Monday, December 31, 2012

Phish MSG Night 3: Won't You Come Out to Play

What a difference a night makes. Just when I thought maybe I was being too harsh/critical about Saturday's show, Phish took the stage on Sunday and let it rip, quickly leaving any of those memories in the dust. Repeating something they did on night one, Phish's second set was only six songs... which gave them plenty of room for improvisation, exploration, and deviant alchemy. If you're a fan of the darkside of Phish, prefer "evil jams", or like falling down rabbit holes, then Phish's offering on Sunday night was designed especially for you with a pair of second set volcanic eruptions with Down with Disease and Carini.

There's something about 12/30 that makes it a unique night mainly because I have super low expectations about NYE shows. With the exception of the millennium blowout in 12/31/99, I've always felt as though Phishy NYE shows were not as strong musically as other shows from earlier in that holiday run (ergo why 12/30 shows usually stand out), or as epic as other big nights along the year (Halloween, festivals, tour closers, etc.).

I'm fortunate that I've seen ten gigs on December 30th spanning three eras of Phish. Sure, previous performances are not indicative of future returns, but I don't think anyone in the Phish community was expecting a mediocre 12/30 gig after a mellow show the previous night on the 29th and knowing that the band is usually distracted/wasted and slightly off the mark on NYE. If there was going to be battle for the hearts and minds of Phisheads with a line drawn in the sand... it was going to be bravely fought on 12/30.

Poster by James Flames

On the subway after the show, I turned to my girlfriend and said, "I can't tell if it was a good show by itself, or if I thought it was a good show compared to the mellow offerings from the night before." After some reflection and sobering up, I'd say it's a little bit of both. I certainly appreciated the Sunday show much more after getting a lackluster evening of improv on Saturday night. Like I said many times before... I love those six-song second sets. The only thing better? Four-song or Five-song orgies.

We rocked out all night on Page side. During four-show runs at MSG, I like mixing up the vantage points on different nights. For at least one night, I don't mind being behind the stage at MSG, or side of stage posted up near our hero Page McConnell. On Sunday, we right on top of the stage with a perfect vantage point to watch Trey's footwork after viewing his rig videos (part 1 and part 2). I came away from the evening the most impressed with Fishman.

With the exception of Trey, I've been the most critical of Fish since the boys re-took the stage at Hampton in 2009 and launched the 3.0 era. Fishman's focus the last decade is not on musical side projects like Trey or Gordo, so he's not constantly on the road during Phish's downtime. He's doing stuff more similar to what most of you do... the daily grind of family life... which made him a wiser and more complete person, but he's lost some of his drummer chops. The older you get, the harder it is to stay in peak form every night, especially when you don't tour 200 nights out of the year. But in the last four months, I think Fish has been doing P90X workouts, or breaking into Gordo's roid stash. Fishman looks "buff" and in much better shape. As a result, his drumming is tighter and more powerful. He sounded better on the first night especially on Maze. But because we had a better vantage point on the stage, I watched Fish about 80-85% of the time and that little guy was a machine all night!

Jim is a standard opener and sometimes Phish phones in those "throw away songs" to open a show, but this version had a little more gusto and let everyone inside the Garden know that it's the dawn of a new day. Mellow got dropped from the vocabulary and they were going to focus on rocking tunes. Cities always gets play time in the tri-state area. The pre-show music included a little Talking Heads, so it was on everyone's radar. With Cities served up early on, I resigned to the fact that a Crosseyed second set opener was not going to happen. G-Money noted that Trey had sat back on Cities and let Page "drive the train."

My girlfriend, a musical theatre geek and knows "voices" much better than me, noted that Trey was a little scratchy in Cities and that his voice got worse as the show went on. She also had a theory that some of the song selections late in the second set (Julius and Slave) were played to cover up Trey's vocal shakiness. It's definitely an interesting theory... and after re-listening to a couple songs from the show, she had a valid point.

Divided Sky was the moment that solidified my thoughts on buff Fishman. He was absolutely crushing it. Divided Sky is one of those songs I love hearing outdoors during summer tour in the first set. It's perfect for those big lawns like Deer Creek or in magical places out west like Telluride or the Gorge. However, I'm a bit of a sound snob and prefer indoor Phish to outdoor Phish, so a song like Divided Sky takes on an entirely different meaning when comparing indoors/outdoors. MSG has astute acoustics that it's kinda cool to hear crisper notes in Sky. Plus, the crowd going apeshit indoors during the pause gets so loud that you feel like your eardrums are going to pop.

Back on the Train was the first instance of the band trying to stretch out a jam... but they never deviated too far from the path with aggressive elements of dirty blues and crispy-fried-funk. Gordo really stepped it up during the Train jam, but many moments during the night it was hard hearing him in the mix because Trey sometimes drowns him out.

Being on Page Side Rage Side for Ride Captain Ride is a treat. It's one of those one-hit-wonder songs from the 70s, but I've always been a fan of a rendition by Blood Sweat and Tears. Phish and Page add their own unique style to Ride Captain Ride, which has been sneaking into the rotation more frequently in 3.0. I vaguely recall a fun version at Amherst a few years ago and the crowd went nuts during a version at Bill Graham this summer (the lyric about the "San Francisco Bay" got everyone rowdy).

Ocelot is the track from Joy I listen to the most. The live-version of Ocelot usually clocks in around 8 minutes... but the band has been stretching it out past the 10-minute mark during 2012. I don't think the band is bold enough to play a 20-minute Ocelot in the middle of set 2, but I wouldn't be bummed if they tried to pull it off sometime in the future.

Phish went a little Calypso with Ya Mar  but more importantly, we got a "Leo!" shout out. It's always an added bonus getting to sit on Page side whenever there's a "Play it Leo!" moment.

We got a quickie Horn then conjuring up an evil jam in My Friend My Friend, which was sloppy as hell but it felt like you were getting chased around a crazed maniac with a butcher's knife.

A sizzling Antelope closed out the set. Fishman showed off his guns on this version. I swear I heard Shakedown Street teases (around the 4:30 mark), but I couldn't tell if that was wishful thinking because I caught my very first Dead show at MSG when I was in high school, so I have no idea if the ghost of Jerry Garcia was playing tricks with me.

First set highlights.... Divided Sky, Back on the Train, Ocelot and Antelope. I gotta say, I was more than a little schwasted during the first set and everything kicked in during Antelope. I didn't realize how fucked up I was until the lights went up at set break and I sat down and everything was still moving while I was sitting still!  I couldn't wait for the lights to go back down and the second set to begin... you know how that Dead song goes, "If you get confused, listen to the music play."

The second set featured only six songs and anchored by Down with Disease, but the craziest jam of the run occurred during Carini, while Slave delivered as per usual. I'm not the biggest fan of Backwards in the middle of a  second set, but it was well played and the "fluffiness" of the song was a short and sweet change of pace after the dark, grittiness of Carini.

Down with Disease incorporated some of my favorite things about Phish like taking us on a flyby through the depths of Hades, and then getting jazzy (one stretch had those Love Supreme undertones by Coltrane and another reminded me of Miles' Bitches Brew). Gordo is almost always the MVP of DWD mainly because he has to wrestle away the lead from Trey on more than one occasion. Fish continued to keep up his thunderous pace on drums. Someone behind the stage got the genius idea to create a glowstick snake and it got bigger and bigger during DWD and eventually took on a life of its own and wiggled its way from 100 level to 200 level. It slowly made its way around MSG before breaking into two smaller snakes.

DWD jam could have gone in a dozen different directions. I swore I had a vibe on Steam and figured that would be the next journey. Then I thought I heard some 2001 licks and a potential jaunt into No Quarter territory.

I can understand why some friends didn't like the placement of Twenty Years Later, but you know it's a good show if Phish plays a song with proficiency that you don't necessarily want to hear. I dig Twenty Years Later... mainly because I'm an older phan who can actually look back at their lives and see how two decades of hard living can really make an impact. If you're 23 and think Twenty Years Later sucks... yeah, I totally get it. But if you're in your late 30s, then you have a better understanding of where Trey's lyrics are coming from and you can appreciate how Trey summed up the complexity of relationship dynamics after twenty years of life on the road.

The thing about Twenty Years Later and any "newish" song is that it takes several years for the band to truly figure out the best way to play it live. We're talking years of experimenting and tweaking before they cranked out much smoother and palatable versions. So if you think it sucks, the good thing is that Twenty Years Later is vastly improving every time they play it. If you dig it, then it's all gravy.

With that said, the vibe of Twenty Years Later was a definite departure from DWD segue that everyone was expecting (like say a 2001 dance party). But that's what the band wanted to play. There in lies the message from the band to themselves, their families, phamily, and even us dippy-schwilly loonies.

The eccentric Carini jam was just fucking bizarre and drowning in paranormal weirdness... and I loved it because I'm the type of guy who wants to hear foreign shit like Ravi Shankar playing Egyptian scales backwards on a flute made out of giant alien bones. The most abrasive dissonance and intimidating segments of the Carini jam is what your friends who hate think Phish sounds like all the time. At some points it sounded like Trey was playing Little Drummah Boy in a minor key but Fish was making these thunderous tribal sounds.

Carini jam downshifted into Backwards, a lighter and fluffier foil to the deviant occult shit they were conjuring up during the last part of Carini. Julius quickly won back the malcontents in the crowd, which is always an energy turbo booster.

Everyone has weird Phish rituals or quirks or superstitions. Well, my strangest Phish quirk: I love Slave to the Traffic Light so much that I don't want to ruin it so I do not listen to it except at live shows. Slave  is my all-time favorite Phish song something that went to the top of the list around 1998 and has not budged since. I adore Slave so much that I do not listen to it. At all. That's how much respect I have for that specific piece of sacred music... it's so powerful and overwhelming that I'm glad they don't play it as frequently as something like Possum, because it would lose its significance. I only hear Slave when I attend Phish concerts or happen to catch a live webcast. Sure, Slave was probably on while riding in friends' cars or at their houses or parties/bars/party buses a few times in 2012, but whenever Slave pops up on my iPod shuffle, I insta-skip it. I never listened to Slave once during the hiatus between Coventry 2004 and Hampton 2009.

Whenever Phish includes Slave, I know it's a good show and particularly when they end a second set with it.

The encore was a double dip of Harry Hood and Show of Life. The way Hood is structured, it builds and builds and builds up to this beautiful ending and climax... and Phish conjures up so many emotions during that song that it's the perfect show ender. Yet, Show of Life is and always will be a total buzz kill. Almost anything after Hood would have been a let down, which is why song placement is so vital, especially in the encore. Coach Pauly would have called Shine a Light first and Hood second.

Here's my other quirk... I blame the party favors but I always end up singing the last song Phish played on the way out of the show. The other night I hummed First Tube, but my girlfriend and friends get annoyed when I sing Show of Life in an obnoxious falsetto while trying to get down the crowded stairs at MSG.

Overall, Sunday had one of the best sets of the run. The overall show was fun. Everyone in my section was cool and professional party people. No wook tickets were issued.

By the way, you know you're still a lit monkey at MSG when you walk out of the show and you're going down the escalator, but you feel the escalator moving even though the escalator is not on or moving at all. Yeah, that happened on Sunday night. Like I said, it was a good show.

* * * *

Here's recaps from the other nights... MSG 1: This Time It's Gonna Be Different and MSG 2: Mellow Mood. Also, here's an index of recaps from 2012 summer tour.

3 comments:

MeToo said...

Well,
Another "super safe" MSG run has ended. I have yet to see a set list that makes the journey worth the price.

Best night by far was the first night and no " Phishy NYE shows ARE NOT musically strong". It went all down hill after the first night. For the amount of hype, price of ticket, venue location, length of run, NYE and number of sets played I'm very let down. Sure, "its great they are still playing" but so are the Rolling Stones.

12/28 - 3rd song in, a cover !
12/29 - 4th, 11th , 13th covers !
12/30 - 2nd and 5th songs covers !

Its your time to shine boys and your still covering the same songs that you covered in 97. How many F'ing Cities do they honestly need to cover. A band can't make another bands songs "their own". Either way you look at it ITS A COVER !

Yes angry wook reading this, "Cities is played out"


DrPauly said...

If you hate Phish so much, do everyone a favor... stay on Bisco tour.

MeToo said...

Just saying Paul-O ....
Super Safe. I cant complain that the set 3 had a "golf" theme but it was uber safe. Got Ironman in the 2003 Miami run.
Just figured, you rented MSG and your peoples are there...... throw me a Lizards.... maybe some Vultures .... Col Forbin would of been a fun adventure. I have a list of songs I could sub out for: RIde Captain Ride, Ocelot, Julius, Army Of One, Show of Life,Caspian and Grind.