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Published: 2004/01/05
by Dan Alford

Phish, American Airlines Arena, Miami, FL- 12/30 & 31

When Phish plays a third double encore in three nights
(yes, technically the 29th's was a second encore), and
that is the least interesting thing that can be said,
you know it's a show. (All things being equal,
though, While My Guitar Gently Weeps was long and
lush, a devastating version that left me hunched over
with a pain in my core.)

In the first set, coming out of an unfinished dark,
red Wilson opener, the band looked at 2001 for just a
second before delving into the long awaited return of
Sand. The song, however, was quietish at the outset,
followed by a steady build of bubbles and boils. The
lashing peak arrived before too long, making for a
solid, but unamazing rendition that dipped low to a
surprise, up tempo Shafty (Olivia's Pool, Oblivious
Fool, call it what you will).

"You could be there and not even know."

In short order, NICU materialized- the band was
playing it fast and loose. In 2003, Phish was capable
of anything. The performances may not have always
been the tightest, but the band was willing and able
to respond to any situation or suddenly flirtatious
muse. Consider the 20th Anniversary show in Boston:
While the first set lacked energy (except for the
great, traveling Piper), the second set was an
experiment in improvisation worthy of the auspicious
occasion. In 2003 nothing Phish did could truly be
a surprise because the band was willing to let
anything and everything happen. Which brings us past
Weigh (Sand, shore and a sunny day all in one set), a
slick Cities with cunning keys and thick Fishman
controlled Gin > a short, quirky 2001, to the second
set of December 30th.

With a split second P-Funk
tease in "2001," and the energy with which Phish tore
into Tube, it was clear something special was in the
offing, although it wasn't necessarily what you might
think. Early on in Tube there was a tight little
stop/start, and when the opportunity came round again,
Mike jumped into the space with a crazed bass solo.
Page then added clav and piano, and both players
dropped out as Fish unleashed his own solo. This yielded
serious, serious groove painted with violet lights.
Trey climbed a short flight of musical steps and the
jam took flight, a long soaring passage, after which
the guitarist gave a thumbs up to someone in the

Now the lights strobed with a strange and captivating
stained glass effect and the music became darker,
heavy- what's this song? In a moment it became clear-
a down tempo LA Woman jam! But more than a tease,
Trey sang the first verse, and a word or two of the
second. The movement faded to noodly rhythm work and
swollen bass, and suddenly dropped into Birds of a
Feather- a perfect transition. The improvisation here
began with great restraint from Trey, and sweet pipe
organ lines from Page, only to get quieter and
quieter. The restraint led to focus as the band took
the song out with clear intent and developed a
wonderfully cohesive jam. Just at the end notes, Trey
became wild again, leaning into his mic to shout out,
"Mister Mojo Risin'". Finishing up LA Woman, P-Funk
could have been forgotten- this was turning out to be
the Doors set. And when Trey leaned over to Page for
a long conference instead of dropping the keyword in
Makisupa, returning to explain that he wanted to do
Touch Me, but the band couldn't remember how to play
it, it seemed like that would be the legacy. But
instead, to make up for the tease, he offered to bring
out Parliament Funkadelic, who were part of the
post-Phish series at the Ice Palace. In moments,
microphones and an extra drum kit for Fishman were set
up and Clinton, Bernie and crew poured onto
the stage, Bernie starting up with Makisupa almost
immediately, and leading the massive collective
through a 20 minute version of the P-Funk medley that
makes up a P-Funk show.

"Phish with P? That's funky with me!"

The music was raw and rowdy, not to mention loud, but
the best part had little to do with music. A young
mentally handicapped guy came out onto stage with
everyone else and set himself up in front of Page, and
started getting down hard. It was more than a few
minutes before anyone realized he maybe shouldn't be
there. Two stage hands took him away, but the kid was
causing no harm. In response, Trey, right in the
middle of the madness, put down his guitar and ran,
ran mind you, back stage to bring the kid back. Once
on stage again, he leaned over and said something to
the dancer, and patted him on the back. When the funk
barrage finally ended, with Fishman alone for a moment
on the vacuum, and everyone left the stage, the kid
was the last in the train, leaping and waving his
arms. That was, unquestionably, the highlight of the
show, the run, the year.

In seconds, Phish walked back out on stage, and calmly started Makisupa again, Fishman standing up to give one line of Touch Me, just for comparison's sake. The P-Funk was better. To close the show, a bright, well textured Down with Disease. The move to the first peak was dominated by big organ swells and clean guitar leads. An explosively energetic charge that followed won gracious cheers from the crowd before easing into a glowing blue and purple jamlet that was reminiscent of the Gin and Tweezer from 2-28, but not quite there- beautiful nonetheless. Eventually, it twisted around into a weird, engaging return to DWD, and made the show, as many in the lot said, entirely satisfying. Without it, the night would have been too short; with it, not a complaint to be heard. One of the great aspects of this run was the positive vibe and sense of immediate community. Most in attendance traveled to be there, and spent their days lingering on South Beach in the rays of the beautiful sun; everyone was there for a good time, and kindness abounded. The bitterness, sarcasm and headier-than-thou attitudes that can plague a tour were almost entirely absent. I hope this happens once again.

The following night, at just about 11:50, Phish walked
on stage and started in with a really excellent, long
version of Jungle Boogie that had the room hopping.
In mid swing, Fishman's riser was pushed aside, and
platform was set up in its place. Then, descending
from the ceiling, a mini roadster, blue with flames,
high beams ablaze, settled down. The driver's side
door opened, and a bunny-headed marching band leader
stepped out, followed over the following minutes by an
entire band (there were at least six tubas on stage by
the end, so this was a large band) and a full crew of
bunny cheerleaders. The dancers were shaking their
tails (yes, they had tails under their skirts) all
over the stage, one getting down with Trey, the
guitarist playing to her on his knees; a pair in front
of Mike doing nasty things to the stage- and all the
while, Jungle Boogie. At the New Year's moment
balloons fell and covered the floor and stage, as
musicians played through ALS, and then Iron Man as the
band and bunnies bounced off stage. Another split
second transition and quartet was off into an
energetic Runaway Jim.

Machine gun Trey was in effect here, often turning to
play off of Fishman as the music swelled and became
even more frenzied. Hot rhythm charges dotted the
progression, leading eventually to a huge vamp that,
when it finally snapped, dropped back into the rhythm
jam. The music became heavy, darker, but buzzed for
only a moment before Simple materialized. That tune
went sweet and pretty fast, with a brief bit of
perfectly balanced piano and guitar complements,
before moving on to a rather messy version Reba.

I Didn't Know had Fishman playing the vacuum with no
hands, and then, at Trey's prompting, singing Feel My
Heat, "From the Boogie Nights soundtrack." At the end
Fish was running around the stage Bono style, shouting
"Happy New Year" and even climbing atop the grand
piano. Wild reckless abandonment.

The second set on the 31st was similar to the third in
that it was equal parts fun and sloppy. During the
composed portions of Stash the timing was off- just
not a clean performance. The jam, however, was an
interesting endeavor. A little breakdown early on
gave way to a strange, off kilter passage with
percussive, special effects drumming and cool bass
lines. A long section, it was characterized by the
abundance of space left in the music- the sort of
playing that generally appeals to me, but it just did
not hit me right. Eventually, a pretty sheen was cast
over the playing, and with fuchsia and blue lights,
the band began to pull the movement together. The
music built to a swell and closed very naturally,
leading back into a nice, lengthy type I Stash jam.

Seven Below, though shorter, was stronger in
performance, focused, big and bright- piano, B-3,
guitar and bottom heavy bass all swirling about. The
set closed with a nice suite of Chalkdust Torture,
replete with ALS teases, into a warm Slave, back into
Chalkdust Torture.

The best set, however, was the first set. The band
walked onto stage, picked up their instruments, or sat
down at them as seemed appropriate, and with a "Blat
Boom" finished the Wilson opener from the 30th. No
better way to get things rolling. In hindsight, the
various Mike's Songs from 2003 have been a symbol of
strength and constancy. They've been as noteworthy
and satisfying as Lovelights from PLQ in 2002, or Eyes
from 1974- just one strong version after another, and
the year end's offering was no exception. A straight
uphill climb, the song was big, then bigger, then
bigger still, with huge drums as it crashed into the
end composition- a railroad version of the song.
Weekapaug had ALS teases immediately, and wound around
and down to a lurchy Phish moment with an abundance of
tubular sounds from Mike. Trey quietly spoke "jungle
boogie" in a weird voice, like he was going to do Kung
or Catapult, but instead the moment snapped and a wave
of bright white light rushed in- a really nice,
lengthy version with lots of texture.

Moma Dance had the arena quaking from the first notes,
and Trey dished out some absolutely wicked cascades
before the first verse. A raging version of another
song that was well served, though not often served, in
2003. YEM looked to be the closer. Going into the
show, everyone expected Mike's and YEM, although few
thought they would both appear in the first set (seems
like there should have been a Waves or Walls in there
too), and so the latter was welcomed warmly. There
were a number of antics from Trey here: during the
second long note at the peak, a pristine note, Trey
looked at his wrist, as though asking, "How long can
this go?"; during tramps, he bounced counter to Mike
at one point before the two turns segment; when he
stepped off the trampoline, he did it with an
exaggerated slyness, like the Grinch sneaking past a
bedroom door.

The jam started low and quiet, super slick with fuzzy
bass, and rose and rose with a distinct lead from
Trey. At a peak, he put down his guitar and danced to
a sinister, vibrating solo from Mike. The ensuing
vocal jam began with shrill shrieking and howling
followed by a rhythmic passage with pops and fantastic
yellow and fuchsia lights. But instead of closing
here, the foursome charged into a monster First Tube.
Page was particularly amazing here, playing so fast
and hard on the piano at the end- incredible! As the
sounds whipped around at the end, Trey spun his finger
in the air, the sure sign of a closing moment, but
instead he dropped effortlessly into the rowdy blues
riff and closed the unfinished Tube from the 30th! To
open and close the set with the two loose ends from
the pervious show was a stroke of set list genius. I
went into the showing thinking back to 1997, when NYE
was a good show, perhaps underrated, but certainly
over shadowed by the 30th. I finished the first set,
however, with smile, knowing that Phish had once
shocked and persuaded my mind and ears of new
possibilities and new heights of excitement.

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