It's now been a little over a month since the boys played MSG for the New Year's Run, an absolutely crazy thought. In the interim, we've learned that Page will be playing Jazz Fest with The Meter Men, Trey will have more shows in April with TAB (booooo) and that there will finally be a new album, although it seems that a "new album" idea has been tossed around every winter now for a while.
But now after having plenty of time to digest the run to the fullest, it's fair to revisit the four nights and do what Phish fans do best: analyze, discuss and debate. In my opinion, Phish 3.0 will be looked at with one simple turning point, Dick's. Phish before Dick's and after Dick's (A.D.) could very well have different jamming styles. But with only four shows, there is hardly a large sample size for debate.
Therefore, it's up to us to look at the New Year's Run and find a few takeaways from each show. What can we expect in this 30th year of Phish? What has changed? What evolution has the band gone through this year, if any? These are all viable questions to ask, but with few shows played we must look at each night of the run to find any legitimate answers and comparisons.
Now this is totally based on preference, but I thought the best show was the 28th, followed by the 30th, the 31st and then the 29th. What comes into play when choosing the "best show?" Song choices, flow of the set, patience and improvised jamming and the "wow" factor of each show.
Much like basketball or football, a Phish show can almost be broken down into four quarters. The first is a chance to set the tone, the second is a chance for more developed jams, the third a place for the meat and potatoes, and a questionable four quarter that can go in any direction (think the difference between JB 1 and 2).
Without question, the best show honors has to go to the night with the best set, the best flow and by far the best jamming. The 28th started out simple. Between a Stealing Time opener and a plethora of standard songs, one may have though by the time Kill Devil Falls was played that this show was nothing but a warm up. But as soon as Wolfman's dropped, everything changed.
The Wolfman's was one of the few jams of the run where I felt the band ultimately said to themselves "alright this one we jam." There are so many different distinct patterns and progressions that ultimately when the boys finish off the Little Drummer Boy fun and move to the climax, we are almost on another planet. Trey rips this song a new blues asshole and shreds this thing back to the Wolfman's funk. This jam set the tone for the rest of the night, which was stellar to say the least. The flow from Tweezer to Maze to Twist to Theme to Fluff to Bowie is the stuff of dreams. The 28th by far takes the title for best of the run, and if you still haven't decided to listen to it, you are wasting your time.
Next best was the 30th, or otherwise known as When the Garden Went to Hell. After the lackluster performance that was the 29th, a giant question mark stood atop the band as we anxiously waited all day and night to see what type of band would come out for second half of the short run.
When Runaway Jim opened the show, I instantly thought of the fantastic version of Dick's. Instead, this song was a standard Jim opener that we've seen in 3.0 over the years. But this first set was the best of the run, a combination of great song choice and some really great music. The highlight of the set to me was the three headed monster of Ocelot, Ya Mar and Horn. All played really well, for different reasons, and all three together made a fantastic sequence in the first set. We had killer blues Trey, fun Mike and Page on Ya Mar and perfect band execution on Horn. As for the second set...well let's just say it was different.
Down with Disease->Twenty Years Later->Carini is the stuff of the devil. Patience shined through as the boys decided to let go of any restrictions and explore these songs like never before. The highlight was Carini, a jam that could have exploded in any which way, I thought Cross Roads, and captivated the audience for over 10 minutes. The second half of the show was more of a fourth quarter than a second half as they switched over to fun and jumpy Number Line and Julius before calling for improvisation with Slave and Hood. The 30th, while not as perfect in flow as the 28th, was just if you are measuring patience and improvisation.
The 31st comes in at third because it lacked any jam that was similar to the 28th or 30th. On New Year's Eve, the band played three sets with plenty of songs for musical exploration. To name a few you could have hoped for a meaty Mike's, Weekapaug, Birds, Ghost, 2001, Piper, the summer MVP Light, Sand and YEM. Instead, we got no meat, but a lot of potatoes. All of the jams had passion, they were fiery, they were energetic. But all of the jams were missing that one quality that elevates the songs from jams to epic odysseys. That being said, the flow of Set 2 was impeccable if not for a butchered Horse->Silent in the Morning. I have and will continue to say that if they cut out that sequence in favor of more jamming on ANY OTHER SONG OF THE SET, this set would have easily taken over as best of the run.
In last place comes the 29th, a show that received a handful of harsh criticism from fans. I will admit I was crushed when Golden Age ended so quickly in favor of a Waves that ended ever quicker than the Age. The show felt rushed. It was your Saturday Night Special, a night for fans of quick songs, Trey led jams and rock n roll. This was definitely not the 30th in terms of jamming, and it definitely lacked the flow of the 28th. When AC/DC Bag and Rock & Roll are played together in under 15 minutes, you can sort of tell what type of night it's going to be. The Gin was fire but ended quicker than anyone hoped for. The second set was about the ripcord and Trey-DD, moving from one song to the next. What sums up the 29th best? A 9 minute killer 46 Days finale and a First Tube encore. Those two songs can explain what type of night the 29th was.
In looking at Phish A.D., we can see three different styles played over the four nights.
1. Complex jamming with intense flow and energy
2. Jukebox Phish rocking from song to song
3. A combination of 1 and 2
If 1 best symbolizes the 28th and 2 best symbolizes the 29th, then the 30th is 1 with a little 2 and the 31st is 2 with a little 1. All in all, it will be fun to guess what type of Phish returns this summer and what Phish will be the dominant one going forward. My guess is 1 and here's why.
Following Leg 1 of the summer tour where the focus was on song selection, bust outs and fun play, Leg 2 focused more on intense jamming. Just think of the following sequences:
-Long Beach Rock & Roll
-St. Louis Limb
-FUCK YOUR FACE
-Light, Caspian, Sand, Ghost..etc from Dick's
There was an obvious conscious effort to explore more, and it all culminated with the jams that stand out from New York: Tweezer, Wolfman's, Bowie, Carini and Disease. The boys showed they still have the ability, and the preference, to play shows like the 29th if they so please. Will that be the dominant style looking ahead though? I don't think so.
Phish has made too much of an effort to explore this style of jamming @TheBabysMouth calls the "cubism era." I think it's fair to say we all hope that this is what continues.