Wednesday, January 3, 2024

Live Review: Phish 12/28 & 29/23 MSG, NYC

12/28 & 29/23 
Madison Square Garden, NYC 

Once again the current jamband kings set up in their home away from home, Madison Square Garden, to play four nights in a row, closing out 2023 and welcoming 2024 in the world's most famous arena. RtBE attended the first and second nights (12/28 and 12/29) and greatly enjoyed both, with one of them truly standing out. 

First up was Thursday night 12/28 as the anticipation ran high with the band having done a solid summer run earlier in the year at the same venue. Things would take a few songs to truly get going for the Vermont quartet (Trey Anastasio, Mike Gordon, Page McConnell and Jon Fishman) as they opened with a fairly tame "No Men In No Man's Land" before some crunchy keyboard work from McConnell on "Halley's Comet" that was engaging. After that fine tune though the band played it pretty close to the vest for the first set with short versions of "Sample in a Jar", "Runaway Jim", and "Bouncing Around the Room" before Fishman picked up the slamming pace on "Axilla (Part II)". 

The group seemed more energized and dropped an upbeat blues burner on the Son Seals cover "Funky Bitch", but the set, and overall show highlight, arrived next when the group really dug into "Bathtub Gin". The almost eighteen minute outing saw the band open up with jams for the first time mixing warbling spacey playing with metallic crashing and soaring intensity as Gordon and Fishman's interplay kept things exciting throughout while McConnell and Trey added sonic accents. 

Unfortunately a bland take on "Ghost" followed (whatever happened to the funk during this song?) while the band brought the set full circle with "No Men In No Man's Land" quotes. After a long break Phish returned with newer crowd favorite "The Howling" before the longest jam of the night "A Wave of Hope" sprawled out. A winding effort that mixed blissful Phish with a few darker moments, sounding a touch like The Allman Brothers at times, the extended playing was fine but never truly revelatory. 

Better was a well placed "Rift" and the funky wah-wah work from Anastasio on "Mike's Song" that highlighted the second set with excellent energy. While "Simple" never reached the heights it has in the past, the set ending "Blaze On" showcased an energetic and solid jam to close. Surprisingly, the band had a lot left in the tank, and delivered a long, four song encore that could have ended after each tune. The ballad like "Mercy", the delicate beauty of "Squirming Coil" or the upbeat funk of "Weekapaug Groove" but it was "Say It To Me S.A.N.T.O.S." that ended what was more of a mini-set than an encore. 

While the 28th was OK overall ( has it rated at 4.03  out of 5 which seems fair, if a touch high) it was a mere warm up for the Friday night show, which instantly had a more pumped up feel from the crowd and the band themselves. Trey was literally hoping around with excitement and acknowledging/waving to each side of the crowd before a note was played. 

The music opened with a strong, rocking version of "Free" before moving effortlessly to get the funk flowing for "The Moma Dance" leading to a guitar ripping "Maze" which wrapped up a top notch trio to open the night and kick up the energy levels for all in the sold out house.

While the whole opening set was moving, the highlight just might have been this dynamite version of "Stash" that gracefully traversed through jazzy sections while Fishman dominated on the drums and cymbals. Two personal favorite songs "Get Back On The Train" and "Theme From The Bottom" were well done, while one of the bands better ballads, "Mountains In The Mist", was smooth. The set should have probably ended after a rocking "46 Days" but the outfit tacked on a tame version of "Drift While You're Sleeping" to conclude a stout run of tunes.

The second set found the group truly stretching out, using a mix of darker playing with brilliant peaks, resulting in the best set RtBE has caught from the band since The Baker's Dozen

"Chalkdust Torture" kicked things off and after a short spin of the song proper, the band blasted off into the unknown with Gordon pushing the bass forward as spacey blissful jamming mixed with freaky passages as the weird, heavy, bizarre fully came out in this jam from the masters of improv. They weren't finished though as the newer jam vehicle "Oblivion" was another excellent extended outing, complete with deep bass, cymbal crashes, stuttering exchanges, and dark/bright juxtapositions while "What's the Use?" was a gorgeous, majestic, mid-set break.

Those three tunes were excellent examples of the band at it's current peak, but they were not done. "My Friend, My Friend" was huge with crazy riffing from Trey and massive drumming around distorted ominous noise/funk slamming, which echoed around MSG. Fans were clearly stoked when the weirdness coalesced directly into the dance party "Sand", yet this interesting version displayed more varied, squirrely jamming from Trey and Page as opposed to the hardcore funky throw down's of yesteryear.         

The classic rock wailing of "About To Run" was a solid, more direct effort, but the band really let it all hang out for this version of "Harry Hood" which closed the second set. A dynamite rendition from all involved as the band linked up and delivered a classic take on this warhorse tune; the last few times RtBE has caught Hood, it has been just OK, this one makes us remember why it is such a great jam from the band as it grew, soaring to a huge release. 

After a brief spin through "Lonely Trip" the band sent the Friday night crowd out on a rocking high with a blasting version of "Carini" to wrap an incredibly strong show from Phish. As always the band put in the effort and lit up MSG like no other touring act currently can, it was a joy to get see these two great nights of music from the group. 
Support the artists, peep some video below:

No comments:

Post a Comment