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Thursday, January 17, 2013

Night IV: December 31, 2012


***Before Reading: There will be many more in depth posts about each of the individual sets in the near future. This is the last of my 4 part series evaluating the 2012 run show by show. There will also be post(s) in the future taking a step back and judging the run as one whole, not as four pieces.***

And just when it seemed like things were starting to heat up, it was already New Year's Eve.

Three days had passed, 57 songs were played and several big hitters still remained on the board. Big jams like Tweezer, Down With Disease and Carini were now just moments from the past. All that was left was one more show. One more night in 2012, a year that will forever be remembered as The Return of IT in Phishtory. 

This Phish show was not like other New Year's Eve shows, especially 2011, in that multiple themes dominated the band's performance. For a few hours, everything was put into perspective about Phish since their return in 2009, and what exactly "3.0" Phish is. And this story doesn't begin with an Oom Pah Pah, but instead, with a Garden Party.

Walking into MSG for the fourth straight night becomes routine and ordinary. You try to avoid as many crowds as possible, ditch the security guards and head straight into the arena. You get inside, find your seat or your friends, and wait. The stage is often the same. Page, Trey, Mike and Fish, all in a row, with the blue lights turned on. Only this time, things were different.

Trees surrounded the stage. Plants, bushes, hedges, whatever you want to call them, filled the stage. Grass turf covered the stage and floor. This was going to be a real Garden Party.

The band took the stage and began to play Ricky Nelson's Garden Party for the first time. To make a widely known story short and sweet, the song was about Nelson's experience playing the Garden to a crowd of booing and displeased fans who were unhappy with song selection. While Phish fans never boo, there are plenty who are often discouraged with song selection. 

The boys played the song to perfection, with Mike leading the way on vocals. The boys sang together the chorus, the most important lines uttered since 2009, "You can't please everyone, so you gotta please yourselves."

Phish has so many different styles, different inspirations and different songs. It's nearly impossible to find two people who agree on every issue regarding Phish. That's the best thing about Phish and the fan base. The passion, the energy, the debate and discussion. While I may go to every show hoping for Izabella or Split Open and Melt, someone else may be going to hear Gumbo or Ya Mar. One can be hoping for a 20 minute Tweezer, the other can be hoping for a 3 minute Old Home Place. 

But we often forget about what the band wants. That's what this was about. 

There are so many times after a show where we ask and look back, wondering things like "Why was Alaska played in the second set?" or "What was the point of Show of Life?" without not always asking "Why did the band want to play that song at that specific time?"

Garden Party answered that all for us. It was this song that helped remind everyone, whether on the couch or in person, that we aren't always going to get what we want. They have so many fans wanting so many different things, if they can't please everyone they might as well please themselves.

And that's why they went straight into Possum next.

No song was hated on more, maybe Show of Life, than Possum this year. The song is played all the time and never deviates from the standard A-B-A structure. It's fun, it's a rocker, but it's repetitive. But what Garden Party reaffirmed for us was, who cares? This is what Phish wants to play.

If they are having fun, we are having fun. If they are jamming, we are jamming. If they are grooving, we are grooving too. While we will always debate and discuss Phish, we will always appreciate the fact that they are actually playing live music again. The fact is, they are going to play what they want to play.

And so Possum came. And in my opinion, this was the best Possum I've ever heard. Maybe it was because of what it followed, maybe it really was that much better, but this song had energy and clarity to it. It felt right.

Possum did seem to have an extra thrill to it. The band had been waiting for this moment all run and that added anticipation definitely help make this song rock extra hard. It sounded like there was a little MLBJ towards the beginning with Mike's bass progression, but ultimately the song went straight into Possum and it totally delivered. 

The next song played was Roses are Free, another song that ultimately gets a handful of complaints for not being jammed hard enough. Of course, this version did not have an extended jam but this song did kick total fucking ass. The boys were going hard on this one and someone in the front throwing roses in  the air during the chorus made it an absolutely beautiful sight to see.

Next was Rift, which got me thinking that perhaps this would be a Garden/Nature themed set. Garden Party, Possum (a creature that could be found in a garden), Roses and Rift all got me thinking to a themed Garden/Nature set. Rift was nicely played from start to finish.

Sample in a Jar continued with the theme before the boys played Alaska. Now anyone who knows me knows I joke about this song, calling it the Pretzel song (Pretzel, a Pretzel, I think I'll grab a Pretzel!), but the guys to my right were beyond psyched to hear Page play the opening notes. I remembered Garden Party and embraced the song nonetheless. Whether that was the reason or not, this version seemed to be one of the better versions in 2012. This version was similar to the Ocelot from the night before, providing a comfy cushion for Trey to sit back and rip a beautiful solo. 

Following Alaska came the Mike's that we all had been waiting for all run. Some fans who were hoping for a mega bust out Mike's with a second jam and an epic, multi-set Mike's Groove, were let down. Still, Mike's was a great portion of the first set and, while it didn't stray from what has become a standard and normal Mike's Groove, it was fun for everyone.

Trey dove head first into the solo. The song had some really nice moments when it slowed down and it seemed like there was potential for a left turn. The jam started to pick up around 6 minutes in but before anything transpired, Trey ended the song in favor of I Am - No! In favor of Walk Away!

Walk Away had a cool intro and was a much better fit to keep the energy high. While it was a little sloppy to start, the jam kept building more and more, with Trey sounding a little like Derek Trucks. 

Mike was fantastic of course to begin Weekapaug and the jam had real potential to start. They landed on a really unique pattern and Mike started to play with some funky space effects. One last Character Zero ended the set on a high note. The set was a fun filled high rocker with some fun moments. A much better start than last year's disappointing New Year's Eve show.

Now, with seven sets down and only two sets remaining, how would the boys finish off the year?

The second set on the 28th and 30th featuring intense jamming and exploration while the 29th was more straight forward rock. The 31st would be remembered as a combo of both.

The set started with Birds of a Feather, a song that can either be explored and expanded upon for 30 minutes, or a song that can start, peak and end in a span of 7 minutes. In this case, this show would feature the latter.

The next song, which has become something of a tradition on New Year's Eve, was every one's favorite for the gag and arguably the most sought after jam of the run. Slowly, the boys crept into Ghost.

Ghost was an absolute beauty, but in my opinion, was cut too short.

At 4 minutes into the jam Mike started playing this really funky groove. This was the start of the meaty jam. The jam stayed pretty steady until Page took a turn for a real nice solo at about 6:45 into the song. The groundwork was laid for a big jam. Lots of Page dominated the song. Trey at one point lands on a particular note at around 7:50 where we lift off and begin on our galactic journey. This was the turning point for the jam.

Ghost continued to build momentum and by the 11th minute had fantastic potential for a real out of this world original jam. But after a long wail from Trey the jam slowly mellowed out and began a space transition that could have exploded in any direction. There was really nice play again from Mike. The jam ultimately could have breathed and kept exploring but instead transitioned into...Piper!

Piper had a quick buildup with lots of energy. Trey wasted no time starting the song but he was tight. The highlight of this jam came at around 8:10. Trey started with a building rock groove higher and higher until a huge explosion and peak. There were great peaks and buildups in the Ghost > Piper. Like Ghost though, Piper could have went much longer. This time though Piper went into the MVP of 2012...Light!

Light had giant shoes to fill. The most talked about jam since Dick's, Light had huge expectations for a prime jam in the run. How would the band respond to the first time playing it since the masterpiece? It was going to be a "let down" of sources no matter what. There was just no way the first Light played A.D. (After Dick's) would be better than the September jam.

The major highlight was a fun ALS tease, but aside from that nothing special happened. Light was a great jam and now together, Ghost > Piper > Light was shaping up to being a real beautiful segment of music.

When the jam ended in favor of space, the garden exploded, anticipating 2001. When Fishman kicked into that drum beat there was an insane amount of energy in the crowd. Trey and Page were absolutely destroying it to start. However, as with most 2001's of this era, there wasn't a very long jam. The song was absolutely funky as hell with unbelievable grooves and fantastic peaks. The segment of Ghost > Piper > Light > 2001 was a fantastic second set, and could have been the entire set on its own. However, with plenty of time left, the band played on.

The jumped into a huge buzz kill, Horse > Silent in the Morning. Had they cut this out for 10 more minutes of jamming earlier, this set would have been the best all run. A classic YEM ended the set, really cementing the YEMSG name. YEM never gets old, no matter how short Trey's solos are and how short the jam is. I still get excited hearing the intro and watching them on the trampolines. YEM was fun as hell and a great end to an awesome set.

In between Sets golf players came out on golf carts and hit balls into the crowd, hinting at the future stunt at midnight. The boys came out around 11:30 and started off with Party Time. Played to fill time, Party Time was a perfect song for the occasion.

The lights were then turned off and Trey grabbed a golf club and started waving it around his head as the band did Kung! The gag was Kung and the boys actually staged a runaway golf cart marathon.

I'll save the discussion about the gag and the meaning behind it for another post, but I will say it was hilarious watching a bunch of professional dancers who've never listened to Phish before dance around to Chalkdust Torture.

So the boys did Chalkdust, rang in New Years and finally played the Tweezer Reprise we'd all been waiting for since night one. As they played Tweezer Reprise, golfers hit balls and balls dropped on the crowd with strobe lights. Singers came out to sing along with the band.

The next song was Sand! Another standout from Dick's, this song was similar to Light in that it had huge expectations in the A.D. era. Everyone was primed and ready for a 20 minute epic. Sand had no real jam to it but Trey played fantastically well on guitar. It sounded like the jam was ready to expand when the band dropped out for The Wedge.

Immediately I had thoughts of 2011 with the Wedge following Disease and hoped that this set wouldn't be like last year's. The Wedge took a turn left at around 6:45. It was amazing to hear this song played this way. The song slowly faded into...Fly Like an Eagle!

An unbelievable unexpected song. At this point I had realized Sand, Wedge, Eagle....it must be the Golf set! Only Phish would do something like this!

Fishman was awesome and Page nailed the ending to the song. Hearing the boys sing time keeps on slippin into the future was beyond epic. Next the lights turned off and the monitor in the center of MSG turned on. We saw grass and a golf ball with only one word.

Wilson.

The boys played Wilson with ferocious energy and passion. They ended the set with an a Capella Lawn Boy that was really put well together. I could have sworn Freebird was coming, but I actually enjoyed Lawn Boy a lot. That ended the Golf Set. Par-Tee Time, the Kung gag, Sand, Wedge, Eagle, Wilson and Lawn Boy.

Or so we thought.

The boys came out for one final time. They started with Driver, before stopping to start over. A mulligan. How amazing.

After Driver, Page came out and talked with the crowd about the band hitting 30 years and that they were really excited for a big year. As are we Page.

But Page asked the crowd who he was, and told us exactly who he was. An Iron Man! The boys ended the year with Iron Man, ending the Golf Set and ending the 2012 Run on an exciting, hilarious and fun note.

It's often hard to judge a show of this capacity but 2012 New Year's Eve was all in all a really great Phish show. No it didn't have any of the amazing jams like Tweezer or DWD. But it was special.

The first set had some real meaning as well as fantastic play with fun song choices and hard rock. The second set had unbelievable flow, and if not for the 28th, it would have been the best flowing set of the whole run. The themed gag set was a ton of fun and a fantastic ending to a great run.

All in all, the run was one of fantastic jams, fun times and unforgettable memories.

Was it better than Dick's?

No, but it was still fantastic. Phish is always fantastic.

I do think this was a major turning point going forward. 2012 was a huge year for Phish. With the 30th anniversary up next, I can only hope and expect bigger and better things to come.

Highlights: Ghost > Piper > Light, 2011

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