6) Opening Up a Can of Whoopass – For only the fifth time ever, and the third time in the pole position slot, Phish kicked off the show with a special treat. If any song aims to open a performance with a statement, it’s one that literally comes right out and tells you how it’s gonna be: “It’s gonna be a Soul Shakedown Party, tonight.”
5) Put it in Context – Phish returned in 2009 with what has been uniformly dubbed 3.0, an era clearly defined by less emphasis on the long exploratory improvisations, but rather a more focused setlist-oriented approach with high song count shows and lots of rarities. While this new direction did not suit everyone, in thinking about comparing great shows, it’s worth considering the various eras as it’s not necessarily always an apples to apples comparison. For example, not everyone loves when Phish plays bluegrass, but surely a rundown of great shows should include at least something from the ’94 Reverend Mosier era. Given that 2009 marked a material change in the band’s approach and 12/30/2009 represents by most accounts the best of the bunch, this should merit some consideration.
4) The A Train – Perhaps the unsung hero song of 2009, Back on the Train emerged from hiatus number two with renewed vigor. But while often being incredibly solid, it generally snuck quietly into sets (like the nice version on 12/3/2009 at MSG). That’s because Back on the Train is like a great sixth man or a reliable possession receiver; it almost never takes over a game, but can always be relied upon to play its part. Hence, the 17 minute trailblazer on this night is pretty much on par with a breakout Wes Welker (15 catches, 192 yards) performance circa last season against the Jets.
3) The Feeling – This is projecting to some extent, but I suspect a lot of the reason why so many people who insist that nothing in 2009 could possibly hold up against any pre-hiatus is because they can’t get back that feeling from when it was all so new. The music certainly was different and even better during different periods (believe it or not, young fans can listen to recordings too), but it’s hard to be objective about it when people attempt to compare shows when they were in the prime of their youth back in the ’90s with nothing but a few classes to skip, to these shows to now being on PTO for a couple days. Anyway, the point is this was the show that felt like it really brought that “feeling” back. It was more than just an amazing music performance; it had that feeling of wanting to keep going, wanting to see more.
2) What’s a Boogielope? – To put the magnitude of what’s since been dubbed the “Boogielope” in perspective, I’ll tell you a quick story. I remember sending in a text to one of my close friends who couldn’t make the trip down after the show that basically said, “Something amazing just happened, but I’m not going to tell you what. Just listen to this show right away.” In retrospect, I think he probably thought I was referring to what’s coming next on this list, but in actuality it was the incredibly festive Boogie On Reggae Woman combined with the subsequent Antelope that contained so many teases and themes from the preceding song, it could practically be considered a mash up. In a year that was a little light on quirkiness – by Phish standards at least – this clever pairing really stands out.
1) Being Wealthy is Having Money; Being Rich is Playing the Vacuum on Stage in Front of 19,600 People – Be you to have any Electrolux, man? In a moment that will surely live on in Phish lore forever, a lucky fan named Rich – decked out in his finest Fishman attire – got pulled onstage for a once in a lifetime opportunity to play a solo on Fish’s vacuum. Not only did Rich learn to play on the fly, even settling into the Love You melody during his solo, but he wooed the crowd with light-hearted stage banter and made for one of those goofy moments that only Phish can pull off. In the end, Fishman donned Rich with his vacuum and retired it from the Phish repertoire. Does this mean the end of the vacuum solo, forever? If so, this clearly marks a defining, albeit sad day for Phish fans, but also one that Rich become a hero and a lot legend. Well done, buddy.