It's been months since Phish has played a show. Plus, they're rumored to be working on a new album, though it's unclear if that means they've been practicing together more than they normally would for a New Year's run. Going into this show the fans couldn't be sure if we'd see new songs, or if we'd be treated to a more polished sounding band than usual, or if this would just be a warm-up show.
What we got didn't include any new songs, but the band did feel more prepped than they might normally sound for the first show of a run, especially after that long break. Highlights include the first "Free" opener ever, a nice "Bathtub Gin" to close the first set, a surprisingly jammed out "Carini" that tumbles into a solidly jammed Tweezer that rolls right into "My Friend, My Friend", and a delicate transition from "Rock and Roll" into "NICU" that passes by quickly, but deserves to be listened to. In the end, this show will likely not stand out too much, but it was a very fun show to attend and has enough nuggets of solos and jams that it's more than worth a listen.
An unexpected, though very welcomed, opener for this run. According the Phish.net, it's this song's first time as a show opener, but it sounds like it's ready for the challenge. Maybe it's because they have some recording coming up, maybe it's because Trey and Mike have been keeping busy with their side projects, but they sounded tight from the get go. Trey's vocals weren't necessarily spot on, and they didn't jam it out at all, but it was a very nice start to the evening.
Played well enough, if a bit gritty in certain places, it's a fun choice for a second song. The pause at the end helped in that it let the audience blow off some of the bristling energy that filled the room.
A predictable choice. It's been played a lot this year (15 times, including this one). Mike's bass has a nice balance of punch and deep tone listening back on my home system. Though the recording lacks some of the character of being in a large room like MSG, the breadth of tonality in the FLAC HD gives the feeling that if you were to play it back in that room you could very nearly recreate the experience sonically. The boys didn't veer from the song's main muscial themes, but gave it a fun and rollicking treatment nonetheless. Not one for the history books, but it fits well in the set.
As predictable, if not more so, as "Possum". In a stoke of, perhaps unintentional, humor, Trey hits a particularly sour chord right after he sings "a whole lot of bad points" for the first time. He recovered nicely and quickly though. Mike did a very nice job on this one with some entertaining fills thrown in amidst the main part of the song. Coming up on the 6 minute mark, they let the song breathe a bit with a fluid and airy jam which morphs into a bit of plinko-ish work that becomes very analytical-sounding before turning into a slightly ominous sound with a hint of longing before winding down.
The Ballad of Curtis Loew
Despite this being the song's seventh appearance in the Phish 3.0 era, this still comes off as a treat for me since it was retired about a year after I got started on Phish and didn't come back until Fenway in 2009. A good first set song and well played, though with a tad less of the explosiveness that some of the older versions have.
This is the kind of song that will raise the hopes of the diehard fans, so it was likely disheartening to them when Trey hit a handful of sour notes around the middle of the third minute and again about a half minute later. He did play with the rhythm of his soloing in a fun way, though, and the jam builds to a nicely screeching conclusion.
Mike serves up a cute little solo up front on this still-after-so-many-years satisfying first set jaunt. Though the crowd noise at the show made it hard to tell for sure, they did a good job of the harmonies. Trey and Page lean in for a more funky than usual solo section that upon listening back might be the best little surprise of the first set.
Sample in a Jar
A solid rendition of pretty standard rock song. It makes you feel like you're listening to an encore in the mid '90s, though it works just fine late in the first set in late 2011.
Kill Devil Falls
Though by now it was starting to feel like the first set was going to have to come to a close soon, they sure made it sound like this one could go on for a bit when they eased into a very laid-back feeling bit of soloing about four minutes in. The jam is enetertaining, but didn't end up anywhere particularly special. I was fun in the moment at the show though.
As the first notes moved through the air I knew that this would close the first set and reminded me of the placement of "Walls of the Cave" at the end of the first set of 1/1/11. They definitely had fun with this one, and it's probably the best bit of exploration in the show to this point. It is, for the most part, a very laid back jam, though there are some dense parts in which the different band members are all improvising simultaneously. This is precisely the kind of situation where listening back at a high bit rate can help add depth to the experience as it adds a sense of breathing room around the layers of sound. By the ten minute mark they managed to build up to a very fierce sounding jam with more energy than the early half of the song, but that quickly finds its way back to the main theme and slows to bring the song to a trippy close as Page, Mike, and Trey build a nice little wall of sound for the big rock and roll end to the set.
Birds of a Feather
A good choice to get the energy back pumping full force. Though they don't stretch this one to epic territory, and there are a few minor slip ups from Trey and Page along the way, it sets the scene for what was a very solid second set that, like the first set, delivered tons of good music.
Though I never really expect this song to be jammed out at all, this version takes a left turn a little after the three minute mark down a dark windy road of lovely dirty jamming before evolving into a shimmery, open, and full sounding transition into…
A stuttered start builds quickly into a full and funky sounding rendition with Page's keys noticeably prominent in the mix. Trey's a bit loose sounding on the song's main riff, but throws in some fun fills that more than make up for the slight sloppiness of it. When they growled their way through the three and a half minute mark, the energy in the room was one of expectation for a serious jam and the demonic "Uncle Ebenezer" part that followed kept that expectation strong. They wasted no time venturing out into another plinko-ish beginning to their exploration that is one of the must-hear portions of this show. As Phish.net notes, Trey lays a perfectly placed Streets of Cairo tease into the middle of this jam shortly before they move from the tight interplay between Trey and Page, backed nicely by Mike and Fish, into the chord-centric thematic jam, which turns into an atmospheric shift into…
My Friend, My Friend
A fairly standard rendition, though Page deserves a call out for some excellent work on the keys and Trey rips hard on the guitar parts for an appropriately evil sounding version that skips the usual ending in favor of slipping seamlessly into…
Rock and Roll
Like "Cities", this is also a song that one would expect to hear as part of a New York show. The sound leans toward the boomy on this one, something that I had blamed partially on the large room at the show, but the recording shows that the overall mix might've had something to do with it as well. No real type II jamming here, but as we've come to expect of Phish 3.0 for this song, there is a raucous and solid amount of type I jamming going on that teeters on the verge of type II at times. Eventually the jam picks up the theme of Birds of a Feather, which keeps the energy flowing nicely and opens the door for Page's sweet synth sounds that lead directly into…
Page's aforementioned soundscape playfully weaves itself around the intro NICU guitar part before falling away to let the song start so that Trey can drop one more sour note into this solid second set. Page shows his souce here, though it's not a standout performance of this song per se.
Bouncing Around the Room
An enjoyable and solid rendition of a classic Phish song. The recording has a big round bass sound that adds a nice amount of weight when listening back on speakers that can pump out the low frequencies.
I'll never look askance at Harry Hood, but there's something a bit too loosey-goosey about the beginning of this one. They don't seem to hit clearly in unison where necessary and despite some nice keyboard runs by Page, the energy doesn't relaly hit until the Mr. Miner section. The delicately building jam that follows is quite nice though, with Page jumping in with more intensity as it builds to add extra weight to Trey's ambling around the fretboard. All the while Mike and Fishman continue to create the chugging engine on top of which all of this grows into a maelstrom. But somehow, it doesn't really go over the top-- it's as though they hold back just a little bit throughout the whole thing. Trey does drop in a tiny Free quote right at the end, which I only really noticed listening back to the recording.
It was pretty clear that Bug would be closing the set, and for me that's about the same as closing with Character Zero. The song itself doesn't much go anywhere, and can be fun in the moment in a room like MSG since it grows from its all-too-mellow-for-this-late-in-a-show beginning into a trite arena rocker. Trey had some fun with this one with some deft soloing that kept it somewhat interesting while Chris Kuroda's lights splayed out over the crowd turning the amassed fans into an undulating green-yellow-hued surface of sorts. That said, I'd rather see this song close first set than second set.
Throwing this song in the beginning of the encore while the band is playing quite tightly for the first show of the NYE run and then not bothering to jam it out at all is practically cruel. They tear this one up with some fierce energy practically bristling to explode into a sick jam only to roll it hard into the bluesy end to the composed portion and then…just play the last verse and bring it to a quick close. When Trey started talking to the other band members I kept hoping they'd start up a jam the way they used to with this song, but alas, instead they started up. . .
If they weren't inclined to jam the Tube, then this is at least an acceptably rollicking substitute. Page really brings it with some high speed flourishes across the ivories.
Paying off the Tweezer debt incurred about an hour prior, this tweeprise does what it's supposed to-- immediately shifts the energy into overdrive and barrels along autobahn until we reach our final destination of big arena rock show close. You can never go wrong closing a show with a tweeprise.