B List: 8 Reasons 12/30/2009 Was a Classic

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.”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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18 Responses

  1. i’ve been trying to tell people 2009 was the year of Get Back On The Train. Agree with you 100%. While not always teh standout jam, it always quietly kicked ass. Check the version from Alpine for a sleeper. Miami was a culmination of those killer 2009 Trains.

  2. Wasn’t “Rich” a rehearsed stunt to set the precendent of bringing fans on stage to play to better set up the New Year’s prank the next night?

    I wasn’t there but that’s what I assumed from listening to the tapes.

  3. @sciphish I think the idea of bringing someone out of the crowd was planned, but I don’t think Rich was in on the gag.

  4. I didn’t get the feeling he was in on it. I mean I don’t know him or anything, but we saw him outside talking to a bunch of people with the vacuum afterward and he seemed pretty happy. My friend who was also wearing a Fishman shirt took a picture with him.

  5. Great article… you pretty much nailed it (first show ’93). Also, “Rich” was clearly unplanned (well, the band may have planned ‘let’s bring a random fan onstage and see if he can play the vac’, but Rich was still stunned an hour or two after the show and he was hugging the vac like it was his most prized possession) The Phish!

  6. I agree… definitely classic show.. but i do believe Rich was absolutely in on the joke… the fact that they thanked Sarah and Rich the next night seemed to clue that in.. (also, he was *REALLY* good at playing the vacuum, which i would imagine is a skill that needs to be practiced once or twice…)

  7. I met Rich in the lot the next night, and he was definitely NOT in on the gag. In fact, he was having a hard time figuring out how to get the Electrolux home. He ended up shipping it.

    I totally agree with the article, the show had that classic feel. If not the most epic show of 09, definitely the most fun and the most Phish-y.

  8. Great evening, indeed…especially successfully dipping into Dewar’s suite, then being politely asked to leave for having a soul shakedown party.

  9. HAHA!

    Everything that night was simply marvelous.
    Soul Shakedown is indeed a really tantalizing opener.
    I myself cried at the onset of What’s The Use…
    WTU>Tela, Gone was an incredible string of songs.
    Sand & Curtain was also fucking unbelievable. I lost my marbles in the middle of Sand, and then after some chilling out, again during Back on the Train.
    Free was nicely nailed.
    Boogie On was sooo soooo soooooo funky (I stood in ecstatic shock that Shakedown & Boogie were being played in the same show).
    Antelope with the crazyass Boogie teases was phenomenal, and took every single last bit of dripping energy I could muster.

    Can’t argue much with your breakdown.

  10. i remember finally getting a beer and finishing going to the bathroom at setbreak, and being out in the hallway and the lights for the second set drop…then i hear sand.

    i started running and yelling at everyone in the hallway “thats sand! they are playing sand! get in there, its time to go! they are playing sand!!! lets go everybody!”

    loved 12/30/09 for sure.

  11. hell fucking yeah! right on point with this one. If didn’t have fun at this Phish I don’t know what the heck you are looking for from this band. classic rock covers, funk, reggae, bluegrass, space, classic phish. Let’s make that the pace setter for 2010, see you out there!

  12. 12/29/09 was a better show than 12/30. 12/30 is overrated due to the number of ‘bustouts’ in the first set. As far as a great ‘show’…12/29/09 runs away with it. IMO

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