[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.
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.
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.
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.
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