Phish MSG Night 2: Mellow Mood

Remember the key to Phishy MSG run? Low expectations. I'd love for Phish to blast us off to Pluto every night and play a 2-song second set with Ghost > 2001, but they'll never do that. Phish is not going to melt your face every night because that's not humanly possible. Ebbs and flows. Sometimes it's a raging river. Other times it's a soothing trickle. If you have lofty expectations, then you're setting yourself up to get let down. Phish is at its finest hour when they do something at a time you're least expecting it.

We got a soothing trickle on Saturday night at MSG with a few moments of sheer craziness. That's my honest assessment; I love Phish and thrilled to see them play any gigs but at the same time, it wouldn't be right if I sugarcoated the truth and wasn't what the legendary Lester Bangs described as "brutally honest and unmerciful."

Photo by Rene Huemer © Phish 2012.

From the moment we took our seats in Section 102, the overall crowd was amped up and rowdy and ready to rage, but the band was on a different wavelength. From the outset with Crowd Control, you knew it was going to be a departure from the Greatest Hits melange that the holiday run is usually structured for. Then again when a rare Mound got busted out in the second spot, it gave me some hope and flashbacks of Phishy NYE in 2002. Yeah, I got goosebumps with Mound. Even jaded vets like myself still have some warmth in our cold, blacken hearts. That Mound moment from 2002 was a decade ago... and the band, the community, heck the world has gone through monumental changes since the moment the 2.0 spark was ignited.

Rock and Roll batted clean-up instead of its usual spot at the top of the second set. That was an interesting curveball. Rock and Roll, or I should say that any Velvet Underground cover is a personal highlight, but the Velvet's cover was a shade over eight minutes and barely enough time for the band to weave a little Phish magic into the limited jam allotment.

I don't know what to make of Sugar Shack. I want to like it, but for some reason it chafes me in a weird way. It's like Gordo and his scarves. It's not my thing, but I respect the guy if he wants to wear it. Gordo has always been a guy who waved his freak flag. Anyway, something is odd about Sugar Shack. Strange right? My girlfriend, who rarely has anything bad to saw about Phish, even suggested that the Shack disrupted the harmony of the set. I dig it more when Gordo's band plays it but for some reason it's not as smooth when Phish performs it. The night before just around the same time in the show, Trey encouraged Page to play Army of One, which resembled one of those 80s ballads from Paul McCartney's Wings era. It worked for Page and for the band, yet on Saturday, Trey cued Gordo's Sugar Shack and that seemed a bit clunky. Will a Pork Tornado song from Fishman's wispy side project pop up on Sunday?

The second half of the first set was much stronger and I totally dug four out of the five songs (exception of Velvet Sea). Some of the notable boisterous moments happened in that stretch, but for the most part it was obvious that Phish was serving up a mellow evening rather than a rage fest so we had to take whatever rowdiness we could get.

The boys attempted to get the Reba jam off the ground but and as it reached its cruising altitude, it had taken on a serene and super mellow path. That's what was in the band's consciousness, but the crowd had an entirely different and contrasting vibe. I understood the crowd's sentiments; I felt antsy myself. The lunatics were trying to take over the asylum.

The only mellow I'd like to see at MSG is Carmelo "Melo" Anthony from the NY Knicks... not from the band that kicked my ass in San Francisco and Colorado this past summer. But you buy the ticket and take the ride. Sometimes you go up, sometimes you go sideways. That's Phish. That's life.

You could see a conflict arise during the Reba jam when the band settled into a softer vibe, yet the crowd was overflowing with abundant energy that they had yet to find an avenue to release it. The boisterous phans were quickly transforming into rowdy soccer hooligans and looking for any excuse to go berserk. Someone in the section behind the soundboard whipped out a bunch of green glowsticks and threw them toward the floor. That was the cue the crowd was waiting for and they let rip a raucous, primal roar. I almost felt bad for the band. They were in a totally different place and instead of an attentive crowd mirroring them during a calm and tranquil jam, everyone in the building wanted to dance their asses off and they went nuts screaming and yelling. The crowd tried to cajole and egg the band on to playing something more uppity, while the band continued to play what they wanted to play. Sometimes we forget that we're the passengers and Phish is the driver.

Despite the softened vibe, the evening included pockets of frenzied, volcanic explosions of energy from the crowd. We saw the first outburst during the glowstick war with Reba and we'd see it again during the frenetic Gin jam, where least that time the band and audience were on the same page.

As per usual, as soon as Halley's Comet got cooking, Trey pulled the ripcord. Fishman kicked ass on Limb by Limb and he does his impression of multiple African drummers, but the band returned to the mellow mood with Page's crooning on Velvet Sea.  Leo had an extended intro and for a moment I was praying for a Stones' cover of Let It Loose, or even Coil would have been an interesting choice. Yet the band wanted to keep up the mellowness and opted for Velvet Sea. Normally that's a "Pauly Takes a Piss Song" but a significant amount of the crowd headed for the pissers and I couldn't beat the rush.

Bathtub Gin more than made up for the cordial Velvet Sea and the band finally gave the crowd a chance to go bonkers and apeshit bananas. If this were any other "jamming night" then I'd say that Gin was just a bit average, but considering the entire subdued atmosphere, Gin was far and away the rocking highlight of the set. However, as soon as the jam reached the outskirts of thermo-nuclear territory, Trey cut it short. The entire first set was a very short 77 minutes. Only two songs from the first set clocked in over ten minutes (Reba and Gin) and both were easily the early highlights.

Is it me, or did the entire show feel like it was a summery outdoors show? It didn't have the mood and texture of a MSG gig.

In my other life I'm a sportswriter so I watch a fair amount of sporting events so I'm going to use a hackneyed sports cliche... it seemed like the team had an off first half, but then the coach was going to tear them a new asshole at halftime  and they'd regroup with a stronger effort in the second half. Personally, I was struggling with a physical ailment. I'm getting old. I have a chronic bad back and it flared up on Saturday night. I wished I could have gone into the locker room at halftime and have one of the Knicks' trainers shoot me up with cortisone or some other wonder drug they inject into Amare's ass that would dull the pain so I could dance my butt off in the second set. Despite the back pain, I plugged onward and got as wasted as I could. I  hoped that Phish played more upbeat songs so I could get my groove on. As soon as they slow down the pace, my back gets tight. At first it was funny that the Colorado crew started calling me the "Brett Favre of the Lot", but on nights I'm limping and feeling old and achy, then it's not so funny. Then again, it could be worse... like being called the "Mark Sanchez of the Lot."

Golden Age is one of Trey's favorite indie songs to cover. I've caught quite a few versions that knocked me on my ass, but in this version I spent way too much time mesmerized by CK5's pretty, sparkly funnels of light. At one point, the band was noodling around a purple light jam before CK5 flicked on the UFO lights that swirled back and forth. While I got hypnotized by the lights, I sort of lost time after falling down a worm hole. Any old-school acidhead will tell you that Phish has the ability to open up wormholes with their Type-II jams. They ripped a hole in the fabric of time and space and lots of weird shit rushes through (like at Dick's) but on the flip side, sometimes one or two wooks holding crystals and tour dogs get snatched up into the vortex never to return.

Initially, I was eager for Waves. At its core, it is a harmonious song with ample room to explore and stretch it out. After three performances in 2009, Waves got benched in 2010, yet returned to the mix last summer at Bethel and popped up intermittently since then. The Superball and UIC version of Waves stood out as eye-openers. Alas, something was amiss with MSG's Waves.

The Joker summed it up best: "Trey and Page got out of sync during the Waves progression and then it was like they didn't have the confidence to take any chances the rest of the night."

When Phish says, "Fuck it!" and takes off down the rabbit hole, we have no choice but to follow along or get dragged down to the netherworld with them. But when you play scared, then you lose all faith in your ability to take chances. Cavalier risk taking is the one thing that made Phish an amazing band because of their eagerness to take chances during live gigs no matter what. However, a choppy execution of Waves spooked them the rest of the set.

At the end of Waves, the band repeated "under water" vocals accompanied by an ambient jam that eventually morphed into Prince Caspian. I understand that Phish shows have lots of peaks and valleys, and you cannot appreciate one without the other, but Caspian right after a confidence-shattering Waves was not what the audience wanted. You could feel the seething undertones from the crowd until Gordo gave the flat-billers a mini-demonstration of his favorite Skillrex bass-farts before he ripped into Boogie On.

Stevie Wonder to the rescue! Boogie On was perfectly timed because the crowd desperately wanted to shake their booty. Gordo flexed his muscles during the brief Boogie rumpus, but it was Page who rose to the occasion during Suzy Greenberg. Trey sensed he lost the crowd after Caspian and was trying to quell a mutiny ("got to keep the loonies on the path"), so he attempted to interject some life (any semblance of life) into the second set with an infusion of funk-addled song. Page destroyed the Suzy jam and it was one of my favorite moments of the evening. Too bad Boogie On and Suzy was a mere fifteen-minute interlude in an otherwise tragic wasteland of mellowness.

I got jilted during Bug because of the smelly guy in our row who took off his shirt. Yeah, amatuer hour at MSG! Some bro's molly kicked in and he decided to strip and go shirtless.

You know the guy who takes off his shirt at shows? Don't be that guy. Never be that guy.

Everyone else around us in our section were professional party people and were fun to hang out with. Everyone imbibed without any incidents until one schwilly guy decided to show off his bare chest and sing along loudly to Bug.

Cavern was the ying to the Bug's yang. Or is it the other way around? The second set was anchored by 46 Days, which has taken on a stronger role in 3.0 as a song that the boys are willing to blast it off into the farthest cosmos. The 46 jam often climaxes to one of those frantic moments when it feels like you're getting chased down the hallway of an insane asylum.

The entire night it seemed like we're the loonies and we tried to take control of the loony bin, but Phish had other (mellower) plans for us.

I was shocked that the band walked off stage at 11:15 after only 65 minutes. WTF? There's always been a "midnight curfew" so I kind of expected something monstrous for the encore perhaps a YEM or some sort of three-song feast. We didn't get YEM, but we were treated to trio of... Squirming Coil, Grind, and First Tube.

I could have listened to Page go off at the end of Coil and peck away at a solo for fifteen minutes while a single spotlight shone down on him. Page only tickled the ivories for a brief solo before the rest of the band regrouped in front of his piano, where they performed an a capella version of Grind. When Trey returned to his guitar stand and picked up his axe, the crowd exploded. The ravenous audience was still starving and didn't want their heroes to exit the stage after two short sets.

A thunderous tidal wave of emotion was released during the initial notes to First Tube. Trey had held back in the wanking department for most of the night. He did the same thing on Friday and waited until GTBT to really show off his chops. That's the type of restraint I prefer to see from Trey... more listening and "dishing" early on... and waiting to the encore for a unbridled display of self-indulgent wanking.

Then again after a mellow night, I certainly appreciated the delirious moments during 46 Days and the invigorating reaction to First Tube. As much as the band was in a mellow mood most of the night and had their confidence sucked out of this dimension during Waves, they corrected the ship and ended the evening on a positive note. I walked out of the Garden thinking about Jedi Trey holding his guitar over his head, and how they shook the rust off on Friday and flushed all the mellow shit out of their system on Saturday, so we had two more nights of madness, heavy hitters, and rage your face bliss.

Two down. Two to go.

Here's my recap from Night 1.... MSG 1: This Time It's Gonna Be Different. Also, here's an index of recaps from 2012 summer tour.


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