us on the path towards an extended bridge section and reinforcing this Phish classic. The late-song build had a slower grind to it, featuring some excellent early work by Trey, with Mike keeping it steady. "Free" has found its place in the opening set all year long.
"The Wedge" gave us a chance to sit back and ponder the year in review, and what 2018 was all about. I will pause here to reflect on an excellent summer and fall tour, with so many solid and strong shows throughout. I enjoyed streaming Hampton and the Gorge, Dicks and Alpharetta as well as the Vegas run. May as well throw in my mini-2018 playlist: 7/25/18 "Set Your Soul Free,", 8/8/18 "Everything's Right,", 9/2/18 "46 Days" -> "Tweezer,", 10/16/18 "Everything's Right,", 10/21/18 "Simple,", 10/27/18 "No Men in No Man's Land," and 11/2/18 "Soul Planet.". Nothing like a consistent, high-energy year to carry the momentum from 2017. To more adventures ahead.
Making its 3rd appearance this year, "Meat" turned dirty and dark, and Fish led the rocker into a grinding and devious path. It’s been a while for this early tune, and the crowd expressed its appreciation for the change of pace. And that led us to the blissful, highlight of the opening set. "Ghost" was outstanding, played with patience and a delightful major chord that allowed Page to overlay his chimes and glassy keystrokes. The whole sequence was a call to relaxed and heavenly feelings, putting the entire arena into a warm and communal dance. CK5 introduced the finest aquatic hues into the room, and everyone was in a water tank of joy. The final tally listed this "Ghost" at 11 minutes, but it felt like a 20-minute ballad.
"Sparkle" and "If I Could" showed off Trey’s excellent vocals, one of the stronger elements of 2018. And then we closed down the set with an intense, first ever pairing of "Maze," "Walls of the Cave." Both had their anthems played with precision, and the echoes of "Meat" and "Axilla" came through the back half of "Maze." "Walls" reminded us of how important the first set closer remains. Some were calling for "Bowie" or "Sand," but the two-segment "Walls" delivered and sent everyone to set break with a reminder of how their favorite band is still bringing the thunder.
A half hour later, we were led into a standout of this year, "Set Your Soul Free." The 7/25/18 version still has my vote for "Jam of The Year," and tonight's version felt like an extension of the "Ghost" earlier on. Once again, patient listening and space allowed all four to shine, especially Mike. He has had some great MSG runs and he really stood out during the early 2nd Set. Brings back memories of his 2017 YEMSG MVP run.
"Swept Away" > "Steep," still one of the peak moments of the Baker’s Dozen, were well placed and the only 2018 debuts in this show. We all enjoyed listening and singing along. Post-"Steep," the crowd voiced its appreciation in a roar that brings out the best acoustics in the building. Would the boys respond with some evil Phish? Nope, we were brought to a festive sing-along in the second Kasvot Vaxt selection, "The Final Hurrah." It should be interesting to see which of the 10 Halloween debuts finds their place in various show slots.
We were feeling energetic, especially with so many quick and pleasant songs this evening. So with that, we finally got some intensity in a killer "Fuego." The lights were lowered to just above the band’s heads, and they settled into a stomping version that elevated the energy to volcanic levels. Viking Warriors, time to rage.
"Shade" was a welcome chance to collect one's breath, and lock in for the homestretch. We were delivered what felt like a surprise placement for "Bathtub Gin," with a jam that represented another show highlight. We all love to take a bath, and this journey allowed Page to shine while Fish doubled the pace before coming back to the main chorus. The reprise of this legendary original brought the Garden crowd to a frenzy, with a "Possum" that closed the book on an excellent set 2. After a month's worth of Yule Logs and storewide holiday songs, Trey snuck in one more seasonal jingle with a well-executed "Little Drummer Boy" tease at the end of "Possum."
After a brief breather, we encored with two cornerstone Phish pieces, "Bouncing Around the Room" and "Slave to the Traffic Light." While "Bouncing" was delivered in a typical upbeat rhythm, "Slave" built with comfort and delight to send everyone home happy. Phish is in a solid place, with the standbys and favorites juxtaposed with fresh new songs from their newest albums or side projects. The boys set the table tonight, and perhaps we will hear some bustouts and covers in the shows to come, especially of the Baker's Dozen variety. Excited to see what else they have in store this weekend, as the 2018 YEMSG run started off on solid footing.
In summation, two excellent and kinda-equal sets, with standouts in "Ghost," "Maze," "Walls," "Set Your Soul Free," "Fuego," and "Bathtub Gin."
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