Yesterday, Rolling Stone associate editor Andy Greene sent out a tweet that resonated deeply with two fanbases. Greene tweeted that My Morning Jacket frontman Jim James told him that MMJ is “close to finalizing” a New Years Eve gig in Boston because “Phish booked MSG for, like, the next 4 years.” While rumors have swirled for the past few years that Phish locked up New Year’s Eve at the World’s Most Famous Arena under a multi-year contract, James’s quip gives much more credibility to that hearsay. The possibility that after last year’s lackluster New Year’s Run Phish would return to MSG left many fans questioning the “convenient” choice for the band at this stage in their career. I’m here to tell you last year’s run was a fluke – the Garden is still the best option for a Phish New Year’s Run.
Most Phish fans are rabid, in every sense of the word, myself included. This dedication is what makes us among the most dedicated, critical and sometimes harsh or jaded bunch of music fans. Sometimes, that dedication leads to shortsightedness as well. And while some of the fanbase is grumbling about a (possible) third, consecutive New Year’s Run at MSG, I would just like to remind everyone to adopt my motto from this past week and “have a cup of coffee and catch your breath,” as the Phish song Fee suggests. Sure, we can gripe about the “safe” or “non-risk-taking” stand of last year, but we must take a look at the entire body of work of Phish at MSG, before reserving a final judgement.
Before Phish returned to MSG in 2010, I wrote an article for PFPS, which I encourage everyone to read, as it gives highlights of each run of Phish shows at the Garden up until that point (and something I don’t need to rehash in depth again in this column). Let me just say this: do you think the band doesn’t realize that the disappointment expressed by most fans towards last year’s run was the consensus? Sure they do. Which is ALL the more reason to be excited about the possibility of them coming back to redeem themselves.
Now, as a disclaimer I do live in New York City and work two blocks from MSG, but my hope for the return of Phish to the venue for their annual year-ending run stems from the fact that out of the 23 shows which Phish has played at the Garden since ’94, all of which I have seen, there have sure been some absolutely legendary, and to used the much over-used word in our scene’s vernacular, EPIC, moments that have taken place. From the December 30, 1995 Harry Hood to arguably one of the band’s best performances ever on December 31, 1995 to the bust out of Sneakin’ Sally on December 30, 1997 (twice!) to the cover debut of Prince’s 1999 which kicked off the New Year’s ’98-’99 show to hosting the band’s comeback on December 31, 2002 to the venue-rocking First Tube in 2009 to the 2010 Ghost and Meatstick Madness (again, both on New Year’s Eve proper), there are plenty of examples of the quartet slaying The Garden.
Listen to just about any show of the past 23, especially the New Year’s Runs, and tell me the palpable energy cannot be *FELT* on your cassettes, CD’s DAT’s or MP3s, straight into your soul? We are talking PHISH and Madison (Magical!) Square Garden! And fans are complaining? Are you kidding me? Did we all forget that it was just three-plus years ago that we had NO Phish at all? I think we can all agree ANY Phish is better than none, huh? Which again, goes to some points I made right after the New Year’s Run last year. As another column I wrote right after New Year’s 2011 says, I agree with being underwhelmed, but wouldn’t trade it for the world to see my favorite band at my favorite venue – where such good memories and a rich history lie, with more to be made.
Also, I think knowing well in advance – for the band and fans alike – where to potentially expect New Year’s allows for more planning for the stunts, more planning logistically for those coming in from out of town and a sense of familiarity and a routine that I, at least, find comforting. I mean, at this stage in Phish’s career, the monster tours of old are a thing of the past, the maniac jamming is much more rare and the band appears to be clean and sober. Yes, things have changed. But, let’s be thankful Phish at the Garden hasn’t. Even though I’m in my 30’s now, I can still remember the feelings I felt as a 15-year-old walking into MSG on December 30th and 31st in 1995 for an absolutely life-changing pair of experiences. The aforementioned Hood from 12/30/95 is still my favorite Phish moment of all time. I know it in my bones that the band has some more magic in them for future shows at MSG.
One of the last points I’d like to make is that I get it…I hear most of you. Phish in this era is not the same band of the mid-nineties. I’ll admit, it has taken me longer than most to accept that fact. But, now that I have, (which is the key my friends, trust me!) I am genuinely excited to see what the next chapters of Phish at MSG will hold. After all, if there’s one thing that Phish has taught us over the years it is that they rarely disappoint. And when they do, they come out playing with a chip on their proverbial shoulder and make a musical statement that washes away all signs of doubt and has us all forgetting about the small blemish on the record. I’m confident that a potential Phish New Year’s Run at MSG in 2012 will do just that.
See you all on tour in a month!