For Everything I Do, I Step In To 2023
A bold beginning to the final show of the year.
12.31.22 setlist courtesy of Phish.net.
After avoiding it for the first three nights, it was abundantly clear to everyone that the New Year’s Eve show would almost certainly feature Tweezer at some point - although it would also be in the foursome’s quirky nature to completely avoid it entirely. Still, opening with it was a bold move - even if it was in a highly abbreviated, albeit jammy, form that lasted less than fifteen minutes before transitioning into Halley’s Comet. So, after using so many jam vehicles in the first three nights, they quickly dispensed with Tweezer on New Year’s Eve, but then Halley’s Comet didn’t last long either, moving on to Set Your Soul Free after less than six minutes.
For reference, I’ve seen a Halley’s Comet that lasted longer than this Tweezer and Halley’s Comet combined - and the same goes for Tweezer. After stepping up big-time with long opening jams the past two nights, Phish returned to form in the extreme tonight with two brief openers. They didn’t linger with Set Your Soul Free, either, even if they did briefly delve into some cosmic jamming before moving on to Rift.
That, too, was unusually abbreviated before on to Cavern, which didn’t have any jamming at all - although Trey seemed to take clear delight in the lyrics. The band may have realized the jig was up at that point, or it may have been their plan all along, but after less than five minutes they went back to Tweezer. Still, before revisiting Tweezer, they had blown through five songs in forty-five minutes. While that might be a typical, or even slow, pace for many bands, it is pretty quick for Phish. For comparison, last night four songs took longer; the night before they did three songs in forty-three minutes.
This second Tweezer proceeded to settle into some nice, pretty, spacey jamming, and just when it seemed like that might really begin to develop, they went right into Shade, a nice, slow, pretty song. It’s certainly understandable that Trey would need a break by now - I’m sure all of us did. It was also a nice setup for Mike’s Song, which, while not exactly slow, isn’t a high-energy song like Tweezer. This Mike’s Song did manage to squeeze in a nice bit of jamming before they cut it loose and moved on to a song that often follows it, I Am Hydrogen, the second slow, pretty song of the night - and the ninth overall of the first set - before following through with the traditional Weekapaug Groove. They at least allowed this song to really get going into a true jam before they went to set break, if a brief one.
Everything about that first set was brief. Apparently the high energy of the first two nights was well-purposed tonight, inspiring the band to cram as many songs into one set as they possibly could, with very little jamming at all.
The second set, too, opened with a very high energy song - Say It To Me S.A.N.T.O.S. It was interesting to se them opening the second set with this one, since it’s frequently been placed in the encore, but here it worked perfectly. When this song first made it in to the regular rotation, I thought they overplayed it, but now - even though they’ve played it ten times this year - I’ve begun to appreciate it more. It’s a rousing crowd-pleaser that can be jammed on, but it isn’t a let-down if it’s not, like last night - a short and triumphant set opener.
From there they moved on to 2001, which given the cosmic jamming that they’d been hinting at all week, was extremely appropriate. While it was cosmic jamming, it was zesty cosmic jamming, quite different from the dark, funky sci-fi jamming that they’d been delving in to for the past few days. Still, they didn’t let this 2001 truly achieve terminal velocity before switching into Kill Devil Falls.
Now, Kill Devil Falls is certainly a song that can become quite extemporaneous, if they choose to allow it; for example take a look here and here. This version can certainly be added to those ranks; it may not have been stretched far, but then KDF jams usually aren’t, unlike Tweezer or Halley’s Comet. After 2001 and the frenetic first set, that jammy Kill Devil Falls seemed to slow things down as they transitioned into Mercury, a nice medium-paced song. This marked the first Kill Devil Falls to Mercury, but since both are newer songs, that’s not much of a shock, unlike the first-time transitions last night.
Although Mercury wasn’t long, that transition also marked a move to a slower pace for the rest of the set, as they went from there to Light. That song occupies a nice middle space on the Phish spectrum: upbeat but not frenetic, structured and yet not composed. Even though there hadn’t been much jamming in the show as of yet, it still served as the perfect cooldown song. Before too long, they introduced a nice, subtle piece of jamming that continued throughout the song before they changed over into Waste, another beautiful piece that continued the slower pace of the second set. Interestingly, in the first set Phish played (mostly) a series of faster songs which are frequently the launching point for jams, while the second set saw fewer songs that were (mostly) slower yet featured (slightly) more jamming.
That theme continued with the next song, Drift While You’re Sleeping, one of the Ghosts of the Forests numbers that has become a Phish mainstay, and rightly so. It was perfectly placed here as the ultimate wind-down to a slower second set that evoked memories of the first show on Wednesday, yet nicely balanced the somewhat frenetic pace of the first set. Indeed, that could have been the closer of the second set; instead, for some reason, they felt a need to proceed on to Backwards Down The Number Line, a song that, although I like it, has been overplayed as of late. Still, it fit thematically here at least, on New Year’s Eve.
As the third set opened, it wasn’t immediately clear what the gag might be, but we didn’t have to wait long, as the band (well, a Mr. P. Hish) received a singing telegram. Antiquated though it might be as a trope, a singing telegram somehow seems appropriate enough as a YEMSG plot device. The telegram offered Trey a wish, and he wished for a time machine to relive the past forty years of Phish.
A cube descended from the ceiling (the third? The fourth? Who knows), marking the first reference, a callback to last year’s livestream.
OK, you know what? I’m not going to try to catalogue them all. I fully concede that’s well outside the realm of my capabilities; I’ll leave it to others. Suffice to say that, over the course of the next half hour, we saw clones, wombats, marching bands, choirs, ‘naked’ men, and Tom Hanks stranded on a platform with Wilson. It was a playful romp through the decades of New Year’s Eve shows, allowing the band to bust out a number of rarely-played covers from those performances, like Bohemian Rhapsody, New York, New York, and Jungle Boogie, all three of which made their second (and perhaps final) appearance. While this gag wasn’t completely original, it was absolutely fitting as an opening for the band’s fortieth year since their founding in Burlington, Vermont.
The third Tweezer of the evening - I suppose one could technically call the final show of 2022 a Tweezerfest, though it didn’t really feel like it - saw the cast and characters cleared from the stage and a return to normalcy for what was technically the first performance of 2023. The first Tweezer of 2023 was slightly exploratory, but quickly and smoothly flowed into Prince Caspian, a nice, relaxing song after the gag.
From there they moved on to Crosseyed and Painless, which Fishman flubbed in the second verse. Rather than ignoring that mistake or letting it throw him, though, he owned it, restarted, and moved on like the pro that he is. Thanks to that, it didn’t throw off the flow of the evening or of the song, which developed into a solid jam before mutating gradually into Piper. That was yet another first-time pairing for this run, and one that worked perfectly, so much so that it’s hard to believe it had never been done before (but then again, it’s easy to imagine almost anything flowing into Piper).
This Piper quickly developed into a nice, zesty little jam that perfectly fit the tone and tenor of the song. The entire band was clearly on a roll here, enveloping themselves in the up-tempo feel of the song, the venue, the evening, and the year. Indeed, as they reached the crescendo it almost had the feeling of the grand finale of regulation, but instead it was just the end of the jammiest portion of the evening. In an echo of the second set, they instead went on to A Life Beyond The Dream, another Ghosts of the Forest song that is frequently used to end a set and could have been here, but wasn’t. Instead, they closed out the set with the always-rousing First Tube - last played by Trey with Trey Anastasio Band and the entirety of Goose. It’s hardly a surprise to see that song as the finale; it’s usually placed in that spot with TAB and frequently with Phish as well. At least this year Trey wasn’t stuck on a platform flying high above the crowd, so he could actually jump around on the stage a bit this time!
On their return to the stage for the encore, Trey took a moment to thank the audience, both in the room and at home, expressing how grateful they all were for the past forty years. They went on to play Show Of Life, a song that Trey correctly noted was appropriate for the fortieth anniversary, but would have been completely appropriate for any New Year’s eve show - yet has made only one prior appearance on that occasion.
They satisfied expectations and tradition by closing the show, and YEMSG 2022-23, with Tweezer Reprise, complete with the return of the dancing wombat and yet another Thank-you to the audience before the end of the evening.
All in all, this was yet another solid run at Madison Square Garden for the band, one with plenty of great moments that surely satisfied those in attendance. The time machine gag recapping prior New Year’s Eve stunts and numerous bust-outs was a fun way to close out not only 2022, but the first forty years of Phish.
On to 2023 and, in just seven weeks, Riviera Maya!
Highlights: Tweezer, Drift While You’re Sleeping, Crosseyed and Painless > Piper
Zaniness factor: High with the third-set spectacular and extreme bust-outs to usher in their fortieth year.
Jamming: Some interesting sporadic turns throughout the evening, but given the nature of the gag and the evening, rarely fully developed. That’s to be expected on New Year’s Eve, of course; it’s not typically an occasion for true masterpieces.
Final grade: A-.
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