Happy New Year’s, everyone! I know it’s been a little bit since I’ve graced you with my Postcards From Page Side column, but wanted to start fresh here in ’13 with a recap of what was certainly the best year since their return for the almighty Phish. With more highlights than I can possibly cover here, I’ll attempt to give some focus on what I felt were some turning points, true magical moments and the final seven shows of the year – Colorado and MSG, all of which I attended – and all of which offered something special.
[Photo by Paul Citone]
Starting with a Summer Tour that kicked off indoors in Worcester and boasted one of the most memorable JAMMED sequences of the entire year: Ghost > Boogie On Reggae Woman > If I Could, and climaxed with a Runaway Golf Cart Marathon on New Year’s Eve at Madison Square Garden, their was certainly a laundry list of snippets being added frantically to iPods over the past seven months. The biggest difference between 2012 versus ’09, ’10, and ’11 was that you didn’t just walk into a show expecting to hear well played songs, but it was HOW they were going to play them. In short, and in my opinion, Phish re-learned how to consistently JAM again in 2012, with a no-holds barred, patient and sometimes ferocious, four-headed, balanced attack. If someone told me before the year started that my top versions list would include Undermind, I might have smacked you. But alas, it’s up there (August 31). And so it goes in the world of Phish.
Many, many other examples prove how ridiculous a year it was for Phish improvisationally. We can also look at Atlantic City’s mini-festival in the early portion of Summer’s Leg One. The completely Type-II, off the wall Birds of Feather (June 15), or the amazing sandwich of Light > Manteca > Light (June 16) were two examples of the band simply cutting loose and letting things flow and progress with results than no one could have fathomed until they were happening. I remember walking out of Bader Field after these shows and thinking to myself that the band was only six shows into their tour and was completely rewriting the script.
This theme continued throughout the first leg of the summer with monster versions coming around every turn. Light, Sand and Down With Disease were just a few songs that led the charge, while another perennial favorite, Tweezer, culminated and blew the roof off of the Garden with an all-time version on December 28th. Show after show, I was rediscovering IT on a nightly basis. I was hanging on every note Phish played this year in a way I wasn’t in the previous three years.
July 6th, the first night of Phish’s SPAC Run, was my favorite show of the summer – at the time. That was the beauty of this year as a whole: shows and runs simply kept topping themselves, like an endless supply of rainbow sprinkles on a monster banana split. Every night I walked out with a shit-eating grin, knowing in my heart of hearts that this year was what many of us had been secretly hoping for – more consistently – over the past, few years. The band had certainly been painting brushstrokes of brilliance to date since the return, but 2012 was their greatest Picasso in a long, long time. Some things I talked about in a Leg 1 recap earlier this year proved to be spot on, while others were partially right.
The bust outs (Skin It Back on July 3rd at Jones Beach, being a mega one), continued to fly off “the shelf.” However, the concise, purposeful jamming continued to morph into visions of yesteryear through the second half of the year. The final night of the run at the Bill Graham in San Francisco showcased one of the best sets of the year – from start to finish. Just a ridiculous onslaught that you need to cue up at the start, hit play and hang on. And the humor/playfulness that I mentioned, and truly separates Phish from just about every other band in the universe, was painstakingly apparent again throughout “tucking” and the aforementioned “Runaway Golf Cart Marathon” of New Year’s Eve. Toss in the element of the FUCK YOUR FACE show in Colorado and the Golf set and you’ve got two of the more tongue-in-cheek nods to the endless supply of surprises Phish seemingly has up their sleeves.
But, 2012 will always be defined by me and many others by on run of shows: Labor Day Weekend at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park. To end the second leg of the Summer Tour, the shows in Colorado were by far the best shows I’ve seen in the modern era and showed me that as much as I’d hoped/dreamed/been showed glimpses of/and written about how Phish could recapture their old magic: this run completely solidified that in my eyes – and I dare anyone to challenge that statement. Seemingly everything they touched turned to pure musical gold, entering a realm that is not practiced, but rather just happens. Inhibitions are cast aside and things flow, like the hose we all associate with Phish, that Santana told them about many years ago. Carini (only surpassed by MSG’s version on December 30), Runaway Jim (went deep!), Undermind, as I said earlier, which floated into the most beautiful, melodic, ethereal jam the song has ever spawned and Sand, which was a groove monster, were all top-shelf versions. But, the Light they played topped them all. I even heard second hand that the band themselves were blown away after performing this number in Colorful Colorado, something that certainly doesn’t come easy after 30 years, I would garnish a guess to say.
So, what do you do to cap off your best year in a long while? Well, you play the World’s Most Famous Arena for your 8th New Year’s stop there, and simply pick up where you left off, and continue the trend to start your 30th year as a band. Fresh off a Hidden Track recap of the MSG shows, I’ll save my words and just say: the band, the fans and everyone in between had a blast. Now – it’s time for a little golf this off-season, before Phish comes back and will surely attempt to make their 2013 their best year ever – a tall order after a magnificently rewarding 2012.