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Monday, January 2, 2012

Water Has To Boil Before It Becomes Steam...

   So the one thing I'll say right off the bat is the NYE Steam gag was legendary. It was un-fucking-believable. I figured the gag would be Steam-related, and Miguel Cocineros said weeks ago he imagined the entire band being lifted - instruments and all - above the stage where they would take Steam to new levels, literally. That basically all happened, although not to the degree we imagined, with a speaker, the keytar, the (new?) vacuum, and several dancers hanging from the ceiling by ropes as if lifted by Steam while the band raged the new blast-off tune to the acrobatics and steam (smoke) filled MSG. It was truly epic. And yet, while it was one of the craziest things I've ever seen in my life, we left NYC feeling slightly cheated. How? Impossible you say? Well, cheated is a bad word. Perhaps this explains it better: I left MSG with plenty of dancing gas left and no more Phish shows to burn it on for at least five months (hopefully the Vegas rumors are true). That's not good. I've certainly never said that post-MSG. In fact, I can't remember ever leaving a NY Phish show with any gas left, save a random summer upstate show. What I'm trying to say is that it's tough to leave any city on the East Coast during a fall or winter tour show saying "meh", especially NYC. Maybe they weren't warm; maybe they weren't inspired; maybe they were anxious; maybe Trey was pissed after phans booed Joy (more on that later); maybe they just didn't care; maybe they didn't notice; maybe I'm in the minority; maybe I should just begin the review.
   Colonel Phortin and I rolled into NYC Wednesday afternoon uninterrupted from the quiet  hills of WMass to the insane streets of Midtown Manhattan and checked into the Affinia. Let's just say they are much cooler than The New Yorker and far more convenient. The staff was friendly and unassuming, the service impeccable, and the accommodations more than comfortable. We'll leave the New Yorker hate for 2010. Of course we have ways of ensuring a problem-free stay as a result of our 2010 issues; in fact, we're developing a guide, complete with suggestions and products for purchase. Stay tuned. The Colonel went his merry way and I met up with the hometown crew, which had been holding things down since Tuesday. The lamp was lit. With business already taken care of and my wife and brother-in-law on the scene from NJ, we prepared for what we thought was going to be the best four days of our lives since Denver. We saw the crew preparing the spaceship, and it looked as if it was going to take off, but as far as we can tell the spaceship hovered around Earth and never really ventured too far. It even stalled a few times. I remember a few twists and twirls on the way back down to the landing platform, but the ride was mediocre. But it didn't seem like it was going to go down that way...

12/28/11 Madison Square Garden, New York City

Night One: 2011 - The Year Of The Possum

Set I: Free (7:45), Glide (4:22) > Possum (10:12), Cities (10:38), Curtis Loew (5:37), Stash (11:03), Contact (6:42)> Sample (5:26), KDF (7:49) > Bathtub Gin (12:40) (T = ~83 minutes)

Set II: Birds (6:44), Carini (9:07) > Tweezer (12:21)> My Friend, My Friend (5:39) > Rock and Roll (12:17) > NICU (5:53), Bouncing (4:02), Hood (13:03) > Bug (9:25) (T = ~78 minutes)

E: Tube (3:18) > Rocky Top (2:32) > TweepriZe (4:15)

   I never thought that I'd say in hindsight that the first show of a four-night MSG run was the best show. Some have argued that the first Chicago show of that three-night run was the best, but that was Chicago...in the summer. This was NYC...in the winter. Blast off. Popping off. Going to new places. That's what we expect. And we're always willing to give passes for a Night One warm-up, especially after such a long break (104 days). The closest we got to that was, in fact, the first show, which turned out to be a shitty thing. But there were certainly moments. A quick glance at the set list might trick one into thinking Night One was sick. It wasn't. There were sick moments - some of the sickest of the entire run - but these shows were rare cases in which the set lists were better than they sounded. Let's review.
   Free opened a show for the first time in Phishtory and although it was weird, the place blew up. They stumbled through it in what seemed like some first song jitters. Those feelings seemed to be corroborated when the boys blasted into the first Glide in 89 shows (MSG '09)! I was especially pumped as I hadn't seen Glide since 9/8/2000 (Albany)...oh yeah...they did play Glide at Coventry, didn't they? I had forgotten...on purpose. This Glide rocked, but unfortunately went > Possum. Of course, it was the year of the Possum. They played Possum 15 times in 2011 in 39 shows (38%). I saw 13 of them. I enjoyed 2.5 of them. This one was OK like most of the others. An OK is like a "C" in my book. I hate Possum. Isn't Phish sick to death of this song? The inevitable Cities followed and turned out to qualify for the jam of the MSG run. This shit got DEEP. Unfortunately this jam did not reach the heights it could have, but it was so sick it didn't matter. At this point we're thinking this run might trump Denver with a jam that sick so early. In hindsight it's so sad it didn't come close. The first Curtis Loew since Raleigh followed and was of the highlights of the weekend; too bad it was so short. A standard Stash preceded the first Contact in 59 shows (8/13/10 Deer Creek - thunderstorm show?), which was another weekend highlight. Contact > Sample (meh). KDF rocked the house and blasted > Gin, which did not reach the heights Gin has been reaching lately. Regardless, there were moments, and Set One was in the books. It would turn out to be one of the best, if not the best set of the weekend.
   Set Two opened with Birds, which had the place jumping. A 2011 Set Two standard Carini followed and went > a pretty sick Tweezer with the becoming-standard Streets Of Cairo tease > a standard My Friend > a R 'n' R that did not meet 2011 standards (although it contained a Birds jam) > a beautifully segued NICU. It may well have been the best segue of the weekend. Tweezer and R 'n' R, two standard launching pads, failed to initiate any galactic venturing. Not even close. And when they went into Bouncing, we heard the first of several groans so loud it overwhelmed the music for a second in the upper 300 sections. Fucking weird. A predictable Hood followed and went > a sick Bug, one of the few perfectly placed tunes of the weekend. A Tube encore for only the second time in Phishtory (6/26/94 Charleston, WV) disguised the fact that it remained under the four-minute mark, a 3.0 standard at this point. Tube > Rocky Top > TweepriZe. The first show was in the books and we were excited because the first show was pretty sick for a first show, especially after such a long break (104 shows - notice how I keep saying that?). It would be the best show.

12/29/11 Madison Square Garden, New York City

Night Two: Thank you, Lifeboy, You Made My Run Worth It

Set I: The Sloth (4:58), YEM (19:07), Back on the Train (6:31), Moma Dance (7:02), Funky Bitch (7:12), Maze (9:59), Roses Are Free (5:32), Halley's Comet (7:05) > Antelope (10:36) (T = ~79 minutes)

Set II: Crosseyed and Painless (10:35) > Simple (8:31) > Lifeboy (7:59) > Guyute (10:59), Mike's Song (7:51) > Chalkdust Torture (5:55) > Hydrogen (2:38) > Weekapaug (10:05), Show of Life (6:41) > Character Zero (8:34) (T = ~82 minutes)

E: Loving Cup (6:40)

   Yet another case of a set list alone fooling someone. This shit looks off-the-chains at first glance. And again, there were off-the-chains moments. But overall the set list reads better than it sounded. The Sloth blasted off and everyone was raging immediately. But it was too short and choppy. A rare beginning first set YEM followed, but again, was way too short. The funk barely lifted off before they got into the Vocal Jam. BOTT followed and was swampy as usual, but again, was on the short side. What the fuck? Why play these songs so soon and place them at the beginning of the first set and not jam them out? It was so frustrating, but of course we took it in stride. It's Phish. It's MSG. The bombs are on the way. Moma Dance...finally. A seven-minute version. Dude, seriously. What the fuck? A standard Funky Bitch followed, then a Maze that started to get to that dark place. An oddly placed but always sick Roses followed. Do you realize that 28 Roses have never followed the same song twice in Phishtory? That's interesting. Another interesting fact is that from the 12/11/97 debut in Rochester to Telluride (15 times) there were only four Roses gaps of less than 14 shows. Since Telluride there hasn't been a Roses gap of more than 11 shows and they've played it 13 times. What's the sudden love for Roses? I'm not complaining, but find the trend interesting. A short and uninspiring Halley's > Antelope closed out the set.
   A Set Two standard opener Crosseyed opened Set Two...I hate redundancy. I especially hate it when things are repeated. Crosseyed was standardly sick (coining words here) went > a decent Simple > into the highlight of the MSG run Lifeboy for the first time in 89 shows (12/30/09 Miami!) and only the second time of 3.0 (8/9/04 Hampton!!) > a standard but sick Guyute. That's the other sick segue. That was it, although that's nothing to turn any nose up at. Regardless, this segue did not match the standard 2011 platform for such songs, with the exception of the Lifeboy bust-out, again, one of the MSG run highlights. A Mike's Groove followed, which contained one strange attempt at creativity when Trey tried to force a Chalkdust > Hydrogen mid-Mike's Groove jam that sort of worked, but was so oddly placed that even our sober veterans were confused asking "Is that Hydrogen?". It was, and it was a nice moment, but very strange. Show of Life > Character Zero ended the set leaving most of us wondering what the hell happened to the moments that seemed destined for us after such a strong beginning. Maybe the encore would make up for it. Maybe Loving Cup would make me want to exit down the side staircase head-first. As my boy Miguel Cocineros said post-show: "At least they have to be done with the wankery at this point". Not so fast my friend, my friend.

12/30/11 Madison Square Garden, New York City


Night Three: Even If Vultures Are Moving In, You Can't Force A Theremin


Set I: PYITE (8:36) > Prince Caspian (6:47) > BDTNL (6:51), Nellie Kane (3:05), Divided Sky (16:03), Sand (9:39), Vultures (5:48), Rift (6:06), Joy (5:58), Quinn (6:14) (T = ~76 minutes)

Set II: Wilson (5:10) > Axilla (3:31) > Piper (15:16) > Twist (7:29) > Julius (7:14) > Golgi (4:48) > 2001 (7:23) > The Horse (1:06) > Silent in the Morning (4:47) > Bowie (12:28), Squirming Coil (10:45) (T = ~81 minutes)

E: Boogie On (6:21), GTBT (5:48)

  I've said in the past that you'd be hard pressed to find a show that opened with PYITE that wasn't sick. I found one. Prince Caspian out of PYITE was one of the biggest boner-beaters I've ever been a part of at a Phish show. It was awful. The only cool thing was that it was unfinished. Then the oddly placed BDTNL, which was only cool because they gave a shout-out to Fishman's daughter due to her December 30th birthday. I love BDTNL, but lately it's been lacking. See Raleigh if you're looking for bomb BDTNLs. Nellie Kane blasted off and was sick, and Divided Sky always has potential, but Gordo botched the jam and it stayed pretty standard. A very oddly placed Sand was a Night Three highlight, but our chatty homeboy talked through the first four minutes. Vultures had potential to blast off, but the boys botched that, too. It was awful. Rift was decent, but then I wanted to punch phans in the eye when Trey went into Joy and people started loudly booing. Are you people fucking serious? The guy's sister died of cancer. He wrote a song for her as she was dying. I will kill you if I see you booing that song ever again. If you have a problem sit the fuck down and smoke a bowl. Boo and die. Quinn was sick and ended the set.
    Set Two opened with a standard Wilson and went > a standard Axilla which went > a Piper that reached decent depths, but the theremin was obviously forced into jamming in a failed attempt to duplicate the Denver Piper on some level (which will forever be impossible) > a decent Twist > a standard Julius > a boring Golgi > an uninspiring but at some points funkspace-tic 2001 > a Horse Trey almost forgot > a soul caressing Silent > a standard Bowie complete with previous set song teases. It was another segue team that looked strong on paper but lacked team chemistry. The Piper was the obvious highlight, and reached pretty sick places, but the theremin was slightly forced and could not bring the jam to the levels the crowd or the band was looking for. A decent  Squirming Coil rounded out the set. A pretty bouncy Boogie On blasted off the encore before GTBT ended the show. They only had one more night. Apparently they were saving all the great newer tunes, the potential debuts, and the ether for NYE, right? Right??

NYE 12/31/11 Madison Square Garden, New York City

Night Four: The Run Goes Up in Steam In What Should Have Been The Golden Age Of 2011

Set I: AC/DC (6:29) > Wolfman's Brother (7:47), Scent of a Mule (8:02), STFTFP (5:41), Lawn Boy (2:45), Gotta Jibboo (9:32), Farmhouse (6:16), Pebbles and Marbles (8:16), Ocelot (8:21) > Fluffhead (15:14) (T = ~79 minutes)

Set II: Party Time (7:19), Light (12:05) > Golden Age (8:37) > Theme From the Bottom (8:13), Heavy Things (5:29) > Ghost (9:17) > Sneakin' Sally (5:46) > 46 Days (6:13) > Suzy Greenberg (6:59) (T= ~70 minutes)

Set III: Cavern (5:18), Steam (11:08) > Auld Lang Syne (2:46) > DWD (11:34), The Wedge (6:15), Alaska (8:16), Wading in the Velvet Sea (5:40), First Tube (8:53) (T = ~60 minutes)

E: Slave to the Traffic Light (9:22)


   AC/DC opened the show and was the first AC/DC in 13 shows, by far the longest AC/DC gap of 3.0. AC/DC went > a decent Wolfman's. Scent Of A Mule followed before STFTFP. Lawn Boy followed before the boys launched into a decent Jibboo, which was interrupted by a bizarrely placed Farmhouse. Pebbles And Marbles picked up the pace and gave us something fresh to chew on before the slow, boring, unjammable Ocelot came out of the jungle and bored everyone to death. Ocelot > the overplayed and far-too-long Fluffhead. It's hard to imagine that we were crying and begging for that song during the Anniversary show in Boston...remember the Fluffhead video? We all thought we were finally going to get it after years. Now I'd trade Fluffhead for the opening in Bouncing and 1/13th of Suskind Hotel.
   Set Two opened with the expected Party Time, and everyone finally thought the wankery was officially over, especially when they blasted into Light. This Light got as deep as any jam during the week, save maybe Cities. It was definitely one of the highlights of the week and certainly one of the best - if not the best - jam. It was SICK.The Light jam crept into a faint Golden Age riff and it seemed as though all was returning to normal in jam space...not so. This Golden Age was as botched as any sick segued Golden Age could be botched. It took Phish several measures just to try to reshape the jam and continue on. They recovered decently, but then continued to botch the song every chance they had to try and launch it. It was awful. The Golden Age jam turned out OK, and went right > Theme, another highlight of the weekend. Unfortunately they cut Theme and laid an unnecessary Heavy Things right onto my lap, which crushed my balls. Then they blast into Ghost! WHAT THE FUCK?! Why Heavy Things?! Such odd placement!! This Ghost was pretty sick and went > Sneakin' Salley, which was short and did not jam in the least. Disappointing would be an understatement to describe this Sneakin' debacle. Why bother if you're not going to lift off? Sneakin' Salley > 46 Days, which was actually one of the better 46 Days I remember hearing in a long time. Unfortunately 46 Days went > Suzy, which I think would be the worst song ever written by Phish if it weren't for the 30 seconds they give Page to blast off. Give Page 10 minutes and I'll change my Suzy attitude. Until then, fuck her. Things were getting ugly. This gag better pop off.
    Set Three opened shortly before midnight with Cavern, and this shit was deep. Gordon was poppin' off like he was making up for the whole band's four nights of mediocrity. It was sick. It was on the short side, but ended to the noise of a tea kettle going off. Uh oh...STEAM!!! I have to admit, at first I knew it was a tea kettle steaming...then I started second-guessing myself and actually thought something on stage had caught on fire!! It was a pretty strange and scary 10 seconds, but was immediately turned to EPIC JOY as we heard Steam slowly creep in. OK, what happened next was EPIC. YouTube it...ask your friends...look at the band's pictures. They're worth 1000 words, remember? I can't take the time to explain what we saw, but speakers, keytars, and vacuums were floating, people were hanging dancing from the jumbo-tron, and Trey and Cactus were standing on small platforms 20-feet above the stage. Or they were running in circles around the stage amid a sea of 1000s of giant balloons. It was unreal. They did the countdown and then blasted into the obligatory DWD as we launched into 2012. What a way to start the year. The Wedge popped off, Alaska got the place bouncing, and Wading slowed the place back down and settled heartbeats. It was coming to an end. First Tube rounded out the set, and despite the dangling keytar, we were sent home with a Slave rather than Frankenstein. So strange...why dangle the keytar then?
   And so ended the MSG NYE 2011 Run. 83 minutes was the longest set. 220 minutes is probably shorter than some of the two-set summer shows they played and it was a three-set NYE show, although it was longer than the 2010 NYE show. At least the 2011 NYD show that run featured a 97-minute set. I'm just saying. There were more greatest hits then modern-era tunes. There were as many murders as debuts. There were more botches than jams. And there were about as many bust-outs as shows. After 2009 and 2010, years which featured consecutive record breaking rotations, 2011 seemed like the rotation was limited to Possum, Bowie, Fluffhead, Suzy, and Bowie with overplayed songs like Crosseyed, Sand, and Golden Age disguising the rotational issues. Then again, it's hard to keep outdoing yourself. The scene was epic, and it's always great to see our various crews and all the phans. That usually goes without saying. Despite warnings, the new MSG layout actually wasn't too bad. That was a nice surprise. The Affinia was sick, and left us wanting to go back. That was a pleasant surprise, too. But we go for the music, and that was lacking, despite shining moments. No jamming. No real flow. Everyone fucking talking and signing like it was a fucking Pearl Jam show. Weird placement of songs. Where the fuck is Izabella, La Grange, My Left Tow, Jennifer Dances, If I Could, The Inlaw Josie Wales, The Old Home Place, Dog Log, Bittersweet Motel, Spock's Brain? No insane bust-out other than Glide and Lifeboy? I mean, we do appreciate it. What about the not-so-crazy bust-outs? What about Halfway To The Moon, Suskind Hotel, Walls Of The Cave, Clone? What about standards like Reba??? So what the fuck happened? Sure, there were shining moments, but the last three years have been pretty sick. How do they lay the proverbial egg, when everyone was expecting them to blast off, especially after such a sick Chicago/Denver run only a few months before? Well, therein lies one of the answers. These guys have a lot going on. Side projects, families, other obligations. They took 104 days off. They're too old and play far too seldom to take 15 weeks off from each other and expect to launch off, but the sad thing is they didn't sound like they even rehearsed that much. Maybe I'm wrong, but it didn't sound like it. Fall tour was the key to the 2010 MSG run. Those AC Halloween shows popped off and set the stage for a rocking NYE Run. That was a 56-day break...this was almost twice as long. No fall tour = no epic holiday run. There are those that say they mailed it in. There are those that say they only do it for the money and that the passion is gone. I'd like to think they're busy and didn't have time to rehearse, which was insulting enough. But they're only human, and as they proved in Denver, they still know how to turn it on. But they didn't in NYC and that's what hurts. And now we may have to wait six months for some sort of redemption. Hopefully it comes then and the Vegas rumors are true. Whenever it is, we'll be chomping at the bit because everyone would probably agree that the run was not as musically stimulating as they expected, especially for MSG.
   So 2011 has come and gone. It was an incredible year for Phish, despite the less-than-inspiring end to it all. Just remember the sick NYD show almost a year ago. Remember the No Quarter bust-out at PNC. Remember the Steam debut at Cuyahoga. Remember the Daniel Saw The Stone, Buried Alive, and Lonesome Cowboy Bill bust-outs at Merriweather. Remember Mound > Mayhem > Mound in Alpharetta. Remember the whole fucking First Leg southern run weekend. Remember the Super Ball IX festival and the unbelievable Destiny, Gin, and Times Loves A Hero. Remember that crazy fucking Gorge Rock 'n' Roll > Meatstick jam. Remember that Dog Stole Things bust-out in Tahoe and that EPIC Second Day Second Set. Remember the FIRE Chicago run. Remember the even hotter Denver run, which included the two 2011 Jams Of The Year Tweezer and Piper. Remember the theremin. Remember the benefit show that raised a ton of money for VTers in need. And soon we'll be remembering the epic bust-outs Glide and Lifeboy at MSG along with that unbelievable Steam stunt that will forever be burned into our heads. So although 2011 ended with us wanting, we know Phish will be back to write another chapter soon. I'll see you there...

- Trigger Treinta Uno

Trigger31.com

Thanks to Phish.net & LivePhish for the set list help. Thanks to the Affinia-Manhattan for being so cool. Thanks to our crews from around the country - LA, Denver/Boulder, Philly, and Mass - you know who you are. We love you guys with all of our hearts and can't wait to see you next tour - or even sooner. Thanks to Daniel Saw The Stone, Colonel Phortin, Ice Berger, Henry The Third, and Alex The Great for hooking tickets. Thanks to Meghan and family for the hospitality. Thanks to Henry The Third for the brilliant room idea, and thanks to Makin' It Rainer, Sam Wise and Runaway Jim for hooking the scene. Thanks to the Inlaw Josie Triggers for watching the dog. And finally, thanks to the boys for making it all happen. We can't thank you enough. We love you, Phish. Now let's shelve Possum and Suzy.


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