There are some dates that can quickly send a shiver down the spine of a Phish fan. For many, 12/29 is one of those dates. The amount of tremendous music that has been created on this night throughout the years is somewhat staggering, perhaps equaled or surpassed only by the following night. 12/29 is also a very personal date as it was on that night in 2013 that I got back into Phish after thirteen years. On a whim, I decided to watch the webcast. I was blown away by what I saw after being out of the game for so long. These guys were having FUN and it showed – no turning back from there!
So what would last night’s show bring? Would it yield one of the longest, zaniest jams ever like on 12/29/94? Would it contain some classic, joyful funk like on 12/29/97? Would it be an underrated hidden gem like 12/29/16? Or would it be an absolute scorcher like 12/29/18? As we should have known, it was none of those things. Because 12/29/19 was its own show, its own element, just like the nights before and after it…and that’s part of the beauty of it all.
After fortifying ourselves with delicious pizza and wine nearby, we headed over to the venue. The vibe inside was all smiles and buzzed with excitement. We found some friends right in front of the soundboard and got ready. People around us were being very gracious and courteous which added to the feeling in the air.
“Turtle in the Clouds” started things off with a blast of energy. My first version live and it was all I wanted it to be. It’s amazing how a song that seems so silly at first can also have so many levels of meaning held within. “The Moma Dance” cut a wide swath across the room and continued the intensity. Trey’s solo soared and the song seemed to have some extra flair around the edges, particularly from Fishman. The place was rockin' and I’ve never felt the floor at MSG bounce as much as these first two songs. The takeover had begun! The energy eased off as they settled into “Kill Devil Falls” which showcased its usual classic rock sentiment plus a nice vocal change to end the song. The “Yarmouth Road” placement felt odd at first, but the solo quickly went into funky, mischievous territory for a nice surprise.
The sound in the room was completely dialed in by this point. It was loud and forceful yet still very clear. The middle of the first set was very well played and focused on songs instead of jams with the exception being the last few minutes of “Fuego” which had a pristine transition into “My Friend, My Friend.” But the door burst open with the first “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” in six years. The crowd went berserk! A triumphant, grandiose tone filled the room and the song worked wonderfully with the band’s more modern, chunky sound. It was a masterful call to help rein in a first set that was moving in several directions. The applause at the end was massive and Trey took a bow, and a rowdy “Walls of the Cave” then ended the set in style. During setbreak numerous people were humming and singing "WMGGW" all around me, which I‘ve never heard before to such an extent.
The second set journey started out with a bang courtesy of “Carini.” Trey locked into something a few minutes into the jam and just when it felt to be winding down prematurely he quickly ran off to exciting new and dark places. At one point the music got evil and jagged and was akin to swimming in shark infested waters before Page rescued them with gorgeous sensations that kept everyone safe. After the recent Vida Blue tour, Page seems to be noticeably strong and assertive this run which is great to hear. The transition to “Back on the Train” was unexpected, but I always enjoy this normally-a-first-set song. It didn’t break out into something new like “Free” the night before, but it kept us all bouncing and had a raucous crescendo to end.
“Bathtub Gin” started out slower than usual and took its time weaving into new soundscapes before Trey grabbed the bull by the horns and upped the music into a near double time pace. Things were cooking now and we were all working ourselves into a frenzy - kinetic energy at its finest! Trey then created some lovely dissonant / feedback patterns to bring us back to the main theme. The “Golden Age” that followed felt like a very good call for this set. Its glowing, soulful vibe had everyone moving. I had my eyes closed for most of this song and the interplay between the musicians was incredibly nuanced, textured and intimate. They felt so close as if they were playing in my living room. Mike’s bass was ricocheting off the walls and Fishman kept the groove locked in. The outro jam had the bass in full goo-mode casting out nets across the room.
The always welcome “2001” arrived next featuring a start-stop jam early on which Kuroda immediately latched onto. Trey and Page were doing a fun synth jam which seemed to confuse them a bit in the final round of buildups. Fun to see them taking chances even if it doesn’t always work out smoothly. They teased “Sneakin Sally Through the Alley” towards the end and luckily they did not disappoint. The dance party was in full force and Page’s clavinet sounded like an IV drip of funk. My call for the opener – “Chalk Dust Torture” – rose out of the final chord and had more of a back beat instead of blistering heat so it made sense they would continue onward.
The “Harry Hood” that followed was a true standout version. The opening segment felt so warm and cozy and friendly. After a few minutes the jam took a turn into bluesy territories and then veered even further off the road where it sounded like “David Bowie” at times. Generally speaking, I prefer my Hoods straight up and classic, but when they do nail a jam like this that goes off in so many directions it’s thrilling. As the final buildup was happening, Trey held his feedback for longer than I can recall hearing before. Page was all over it pushing out those smile-inducing Hood chords. For a brief moment it seemed like Trey and Page faltered a step and they immediately worked together in such a way that it simply felt like they were having a conversation. It was one of those encapsulating moments that sums up the relationship these guys have on stage to be able to craft magic like that while helping each other out as friends. Trey’s ending solo then broke through to a glorious peak making us all feel very, very good, indeed. At nearly 18 minutes, this was the longest song of the night and arguably the highlight.
“Show of Life” always feels as if it could have been off Neil Young’s Harvest album with its nostalgic, Americana sound. As the last note faded away, Trey rolled up his sleeves and strummed the opening notes to “Run Like an Antelope.” Now we’re talking! The band seemed veeerrry excited to be playing this song at that moment. The sound was thick and poignant. The jam was concise with a pitch perfect buildup. A top-notch way to end the night!
All in all, a very fun show with lots of fantastic moments sprinkled throughout. It wasn’t quite at the level of some of the more historic 12/29 shows, but it kept us all in great spirits. Can’t wait to see what the next two nights bring - Happy New Year, everyone!
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