When fall tour was announced there were only three shows that got circled for me.
Of course, lotto did not pan out that way, but with a series of swift craigslist moves, i ensured myself entrance to all three shows at the historic (and hometown) arena.
There is literally no other place like it on earth.
With a jubilant excitement reminiscent of 15 years ago, we geared up for what we all knew would be killer shows.
While one disappointing aspect of these shows was the utter disappearance of the "scene" outside of MSG, likely into the surrounding bars that none of us were old enough to drink at previously, little else differed from feeling of the great blockbuster shows of the past.
If there was ever a time that I had to choose one venue to see Phish play in for the rest of my/our careers i would choose MSG.
This year alone I've been to Hampton, Red Rocks and The Gorge, all legendary venues in their own right.
But nothing compares with MSG.
I pretty much galloped down 32nd street every night, wading into the sea of miracle needers, up the stairs and into the cavernous arena in what felt like seconds.
Including all of the outdoor summer venues with massive lawns, MSG is ALSO the chillest venue on the planet. As soon as the lights went down it was all good. The staff was helpful but didn't interfere with anything.
Coming off the best improv of tour in Albany and a one night jaunt to Maine for an intimate old school gathering, MSG was setup to be nothing short of spectacular.
Opening with a strong AC/DC Bag>Chalkdust combo and then dropping a deliciously funky Wolfman's signaled that they were firing on all cylinders. A long reach into the closet to pull out Peaches and a boisterous Divided Sky capped a nice first set back in the Garden.
A second set full of monsters highlighted by an exploratory Light>Slave>Tweezer and a tight Suzy>Antelope closing left us feeling good about the next couple of nights.
Beginning the second night with a song sacred to these hallowed grounds PYITE got the crowd fired up and when they kicked into BDTNL, i thought the roof might literally come down. Unfortunately, this version went nowhere, even after a few attempts to take off. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't, but i appreciate the effort. Nonetheless a good first set placement of this new tune.
Continuing the high energy with Axilla>Taste, a thumping Boogie On that was cut too short my taste, and a torrid Stash, the rest of the set lacked the same punch, though Time Turns Elastic did NOT kill the set as i imagined it would.
Then the dance party started. Before the set, Wurtz turns to me and goes, "I'll find a slow song to take a leak." At the end of the encore neither one of us had moved an inch.
3.0 jam monster DWD lived up to its rep in maybe the best jam of MSG as it landed perfectly into Piper. I haven't loved the force with which Trey has been pushing Piper this year, but there could not have been a better fit, similar to Slave the night before out of Light.
A strong Piper melded perfectly with the opening strum of Fluffhead in another perfect placement and the crowd was lifted into another stratosphere. Fluff provided one of "those" moments for everyone at the show.
Where many expected a ballad, the band launched into a groovefest for the rest of the show.
Cities was thick as molasses and just as they started to take it in an interesting direction, Trey called for Free, with similarly gooey layers.
A very short Halley's led to a short and powerful 2001 and then the climactic Bowie to cap off a set that rivals Cincy night one set two as best set of tour.
I'll be honest. I called dance party part deux for night three. I was wrong. My friend craig got it right in calling MSG3 a rockfest. As i've previously mentioned, it just wasn't my type of show, but upon re-listening i've found some neatly tucked away moments that i didn't catch the first time as well as some of the truly great peaking moments that notched the show up a little in my book.
A disjointed first set, with a few peaks in 46 Days (jam cut short) and Reba (oooollld school) really came together with the closing combo of Maze and the most energetic moment of all three shows, First Tube.
The return of Scents and Subtle Sounds, yet another good piece of 2.0 that i have neglected in the past, didn't lead to any mind-blowing moments, but it was nice to hear.
The inevitable Rock and Roll and Albany killer Seven Below (underrated jam IMO) explorations pettered out a bit too quickly into Twist, before the Mike's Groove provided a bit of textured funk. I'm still waiting for Weekapaug to go off one of these days.
Always great to catch a Horse>Silent and YEM went in a nice direction, but we were truly showered in glory with Shine a Light. If you had asked me before the show, i would have guessed Loving Cup encore, but this newly learned Stones classic was a fitting end to a powerful run of shows.
These shows met expectations and then some. Long term bust outs paved the way for some really interesting improvisation and tour regulars were nailed with precision.
Much as this entire tour was a re-establishment of Phish's arena rock creds, the first trip back to MSG since 2002's mistake laden slop-fest left a new impression on fans. Once again it has become clear that complex songs will not stand in the way of terrific shows and while there will be flubs, it will be because the band is pushing themselves, not holding back.
Still buzzing, i headed for Charlottesville on the last stop of 2009 tour for me. Would it be a continuation of MSG or a standalone southern celebration?