Monday 07/31/2023 by phishnet


[We would like to thank Matt, @scissortail, for recapping last night's show. -Ed.]

With three of seven in the books for Phish’s summertime jaunt in Madison Square Garden, we have what I call “good Phish problems.” When the band walks on stage the first night of a seven night run and delivers a masterpiece—when they capture the mysterious and elusive “flow” so completely—it’s impossible not to compare each successive show against the king.

A misplaced ballad. A standard, no-frills run-through of a song that has the potential to go deep. Extremely weird lyrics about guns.

These do not ruin a Phish show. Not even close. They simply prevent the show from reaching the heights of near perfection. And because we witnessed that kind of show on Friday, these little missteps can be unfairly magnified in the harsh light of comparison. But if your only problem at a Phish show is that the raging rock extravaganza is momentarily interrupted by a perfectly fine (if energy-deflating) ditty—life is pretty good. These are good Phish problems.

© 2023 Scott Marks
© 2023 Scott Marks

After a gorgeous day in New York City, and once again the easiest entry into a venue of this size I could possibly imagine (well done, MSG!), we begin with what has become an all-too-rare treat: “AC/DC Bag,” quite possibly the perfect Phish opener. The moment Trey leads the band outside the lines and into jam territory, the crowd roars its approval—and off we fly into a set that looks on paper like it was played in 1995. “Bag” has a solid outing, eventually finding a blissy interplay between Trey and Page while Fish and Mike refuse to give up the dance party groove.

“My Friend My Friend” is on a roll lately, no? This one got delightfully weird and intense in all the right places. I love to imagine the thoughts of an ordinary MSG usher hearing Trey shred minor-key darkness while screaming “He’s got a knife!” at random.

A very slick little segue brings us from the darkness of “MYFE” to the light of “Bathtub Gin.” This might be the time to mention that Trey seems possessed by some new magic. He is playing his guitar faster and with a level of dexterity I assumed he had lost forever. He pulls out the machine gun here and absolutely shreds toward multiple triumphant peaks.

This leads to a truly weird “Theme From the Bottom.” Trey and Mike trade a few riffs up top. The crowd approves. Then, inexplicably, our old pal Broadway Trey is singing in the wrong key, which is always baffling, but is much more so in a song so defined by its vocal harmonies—which are flat-out ruined by this choice. And it’s a bummer, because this “Theme” has an interesting vibe, slinky and bluesy and loose. And to be fair, after all, there comes a point in Phish songs when the singing stops and the hearts and minds and instruments meld to create glorious sounds. Which they do here. So, all is forgiven, Trey. But please stop doing that.

© 2023 Wombat Matt
© 2023 Wombat Matt

In the dwindling notes of “Theme,” Trey begins a bombardment. He fires up “Llama” the correct way. (When the tempo is so fast that Trey can barely pronounce the lyrics quickly enough to keep up, this is the correct tempo for “Llama.”) The extremely eloquent notes I jotted down during this aural onslaught offer such nuggets of wisdom as “HOLY SHIT” and “CRUSHING.” The crowd is in an absolute frenzy. Trey goes otherworldly with an effect-laden shredfest. This is living.

As “Llama” ends, Trey starts cuttin’ up a little bit. “Did we already play that? I don’t know. What are the rules?” And then, “OK OK. Fish says we didn’t. So let’s play it again!” And then they play the first few bars, and I swear to god—if they had played a ripping “Llama” directly after playing a ripping “Llama” it might have set all of midtown Manhattan on fire. Alas, we’ll have to settle for an outstanding, energetic “Tube,” followed by a perfectly standard and perfectly rousing “Golgi Apparatus,” which always makes for a nice set-closing victory lap.

It’s the perfect time for a breather and a $36 cocktail. Also, shouts to my seat neighbors tonight. It’s a treat to be placed with like-minded non-chompers who are nice and fun and chill. Josh, Darren, the rest: We appreciate you!

“Sigma Oasis” begins set two and follows the recent trend of no notable jamming in the opening slot. OK.

And here we come to the Phish debut of “Life Saving Gun.” This being a debut, as often happens, my neighbors and I are glancing around at each other, wondering if anyone knows the title. When a neighbor pulls it up on his phone and shows it to me, I am … surprised. Um, weird title, dudes. I’ll leave it at that. What isn’t weird is every other part of the song, which has a space-funk vibe and I believe will make an excellent addition to the rotation.

© 2023 PHISH (Rene Huemer)
© 2023 PHISH (Rene Huemer)

Suddenly, as “Life Saving Gun” fizzles out, we are abruptly plopped into “No Men in No Man’s Land,” which quickly commences to rock. I hesitate to use the word “shred” so many times here, but it’s the best word to describe what Trey is doing. He is shredding. There must be no doubt. Soon the band veers into a quieter territory that my notes describe as “watery.” Kuroda bathes the crowd in blues and purples. It’s gorgeous. After a wind-down that sounds like a stopping point, Trey pulls everyone back in with some dark blues wailing and we’re led up the mountain to another peak.

“Lonely Trip” is a lovely song. Many sets have a cool-down landing pad—some sets benefit mightily from it. I’m not saying Phish should never play their lovely ballads. But, for whatever reason, tonight, “Lonely Trip” was a misstep. Not the end of the world. Good Phish problems.

“Frankie Says” is delightfully weird and I could’ve used about 10 more minutes of it, but it’s followed by a spirited “Jiboo” that brings the wiggle back to the hips of the masses. It’s followed by “Light,” which I am eternally confused to hear anyone say they don’t like. What more can a song do for you than “Light” has done? You don’t like the Dicks “Light”? You don’t like the Other Dicks “Light”? Perhaps not in the conversation for greatest ever with those two gems, tonight’s “Light” is still a nifty exclamation point on a solid set of music.

In the encore frame comes a standard “Suzy Greenberg” followed by an “Izabella” so ferocious it might as well have chewed us all up and spit us out into the New York City night. (Did I mention already that Trey is shredding?) The energy of “Izabella,” from both band and crowd, was cranked up to first-set “Llama” levels, and is a wonderfully apt summation of everything Phish is doing right at this moment in 2023.

And, make no mistake, Phish is doing an awful lot right. They’re doing so much right that pointing out their missteps is simply picking nits at this point. Phish is in command of their collective talents in ways that continue to delight and surprise. It’s a beautiful thing to see. So let’s do four more, shall we?. See you Tuesday.

© 2023 PHISH (Rene Huemer)
© 2023 PHISH (Rene Huemer)

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, comment by Scissortail
Scissortail Due to a combination of Phish-induced exhaustion, nearly illegible notes, and general wookery, I’ve reported here that “Suzy” was played twice. “Golgi” closed set one. I deeply regret this error. Those responsible have been sacked.
, comment by Col_Radicones_Ascent
Col_Radicones_Ascent Wonderful review, truly lots of nits being picked when compared to Friday's show but, this truly has been a Magnificent 3 out of 7 shows so far. Like you mentioned Trey (the entire band really) is playing with such precision and confidence that he is able throw down in the nest ways possible. I know Sugar Shack is not everyone's favorite but the fact he nailed that and Foam back to back shows cocky machine gun Trey lurks below the surface.
, comment by tubescreamer
tubescreamer Someone posted in the show thread last night that the “Life saving gun” was a tool that was used to save people out at sea back in the day. Sea-pharing meraphors, me thinks.
, comment by Matty1222
Matty1222 “ This might be the time to mention that Trey seems possessed by some new magic. He is playing his guitar faster and with a level of dexterity I assumed he had lost forever. He pulls out the machine gun here and absolutely shreds toward multiple triumphant peaks.”

Glad I’m not the only one who’s noticed. He’s really going for it and nailing it. Spectacular to see.
, comment by Hippogator
Hippogator Lots of weird happenings at this show but I love the setlist. Ineresting stuff on Theme that was likely born out of a straight brain fart seemingly by more than just Trey.
Not sure what else there is to complain about(or at any show that isn't cancelled half way through), but the anti-phans always come up with something!!

You've gotta be on one weird life trip to be offended by Phish playing a song called Life Saving Gun. God forbid they EVER cover Happiness is a Warm Gun again.
, comment by Ripenesswasall
Ripenesswasall Wonderfully written review. Phish is miraculously ON FIRE right now, and we really are just picking nits at this point. I appreciate your willingness to state clear opinions as well, even when they were not always positive.

I actually disagree with your assessment of n1 - while it was epic in all the right places, Cities being my highlight, I felt like the band really relaxed and settled into the garden on Saturday and started taking more risks and getting weirder, often with excellent pay-off. As for Sunday night, I felt like nearly every song was a standout version. The “make every night jam filled” ethos was most pronounced on Sunday, even without any 20+ minute jams. I can’t pick a favorite between Saturday and Sunday, and why should I?

One of the wonderful things about the Phish community is that our opinions and tastes AREN’T uniform. And we are blessed to be nitpicking such incredible shows, 40 years since our favorite band’s formation.
, comment by JMart
JMart I’ll pick some nits when I say the beginning of theme was massacred. There’s no other word for it.
The start of the jam on no men’s was nothing short of exceptional. I too had lost faith Trey could ever play that way again.
I don’t think as much of this run as others do, apparently, but I’ll never fault someone for loving something.
, comment by Extremecheez
Extremecheez The first set was flowed almost perfectly imo
, comment by hambone024
hambone024 Solid review, Scissortail.

Though, I fall into the “disagree” camp for the Lonely Trip placement. I like the song but I never crave it. And didn’t in that moment. But it did something beautiful to the Garden. To me it really felt like a moment of togetherness that I didn’t feel the other nights. Like it was the right point to have that kind of song. Plus with those Gun and No Men right before, I thought LT was earned. Particularly given the jam fest of the five sets that came before.

I, too, was bummed that Frankie didn’t jam. It would have been so great. Was going somewhere great. And it was my first FS since 2003, so I was PLEASED. And in the second set? Boy I thought it would go another ten minutes. Hoped. Damn! But that was made up for by a Jibboo that reminded me of the late 90s/2000 Jibboos.

In the moment, I thought the line “Life saving gun” was weird. Especially after Sigma, with its coincidentally COVID problematic line “take off your mask, the fear’s an illusion.” But later it occurred to me, wait, maybe we should take it as an anti-gun death statement of “what about a gun that SAVES lives?” Also I absolutely loved the music, the rhythm, the drive produced by these 60 year olds that gave me faith Phish might still have a lot of years left at a high-intensity level. Plus the rest of the lyrics are cool in a way I like a lot of the early songs in which lines may seem abstract but each line evokes imagery and lets the imagination run wild. Rather than yet another soul song. I also really appreciated that these 60 year olds could still create unique and cool music. All the new songs this tour have me very encouraged.

I LOVED the show. Aided by not having a bunch of wasted knobs and Phish bros around my group, like we had Saturday night behind the stage. But also, that first set, wow. And I’ll take a jammy set 2 with numerous songs under 20 minutes over one that has a 20-30 minute anchor jam that is followed by a laundry list of run through songs.

I’m even fine with them only playing 2.5 hours, if that’s how they approach it. Trim the fat, in my opinion. Then I can actually have time afterward to process what just happened with my friends and still get actual sleep. That 15-30 minutes that were shaved likely would have been a few standard versions of songs, probably ones I’m less interested in, with MAYBE a 10 minute song/type I jam that doesn’t really go anywhere. In all probability a Zero, which I’ve seen many of and don’t need even one more. I so much appreciated the First Tube the night before for this reason. Also I like First Tube as an encore closer.
, comment by apruem
apruem Fantastic review- other reviewers should take notes.

I don’t agree with all the opinions, but the writer is on point with where this band is at right now.

Theme was incredible in the building; but Trey’s octave-ness does hurt it upon relisten. The song’s heart is that vocal melody.

For what it’s worth- i think every ballad played has been a lovely song at the right time:

Brian and Robert?
Mountains in the Mist?
Lonely Trip?

Yes please.
, comment by mgolia6
mgolia6 Excellent review. I was feeling the FOMO watching the first set appear here song by miserably wonderful song. Watching the first set opener on YouTube it was like a big “fuck you if you didn’t come tonight” as they slid so stealthily out of bag into type II territory.

I loved your theme of good phish problems. So so true. I was tracking with your intentional overuse of shred and it kept me audibly laughing to myself as I read through this along with your show notes. I thought you shredded this review.

I’ll leave y’all with this little gem, according to a JamBase interview recently, Bobby Weir has a manager that composes the bands set lists for him/them!? Phish (Trey) being in control of their own set lists: that’s a good phish problem to have…LOL.
, comment by ckess22
ckess22 No men in no man’s land references the space between opposing armies; lots of people perished there in WWI, which is why people couldn’t go there. I’m offended by the title. It’s very puzzling, and troubling. Does the band know how off-putting this is?
I also don’t like it when Trey is referred to as a “machine gun”. Does the band know about this? Maybe the mods can do something…
, comment by piper1011
piper1011 You’re wrong. Theme was groundbreaking and totally awesome (both withstanding your wee brain couldn’t get what Trey was doing with the vocals), and Light does actually suck.
, comment by chipre
chipre @piper1011 said:
You’re wrong. Theme was groundbreaking and totally awesome (both withstanding your wee brain couldn’t get what Trey was doing with the vocals), and Light does actually suck.
Dude…not very nice. Where’s the collegial spirit? Anyone who takes the time to write a review does us all a favor in my humble opinion.
, comment by Scissortail
Scissortail I know the volunteers who run this site and organize for every show to be reviewed are always on the lookout for people who will volunteer their time and effort to contribute. You should volunteer.
, comment by Nicup79
Nicup79 Excellent review....amazing show!!!
, comment by jtp1267
jtp1267 Great review! cant wait to listen to the show.
, comment by ReelScience
ReelScience Wow the band has been super tight! Has anyone else noticed the early ending times so far for this run?
, comment by DocGanz
DocGanz Scissor tail,
Great write up!
I had a lot of similar thoughts on the show, and it made me laugh a few times
Thanks brother!
, comment by trimpe
trimpe I loved this show.

That said, I think there is a combination of factors here with Trey singing up an octave. I agree that it kinda disrupts the song (in this case an otherwise really intriguing "Theme from the Bottom"), but it seems to be something that combines two things. First, as you get older, your vocal range changes substantially. All professional singers are aware of this. The other thing is their switch to in-ear monitors. It's just different, and you hear yourself in a completely different way. If you are not used to it or had been doing it differently for the last 40 years, it can seriously throw you a self conscious loop. My hunch is that a combination of both of these things has gotten into his head and he didn't like his sound in the lower register.

Or I'm overthinking it :)

Still. Great show. Can't wait to see how "Life Saving Gun" grows over time.
, comment by Backwoods96
Backwoods96 Life saving gun is based around the riff from the Peter Gunn theme song

I'm gonna reach a bit here but the life saving gun in this instance could be the guitar ....

Long time Phan, first time posting
, comment by FolonelCorbin
FolonelCorbin Trey wasnt in the wrong "key" on theme, he just went for it in a higher register...
, comment by mkaz45
mkaz45 I couldn’t disagree MORE with your review of Theme from the bottom. I thought it was fantastic. I love when they try new things on stale old classics. Trey switching up the vocals was awesome, there was great interplay between band members, and they crushed it. Love love loved this version
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