My girlfriend had a valid point. Then again she was seventeen sheets to the wind and admitted she was more wasted than Katie Holmes in The Ice Storm.
However, I had similar feelings about seeing the best and worst of Phish in a single night. One a difference a single set makes. I wasn't as schwilly or faded as my girlfriend, so I had a clear perspective and relatively sober for the night. I was fighting a bout of heavy fatigue after foolishly getting little to no sleep since the MSG run began. I can't help myself when I'm back on tour reliving old glory days, so I stay up until waaaay past sunrise.
I settled in for a mellow night in an attempt to converse a bit of energy for NYE. Looking at the complacency of first set, I wondered if Phish did the same. With the exception of Sand and Quinn the Eskimo (particularly if you're a Dylan fan), very little stands out in the first set as a memorable moment. On a positive note (which helped set the scene for much more entertaining second set), all the songs I loathe and consider black holes and second set killers (like Joy, Caspian, and Backwards to an extent) were played in the first set. The boys got them out of the way, as to not kill the buzz and cock block a potential scorching second set. The song placement in the first set on night 3 was perfect in that regard -- lump them all into a throw-away opening set.
Divided Sky had its solemn moments when you felt like you are praying in church, but it felt rushed and as though the band was grasping at straws in order to strengthen the shaky set (PYITE > Caspian > Backwards, Nellie Kane). Divided Sky was a life preserver tossed overboard to save the set from drowning in the high seas. Sand sounded like a step in the right direction and the band finally got cooking, but the compacted mellow-funk'd up-rumpus couldn't save a sinking ship. A sloppy Vultures preceded a choppy Rift. And then there's Joy, which always extracts mixed emotions from the crowd. The disjointed first set ended on a positive note after an audience sing-along to Dylan's Quinn the Eskimo.
We sat in section 114 right in the heart of Page Side Rage Side. Always an interesting perspective. The sound is a little muddy, but we're close to our beloved hero, Page McConnell... the second Most Interesting Man in the World. By the way, during a full set, a couple of hundred glowsticks accumulated behind the band's gear in the back of the stage -- a spooky graveyard for errant glowsticks. During setbreak, a dozen swarthy looking teamsters were sweeping the stage. Gotta love union jobs where you get paid $50/hour to sweep up glowsticks.
Photo by @change100
All the magic occurred during the 11-song second set. The first two songs -- Wilson and Axilla -- were a headbangers' wet dream. Loud, raucous, distorted guitar reverberating throughout the Garden. Trey's heavy metal clinic ended in favor of a holding a symposium on jamming featuring a transcendent Piper clocking in over 15 minutes. The first five-minute section ended with machine gun Trey, before delving into dirty tones for another five minutes or so. The last segment launched into an abstract, spacey environment that reminded me of two whales humping. I was convinced that we were getting lathered up and prepped for a segue into a lustful 2001 but those slick freaks from Vermont snuck a looping curveball by us with an unexpected segue into Twist. Trey's solo in Twist started out with his standard noodling but quickly evolved into a searing display of why Trey is the only one in the universe who can do what he does.
During a floor-rattling Julius one of those Williamsburg hipsters with a Mexican mustache in our row was making out and sucking face with a semi-passed out wookette. You wouldn't see two lovebirds licking each other like that at an Explosions in the Sky show.
2001 was teased in the last bit of the cosmic Piper jam, including CK5's infamous UFO lights, but after the crowd lapped up Golgi, the band and its CIA cohorts finally summoned the Mothership. The ETs kicked off a 2001 dance party with a flyby of MSG, the cannonfetti returned on cue, and a massive Statue of Liberty balloon almost made its way on stage.
The second set's denouement began with Horse > Silent in the Morning, which was just an opportunity to give Fishman a five minute breather before an audacious David Bowie. They could've ended the set right after Bowie's high-water mark, yet opted for one more song -- Squirming Coil. I would've preferred to hear Slave at that point, but at least with Coil we knew a lengthy Page solo was inevitable. Trey, Gordo, and Fishman eventually walked off the stage to a jubilant cheer, leaving Page all alone as he pecked away at his grand piano. Smooth. Fucking smooth. Page is a smooth operator, which is why he's is almost as cool as the guy in the Dos Equis commercials aka the Most Interesting Man in the World. Page gets a comparable amount of tail, even though he has less hair and has a bit of a gut due to his penchant for meatball sandwiches.
As denizens of Page Side Rage Side, it was fitting that the set ended with Page sitting underneath a single spotlight with 20,000+ maniacal fans clinging to every note.
Photo by Dave Vann © Phish 2011
I wondered what kind of encore we were going to get -- more smoke or a slowed, down cheesed out ballad? I guesstimated two potential covers -- Good Times Bad Times, or Shine A Light. GTBT would be a perfect bookend to a thrashing rock and roll theme that was omnipresent most of the set. So would they try to sneak that fastball by us? Or go for something off speed? But Phish is infamous for sabotaging scintillating second sets by playing an utterly preposterous encore song like Velvet Cheese. Is that how to treat fervent fans? Phisheads are dedicated to the band so much that they are willing to break up with their spouses, quit jobs, and drive thousands of miles in order to see a single show. One show. Oodles of sacrifice... but for Velvet Fucking Sea? Sorry for the rant and tangent... at least Shine A Light is an introspective tune from the Rolling Stones, yet, it's weird even for Phish to end shows on consecutive nights with covers from Exile on Main Street, since they encored Loving Cup the previous night.
The encore kicked off with Gordo's squishy bass propelling everyone into an ass-shaking rendition of Stevie Wonder's Boogie On Reggae Woman. The jam out included multiple fight bells from Gordo and Trey showing off his inner Pele by kicking big-assed balloons off the stage. They could've kept up the funk orgy for another ten minutes, but opted to end it early to sneak in one more tune -- Good Times Bad Times. I felt it coming. In my loins.
By no means was the Led Zeppelin cover perfect, but it was "all energy" and Phish finished the show with an exclamation point instead of a question mark.
Besides, I think Trey wanted to show off his chops just in case there were any Rolling Stone writers in the crowd. Every year we wonder if this is the year that Jann Wenner (the intrepid editor so ruthless he canceled Hunter S. Thompson's life insurance policy when he sent Hunter off to Southeast Asia to cover the Vietnam War) decides he has no more love for Trey and yanks him off the Top 100 Guitarist list in favor of Justin Beiber.
Trey let it rip during GTBT to remind the folks at Rolling Stone that he could have a scratchy voice, flub a bunch of lyrics, and miss a dozen or more changes -- but none of that matters because Big Red was oozing with gravitas and can shred with the best of the best.
Was the second set the premier set out of all six thus far? Most likely. Was the first set awful? It was a rough effort, but not a complete trainwreck. Ahhhh, let's be honest here -- the first set lacked substance. The rocking second set, highlighted by a celestial Piper jam and an infectious 2001 dance party, more than made up for the shakiness in the first half of the evening.
Three down. One more to go.
He's my recaps from the other two shows... MSG 1: The Feeling I Forgot and MSG 2: Smoldering Skyscrapers.