[Phish.net welcomes and thanks guest writer, Jeremy Willinger (user Jeremy8698), for this recap. -Ed.]
I love YEMSG holiday Phish runs, except this year---and stop me if you heard this one before---we shifted things 112 days due to a resurging pandemic and concern for everyone’s general welfare. So, Happy belated New Year to all; now let’s get down to the nitty gritty.
To get a little more granular, the 12/30 show has always been the standout during recent runs, and I will point you to my previous reviews of this night of music from 2019 and 2018 to showcase how unassailable and correct I am. Will tonight also eclipse what the band had in store for the end of 2020? Only time (that turns elastic) will tell.
I plopped down in my seat in section 219 anticipating a great time and Phish most certainly delivered that. The lights dim at 8:08 and before a note can be played, Trey is at the mic welcoming “The hero to this first song, who is here in the audience,” none other than the namesake for someone needing a neurologist: “Suzy Greenberg!” Trey informs us that “She's at her first Phish show, so can you guys sing along and welcome her?” The song lyrics come true for the evening: we are all really part of her show! This "Suzy" was energetic and I cannot imagine the real Suzy not enjoying it immensely. Here is a picture with her and Tom Marshall!
A quick interlude brings us into “46 Days,” which features a driving Fishman and Page playing off one another. The composed section transitions to Trey doing a crisp four note top layer which he played off of as Kuroda sync’d in with some really choice lights. This song always makes an appearance in the New Year's Run and is always greeted with cheers.
Speaking of MSG, perhaps no other song encompasses the rescheduled run like “Plasma” given the lyrics of “You always wind up where you start,” and this arena on West 33rd street is like a second home for the band and its acolytes, offering many area phans their first taste of the fab foursome. Despite the song only being 8 years old for Phish (though introduced in 2003 by Trey), it has already become a staple in the catalog. This version was melodic and offered a nice spacey respite.
I have often rhapsodized about the unexpectedness contained within a 12/30 show and the evening didn't disappoint, as we contrast a new-ish song with one of the great originals as the band starts up with a mini-bust out of “The Man Who Stepped Into Yesterday.” In this reviewer’s opinion, this is some of the prettiest Phish. Personally, I absolutely love when they do “Avinu Malkenu,” not only because I get to mentally cash in the many thousands of dollars my parents invested in Hebrew school, but because it is such a random, fun experience. Is this a call-out to the Seders of the previous week? Did Suzy Greenberg host? Was Fishman the one to find the afikomen?
Speaking of classic Phish, the crowd howls with joy as Page introduces “Wolfman’s Brother” with the opening piano riff. This version packs a little extra mustard with Trey harmonizing a couple parts and Mike working his envelope filter to great effect. There is a nice 1-2-3 / 3-2-1 middle section that went to some good places while the latter third of the jam picked up the energy and brought the crowd back to a rousing final chorus.
Another bustout moment occurs here when Page turns to the organ and plays the circus-y music that introduces “Esther,” marking only the second time this has been played since the Baker’s Dozen! Is this another Passover reference? Not much time to contemplate as Esther doesnt have long legs underneath her (she is a kid after all) and the song ends with a cheer.
There has to be one or two more songs coming this set, but most are not expecting “Ghost” to be up next. This Ghost must have been feeling the weather because it sounded almost like a Springtime ghost with a mid-range, twangy fun sound. This shifts to a more uplifting tone in the back half of the jam with Trey playing a top note to build off of and ending with a rockstar bravado. Kuroda was enjoying himself, flipping lights around and bathing the arena in blues and purples. The Ghost ends the set at 9:20 PM and the lights come up for setbreak.
39 minutes later the lights turn off and the second set begins. Many 12/30 shows feature extended jams that people will keep referencing- see the “Tweezer” from 2019 and the “Everything’s Right” from 2018, for example, but I think tonight will be a break in that tradition.
We get a “Chalkdust Torture,” as a standard, high-energy opener which features a very 4.0 sounding Trey in the beginning, which transitions to a mid-orbit space jam that lingers in the ether. Clocking in at 19 minutes, this is a jammed but not overly jammed Chalkdust that got the place grooving again.
Now when we do talk about jamming, the 12/30/19 “Tweezer” (that I was lucky to cover) stands out as one of the best of 3.0. So obviously big shoes to fill, and while the “Tweezer” that we are treated to this evening was great, it is no 2019. This version feels…sultry in the beginning? Uncle Ebeneezer’s sexiness morphs into a call and response portion which takes on lighter and more beautiful tones as Trey and Page trade off.
This second set has been all energy so far and it doesn’t dissipate one iota as the band launches into “Also Sprach Zarathustra” with a fantastic funk fervor. We have achieved lift-off. This is a really well-executed “2001” that blew the roof off of YEMSG and featured a short round of “Woos.”
[Writer’s note: Your view on wooing is less important than your obligation to clean up your nitrous balloons.]
Speaking of outside MSG, construction made it a bit of a serpentine path to enter/exit from Seventh Avenue, so it made sense---perhaps only to me---that the band moved into “Maze” as the next song choice. This is a razor sharp version with frenzied work by Trey and snappy work by Fishman as he drives the song forward.
The so-far blistering set needs a cool down and I have to give Phish credit for a near-perfect placement of “About to Run,” which, though it was only introduced in 2019, has become a fine vehicle for head-banging and fist-pumping.
We are now treated to fun, happy Phish as they launch into “The Mango Song,” a tune they only play once or twice a year. The contrast of the humor and imagery of “Mango” with the more grown up “About to Run” creates a musical juxtaposition only heard at one of their shows.
This was peppy and provided another slight respite before another perfect song placement of “Harry Hood.” My notes say “What a chef’s fucking kiss on this set.” Fishman gets in a couple effects as Mike lays on a peanut-butter thick layer of bass that makes this a worthy entry in the song’s history.
Phish closes out the rocking set with a “Character Zero,” that has the metallic, grindy 4.0 sound, melding into a “Tweezer” tease and a triumphant “Ah-Ah-Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh” at the end. Fishman gives a little drum flourish and we conclude with big smiles and a shared recognition that this show was a smoker.
The Encore will prove to be a good-enough way to wrap up a stellar 12/30: A standard version of the Ghosts of the Forest song “A Life Beyond a Dream” gives us a nice message of hope, while the “Tweeprise” pushes us back out to reality on a loud, raucous note.
There is a marked difference between the Phish of the first night and that of this evening, in that they sound tighter, crisper, and more locked in to one another. I can only imagine what our rescheduled New Year’s Eve will bring tonight and though it is already 2022, I hope it will be a great year for phans phar and wide.
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