Just a few days ago, I still didn't have tickets for the 12/30 Phish show. Thanks to CashOrTrade.org, I was able to trade two of my 12/29 extras for a pair of 30ths... behind the stage. I was slightly worried that it'd be too frustrating a position to really enjoy the concert, but now it pains me to think of not being there for last night's second set.
When Phish returned to the stage after that song-focused first set, Mike had a yellow scarf wrapped around his neck. I was secretly hoping it was there to keep his head from floating away in the middle of a particularly spacey trip. Anastasio revved up the rollicking "Chalk Dust Torture," and an arsenal of cow-patterned balloons exploded from the center of the crowd. Trey's guitar evolved into a humpback whale, searching for mates across a swirling sea. Then Mike dropped "the brown noise," clearing the air for a short, gentle section prior to the final uptempo groove. By this point, I had accepted my view of the stage. I was listening to the music. Surrendering to the flow. "Mike's Song" developed into a funk rock piece that just begged to be made into a "Frankenstein" monster. But they resisted, and a clunky transition into "Devotion to a Dream" kept the no-covers streak going. I like the Wingsuit ditty, but as the newcomer, it was the obvious weakest link. "Ghost" followed, and it was incredible to hear the arena fully singing along to a song, not just a single line or wooing in unison. Once it reached the breakout, you could call this one Casper, because this was a friendly "Ghost." The radiant jam took on more and more positive vibes until it couldn't contain them anymore, and ruptured into the fat bass intro of "Weekapaug Groove." The song continued along the established sunny path until it too had to burst, this time into "Simple." After the silly lyrical part, the band pushed forth, eventually taking the song inward. The hive mind of these guys just astounds me; the way they rarely even look at each other (generally only for the endings of songs), but are so telepathically aligned, they can improvise a song that constantly evolves. Bouncing along on Mike's trampoline bassline, Page and Trey twinkled on until the whole thing sounded like blissed out electronica. Scraping some of the resin leftover from "Yarmouth," they dropped into "Harry Hood." I think I preferred last year's version, but then again, last year I wasn't right in front of a girl screaming like Miss Piggy right before a karate chop. Eventually it wound down to a feedback-y denouement, which most assumed would be the set's finish (My brother even left to go to the bathroom.), but Fishman crashed right into "Cavern." "They faked me out!" yelled my brother once he returned for the singalong. Then they faked everyone out again by descending into "First Tube" for a victory lap. The guys took a bow, and Trey collected what appeared to be books and a framed photograph from the front row.
At that point, Page could've returned, played only the fart sound he finished last night's "Gumbo" with, and I would've been happy. Instead they chose "Slave to the Traffic Light." After such a euphoric second set, it seemed even more relaxed than usual. It was the satisfied exhale, the cigarette after sex. And it was my favorite Phish show.
PHISH - 12.30.13 - MADISON SQUARE GARDEN
SET ONE -
Kill Devil Falls / Bathtub Gin / Wombat / Yarmouth Road / 46 Days / Lawn Boy / Heavy Things / Punch You in the Eye > Sample in a Jar / Gotta Jibboo
SET TWO -
Chalk Dust Torture > Mike's Song > Devotion to a Dream / Ghost > Weekapaug Groove > Simple > Harry Hood > Cavern > First Tube
Slave to the Traffic Light