[We would like to thank Ryan Storm for recapping last night's show. -Ed.]
Last night was a much-needed reminder of why we Phish.
After an almost four-month break since Dick’s, the band returned to the Mecca, The Venue, the best place to see them – Madison Square Garden. Their second run at the World’s Most Famous Arena in 2022 (following up the whale of a good time in April) and the first proper New Year’s run since 2019 had excitement high.
With rumours flying wildly about the possibility of a “Baker’s Dozen II” next summer and tickets seemingly falling from the sky, expectations were high yet tampered. This year in Phish has been somewhat akin to 2016 or 2019 – lots of inconsistency with big jams scattered across the shows in a year that needs to follow up a landmark or peak (2015, 2018, 2021).
Regardless of any outside expectation or vibe, I was bursting at the seams with excitement upon walking into MSG last night. Having scored a four-day pass in lower section 208, I was set with a great view of the stage and was surrounded by a good number of people who were also settling into the spot for all four nights. I also took quick note of the stage setup – Page’s rig is NOT on a moving riser this year, which means the NYE gag will not involve a full-stage clear like the previous couple have.
When the lights went down at 8:10, a prompt 40 minutes after ticket time, the room absolutely erupted. I could see the smiles on the band members’ faces from across the arena and feel the excitement of 24,000 people as the best band in the world began to play.
Jumping around a bit, Trey eagerly ripped into “Buried Alive,” a song that is always a good indicator of when a show is really about to throw down. The ensuing “Wolfman’s Brother” gave the band a chance to stretch out with some early-set funk, Trey especially seeming loose and relaxed in his playing. Much to my glee as a massive keyboard nerd, Page hit the “Wolfman’s” with a heavy dose of crunchy clav playing as the jam bounced along.
Eliciting a massive response from the crowd as “Maze” began next, Phish built the tension well in this song, as it is wont to do, though it was taken at a noticeably slow-ish pace (not to be confused with the "Slow Maze" from this spring). Our first taste of outside-the-box jamming of the night came next in “Sigma Oasis,” which saw soaring leads from Trey among Yamaha CS60 blasts from Page. Diving headfirst into Type II territory, “Sigma” flirted with a darker jam briefly before Trey led a smooth major modulation. A theme developed, first by Page and Mike, and the improv reached a solid peak before fading into “NICU.”
At this point in the show, it was evident that jams would abound and the band was ready to deliver. Song selection continued to excel with a perfect pairing of “Steam” and my first “Tela” (always a big treat).
The first set’s real highlights came in the final two songs. Beginning with a well-jammed “Stash,” the jam quickly modulated to major-key and had an absolutely phenomenal peak that had the crowd going wild and an massive smiles on many faces. Kuroda’s new lights in the suite section of MSG helped contribute to the multiple huge white-light peaks in “Stash” as pure joy swept through the arena.
Many (including me) were expecting the set to end at that point, but the band surprised us all by dropping into “Split Open and Melt” to close out. For those who prefer evil Phish, the band contrasted perfectly with the “Stash” jam and dropped a gnarly and twisted “Melt.” Consistent with the song’s late-era renaissance since 2018, the jam quickly began to space out and lose its driving beat. Trey seemed to be hinting at a major modulation, but that was quickly abandoned for the dark depths of space. Building up a massive angry cloud of noise with dial-tone guitar, weird synths from both Mike and Page, and Fish doing his best octopus impression, tension BUILT and BUILT into a wild frenzy until the drums kicked back into the song to end the set.
The second set began with a concise take on “Free” that saw Trey really laying into the rhythm guitar “cow funk” lick. After briefly poking at the song’s boundaries, Mike and Page modulated down to the B-flat, signalling the end of the jam. The big improv was yet to come, however, as 2022 MVP-contender “A Wave of Hope” was ripped into next. Since its breakout performance in the spring, it has been an incredibly consistent jam vehicle and last night’s was no different.
Rhodes washes from Page and hard-charging drums from Fish pushed the first section into a laid-back groove that saw Trey hinting at (but not quite teasing) Let It Grow. A major modulation led to an airy motif as Page laid down a soft bed of electric piano beneath Trey’s strong soloing. Not content with staying major, Page hit the B3 and Trey drove the jam darker and into a minor-key groove. Blasts of organ swirled among the chunky rhythm guitar before an on-a-dime flip back to the major-key sound led to a huge peak. Trey dialled up a watery effect for the brief bout of darkness post-peak ahead of a really cool and smooth segue into “It’s Ice.”
Muscling through the difficult composed sections relatively well, the second jamless “It’s Ice” played at MSG this year bridged the gap between the 19-minute “Wave of Hope” and breather “Leaves.” While it did not feature a jam like 7/26’s version, the Sigma Oasis track has really grown on me recently and I enjoyed its placement last night.
“Simple” came next, packing dense minor-key jamming into just over eleven minutes. Segueing cleanly into “Plasma,” Trey and Mike bounced along before another smooth transition into “Twist.” Packing more improvisation into a song under ten minutes, the band hit a rocking motif that drove to a nice peak before returning to the song and firing up “Harry Hood.” While this song has had some standout versions recently (see 10/22/21), this one was just an exclamation point on an already-amazing second set and show and gave us a wonderful peak. Arms raised, feeling GOOD.
With three nights left, the bar has been set high. 12/28 usually ends up being somewhat of a warm-up show as the band shakes off the rust of a long break and gets settled in. Last night proved that there is very little acclimating that needs to be done and Phish is far from ready to throw in the towel. Let’s keep raging!
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