Just Hold Tight: Boy! Man!
This is the jamminess you are looking for.
12.29.22 setlist courtesy of Phish.net, as always.
They couldn’t help themselves, could they? They always do it. It seems there is never a YEMSG run that goes by without a Fluffhead. I mean, when you have a song about going to New York, how can you resist playing it in the World’s Greatest Arena? Even the quirky quartet from Vermont can’t stay away from that lure for an entire run. So, that’s how we got off to a strong start in night two: With a traditional MSG staple and another interesting sartorial decision made by Mike Gordon.
A big advantage of opening with Fluffhead is that it imbued the band - and the audience - with big energy right from the start (songs that require jumping up and down tend to do that). That made it clear that high-octane Trey was in the building right from the get-go, unlike last night, and it was a welcome reintroduction. It also was a rarity, in that the band led off the show with a solid 20-minute jam, which seems to have declined since they introduced the ‘free first song’ feature - I’m sure that’s a total coincidence, of course. I haven’t done the statistical analysis on this at all in any way, shape, or form, so feel free to correct me if I’m wrong. To be sure, big jams kicking off a set have never been common, but they’ve seemed even less common as of late. This was an especially good one: It’s one of the longer Fluffheads ever, and not only was it played cleanly, the jam was intricate and soulful.
They followed that with a perfect, subtle segue into Your Pet Cat, only the second of the year, and the first time it’s ever followed Fluffhead, appropriate pairing though it is. That song quickly transitioned into more electric jamming, serving as a bridge to Bathtub Gin, putting two truly classic songs very early in the rotation for the evening, just like last night’s first set. Unlike last night, tonight was full of jamming from the get-go, albeit more light jamming - not straying into the dark territory that so many phans seem to crave.
Then they went from there into hey stranger, from Trey’s new acoustic album mercy, a Phish debut. They took that tune out for a bit of a ride, with some lightly funky jamming, but it mainly served as a bit of a break. Even if you’re not a particular fan of Trey’s acoustic album, which seems to be a bit controversial amongst the fanbase, it’s good to see these numbers get the full-band treatment, just as it has been for the tracks from Lonely Trip. That said, this song - like many of Trey’s solo efforts - seems likely to remain more of a Trey Anastasio Band staple than becoming a regular feature of the Phish rotation. That’s probably a better fit for this particular tune, although it’s easy to see it also being featured in solo acoustic shows, of course.
From there they cleanly, if not seamlessly, transitioned into Tube, which set off the first set’s second phase of jamming. Tube featured a bit of lightly funky jamming, which also appeared at various points last night, before flowing into a great Slave To The Traffic Light, which developed into a very nice, solid jam.
They proceeded to follow up that with an excellent version of a song that I like, but which is nonetheless overplayed recently, Blaze On. Tonight’s rendition went wandering for a bit, but only really touched on Type II territory, staying fairly true to the original. All in all, though, the first set tonight was very good, much better than the first set last night. Indeed, it seemed in spirit closer to the second set last night, if not even superior in form and - especially - funkiness, hinting at far greater things to come.
The second set only had seven songs. When a Phish set has seven or fewer songs, that’s always a good sign, but there are two types of sets like this: One where there’s one big jam, like the Fluffhead opener in the first set, or another that sees the jamming spread out across multiple songs. The second set tonight would prove to be the latter, with four songs near fifteen minutes in length. It was even more unique in that each of those songs hold up on their own, without the rest of the set to accompany them, making them nicely digestible jams.
Take the second set opener, David Bowie, clocking in at just under fifteen minutes. That’s just about long enough to cover my short drive to work, but there are definitely short moments in it - as there are in nearly every Bowie - where they go in interesting directions. The main melody is never too far away; indeed, this Bowie is almost a textbook version, in so far as there can be for a song with a jam built right in to it. Still, it maintained the high energy from the first set, building towards Everything’s Right.
At first, it didn’t seem as if Everything’s Right - which has been a tremendous vehicle for inspiration right from the get-go - was going to go on much of a journey. Even when they began to depart from the primary melody, they kept returning to it, only flirting with the edge of improvisation before returning to safety. Slowly but surely, though, the free-flowing moments got longer and longer, allowing the band to settle into an interesting groove that seemed almost to be more a different, composed melody than a true jam. Still, it was clear that they were venturing into new territory, and all of them were on board for the journey, wherever it might take them. It would have been easy to see them continuing this melody into a darker, more meandering jam, but just when they seemed to be approaching that they backed away, just as they had from jamming earlier in the song. It was, however, a smooth retreat from the darkness, one that worked perfectly as it grew in intensity towards a sly return to the song and then a smooth end, one that could serve as a textbook example of what isn’t a ripcord. That perfect ending (the official setlist gives it a >, but I’d debate that) is a great set-up for the familiar opening chords of You Enjoy Myself, perfectly placed on this night.
You Enjoy Myself always builds slowly, but last night that seemed an especially lengthy climb, fitting for the tone of the evening, perhaps. YEM has always been one of Phish’s more interesting songs, in that it has highly composed sections but yet is amenable to improvisation, making it a constant presence on the jam charts. Yesterday’s entry seems unlikely to make an appearance there, given the other great jams last night and the song’s illustrious history, but it had some very nice moments, including some nice jamming from Mike towards the end and a satisfying vocal jam to finish it off.
From there they went into another newer song that has certainly seen its share of long jams, including the single longest of 3.0, Ruby Waves. This was the first time they’d played Ruby Waves after YEM, and the transition from the vocal jam into Ruby was very nicely done indeed. It’s interesting that in this second set we saw two of the newer songs that have already seen some monster jams feature shorter versions (comparatively speaking, of course) that didn’t ever quite take off. Of the two, Everything’s Right was the superior this evening; this Ruby Waves was more of a ripple than a tsunami. The jamming, despite clear coaxing from Fishman at times, was interesting, but never really fully developed; instead, they transitioned into the low-key Lonely Trip, marking the second Trey solo tune of the night.
That would prove to be just a brief breather, though, rather than an extended cool-down. After that, they brought back the high energy, rather than lingering there for the rest of the evening, segueing right into the up-tempo Back on the Train. That was followed by the always-lit Character Zero, a rip-roaring close to the set that seemed to especially energize Trey this particular evening. They didn’t let up on that enthusiasm in the encore, either, returning with short versions of Guyute and Possum, two older songs that are frequently extended - almost a book-end to the Everything’s Right and Ruby Waves in the second set.
This show was representative of a certain type of Phish show: plenty of excellent jamming and high energy, in many ways the opposite of night one, and it clearly pleased the crowd to see the rebound. Yet, it shared some commonalities with the prior night as well: there was no overall theme to the evening, either in the song selection or in the type of jamming that occurred. They chose songs new and old throughout, and there weren’t any particular bust-outs; they came close with Your Pet Cat, but that was played earlier this year in Riviera Maya. Apart from a minor flub in Guyute, they were right on target all night long.
Through the first two nights, they’ve taken a lot of songs frequently used as jam vehicles off the table, leaving one to wonder what’s left in the cupboard for the second half. They’ve also avoided any blatant gimmicks, which makes one wonder if there’s perhaps something on-deck for tonight or if they’ll simply save that for their New Year’s Eve spectacular. Last night was clearly an excellent show, one worth listening to in full or picking out any of the individual tracks as you please; it definitely continues to ramp up the expectations for tonight and the grand finale.
Hopefully they meet them!
Highlights: Fluffhead, Everything’s Right, Y.E.M.
Zaniness factor: Low, but trace amounts in the atmosphere.
Jamming: More involved and complex than the prior night, with plenty of smooth, intricate, pretty numbers, and especially interesting moments scattered throughout.
Final grade: B+/A-.
You may follow Jim on Twitter or Facebook. He is also a weekly political columnist for the Portland Press Herald, Maine’s largest daily newspaper.