30 Years of Phish: The Right Way

30-30-30: not a locker combination but rather a numerical occurrence that was so spot on, it had to be planned out well in advance. On December 30th, Phish played their 30th show at Madison Square Garden in their 30th year, and few fans neglected to notice the importance of the show in the band’s history. December 30th typically produces the hottest show of any New Years Run (see 1997, 1998, 2003, 2009, 2012) and when you layer on the significance of the venue and the band’s longevity, the alignment built the anticipation for this evening unlike that of any other, save New Years Eve. Indeed it was yet another great 30th on all accounts.

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“Kill Devil Falls” always get things heated and had a little extra stank on the end, whereas “Bathtub Gin” was hardly watered down and part of a great year of “Gin”; a “Gin” or “Wolfman’s Brother” in the first set is a sure sign of a strong show to come. Trey fell into a groove and led the Type I jam to a peak in the 8th minute, taking his time and not rushing towards the finale. This is a strong version, akin to most from Phish at MSG. And the good news that emerged from the song was that ‘TreyDD’ is treatable! Now to get him to not rush the ending of Tube and Halleys…

The long awaited return of “Wombat” had perfect timing and was slightly reworked, but still a spastic mess of melodies, rhythms and lyrics. Regardless, Wombat is going to be a big fan favorite in the first set in future years. If there was a song to confuse the dancing of Phish fans, this song would be it; it’s like trying to dance to acid jazz – you can try it, but it’s not going to be pretty. Noodling from Trey gave away “Yarmouth Road” well before it started. Fans are falling for this Murawski/Gordon composition that gained a quick foothold at SPAC in July and found a spot in the rotation quickly. “46 Days” was a standard mid-set rocker, while “Lawn Boy” found Page wandering the stage towards Mike side, taking a solo and prime photo op with Mr. Gordleone at the lip of the stage and Fishman coming out to take a bow simply because he’s Jon Fishman. “Heavy Things” followed uneventfully beyond Page’s slick organ work, while a late appearance of “Punch You in the Eye” riled the crowd up properly and “Gotta Jibboo” closed the set with dance-happy fervency.

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Then came Set Two. If you’re going to start a set strong in your 30th year, you may as well return to a tune that has proved to be a tremendous jam vehicle in the past few years – “Chalkdust Torture”, particularly at Dick’s this past summer. MSG’s version was nearly 20 minutes long and in direct competition with the 8/31/13 version. The band ventured from the composition together, spacing out their parts while remaining tightly woven in the jam, with Trey talking some liberal strokes to launch the improv into orbit. Once there, all four linked up again, with Page making the most of the progression, creating an underlying tone that pushed the jam forward with Fish setting the pace. A siren-like sound emanated from Page, pushing fully into Type II that was brought down to level by Trey before moving into fresh territory, full of ambient psychedelia that recalled the “Runaway Jim” from Burgetstown ’98 as it waded back into a faster jam, eliciting Woos from the crowd, because who doesn’t love a good Woo? (I have come around on this after a year and a half).

The last two minutes of “Chalkdust” are merely a breakdown between the four members – Mike and Jon keeping a groove, Trey finding his and Page bridging the two together as they segued into “Mike’s Song”. This could have been longer, and a second set “Mike’s” is a preferable jump off point for a sick, dark jam. We got a short, tight Trey-led jam with guitar-noodling worth revisiting, yet “Devotion to a Dream” appeared via a hushed segue. I loved that we finally got the second version of this Wingsuit song, but the placement was questionable. Who knows, it could still work, and it’s still a fun song.

The “Ghost” that emerged from “Devotion” was not as long and epic as past MSG versions (see – The Holy Ghost from 12/31/10) but still a nice treat inside a “Mike’s Groove.”  Trey layers peaks upon peaks in the jam, leading the charge and bursting forth a torrent of energy onto the crowd. A clean segue into “Weekapaug Groove” had Page’s keyboard melody the defining sound of this “Groove”, one that Trey co-opted quite cleanly and led the way for the rest of the song, instigating dancing the whole way through.

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But what to do when you have already exhausted a “Mike’s Groove” mid-way through a set? You drop a “Simple > Hood” onto the fan’s laps. The cheers and elation were greater than any other during the run, save for when the band took and left the stage. “Simple” – you’d think Trey knew the lyrics by now. No worries – the fans had his back. Jumping into the jam, things got ambient and spacey, accompanied by light bass bombing from Mike, then Page and Trey linked up together to bring the tune to a close. That’s when “Harry Hood” began and up in Section 211, many a “Fuck Yeah!” could be heard from around the room. High fives went all around as the telegraphed segue into the early Anastasio composition followed. What transpired after the “Thank you Mr. Miner” part was a slow build of pure joy. Halfway through, this Hood found its footing and ventured away from the composed part with all four locked in together, Trey in the driver’s seat with a tangent that looped right back around and hit the others in jam at the right mark – pure elation in the finished product, with a little more of Trey’s tangent finding itself in the closing portion. This is not just a must hear, this is one of the best versions of the year, save the Hollywood Hood, which takes top honors. (Glens Falls – honorable mention)

A breather that still kept the flow going came in the form of “Cavern”, but that wasn’t to be all in this set. “First Tube”, possibly the loudest song Phish has in their extensive catalog, burst forth and the crowd followed suit. You cannot deny the energy this song creates in any part of a show, but to end the night? The bounce of the Garden was more prominent than ever. You can’t renovate that out!

“Slave to the Traffic Light” – the payoff pitch and the perfect way to cap the greatest Phish shows. Mellow bliss and high emotions accompanies Trey’s closing composition, a supreme highlight for their 30th show at The World’s Most Famous Arena. As the crowd picked their jaws up off the floor and assessed themselves, fans strode out into the night, eager for what the last 24 hours of 2013 would bring. It was now New Years Eve and there was no more ‘tomorrow’ to worry about, just the rest of this final day. Post-show, bar or apartment – Phish brought the year nearly to a close in grand fashion. Phish New Years Run – you had to have that.

Set 1: Kill Devil Falls, Bathtub Gin#, Wombat, Yarmouth Road, 46 Days, Lawn Boy, Heavy Things, Punch You In the Eye > Sample in a Jar, Gotta Jibboo

Set 2: Chalk Dust Torture^ > Mike’s Song > Devotion To A Dream, Ghost ->Weekapaug Groove > Simple* > Harry Hood > Cavern > First Tube

Encore: Slave to the Traffic Light

# Shave and a Haircut tease at end by Trey
^ Unfinished
* Teases of The Line, Fuego, Magilla