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Published: 2013/01/18
by Dan Warry-Smith

Phish and The Disco Biscuits, MSG and Theatre at MSG – 12/31

Midnight In The Garden Of Good And Evil

It was a long time coming, but the folks at Red Light Management finally got their two jammiest groups under one roof on the same night. Considering that the night in question was New Year’s Eve and the roof in question covered Madison Square Garden, fans of both Phish and The Disco Biscuits rightly expected big things. While the two bands have been headed in distinctly different directions of late, the hopes of a few thousand party hoppers were far from dashed.

Complaints about its recent renovation (and subsequent in-venue mobility challenges) aside, MSG on NYE remains the quintessential Phish stomping ground. The surge of energy greeting the Vermont-bred foursome was briefly quibbled by the opening song, one that soon qualified itself among the bands most poignant cover selections of all time. Rick Nelson’s “Garden Party” aligned not only with the overall theme of the event, but more profoundly with the conundrum Phish has faced for years: satisfying the myriad demands of its obsessively critical followers. The observant ones in attendance recognized the sentiment and, for the rest, a rollicking ‘Possum’ quickly followed.

Where set one delivered tightly-wound versions of classics such as “Rift,” “Mike’s Song,” and “Character Zero” – showcasing the focused thrift of Trey Anastasio’s current guitar technique – set two carried the improvisational load. Potent jams arose within the sequence of ‘Ghost > Piper > Light’, catapulting the storied arena into orbit with minimal meandering. Signature funk vehicles “Also Sprach Zarathustra” and “You Enjoy Myself” continued the trend of economical execution, and just like that the new year was nigh.

The perfectly bizarre incantation of “Kung” signaled the golf-themed gag that pervaded the third set, cuing a parade of golf carts and exuberant actors to help ring in 2013. Steve Miller’s “Fly Like An Eagle” was debuted, its double entendre firmly within the bands humorous wheelhouse, and Page McConnell was all smiles as he imitated Bob Hope in welcoming everyone to the 30th year of Phish. With joy abounding in the mecca of basketball (and bebop), the debauchery was just heating up a few floors below.

Following their own midnight procedure, in which bite-sized morsels of ten songs were unleashed in the form of an inspired countdown, the members of The Disco Biscuits turned in two additional sets of exploratory tunes that stretched well into January 1st. Migrators from upstairs were eager to experience the stylistic shift, as the dance-friendly confines of The Theater at MSG exploded with lights, lasers, and electronic-rock euphoria.

Vintage material ruled the early morning hours, as the Biscuits deftly traversed the line between light and dark – offering as many sinister snippets as buoyant compositions. Aron Magner summoned the Mesopotamian spirit with his synthesized leads emerging from “Little Shimmy In A Conga Line,” its powerful jam boasting a sound that simply doesn’t exist in the Phish arsenal. Following an inverted version of the goofy classic “Bernstein & Chasnoff,” guitarist Jon Gutwillig led the charge into the peak and conclusion of “Aceetobee,” which had been left unfinished three nights prior. Superhuman drummer Allen Aucoin then snuck a taste of some precise drum-and-bass beats into an aggressive “M.E.M.P.H.I.S.” outro, and a tidy take on “Munckin Invasion” fittingly capped the 90-minute set.

Flexing their creativity and stamina, the Philadelphia genre-benders did not relent as their third stanza eclipsed the 4AM mark. “Above The Waves” sandwiched “Spaga” in a segment that mined a heap of musical moods, before a patient “Magellan” saw Gutwillig at his whimsical and collaborative best. The semi-rare “Once The Fiddler Paid,” another of Gutwillig’s late-90’s masterpieces, graced the encore slot in clear punishment of those who chose to depart before the curtain finally fell. With two years of sporadic performances and end-game speculation on their backs, the Biscuits rose to the occasion at the most crucial hour.

Admirers of either of the two Red Light acts that packed MSG on 12/31/12 were given plenty to smile about, but the occasion was a resounding dream-come-true for fans of both bands. Much has been said about Phish’s likely return to the Garden to ring in 2014, and one can only hope that their EDM-charged younger counterparts will follow suit. The combination was good for business, great for convenience, and – to the people who mattered most – unparalleled for fun.

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