Phish At Madison Square Garden, Saturday, New Year’s Eve, 2016, Reviewed
Phish on New Year’s Eve is all about how they bring it in, and in 2015 they found whole new vistas when the final set of the year opened on a small stage in the middle of Madison Square Garden where they performed before a huge funnel sucked them up and deposited them on the main stage. Two parts David Blaine, one part CGI, the trompe d’oeil was a breathtaker and while if you watch it the light of day it is obvious that the band went down to the basement and walked across to the mainstage and not through a time and space funnel going up, the moment must have been unbelievable.
Last night, the third set opened with t Phish being joined on stage by the Trey Anastasio Band, or TAB for short, in a performance off their blanded out current release Big Boat, “Petrichor”. The frontline of the stage was filled by men and women in business attire with black umbrellas dancing as it snowed till they left and returned after Trey counted down the ball and then returned with white unbrellas and the snow turned to rain and “the clouds will open and the land will rise…” -though the global warming apocalypse of the lyric wasn’t the point here. The point was the washing away of the old year. After the countdown (two minutes early), the roof erupted in balloon and inflatable dogs so plentiful you couldn’t move for them, so plentiful I have no idea how Phish kept playing. So many balloons it brought the auditorium to a standstill. The effect was stunning though the set was just about universally dismissed as Phish’s worst New Year’s Eve ever, the two preceding it weren’t considered much better, and the entire four night stand a disappointment.
I liked it.
Last night at least, the band seemed thrown off by losing 20 feet of stage, pushing the boys back to make room for the eventual chorus line. “Everything out here is measured to the quarter inch”, Trey explained, before comparing the loss to a nightmare. Whatever the reason, the first set was a wash out, the second set was the best: it took forever to click but with the less than a minute and way too accurate “Ass Hand” all the way to the set conclusion “Slave To The Traffic” and “More”, it was the evening’s brightest star. The third set wasn’t much helped by the TAB horns, though it was cool to see Lin-Manuel Miranda’s go to percussionist Andres Forero on stage.
All three sets were fine, nothing special. Jam is like EDM, you are waiting for that place where the bass drops (metaphorically speaking), and it didn’t happen. Didn’t come particularly close to happening, in fact. Instead, the three sets were wide ranging genre pieces with a performance art break two thirds in. The audience were the usually East Coast variant on trailer trash and college grad working at a Meineke Mufflers, and they were pleasant and polite as they skillessly shook their white booties. Phish ended the evening with “Loving Cup”, and why not? After all, this was not Phish’s year, it belonged to the Stones. My favorite Phish, actually the one who changed my mind about the band after catching him play with the Funky Meters a coupla years back, is keyboardist Page McConnell. He didn’t have much of a night. What there was to take was taken by lead guitarist Trey, who was in a good mood and smiled well and performed well. But everybody did. Really, that a four piece band can stand on the largest stage and just play so well for so long, is also an achievement, even when they don’t quite take off.
This is the fourth time I’ve seen the boys, hated em twice, loved em once, and this one was pleasant and unexceptional. There are worse ways to bring in a new year. I know it. I’ve done it.