Better late than never?? Some may say that, but I say in the spirit of new tour dates coming really really soon (fingers crossed), let’s take a look back on New Years Eve and what it had to offer us. All pics taken by my crappy phone.
Well, I’m sure by now you’ve heard all the major complaints about Phish’s New Years Eve run. They didn’t jam nearly hard enough; there were some major flubs in critical parts by all members of the band; song selections were generally not the best they’ve done before and the openers were fairly deceiving, though I’m sure that wasn’t on purpose. But who can really say they had a lousy time? Among those who attended one show or all shows, I doubt many can say it sucked or wasn’t worth the money. It was; 99% of the time it will be, and this is coming from someone who spent $100 to get in half way through first set on the least-well played night. But it’s not about how much you paid, or when you got in, it’s about being there, with your phamily, celebrating the Phish, their music, and the exuberance it provides to all of us.
While I’m all about the way they play and how they jam, we are so overly critical sometimes that you have to ask, if you were going to hate on it, why did you come? Phish aren’t gods, they’re human, they have ups and downs, good days and bad days, and peaks of interest that may not necessarily have been with the band at that moment. Trey and Mike are busy with side projects, Page and Fish with their families- it’s no wonder that NYE2011 wasn’t the highlight of the year. But let’s look at the scene, and consider the whole experience before we judge how good or bad the run really was.
Night one, set one began with the first ever “Free” opener and while it didn’t knock anyone’s socks off, the energy in that round room was so good, nothing could bring it down. We got a nearly perfect “Glide,” the first one since MSG ‘09 and before that, it was Coventry, so you could feel the tension in the room, and hear Trey slice right through it with perfect riffs and excellent dynamics. They got “Possum” out of the way nice and early with a relatively hype version that got the crowd moving, but the set was starting to feel a little flat. “Cities” was too early but the first sign of funk to come; Mike gets plenty dirty, but I remember when the jam dropped out and lost its form, and it was hugely disappointing. They brought it back with an insanely funky “Contact,” even though Rolling Stone called it the worst song ever written. To close out the set, they delivered a tight but ordinary “Bathtub Gin” that made up for a lack-luster “Stash” earlier in the set.
“Birds of a Feather” second set opener was fun and appropriate, and drew the still reuniting crowd back in from set break. In a unique move, they delivered a serious “Carini” that got dark and deep and went into a well-received but pretty standard rendition of “Tweezer.” Everyone flipped at the sound of the first heady jam so early in the run, but to me it meant they weren’t holding out for anything particularly amazing. I raged it, had fun with crowd, and enjoyed the “My Friend, My Friend” that came after it. “Rock n Roll” was unfortunately weak, but the New Yorkers loved it, as did I, and finally “NICU” came along to save the set. It’s not that they played it particularly well, but it was perfect for the moment and caused a whirlwind of happiness around the venue. “Harry Hood” was nothing to write home about and a poor transition into an anti-climatic “Bug” set closer didn’t do anything to help it, but the 3-song encore was somewhat of a consolation prize; the “Tube” was a little surprising, and kicked into a high-energy, party starting “Rocky Top.” And even as predictable as the “Tweezer Reprise” was, it made my heart flutter in excitement for the next few nights.
Sometimes I like the audience recordings so you can hear what the crowd thinks and still hear the band pretty well, and the crowd was pretty pumped for a opener like “The Sloth” followed by a 15+ min “You Enjoy Myself.” This was another shocker, like “Tweezer” but at this point, we had to assume that the band wasn’t going to do anything we expected, and isn’t that always kind of the case? A little stumbling here and there throughout “YEM” didn’t crush it and they picked it up at the end for a killer ending jam. “The Moma Dance” into “Funky Bitch” (The Dancing Bitch?) got really good at points, with Mike taking serious lead and getting as funkadelic as the jam would allow. It dropped into a pretty good “Maze,” and I have to say that at this point I was heartily satisfied with what Phish was serving up so far. “Roses Are Free” was a welcome cover for the arena as the crowd sung out every word, but it seemed like filler material at the time; it was really the “Halley’s > Antelope” combination that was a particularly wonderful moment in that incredible first set.
The choice to open second set with “Crosseyed> Simple> Lifeboy” was possibly one of their best all weekend, and, though they didn’t get into any serious jamming and had a few slip ups, especially during transitions, the following sequence of “Guyute,” “Mike’s> Chalkdust> Hydrogen> Weekapaug” was pretty stunning as it was happening. There was obvious difficultly getting in and out of CDT, but once they felt comfortable, it was ragin’ pretty hard, as was the crowd. Easily the most rowdy of all night, and probably the most musically strong, it seemed like no body in that building was still for the entirety of the show. And, well, a “Show of Life” closer is just that. No better, no worse; after such a dense and interesting set list, it was nice to sit, reflect, and take the time, so I didn’t mind it and they played it well. But- surprise!- it wasn’t a closer at all, and when the boys started into “Character Zero,” it felt a bit like a tacky add-on at the last minute, but we dug it. The “Loving Cup” was just filling enough to leave the building confident for the next two days of glorious Phishdom.