2022 has been an interesting year of Phish. There have been moments of brilliance, but the music has rarely reached the improvisational peaks of Fall 2021. We discuss this at length on HF Pod. Of course, we don't really know how or why Phish’s playing is different tour to tour. But for me, one major factor is the band’s willingness to take risks, and I think last night’s show was a prime example of taking risks—and seeing it pay off.
A 22-minute opening “Fluffhead” set us off in a great direction. In the 7 minutes post-jam, it starts slowly and melodically, with Page on piano. The tempo wasn’t fast, but that allowed for more interplay between Page and Trey. That could have been the end, as it started to get quieter—but they kept on it and ended up in a really nice jam that, with a little bit of teasing before, ends in “Your Pet Cat.” But we don't really get the typical Your Pet Cat jam, we get a huge, booming climax, making people at MSG, and at home, wonder "what the hell is going on"? And that's exactly where we want to be.
“Bathtub Gin” comes next, and that’s where we see a real willingness to push forward. Around 7 minutes in, it sounds like it would be the typical Gin end in a rocking, upbeat jam. And you can hear Trey considering it, but instead, they hold off.
The jam goes into a slightly darker direction, and then Page hops on the Moog to change course into a spacey direction. Trey gets in on the effects, and we get several minutes of improv before we hit the typical awesome Gin ending.
There are “bliss” jams that we’re used to, with the band building peaks in a major key, with the lights on the crowd, whipping everyone into a frenzy. Those jams are incredible, especially in person. But they can become somewhat predictable when used every show.
This Gin is a great example of holding off, just delaying the inevitable peak in favor of exploration and experimentation—to see what else is out there. This was a really fun one.
We then get the Phish debut of “hey stranger,” which was heavily workshopped on the TAB tour this Fall. It’s got some serious potential, and allows for some experimentation with Trey’s effects. I thihnk this is the gem of the "Mercy" album.
Next comes a“Tube” that I was absolutely convinced was going to go into “Slave to the Traffic Light,” which was right, to the bewilderment of the guy next to me who I said that to. I have been so immersed in Fall ’97 with Undermine, that it just seemed inevitable that we’d have a Tube > Slave.
That had to be the end of the set, right? No, they throw on a “Blaze On” dance party to end what was a tremendous first set.
On the LivePhish recording, before they start “David Bowie,” you can hear someone yell: “Play Tweezer…come on man!” That was not me, but maybe I was thinking that.
Instead, we get the first set two Bowie opener since 11/14/98. It was a welcome surprise, and the jam, which was extremely delicate and melodic, ended with a not-quite-perfect trilling ending, but a fun version nonetheless, and another sign of willingness to push beyond the norm.
Now, we’re really thinking “Tweezer.” Instead, we get an “Everything’s Right.” This one really surprised me, and was another great example of defying the expectations. There’s a nice major key jam forming about 7 minutes in, and on some nights, that’s where it would end. But they blaze on. “Noise rock” is really the only way to describe the jam.
Page, Trey and Mike are all layering in effects, and it feels like they’re really just exploring the space, trying to see where it goes. And somehow it lands back into the song.
My friend says: Tweezer is coming. But we get a mid-set “You Enjoy Myself” that is more than a typical run through of the song and jam. They get back into the noise rock space that was in Everything’s Right, but the tempo is much faster, and it really drives toward a great full-band peak.
We get this fantastic YEM 10,226 days after their first version at MSG on 12/30/94. That’s 27 years, 11 months, and 29 days. I'm sure there's a hidden message in these numbers somewhere.
I’m really pleased with the “short vocal jam back into a jam” trend we have been seeing this year. We don’t get that here after the vocal jam, but we get another blistering song, in the form of “Ruby Waves.” This ends in a heavy metal rock jam, which was turning heads everywhere.
What an absolute pleasure to hear “Lonely Trip” as a landing space after 65 minutes of incredible music. I see this as the new “Lifeboy,” a breather, but one with a lot of feeling, and a lot of meaning. I feel lucky to have seen 5 of the 12 versions to date. Perfect placement too.
Keep a watch for other ships. And if by chance our vessels pass, perhaps we’ll finally meet at last. During this song, I was thinking about how many people I’ve met through the Phish community, and how with just a few things turning out differently, maybe I would never have met those people. Heavy.
We got a surprise “Guyute” encore (first since 8/15/11), which was … interesting. I appreciate the ambition to go for it and to try for a complex song like that. However, this is literally the only song in the entire catalog that relies entirely on Trey playing extremely precisely and fast. And this one was a mixed bag.
But they pick it back up with a “Possum” encore that allows everyone to get moving one more time before we head out to the pizza shops, halal carts, after parties (shout out to the Jerry Dance Party put on by my good buddy Ed Maier…great post-show hang that’s happening again tonight).
The end of Possum had a repeat "don't do anything we wouldn't do" speech from Trey. He says "how come you get all the fun, and we do all the work, tell us where the party is, we're coming." A few of these mentions "where's the party? we're coming, just tell us where it is" made us think there might be an NYE gag hint in here. Only time will tell.
There’s obviously something special about Phish at MSG, and I think I got what I think is my favorite show of 2022 last night. Can’t wait to go back.
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