“And just when I thought I was out… they pulled me back in!”
– Michael Corleone, Godfather III
Warning: We are going to be gushing here.
Retreating to a sense of normalcy as another year begins, it is both difficult and refreshing to revisit the glorious Phish New Year’s Run at the fabulous American Airlines Arena in Miami. To objectively catalogue thoughts and emotions associated with such a monumental experience proves a daunting task, especially given the uncertainty that has pervaded post-hiatus. Miami was the true “return of Phish,” a consistent unrelenting return to form, a reawakening, reintroduction, and reconnection to the band we fell for many Green Mountain moons ago. Like the afterglow of a torrid, passionate, and dangerous liaison… Yes, ’twas that good. The memories remain in light.
The city of Miami, an initially curious, but in the end, perfect locale, was alive and vibrant, bustling with tourists migrating south for a holiday of skin, sun, fun, and debauchery. It was an invasion like none other–the possibilities limitless, the stage set, and of course shades were in order, no matter what the time of day. Throughout the run, each day was filled with vibes fueled by sun, wind, and water, a gumbo of ethnicity and language, food and culture. These invigorating days fed into stellar Phish shows at a top-notch venue, and continued in a celebration of life, leisure, and social and sensual exploration deep into the Miami nightlife: clubs and beaches, sunrises and Mimosas, the most upful experiences. The stuff of legend. Miami.
The shows themselves were phenomenal, Phish’s idiosyncratic persona revealing itself each evening in both brash and subtle ways, each set confidently developing shape, sifting through the catalogue with finesse, agility, and strength.
12/28 – Phish came out of the gates in a frenzy on this first night with a screamin’ “David Bowie.” To get thrown off balance so early in a four-night run was a bit unnerving but Phish managed to soothe our sweet souls for the remainder of the sets. This set was a wild start to the festivities with arguably the best “Frankie Says” ever, a “Tweezer” complete with its “Reprise” right there in the first set, and a few laps around the stage by the beloved Henrietta. It seemed appropriate to exclaim, “Happy New Year!” when we realized there were eight more sets of this madness!
The second set was solid from start to finish, highlighted by a “Suzy Greenberg” that went from calmly “getting checked by a neurologist” to Suzy meeting the devil down at the crossroads for some down and dirty rock ‘n’ roll, which led into one of those jams that words cannot possibly begin to describe. (Please download this show and listen for yourself. We promise you will be elated.) The double encore (“Sleeping Monkey” and “Loving Cup”) would set the tone for the indulgence that Phish would heap onto us for the next three nights.
12/29 – This special night two featured a second set that ranks with any I can remember. On paper it looks tasty:
In real-time, live and direct, it was even better. “Rock and Roll” was just that, a romp through aggressive arena rock bombast, mutating into a lumbering “Twist.” Trey, feeling the Miami vibe, hollered for Benjamins, skanking into an energetic island bop in the form of “Boogie On Reggae Woman.” Fishman pulled the concise yet frenzied “Boogie” into port, deliberately slowing the vessel, and Gordon’s bottom end uncorked that familiar octave dive bomb. The “Ghost” that followed harked back to the robo-phunk of ’97. Just when it could not conceivably get any hotter, a gloriously telegraphed “Free” brought the set full circle, harnessing the arena rock vibe and rocketing skyward. CK5 hijacked the verve, optically serenading our gushing visions of grandeur, the forty minute exploit culminating in a reassuring “Divided Sky” that teetered the tightrope, footloose and fancy free. To add insult to injury, the boys dropped a short and powerful “Good Times, Bad Times” to drive the point home, Trey annihilating the descending Jimmy Page licks with authoritative precision. A double encore complete with luscious “Coil” piano outro sounded the proverbial shofar. It was on.
12/30 – The much-anticipated return of “Sand” got the feet moving properly early into the evening, and the “Bathtub Gin” > “2001” was a tandem to behold. Deep into the funk of “Gin,” Trey led the boys into a heated tease of the Steely Dan chestnut “Show Biz Kids,” a song we have longed for Phish to indulge in. Instead, after a brief “After Midnight” detour, the band segued into a short and emphatic “Also Sprach” that had the entire AA Arena calling for a sponsor. It was to be just the tip of the iceberg.
Before delving into the shenanigans that took place later in the second set, allow us to comment on the raging, unfinished “Tube” that preceded. The flames within this funky bust-out cemented the notion that the band was indeed ablaze down here in Miami. The middle section vamp slowly and aggressively picked up steam, Trey’s patience virtuous as he calculated his ascent into nether worlds of wah-wah and distortion, elevating the intensity levels to heights seldom realized post-hiatus. His tone on this particular jam was choice, the ozone lovechild of Hammet and Garcia, a lightning bolt of psychedelic metal fury hovering above Biscayne Bay.
As the fog and smoke began to settle, Trey began to introduce a deliberate riff, familiar and foreign all at once. With the help of a crowd wrought with energy, Phish delivered a monstrous punk rock “L.A. Woman,” clearly off the cuff, a nod to the notorious Jim Morrison indecent exposure arrest here in Miami. They did not merely half-heartedly cover the song; they made it their own, a bar band frolic through a classic rock anthem. It seemed surreal as it happened, and before you knew it, they deftly dipped into a streamlined “Birds of a Feather.” The succinct simplicity of “Birds” is worth noting, as the band tore through the tune with ferocity. As “Birds” came to a close, Trey stepped to the mic and delivered a laughter-fueled “Mister Mojo Risin’,” inducing a riotous arena explosion. Trey and Mike’s chunky-ass licks deepened the gap, whipping the crowd into a whirling frenzy, picking up the pace with repeated “Risin’ Risin'” chants as the carpet ride took off (Richter Scale levels surpassed only by the “Sabotage” encore Merriweather ’98). Trey began to machine gun fire away with speed metal fury as Fishman picked up the pace. Punk metal mayhem, shit got RAWKUS!
In an attempt to cool things out a bit, the band delved into “Makisupa Policeman” only to surprise the massive yet again, substituting the keyword within the reggae song with the entire Parliament Funkadelicband! Out came amps, another drum kit, Bernie Worrell, George Clinton, a dude in a diaper with a guitar, a sexy femme fatale on vocals, and a host of others, creating a crowded stage and Phishtory in the making.
Worrell picked up the reggae piano lick and soon Clinton began leading the stunned and psyched crowd through several P-Funk classics, beginning with “Bend Over,” which asked the question:
Soon Clinton reached out to the “Dirty South” by riffing on a chorus from Lil’ Jon and the Eastside Boys crunk anthem “Get Low:”
Are you kidding me? “Get Low!” I mean, of all songs you go into a show thinking you might hear, this is clearly not one of them. Again, here is the Phish that we once knew, with all the elements of humor and surprise. Yet Parliament Funkadelic happened to be onstage. Are you kidding me?!
The next fifteen minutes of P-Phunk jams like “We Want the Funk” were dirty, guilty pleasure. Bernie and the rest of P-Funk reveled in the adulation of thousands, and George Clinton got crunk as hell himself, screaming and scatting, One Basin’ Nation Under a Groove. Off to the right near Mike was Fishman on a little trap kit as P-Funk’s drummer ran rampant on his drum rig, and the wailing metalli-funk guitars weaved in and out of Trey’s saber-like lances.
In the midst of this madness, an emotional moment took place that overshadowed so much of what else was going down simultaneously. During the fracas that was P-Funk’s appearance, a gentleman with Down Syndrome joined the celebration onstage, dancing wildly. After a few moments security escorted him from the stage, only to have Trey put down his guitar and retreat backstage, returning with the dancer in tow. Trey excitedly watched this guy get off dancing a sick jig onstage; it was touching. Trey rarely took his eyes off this kid, whose gyrations were somehow totally in tune with the crunkification going on around him. Family, crew, and friends of the band watching from the side of the stage thoroughly enjoyed this segment, and the stirring sonic emotional interplay between the bands, crowd, and the dancer was priceless.
Phish gave us another double dose encore, a peculiar “Contact” revealing an appropriately moving “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” that twisted and curled, aided and abetted by CK5’s churning yellow and blue sea. The people swayed in semi-unison, souls laid to bear the fruits given forth. Thanks and praises. And off to South Beach–Holla!
These shows were the greatest shows we can remember–the energy, vibes, execution, elements, surprises, and personality back in full effect. New Year’s Eve would prove to be as incredible as each preceding evening.
And now New Year’s Eve is finally here. Except it strangely doesn’t quite feel like New Year’s; we’re not pulling our hats over our heads and scarves over our faces so they don’t freeze off. No, this year, we walk casually up to the venue without jackets.
The scene is a festive one inside; everyone is getting situated with their friends. (It is our opinion that NYE shows should be general admission.) The energy is bustling and Phish takes that cue and picks up the “Wilson” right where they left it off the night before. There were many nods to the ghosts of New Year’s Eves past throughout the night. The entire set was filled with little New Year’s niblets–hints of “Auld Lang Syne” as well as the “Jungle Boogie” madness that would ensue at midnight. And the song choice was right out of everyone’s wish list. We got to do the “Moma Dance” again and the “Mike’s” > “Hydrogen” > “Weekapaug,” and “YEM” were just what the doctor ordered.
The second set was solid, opening with a strong “Stash.” They brought us back to last year’s snowstorm at MSG with the wonderful “Seven Below.” Now, we don’t know how to relate how it felt to hear “Slave to the Traffic Light” in the middle of a frenetic “Chalkdust Torture.” It is arguably one of Phish’s most beautiful tunes that evoke that similar emotion that you feel during “Harry Hood” or even a great “Simple”: PURE LOVE. How is this possible? Phish is playing exactly everything that we want to hear tonight!
Ten minutes until midnight in Miami. Phish comes back on stage and begins a groovy “Jungle Boogie.” Fishman is moved over to the side and another platform is moved to stage center. A BMW MINI is lowered from the top of the stage onto the platform. Then emerges a bunny-headed football player, followed by an entire marching band (bass drums, tubas, the works), one by one, out of the car. And what is a pep team without the cheerleaders? One by one, bunny-headed cheerleaders take their place along the front of the stage. The creatures and their exuberance was very Flaming Lips-esque. Midnight falls and the multi-colored balloons descend on the masses. Everyone hugs and kisses their neighbors as Phish begins the first song of 2004: Black Sabbath’s “Iron Man”?!
Phish certainly did not drop the ball for the rest of the third set, which sometimes falls out from under itself. After the popping-of-the-balloons song (aka “Runaway Jim”), Phish brought us back to the glowring New Year’s of 1998-1999 with a great “Simple” and then a glorious “Reba.” The biggest Phish fan could not have written a better setlist.
The night carried on with more from Henrietta; in honor of the Miami Heat, a vacuum rendition of “Feel Feel Feel Feel Feel My Heat” in the middle of “I Didn’t Know.” An “Antelope” finale finished the set and Trey expressively told the audience, “Thank you! We had the best time in the last four days! Thank you all so much! Feel feel feel feel my heat!” A “Frankenstein” encore sent us off into the night and into the year feeling happy, energized, and hopeful.
Our general impressions of these four nights are that Phish was not only playing at their very best, but they really were having the very best time. They looked like old friends having a ball together; so free to express their love for one another and the music, laughing, dancing, and just being real. These four shows reaffirmed people’s faith in this band and reminded us that real love never dies.
B.Getz & SuperDee
[Published on: 1/20/04]
- TAKE A SEAT BROUGHT THE HEAT
- RANA AND THE DUO TAKE RESIDENCY IN PHILLY (B.Getz on JamBase)