To celebrate the New Year, and escape the cold of Upstate New York for a few days, a few staff ventured down to Miami, Florida to enjoy four nights of Phish at American Airlines Arena. Here are reviews of each night along with photos from Chelsea Valente.
By Pete Mason
After four years of New Years Eves at Madison Square Garden, Phish and their fans flocked to Miami. The rumors of a half-empty American Airlines Arena and tickets on the ground were overstated as fans packed the arena and enjoyed the warm weather of this beautiful city for the first time in five years.
The first set brought out the usual hits and warmed everyone up for the weekend that was to come. Starting out a run on New Years Eve was a first for Phish and the build up to New Years Eve was absent, but they still gave an incredible performance. Starting with “Sample in a Jar”, “The Wedge” and “555”, fans were getting the heat in the same building the Heat play in. A huge “Wolfman’s Brother” and “Train Song” bust out (a nod to the nearby train tracks that head to the Port of Miami) were notable, as was the geographically apropos “A Song I Heard the Ocean Sing”.
The second set was a heater right out of the gate, as was expected based on nearly every New Years Eve show in Phish’s history. “Birds of a Feather” kicked off the set with great energy, then dipped into 44 minutes of pure dance fuel: “Ghost > Theme from the Bottom > Cities”, with teases of “The Birds” from Halloween mixed in between “Theme” and “Cities”. “Ghost” dipped into the jam per usual and just when Trey looked like he was about to bring it to an early ending 13 minutes in, Page stepped in and prevented a ripcord, redirecting Trey and the band into a second jam in Ghost. “Theme” went Type II much to the glee of fans, with credit due to Mike for the shift towards the jam. From there, “Theme” became a highlight of the set, jamming off of “The Birds”, complete with strategically added samples of ‘They Attack!’ as the band moved gradually into “Cities”, a segue well worth hearing, if not for the audience cheers alone, but also for the beautifully blissful jam that emerged. “Chalkdust Torture” looked like it would wind things up in a five song set, but instead we were treated to the deep funk of “Martian Monster”, the sample of ‘You’re about the blast off!’ well received from the audience, electric chills shooting through the crowd.
The band returned to the stage at 11:53 p.m. to perform an acapella version of “Dem Bones”, a spiritual from the 1920s with lyrics that connect to the Book of Ezekiel. The gag included Fishman on vacuum, but the vacuum got stuck, and instead of sucking, they had to get the vacuum to blow. Sitting behind the stage, we wondered if there was a small wrestling ring for the Iron Sheik to show up and wrestle some alligators, as he alluded to on Twitter a few days prior, but instead it was a machine to shoot a blown up Fishman out above the crowd as the band played into the New Year. The gag seemed to be a little lackluster and not as well planned as past gags, let alone as complicated, leading to a fair amount of speculation among fans as to the deeper meaning behind this spectacle. “Auld Lang Syne>The Dogs” (from Halloween) started 2015 off, complete with lasers, then the first jam vehicle of the year, “Tweezer”, took off for 17 minutes. “Simple” and “Limb by Limb” were the highlights of the third set as the rest, “Bug”, “Backwards Down the Number Line”, “The Horse>Silent in the Morning” and “Julius” were a little lackluster and didn’t have as much energy as the previous two hours. An encore of “Golgi Apparatus” and “Tweezer Reprise” reflected upon the night – a fan favorite followed by high energy, rounding out a show that had a little something for everyone.
We were off on a great start, that was for sure, and three more nights of Phish awaited us all. Late night shows from The Heavy Pets, Touchpants, The Main Squeeze and Particle paved the way for fans to dance until dawn and catch the first sunrise of 2015.
Set 1: Sample in a Jar, The Wedge, 555, Heavy Things, Wolfman’s Brother, Halfway to the Moon, Bouncing Around the Room, Kill Devil Falls, Train Song, Waiting All Night, Axilla, A Song I Heard the Ocean Sing
Set 2: Birds of a Feather, Ghost > Theme From the Bottom -> Cities > Chalk Dust Torture, Martian Monster
Set 3: Dem Bones* > Auld Lang Syne > The Dogs > Tweezer > Simple > Limb By Limb, Bug > Backwards Down the Number Line, The Horse > Silent in the Morning > Julius
Encore: Golgi Apparatus > Tweezer Reprise
By Chris De Cotis
While there is no doubt that Phish loves to celebrate the transition of one year to the next at New York City’s Madison Square Garden, the warmer climate in Miami is surely worth switching it up once in a while – it makes a New Years Eve run feel like summer tour.
On the second night, Phish turned the energy on right away, opening the first set with “Tube” and following up with “Gumbo” and “David Bowie.” “Lawn Boy” was a fun choice to slow the set down a little and let the audience catch its breath. Page serenaded the crowd during this ballad and moved around the stage, greeting the fans on his edge of the stage with a “Page Side!” before crossing to the far edge of stage left and greeting the fans there with a “Mike’s Side!” The middle of the first set featured some more recent material – a bubbly “Undermind”, a bit of reggae in “Yarmouth Road” and “Wingsuit”, which started as a soft ballad but built into a good space for some of Trey’s signature soloing. This all led to the uptempo bluegrass-styled “Poor Heart”, which segued into “Bathtub Gin”, closing the set with at least as much energy in the arena as there was at the beginning of the show.
The second set started with a strong run through five songs – a “Twist” opener with segues into “Piper”, “Prince Caspian”, “Twenty Years Later” and “Winterqueen”. The band brought things back down a little bit with “Wading in the Velvet Sea”, but brought a hot close to the set with “Run Like an Antelope” and a segue into The Velvet Undergound’s “Rock and Roll.” An encore of “The Meatstick” gave everybody one more opportunity to dance together.
Overall, this was a solid show. There may not have been any bust-outs or one-timers, or standout performances of any one particular song but it is a great example of what Phish sounds like right now. Even without the laser light array that was on display the night before for New Year’s Eve, the interaction between the sonic textures created by the band, the visual layers created by the stage lighting and the audience response to the whole environment demonstrates why this is one of the best bands touring today.
Set 1: Tube, Gumbo, David Bowie, Lawn Boy, Undermind, Yarmouth Road, Wingsuit, Poor Heart > Bathtub Gin
Set 2: Twist > Piper > Prince Caspian* -> Twenty Years Later > Winterqueen, Wading in the Velvet Sea, Run Like an Antelope > Rock and Roll
By Tim O’Shea
As the band rounded the midway point of the four night run, anticipations were high and a seemingly nervous excitement was palpable. While the previous two nights had featured plenty of memorable visuals and some nicely stretched out musical sections, there hadn’t necessarily been one of those classic Phish ‘lock down’ moments yet where the entire arena seems to sync as one thanks to a jaw dropping jam. Song selection and placements from the previous night were also called into question by some. As only they can, Phish addressed each of these issues in grand fashion with a memorable and inspiring third show.
As soon as the raucous and sun baked crowd had finished greeting the band, Anastasio immediately started playing the beginning chords to “Free”, a song that’s found a home in the opener spot of shows somewhat more recently these days. While it was nowhere near the level of the previous version played in Las Vegas over the Halloween run, the crowd favorite still served as a more than suitable warm up for this night. This gave way to a rousing and well executed “The Moma Dance”, found in its typical spot in the batting order as the two hitter. Gordon carried over his impressive bass play from the opener into this number and then lent his vocal prowess to the ripping “Possum” that followed and featured a scorching guitar driven jam that the audience ate up. Somewhat standard, yet technically sound, versions of “Roggae” and “Get Back on the Train” sandwiched the only real jam of note in the first set as the longtime staple “Stash” was highlighted by spirited interplay between all band members that led to a wonderful peak. Anastasio continued to show off his chops as he navigated seamlessly through the intricate signature guitar licks of “Sugar Shack” while McConnell shone on piano in the ending segments of “The Line” and “Ocelot” which followed. Perhaps taking note of this, the band ended the first set with another old classic in “The Squirming Coil” with a version that was played both passionately and perfectly. In customary fashion, each of the other band members slowly left the stage at song’s end as McConnell captivated the entire arena with another poignant piano solo that garnered a standing ovation.
While the first set’s song selection may not have been groundbreaking, the play and energy exhibited throughout were anything but standard. This theme only continued into the second set as a powerhouse “Mike’s Song” opened and set the tone for what was the follow. Almost immediately, the band launched into a dark but steady groove with plenty of psychedelic guitar effects and impressive drum play courtesy of Upstate New York’s own, Jon Fishman. For the first time ever directly following a “Mike’s Song”, the driving rhythm of “46 Days” then began as Anastasio continued his assault on the senses via guitar with a spellbinding solo full of tension, release and pedal driven effects. Almost picking up from the previous song, another beautifully dark and deep jam followed, stirring memories of the Tower Jam and Storage Jam of festivals past. Instead of stretching this mystic piece of improvisation out too far, a “Weekapaug Groove” for the ages then immediately sprang to life. This 17 minute expedition of sound took everyone in the building on a ride and served as one of the true highlights of the entire run. The incredibly fun jam began in a typical 2013 stop and go fashion, but soon veered off into an incredibly exploratory jam of ambient sounds and percussion. At its peak, Anastasio moved from his guitar to the marimba lumina located behind Fishman, an electronic percussion device that can create a host of sounds. In his stead, Gordon moved from bass to guitar and unleashed a flurry of psychedelic guitar licks that helped create a soundscape for this song like no other. At its completion, a long and well deserved standing ovation followed for what was clearly the best “Mike’s Groove” of the year. As in a nod of sorts, “Fuego” then followed and the composed section was executed to perfection, but the same magic found in the improvisational “Weekapaug” could not seemingly be replicated. A typically blissful “Slave to the Traffic Light” then followed before the crowd energy skyrocketed again as the opening drumbeats from Fishman for “2001” started up and one more rousing douse of funk was delivered. “Walls of the Cave” served as closer to a truly remarkable set of music and gave the band one last chance to jam out in true arena rock fashion.
A second set that featured some of the most inspiring and technically sound moments of the 3.0 era was now complete and the band soaked in every second of yet another long but deserved standing ovation. They sent the crowd out into the warm Miami night with yet another classic pairing of “Sleeping Monkey” and “Rocky Top” as the encore and hopes were now allowed to be set sky high for the possibilities of tomorrow’s night fourth and final show of the New Year’s run.
Set 1: Free, The Moma Dance > Possum, Roggae, Stash, Back on the Train, Sugar Shack, The Line, Ocelot, The Squirming Coil
Set 2: Mike’s Song > 46 Days > Weekapaug Groove*, Fuego > Slave to the Traffic Light, Also Sprach Zarathustra > Walls of the Cave
Encore: Sleeping Monkey > Rocky Top
*Trey on Marimba Lumina, Mike on guitar.
By Stu Kelly
Coming off an incredibly successful previous night of the run, Phish came out swinging and bouncing off their momentum, wasting no time constructing a cohesive set that overflowed with energy and emotion. Phish capped off their four night New Year’s run with conviction and left fans relishing among themselves with plenty of intricate improvisation, choice song placements and flawless execution. On top of many noteworthy pieces to reference, Phish broke through the stratosphere, laying down an exceptional version of “Down With Disease” that went type II and encompassed many different layers of jamming that showcased the band’s broad range and capabilities.
Opening up with “Maze,” it was clear that the band wasn’t wasting any time and Page put together some incredible work up top on his clav. The band powered through this number and stretched it out to just under 10 minutes, which eventually dropped into “AC/DC Bag.” Moving forward, the band delivered one of their earliest compositions and played a note-for-note perfect rendition of “Divided Sky” before the band threw out their first, of many, curve balls when they played a mid-set “Cavern.” With “Bowie” and “Antelope” already off the table due to previous nights (both of which found interesting set placements in their own regard), fans were left perplexed with what could become the first set closer. “Scent of a Mule” surfaced next and the band took this particular version out of its normal boundaries even subtly tucking a “Smoke on the Water” tease embedded in the music before “Plasma” surfaced for only the third time in Phishtory, having been debuted by the band in Oregon amidst their fall 2014 tour and reappearing in San Francisco. This beloved number debuted in 2001 with Trey Anastasio Band and was also featured in the G.R.A.B. rotation before returning to Trey’s repertoire with his solo band. “Devotion to a Dream” was a breather to say the least but the band closed out the set well with “Water in the Sky > Split Open and Melt” and “Character Zero,” which was a nice surprise, especially to see “Zero” be played outside of the encore slot.
The second set is where the magic truly happened as the band opened up with “Stealing Time From the Faulty Plan” which found its way to “Down With Disease.” This particular version of “Disease” is one of their finest renditions in 3.0 history as the band flexed their range and stretched out the number nearly clocking in at 26 minutes. Trey lead the band out of the gates with some stellar guitar work and created the perfect platform for the rest of the band to find their fills and add to the music. In recent Phish years, Trey is at his best when he takes a backseat and lets other members step up to the plate, as seen in songs like the Hampton “Tweezer” and the Reading “Twenty Years Later.” At about 11 minutes in, Page stepped up and took the lead while Trey found a dub like rhythm that sounded like it could have taken a turn for “Makisupa,” but the band persevered through and demonstrated excellent patience. Peeling away the many layers of this jam, listeners can find elements of funk, space and other rudiments of ambient rock and roll. The jam eventually faded off and took form into “Light” which also featured some extended improv but the band rocked the arena when they dropped into “Sneakin’ Sally Thru the Alley,” one of the band’s most beloved covers. “Sally” quenched the fans’ insatiable thirst for about 10 minutes before the band took a turn and went into “Sand,” which was funky and featured the band hitting peaks while juxtaposing a more rhythmic approach to their jamming later in the song. “Suzy Greenberg” followed “Sand” and the high-energy number featured Page demonstrating some incredible work on the keys as well as a “They Attack” tease from “The Birds,” one of the songs Phish played during their Halloween show from the Disney album The Chilling Thrilling Sounds of the Haunted House.
The set could have ended there but the band subsequently stepped into “Harry Hood” which was an impressive version featuring some nice improvisation at the beginning of the song before the lyrics. A “Happy Birthday” tease was tucked into the song, which was perfectly fitting since it was one of my best friend’s birthdays that evening. That version of “Hood” will always belong to my friend Mohsin Hussain and I couldn’t have been happier to share that moment with him. Encoring with “Good Times, Bad Times,” Phish put the lid on an incredible four-night run and welcomed 2015 with authority.
Set 1: Maze, AC/DC Bag > Divided Sky, Cavern > Scent of a Mule, Plasma, Devotion To a Dream, Water in the Sky, Split Open and Melt, Character Zero
Set 2: Stealing Time From the Faulty Plan > Down with Disease* > Light -> Sneakin’ Sally Through the Alley > Sand > Harry Hood > Suzy Greenberg
Encore: Good Times Bad Times