Friday, January 13, 2012

Phish 31 December 2011 at Madison Square Garden, NYC

MSG was teeming with excitement before the show, with wild costumes and glitter galore.  Although this was the first New Year's Eve show I would be spending with Phish, it marked my 25th Phish concert.
The lights went down and the band launched into AC/DC Bag - a usual starter for what I hoped would be an unusual show.  Trey showed us an intelligible jam that was precise and exciting.  The opening chords to Wolfman's Brother cut persuasively through the remnants of the jam and reeled the band back in tightly.
I had been hoping to hear Scent of a Mule all weekend, and on Saturday I finally got my wish.  Not only is it structurally complex and a high-energy number, but it's the only country song I know that has laser beams in it.  Who could ask for more?
Page took advantage of the opportunity to roam the stage during Lawn Boy to punt some of the stray balloons on stage back into the audience.  After the slowed-down breather, the band went into the danceable Gotta Jibboo.  I always love a good Jibboo, and this was no exception.  Although it was about a half-hour into the set, this was the first jam that really set in for me.  This is a song that showcases how the band creates a cohesive sound when they jam, but each member improvises simultaneously.
Farmhouse and Pebbles and Marbles were both first times for me, which speaks to the band's large repetoire.  Pebbles and Marbles was definitely a highlight of the show.  I love the song itself, and it was played especially well.  In fact, it's been on repeat in my head and my iTunes since the show.
The Ocelot that followed, however, has not.  It was good as far as Ocelots go, but it's never been my favorite song.  (To their credit, baby ocelots are probably the cutest thing ever.)

A flawless Fluffhead capped off the set.  Note the Auld Lang Syne tease from Trey:

Phish - 12/31/11 "Fluffhead" from Phish on Vimeo.

The second set began appropriately with Party Time.  The muddled guitar during the outro contrasted nicely with the clear opening chords to Light.  This jam has recieved attention and praise, and I have to agree - there's some cool musical exploration going on.  After the typical type 1 jam is exhausted, the bass slides into this hypnotic chromatic trance, unlike the clean-cut structure of the song.  All of a sudden it's modulated and moody, as if we slipped into another dimension of the song.  Definitely cool.
The transition from Light to Golden Age seemed jumbled and unnatural.  It definitely seemed like Trey fought hard to start it up, and the rest of the band had to scramble to arrange themselves around him.  Once the song got going, I had no complaints.  Page was the starring soloist during the jam, which he turned into a funkfest for a few brief moments.  Truth be told, my favorite version of Golden Age is its debut back from Albany in '09.

I had high hopes when Mike started plunking out Ghost, but they never really came to fruition.  It was tasty, but kind of quick and not anything mind-blowingly special like last year's NYE Ghost.  I had the opportunity to sit down at the Live Phish tent during SBIX and mess with the mix.  By the end of the weekend, I was practically an expert.
A hot Sneakin' Sally and 46 Days promptly made up for my residual dissapointment left from Ghost.  During Sally, Trey and Mike sang along to their instrumental solos, which is reminiscent of what traditional jazz musicians do.  They can improvise and accompany themselves with their voice - the assumption being that they are so intimately attune to music and their instrument that they already know what they are improvising will sound like before they play it.  Wild.

During the 46 Days solo, the energy that pulsated through the crowd caught my attention.  Perched in first row of the 300's behind the stage, I had a nice view of everyone in the Garden dancing and enjoying the music... practically in unison.  It was a surreal moment and definitely one of the highlights from the show.  A fun, raucus Suzy Greenburg finished the set.
The band began the third set with a big sing-along with Cavern before getting to the real meat of the set: Steam>Auld Lang Syne>Down With Disease.  The theme of the new year's prank was objects and people floating away - like steam.  This was also the first instance that I paid any attention to the lyrics and found them to be a little disturbing.  The funkiness of the music offsets them, but anything about murder and wolves and bones hissing into oil is a little creepy.

After a high-pitched countdown to 2012, the band launched into a tricked-out version of Auld Lang Syne.  We've seen some DWD magic in the past year, and so far, 2012 has continued the streak.  At less than twelve minutes, it had time to develop musical ideas and linger on some sweet spots.

Velvet Sea provided an introspective moment after 3+ hours of music.  I love how this song needs so little to be powerful.  It gave us all a minute to cool down, rest our dancing shoes and reflect on how awesome 2012 will be.  At one point Trey kind of tripped through First Tube for a painful minute but then adjusted his key and kept on truckin'.  The rest of the song was right on.
Slave to the Traffic Light was the encore and a gentle, dreamlike ending to the show.  While I'm sure most of us didn't float off to sleep after we left MSG, the setlist built a nice arc that coud have sent me there.

Despite the rumors that Phish won't tour as much in 2012, I can't help but hope to hear lots more of the band in the upcoming year.  After a four-night run like this, who couldn't?

See you guys on the road.

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