Today we continue a tradition started last summer, where we examine a Phish run from A to Z. This time around the shows in question took place at Madison Square Garden last Thursday, Friday and Saturday as part of the band’s New Year’s celebration.
[Photo by Adam Kaufman]
A is for Arena Rock – Phish harnessed the energy of the “World’s Greatest Arena” throughout all seven sets at MSG by focusing on the arena rock originals and covers in their repertoire. There were few ballads and lots of high impact moments from the Cities opener on the 30th through the Frankenstein encore on the 1st.
B is for Bust Outs – Dusting off gems from the Phish catalog which haven’t been performed in a while is a New Year’s Run tradition and this year’s run was no exception. Mike Gordon’s Round Room returned for the first time in 140 shows, the quartet’s cover of Beauty of My Dreams came back after 133 shows, and Manteca re-entered the fold after a 301 show hiatus.
C is for Caps – If you weren’t familiar with the ridiculous MSG policy of venue staff keeping the caps from water bottles before the run, you probably found out the hard way. A rock show isn’t exactly the best environment for a cap-less water bottle and many fans spilled plenty of water over the course of the three-day run, though most were wise enough to bring their own Dasani caps by Night Two.
READ ON for the rest of the Phish MSG 2010 Alphabet.
D is for Dancing In The Aisles – We know the economy is tough, but has there ever been less ushers at MSG Phish shows as there were this time around? Nearly every inch of the double-digit, 100 and 200 levels were packed to the gills with those who presumably held tickets to the upper levels. While the lack of aisle space made leaving your seat a bitch, the close quarters provided the crazy, frenetic energy that the band feeds off.
E is for Evenly Distributed – If you ask three people who attended all three nights at the Garden which show was their favorite, there’s a pretty decent chance you’d get three different answers. More so than any other New Years run, the trifecta of shows almost seemed like one cohesive performance without a clear cut favorite. Sure, New Year’s Eve stood out with its pieces of flair and epic jams, but for fans who love unique song selection, the 30th took the cake, and the 1st certainly made a case with it’s unique balance of rare composed songs, funky bust outs, and generally playful vibe.
F is for Fat Man in the Bathtub – Here at HT Headquarters, we’ve been pulling for Fat Man in the Bathtub to make the transition from one-time Halloween tune to a staple of the catalog. The stellar version on the 30th was a fine first step towards Fat Man securing a spot in the repertoire, and coming right after Bathtub Gin made for an extra special celebration of the song.
G is for Guinness Book - For the second year in a row, Phish managed to break their own personal record (it’s really just a Phish record, not a Guinness Book record) for the most songs performed in a single year. Last year, they set the bar at an amazing 247, but this year the band eclipsed the mark and ended at 250 when they played Manteca, Auld Lang Syne, and Grind.
H is for Hot Dog Souvenirs – For lucky fans with quick reflexes, Phish showered fans from their flying wiener vessel with actual foam hot dogs complete with an inscription of a Phish logo and “New Years Eve 2010″ for a take home keepsake. Of course, it wouldn’t be a Phish souvenir if it wasn’t already available on eBay: the Phish hot dogs are selling for as high as $75 a piece as of the time of this writing.
I is for I Saw You with a Ticket Stub In Your Hand – For some reason, Golgi always holds an extra special place during a New Years run. Whether it’s simply the difficulty in getting a hold of tickets, securing a good spot for your friends to be together, or the fact that MSG is always littered with shady dudes outside selling fake tickets, that lyric always elicits a swell of emotion from everyone in the room.
J is for Jennifer Dances – Apparently, Trey hasn’t forgotten about this much maligned original, which hasn’t been performed on a Phish stage since 1999, as Anastasio led off the second set on the 30th, he shouted “Jennifer Dances” at his band mates and counted to three before starting Tweezer.
K is for Keyboards – Page McConnell seemed to step up more with each passing show of the run and we feel a couple of crucial additions to his rig in 2010 – a Prophet analog synth and Wurlitzer 106p electric piano – each played a pivotal role in his ever-evolving sound. Especially the Wurlitzer, listen to Page’s dirty tones as the Twist jam from January 1st heats up for an example of this keyboard in action.
L is for Live Phish Webcast - The first official “Couch Tour” appears to have been a success on the fan side of things despite a few expected hiccups that hindered viewing and listening experiences over the three nights. We have no clue whether the band actually made money from these broadcasts, but most fans we spoke with hope Phish continues to webcast sold out shows in 2011. The popular music industry vet-turned-blogger Bob Lefsetz certainly gave his seal of approval, as his Lefsetz Letter gushed over the webcasts, calling them, “The Future.”
M is for Meatstick – Debuted on June 25, 1997, the Phish original known by fans as “Time” at first seemed destined for obscurity when the band let 1998 pass without performing the tune again. Meatstick gained a second chance at life within the repertoire during the Summer of ’99 and took on new meaning with the addition of Japanese lyrics the following summer in Japan. This year’s New Year’s Gag revolved around the Meatstick and was one of the best in the band’s history. The band also tied in a previous New Years icon in a clever manner by bringing back its famous Hot Dog in conjunction with its Meatstick antics and wrapped up the night in an homage to the recently deceased Captain Beefheart by playing his song, Tropical Hot Dog Night, as the post-show music.
N is for No Repeats – Well, technically N is for “Almost No Repeats”, but we’ll give it to them, since over the course of the five day marathon, Phish managed to only repeat two songs, and those hardly count as repeats given that one was their modern era “hit single,” Backwards Down the Number Line, and the other was David Bowie.
O is for Outstanding Weather – While an epic blizzard hindered travel plans for those going to Worcester, the MSG run saw unseasonably “warm” weather. A few sprinkles of rain on the 1st were the only issue during the three-show jaunt. In fact, if anything people were wishing they’d dressed lighter.
P is for P.A. Fail – Sometimes you just can’t plan it any better. For the band and crew, the fact that the P.A. system spontaneously dropped out probably gave them heart palpitations. But for the crowd, it led to an impromptu singalong of during Camel Walk that provided one of the highlights of the first night, and capitalized on the amazing energy at the Garden.
Q is for Quiet on the Signage - Despite the massive success fans have seen over the past few tours with making requests via signs for specific songs, the signage on the floor seemed relatively quiet this time around. There was a big La Grange sign on the back corner of the floor, but it didn’t obstruct a single person and some clever fans scored on their Manteca efforts, but it wasn’t overkill to the point where people were upset with their views being blocked. Also, one fan built an actual cardboard rhombus and twirled it around for the entire show the night Divided Sky was played, but that was probably just a coincidence.
R is for Ring that Bell, Ring that Bell – In the ultimate signal for fight night at the Garden, Mike Gordon was all over his foot bell throughout the weekend. As Mike’s bell continues to become more widely recognizable, it’s becoming quite a festive signal for the crowd that’s it’s time to get fired up (see Fatman in the Bathtub video above).
S is for Short and Sweet – While we have all caught ourselves complaining over the past two years about certain songs not being as long as we’d like for them get into the really meaty jams, this time around Phish showed on a number of occasions that they can lay into them, while still keeping the songs at manageable lengths. To name a few: Walk Away, Sneakin’ Sally, Sand, After Midnight, 46 Days, 2001, and Suzy Greenberg all brought massive energy and clever improvisation without extending the jam sections for overly-indulgent amounts of time – or at least by normal people standards.
T is for Teases – As is customary at Phish’s New Years Eve Shows, Trey managed to work Auld Lang Syne teases into a few of his own licks as Ocelot, First Tube, and NICU all touched on the theme from the traditional New Years Eve celebratory anthem.
U is for Underrated – In shows that contained countless musical highlights, it’s easy to overlook so much. In particular, songs that would have been standouts amidst a more pedestrian batch of music including My Friend, My Friend into Axilla, Simple, Foam, Makisupa, Walls of the Cave, Slave, Ocelot, and Bathtub Gin.
V is for Vacuum? – Anybody who spent any time behind the stage on the 1st could easily see Fishman’s Electrolux tucked away at the ready behind his drum kit. With Prince having just held court at the Garden the night before Phish kicked off, you had to assume Purple Rain was at least in the conversation, but it never happened, nor did any other vacuum playing. In the end, the band probably decided to forgo the Fishman song to keep the show’s flow going.
W is for Where was the Mike’s? – Even though the band played with just a one day break since the Worcester shows where they performed Mike’s Groove, in the context of New Years runs from previous years, it’s seemed a bit surprising that we didn’t see one at any point at MSG. Mike’s Groove has been played at the vast majority of previous holiday runs, including nine times on New Years Eve – second only to Auld Lang Syne at 14 times – and three times on December 30th during past holiday runs.
X is for Xtranormal Activity – Back in the era known as post-hiatus, it seemed Phish would lead minor key jams into major key territory nearly every night. Here in 3.0, these “butter jams” are more rare, so we all flipped when the group settled in for one of these minor to major improvisations during a particularly otherworldly Ghost; clearly the finest moment of the run for the hardcores, and what many are calling the best jam of 3.0.
Y is for Y2K – The band clearly had Big Cypress on the brain when concocting their game plan for New Year’s Eve as virtually the whole NYE stunt served as a nod back to the 1999 New Year’s bash. Everything from the actual Meatstick performance to the reappearance of the flying hot dog to the After Midnight ties back to the legendary Y2K festival.
Z is for Twee”Z”er – After the huge snowstorm and freezing cold weather that led up the holiday run, and caused havoc on any fans attempting to head to the Worcester shows prior to the Garden run, many people thought Tweezer was a given for the Massachusetts shows on account of the “Stepped into the Freezer” lyric. Fortunately, the band opted to save the big jam vehicle for MSG, because they laid down a monumental version that got many people’s vote for the second best jam of the run, just behind the Ghost.
- by Scott Bernstein and Ryan Dembinsky