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Published: 2011/01/04
by Charlie Dirksen

Phish, Madison Square Garden, NYC – 1/1

WHY IS PHISH’S FIRST EVER NEW YEAR’S DAY SHOW ALREADY CONTROVERSIAL AMONG FANS?

What’s With The Controversy? Isn’t It All ‘Hood, ‘Brah?

Click Here for the Setlist, Courtesy of Phish.Net

IT is often the most highly anticipated event in any given year of Phish. And 2010’s New Year’s Run began 2011 as it had ended 2010, with a sold-out, webcasted performance at Madison Square Garden in New York City — a show that some fans regard as one of Phish’s most consistently great gigs in recent years, up there even with the best shows from October. But why? Did they see or hear the same show that you did?

No, they probably didn’t. This is one of those Phish shows where opinions even among fans who have seen and heard a ton of Phish’s music seem to be all over the map. Even if you were at the show yourself, and were occasionally bumped by (inconsiderate) tripping-aisle-dancing wooks, or burned by cigs, or doused with beer, my guess is that you still managed to enjoy the music overall — because I think it was that good, overall. But the scene could be challenging, to be sure.

While MSG ushers at past shows that I’ve been to were typically quite strict, they seemed in general to have taken a hands-off approach to the shows on this run, and fans were able to move about relatively freely, which naturally caused gross overcrowding in some sections and wide-open rows in others. This is, of course, not atypical of scenes at indoor Phish shows. But the sound at MSG was also very different as one moved throughout the venue, especially the ability to hear Mike’s bass and Page’s keyboards. This was not likely the fault of Phish’s soundman, however, given the complexities of the room, and frankly I can’t recall the sound at MSG ever being that awesome, unless you had a bank of speakers aiming directly at you from under 50 yards away or so. In any event, the sound at MSG did seem a bit lower than it has been in the past, and, as at all shows but especially at these MSG shows (heard live by many fans thanks to the webcasts), dramatically different experiences by fans are contributing to the extremely diverse range of opinions about the MUSIC of the shows. It should go without saying, but if you watched the shows from the comfort of your home with friends and family, your experience of the music was quite different than that of the guy who vomited all over himself during the “Guelah Papyrus” and heard most of the show lying sideways on the floor of the hallway outside section 420. Or the gal who had to rescue her freshly-soiled winter coat — a Christmas gift from her dying grandmother — out from under a couple of rolling wooks mating during “Reba.”

Thus, to put the following two cents on the music of 1/1/11 in context: I had a wonderful seat Page-side in section 211, just off the aisle, near a bank of speakers, and I was surrounded by respectful, dancing, happy fans, even though I exited MSG smelling like a beer-filled ashtray. But such is par for the course upon leaving an indoor Phish show.

Phish’s first show ever to take place on January 1 began in a mellow mood with “My Soul,” remarkable only in how perfunctory it seemed in light of the very tight “Tube” that followed it. Though arguably not quite as strong as the Atlantic City version from October or the Portsmouth version from June, it was nevertheless up there with and similar in its funkiness to the Greek and Jones Beach versions from August. Its jam foretold the strength of the improvisation that would occur in the rest of the show.

The first set then proceeded to go “old school” with a run of good versions of fan-favorites “Runaway Jim,” “Foam,” “Guelah Papyrus” and “Divided Sky.” Although many veterans likely fled to the bathrooms during one or more of these tunes, I repressed any negative or otherwise jaded thoughts, and chilled warmly in the glow of these fantastic songs. The soulful, timeless themes of “Divided Sky” are gorgeous and very moving to hear when one reflects on the year that’s passed and the year that’s to come. This version may have done (or will do) nothing for you, but it nevertheless brought tears to my eyes. Don’t ask me to compare it with the 12/31/94 version, though, another year-ending, year-beginning “Divided Sky” which I heard live. Though it ain’t always perfect, my love for “Divided Sky” is and always has been unconditional. And this is true, even if you catch me using the bathroom during the opening composed section, since there’s plenty of time before Trey’s usually magnificent solo begins, and the song’s set placement often occurs when the bathrooms are least in use. (But don’t tell anyone I said that, as the only thing perhaps more jaded at a show than deliberately using “Divided Sky” as a bathroom-break song is to leave the show during it instead.)

With a whimsical nod to MSG’s shape, “Round Room” was up next. It was an unusual call, as it had only been previously played four times, with all four performances occurring in 2003 (the last one was on 7/13/03 at the Gorge, 140 shows ago). It was a little bit rough, which is forgivable, but regardless, it deflated the energy stirred-up in the room by “Divided,” including the energy of Santa Claus, who raged while rail-riding (front row) for most of the show. That energy dramatically rebounded, however, during the excellent “Walk Away” that came next. All of the versions this year have had a jam segment with a chord progression and intensity similar with (but certainly not identical to) “Tweezer Reprise,” which gives this cover more juice than it ever previously had. This is a tune that has improved tremendously not only in the last two years, but also since the first time Phish covered it in July 1988. In fact, my eyes may have deceived me, but I think this 1/1/11 version (comparable in length to the 6/17/10 Hartford version) may have even fooled Chris Kuroda on the lights a bit, as Trey continued wailing-away in the jam segment for an additional few measures, rather than ending the jam more or less where he’d ended it in the preceding versions in August and October.

Like so many other 2009-2010 versions, “Gotta Jibboo” was punchy and tight, which proved to be a striking contrast with the opening composed section of the “Reba” that followed. “Reba” is an extremely challenging song to play correctly, and no one understands that better than Trey. The jam segment of this “Reba” is very precious and soulful, and it concludes mightily. It is arguably one of the best versions of the last decade. It’s no improvisational monster like the recent Augusta 10/19/10 version. It’s just a straight-up, but excellent, “Reba.” This was one of the songs that made me fall in love with Phish’s music, and it’s one of the songs that keeps me in love with Phish’s music.

Immediately after “Reba,” pretty much everyone who had been paying attention to the setlists over the New Year’s Run began calling “Split Open and Melt” to close the first set, and then, after “Walls of the Cave” was played to close this hour and thirty-five minute first set, some of those same people began calling “Melt” at every possibly opportunity before and during the second set. It is a head-scratcher why Phish opted not to play “Melt” on this run, but whatever. The set-closing “Walls of the Cave” was no improvisational beauty like so many 2003-2004 versions (especially 2/22/03 Cincinnati and 2/25/03 Philadelphia), but it was nevertheless similar to and at least as great as the Manchester version from October. I loved hearing this close the set, as I’ve only caught this song twice.

The second set, believed by some to be one of the best sets of “3.0,” is remarkable for several reasons. First, it lacked ballads or otherwise obvious bathroom-break tunes, and so there were no doubt hundreds of fans who were dancing throughout the set only as hard as their dangerously-full bladders could tolerate. The set was an array of danceable, popular songs, each with the potential to send one’s soul — irrespective of one’s sobriety — soaring in blissful transcendence. Second, song choice means the world to many fans, particularly those who seize the moment and don’t care much (if at all) about whether they’re witnessing a “top” or “best ever” version of a tune. And this six-song second set — a set with almost half as many songs as the first set — exceeded their expectations. At only an hour long, this second set was also noticeably shorter than the vast majority of Phish sets ever performed. When “Bowie” ended the set, some no doubt wondered aloud whether the encore would be another multi-song throw-down like, say, at MSG on 12/30/97 with “Carini -> Black-Eyed Katy -> Sneakin’ Sally through the Alley > Frankenstein.”

But the brevity of the second set was forgiven in light of the consistently strong playing in every song in the set. The set as a whole was so entertaining that I don’t think I ever sat down (even briefly) or otherwise left my space — which probably hadn’t happened to me at MSG since 12/31/95. The musical highlights of the set, in my view, included the unusual, “type II” closing jam of “Simple,” an improvisation that sounded composed, and made people wonder if it was a new instrumental along the lines of “What’s the Use” — which I thought this jam might segue into, a la the 8/14/10 Alpine Valley “Down with Disease -> What’s the Use.” “Simple” was also followed by arguably the best version of “Sneakin’ Sally” in “3.0.” Noticeably faster than the 8/14/10 Alpine Valley version, this version of “SS” is worth a listen even if you’re not a fan of this tune.

The “Makisupa Policeman” in this set is also unusually improvisational, similar to the 12/28/09 Miami version. The jam segment seemed to be steadily and slowly deconstructed, only to be reconstructed anew, and the segue into the set-closing, excellent “David Bowie” that followed is wonderful as well. This version of “Makisupa” is as must-hear for any fans of this song as the 8/29/87 Ranch, 11/19/97 Champaign, and 7/25/99 Deer Creek versions are, to name a few. The encore on 1/1/11 began with “Fee,” with Trey on megaphone, just like all other versions of “Fee” since 8/12/10 Deer Creek, which was the last time that “Fee” had been played in the encore spot. And “Frankenstein,” which closed both the show and the New Year’s Run, featured Page on “keytar,” like all other 2009-2010 versions of this spectacular cover. Everyone seemed to appreciate the encore, and it was an outstanding way to conclude Phish’s first gig of 2011.

Whether you’re a fan who chooses to be happy in your Phish listening at all times, or who is instead pleased only when Phish gives you at least a bit more than the greatness your jaded hide demands from them, the 1/1/11 MSG show is worth a listen. Many bytes have apparently already been sent debating the merits of this show, and especially whether the second set in particular is one of the best of 2010-2011. This is, of course, reason alone for why you should hear it and decide for yourself. Happy New Year, and THANK YOU PHISH!!

Charlie Dirksen practices law and is an officer and Board Member of The Mockingbird Foundation, an all-volunteer 501©(3) nonprofit founded by Phish fans in 1997. He first saw Phish at the Paradise in Boston on 10/6/89. He is a Phish.net Admin and may be reached at charlie@phish.net or via @cdirksen on Twitter.

Comments

There are 28 comments associated with this post

Ariana July 14, 2012, 01:48:34

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Early Times January 6, 2011, 13:41:00

Agreed, strong review. I was not at the show and have yet to hear it but I have heard many good things. As far as MSG security goes, I’ve seen a number of Phish shows there and have never been anywhere that lax outside of the west coast. I remember on NYE ’97 people had brought in champagne and someone had bong! The only thing I didn’t get about the review was the preoccupation with peeing. I’ll have to download this one.

ringo January 7, 2011, 07:01:28

thank you charlie and thank you phish

piperphunk January 7, 2011, 09:03:36

Loved listening to this show on the webcast from the left coast and agree that this was top notch Phish…thanks for the great review, but have two comments on your 3.0 comparisons: Sally from the Gorge last summer – that outro jam is still my favorite bit of 3.0 jamming. Worth another listen… Also, the Simple at the Greek surpassed this version as well…and the type II jamming seemingly developed there has been reappearing (i.e. heard parts of it in Tweezer on 12/29/10 and again in this Simple)...check the excellent video on Phish.com.

Jake January 7, 2011, 10:15:40

If you haven’t joined yet- here’s the FB page for PHISH Festival in Watkins Glen this Summer. Please join and show your support!
http://www.facebook.com/update_security_info.php?wizard=1#!/pages/Fans-for-Summer-Jam-2011-Concert-in-Watkins-Glen-NY/169347499772014

GregLooseanus January 7, 2011, 15:09:11

Now THAT is a good review.

Luciano January 8, 2011, 17:15:44

I’m with you on the Divided Sky review, I’ve heard many, this one was my fave and I credit Page for alot of that, he had an especially good run…as for the greatest set, I’m all-in on 12/31 set II Wilson>46>Sand>NICU>DWD>Ghost>YEM...the Ghost left me speechless, I guess that’s my measuring stick, but it took me back to ’97 how they used to explore so fluently and the jam just kept gaining steam right up to the refrain. Unreal. That one popped the cork for me, though the music all weekend was the best i’ve heard in 3.0 IMO. So many highlights, it’s tough to rank them. Thanks for the well-thought out review.

bdub January 9, 2011, 15:31:26

I had a blast during the msg run. Re:security, yes it was much relaxed than my previous experience. I was ejected during the 1st set on NYE 97 just for being in the wrong seat. (ultimately found/pleaded my way back in). thanks for the review

Me January 11, 2011, 09:49:38

Personally, set 1 on the 1st was my favorite simply due to it’s “oldschool” feel… to hear Foam, Reba & Guelah brought me back to what first attracted me to Phish. I was lucky enough to see 28, 31 &1, so I got a great mixture of Phish… I see the NYE run more as one large show with several sets than 4 (or 5 in this case) and to have so many great sets while at the same time getting so many different styles of sets, to me, is what the NYE run is about. THANK YOU PHISH!!! BTW... I haven’t seen anyone mention the fact that the “Sally” was a request played for a person on the floor who’d been holding a sign up off and on for the entire night leading up to it!

ColonelForbin January 14, 2011, 13:26:43

^ crosseyed was an unbelievable way to start the second set. As soon as it started, everyone in the building knew that the night had turned into a dance party… I was sharin in the groove for the entire rest of the set, never stopped dancing once! On another note, I can’t tell u how sick I am of the snobby, old school phishheads who refuse to accept any 3.0 show as amazing. All they say is, “phish peaked in 95, blah blah blah.”. Phish is phish! No matter what they play or how they play, seeing phish live is still better than being at home on your couch, listening to some show from the distant past. I love phish no matter if the PA system cuts out during camel walk or if Trey forgets a few lyrics. You are still in the same room with 4 rock music legends and no matter how many times you’ve seem them, that is fucking awesome. Don’t hate… Appreciate!

bob flair January 5, 2011, 08:51:23

How can the second set be one of the best of 09-10 when it took place in 2011?

joechip January 5, 2011, 09:06:30

Thanks for sharing your thoughts Charlie. Count me among those who have absolutely no problem with a 60 minute set, when it has the flow and excitement of this one. I thought it was great.

Harpua'sNuts January 5, 2011, 09:30:55

while doing a great job of highlighting the non-musical reasons why i haven’t seen a show in years, this is the first cognizant, thorough, germaine and annotated review i’ve seen of the past couple runs. although the names escape me (and i’d save them the embarassment), why readers of the preeminent jam-band site have been subjected to “reviews” that consisted of fluff such as, ““Limb By Limb” is one of those songs that is a merge between a jam and a composition”, “Always Phish’s musical quarterback for better or worse, guitarist/singer Trey Anastasio is often brilliant and sometimes downright sloppy”, “...the lyrics of which, including “the guitar man’s got problems” repeatedly allude to Phish’s years past, when Anastasio’s substance-abuse problems affected the Vermont quartet both personally and musically.” and, my favorite: “Before a concise version of “Gumbo,” Anastasio also poked fun at drummer (and apparent “Gumbo” lyricist) Jon Fishman, who lives in nearby Lincolnville.” is a wonder. who greenlights this tripe? it’s about time a reviewer knows what he saw, knows what to write and knows what we want to read

Jeffalope January 5, 2011, 09:27:06

Bob: It was the end of the 2010 New Years run, we are some time from the 2011 tour. Bob: It was the end of the 2010 New Years run, we are some time from the 2011 tour. Charlie: Great article, but I will never understand why so many people debate the greatness of shows. If it floors me the way Big Cypress did, I’ll tell the world. I have been to over 150 Phish shows and hundreds of other artists, written about and taken photos of most of them (thank God for the digital world) and I have to be honest…the lifestyle I adopted years ago is about a way of life and a love of music. If you are seeing Phish, you are seeing one of the greatest, most talented bands of all time. Hippie-Nation has somehow adopted the “what have you done for me lately” attitude. Any day with Phish is better than any day anywhere else. Happy New Year all…enjoy the ride and surrender to the phlow

bob flair January 5, 2011, 09:39:02

Jeffalope: If I am so wrong that you needed to respond to my post, why did charlie edit his review. Happy New Year….

Jeffalope January 5, 2011, 09:49:12

Bob: all good brother, I wonder when phish.com will be updated to note this show as a part of the 2011 tour

Nick January 5, 2011, 10:00:18

Charlie,
Thank you for the review and the countless time you’ve spent sharing your thoughts with all of us! Keep it up!
I started frequenting the phish.net in ’97 and gravitated towards your reviews on the newsgroup and in the archives as a guide for my tape collection. i am psyched that you are once again contributing your words and i look forward to hopefully reading more reviews in the future. Happy New Year.

bob flair January 5, 2011, 10:01:39

At least they could make more money with a early 2011 winter tour t shirt

Jeffalope January 5, 2011, 10:23:53

Now there is an idea we should submit to marketing!!

Kyle January 5, 2011, 13:11:20

Jaded, jaded jaded. I have been seeing phish since 95 and been to exactly 101 shows. The 2nd set although short was by far the best set i have seen in a long time. they had a curfew that night everyone and could not break it. Everyone thinks phish can just do what they want and play unti they want. the fact is people is that if they break curfew they have to pay for it. if they go 20 mins over curfew they have to pay ALL the unionized people for 8 hours of work even if they only work an hour. Great article some people just dont know anything at all keep it up jambands I love you and for al the jaded idiots that left set 2 peace see ya later dont come back bc you all missed some great tunes. THANK YOU (AGAIN) PHISH for everthing!!!!

Weekapaug Wagon January 5, 2011, 13:40:51

Jeffalope – I completely agree with you. Charlie, thanks for the insightful comments and good past song references. I thought 1/1 was overall pretty mind blowing. What precision. Beautiful Div Sky and Simple. Lots of energy. Awesome closer with Frankenstein. To all the haters, you are really reading the wrong article, and need to listen for what’s there (four of the world finest musicians in harmony nearly all the time, and having fun doing it), vs what’s not. Otherwise, your John Mayer fanclub tickets await you.

aburtch January 5, 2011, 13:43:52

Thanks for the great review of the music Charlie. And to Jeffalope’s point “Any day with Phish is better than any day anywhere else.” Amen brother!

102795 Bowie January 5, 2011, 15:46:11

Nice write-up. Excellent show and really the only 2-set smoker of the run, IMO. Author, I like your comparing the songs more to other 3.0 versions and less to ‘the greatest ever from the distant past’, fwiw.

102795 Bowie January 5, 2011, 15:55:22

@ kyle,
MSG is rented in 30 minute blocks. If they go over by 20 minutes, they pay for 30 minutes, not 8 hours, FWIW. But to your point, they do have a pre-determined time to stop by. Would have been 11:30 or 12:00 on the 1st.

Trevor January 5, 2011, 19:36:14

Actually, Big Cypress was the first ever January 1st show for Phish. It may have not been billed that way, but they played 3 sets on 12/30/99 (after sitting on Alligator Alley for 18 hours the night before, all morning, and most of the afternoon). Then on 12/31/99, they only played 1 set of music, came back at Midnight and played until close to 7am, which was about 7 hours of straight music on 1/1/2000.

TheBrainTQ January 6, 2011, 08:16:29

Nice review, man. I just cant imagine what youre talking about in terms of MSG security. Overall, it is the most laid-back in door venue in the tri-state area. Aside from the floor, you can sit anywhere, smoke, no one shuffles you out of the aisles, etc. LOVE MSG.
Second set was my favorite Phish I’ve seen since 2.0 and thank you for noting the Tweeprise-ishness of the Walk Away Jam. that was tight.

jrose January 6, 2011, 12:09:42

Nice review and thoughts. No mention of Crosseyed though?

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