Alluding Onstage: The New Year's Run Analyzed
By Jeremy Goodwin - Posted to Rec.Music.Phish
Benji wrote an important post recently about "song homecomings". This
issue brushes aginst something else which I find to be a deeply enriching
part of the Phish experience, and that is allusions to past shows. A song
choice can have meaning in and of itself (that is, the decision to play
the song itself, regardless of the particular performance quality) which
is not limited to acknowledgment of past shows in the same city. There is
a sort of loose, running dialogue of sorts that connects important shows
throughout the years. Halloween, New Year's Eve, events like the Clifford
Ball, tour openers and closers, are signposts which mark and pace the
touring year. At these stops, the band often looks back at previous
signposts and nods to them, adding richness to the current performance.
What follows is an analysis of the 1996 New Year's Run in terms of
allusions. Great Phish shows, as we know, are about communication. Not
just musical communication among members onstage, but communication
between the band and audience. When such communication takes the form of
rare song breakouts or nods to past shows, the experience can be quite
stunning. By looking for and recognizing such pieces of communication, the
concertgoing experience is made richer and more meaningful. This is an
attempt to recount the instances in which communicaiton like this took
place on the shows of 12/28-31/96. You can take this analysis with as
much salt as you choose. This is on the extreme side of the
Component<->Spectacle (or Contex<->Event) continuim I was talking about a
little while ago. At that time, I was arguing for Spectacle. This is
obviously a look at the Run strictly through the Component/Context lens.
I firmly believe, however, that much of what I point out as communication
here was indeed intended as such by the band at the time.
In 95, the Run opened boldly with SOAM (the fourth ever SOAM opener, and
the first since 8/6/93). In Philadelphia a year later, the Run opened with
a very traditional selection, Runaway Jim. Next, NICU, which also mae an
early first set appearance on 12/29/95. The first set closed with
Frankenstein, a song closely associated with Halloween, which also
appeared in the third set of 12/31/95.
The second set opened with Makisuppa Policeman. This opened st two
of 12/29/95. Later, the Delay Loop Jam. This is a jam based on a function
of Trey's effects, which was most notably performed on two New Year's Runn
show sof the past: 12/29/94 (intro to Bowie) and 12/31/95 (outro from
Mike's). Signifigantly, this is the first time that this jam has been
performed as its own piece, independnat from any other song. The allusion
to Decembers of the past is prominent; in fact, this third anual apperance
of DLJ during a Run inspired some fans toable it the "Big Show Jam" after
After seguing into TMWSIY and the subsequent Avenu, the band made
the boldest statement of the Run thus far: Mike's Song. The most prominent
single performance of Mike's Song/Groove in history is from last year's
New Year's Eve show. Thus, many speculated that Mike's would _not_ appear
on 12/31 this time. However, the decision (though not unprecedented) to
play the anthem on the first show of the Run surprised and shocked many.
The band was nodding to the high point of the prevous year's Run on the
first night of this years', assserting, in essence, that Phish was
throwing down the gauntlet, and greatly raising expectations for the rest
of the Run. In '95, Mike's capped off the Run. If Mike's can open the Run
this year, there must be some signifigant things planned for the rest of
the week. The opening night Mike's was a bookend with last year's Run. IT
implied that the band was picking up where it had left off last year, and
was prepared to go furhter into the future ("We're further into the future
than we realized" __Trey, 12/31/93).
After an outstanding (though not historic) Mike's Groove and a set
closing SSB (both the Groove performance and a capella choice were pure
96), the band returned to the stage for the encore and whipped out Johhny
B. Goode. Another clear allusion to last year's Run (of which it was the
last song). Another bookend, another nod. (BTW, oon its appearance in MSG
last year, JBG was a clear allusion to the last night of the previous
Tour, in Vermont).
12/29 has a growing legacy, and Phish was inevitably going to do
battle with the ghosts of past performances on this night in Philadelphia.
It is the anniversary of the historic Providence Bowie as well as last
year's Gin>Real Me>Gin. Both performances were historic and
groundbreaking, and after the stellar second set of 12/28, fans were
expecting more greatness in the Corestates Spectrum before the drive to
Boston for the rest of the year.
The first set opened rather dubiously with Poor Heart, but took a
drastic turn for the better with the breakout of Caravan. By Free,
however, it was clear that this set would be nothing for the record books.
The La Grange closer alluded to the breakout of said song a year ago that
day. This was the first annivesary celebration of the night.
The second set opened with an immediate and very poignant nod
toohistory: David Bowie. The first set notwistanding, the band was
determined to go for borke in the last Philadelphia show, ans wasted no
time going about it. This was no Providence Bowie, by any means. But the
allusion was clear and showed that the band was willing to confront its
history openly, despite the raised expectations that would inevitably
result. When the closing jam to Bowie began, the crowd realized there had
been no Providence-like heroics, but the nod was well appreciated.
After ADITL, the band blatantly and boldly nodded to tradition
once more, by breaking into Bathtub Gin. This was a highly emotional
moment for many fans in attendance that night, who had seen (or later
heard) the Worcester Gin and who were quite aware of the history of the
day. This Gin was by no means as historic as it predessesor, but it was
certainly very satisfying. Signifigantly, Gin segued into Lizards, another
nod to last year's New Year's show (in which Drowned did the same). The
intro to YEM made it clear that this was going to be a night to be
remembered on its own terms. After a beautifully nailed composed section
and an on-fire Tramps section/Page solo, the jam part begins auspiciously,
and quickly the crowd begins clapping. In a rather remarkable musical
passage, the band quiets down into total silence, and then Trey begins the
jam again on a ocmpletely different (and thoroughly un-Yemlike) mode, in
time to the audience clapping! The clapping begins in the Yem jam,
continues over the short silence, and continues uninterupted through the
beginning of the new jam, where it is in perfect time with the music! The
audience had a direct hand in crafting this jam.
After several minutes of beautiful jamming, which sounds similar
to the glorious jam out of Drowned on 12/31/95, the band makes a clear and
blatant allusion to the last time it played in Philly. At the SPectrum on
12/15/95, in the midst of a Bathtub Gin jam, the band engaged in its
second (and, until now, last) Rotation Jam. Indeed, the Rotation Jam in
this YEM is better than its predecessors, and the allusionis appreciated
by local phans. The Rotation Jam peters into a solo performance by Mike of
Sixteen Candles, much as 12/31/95's Weekapaug segued into a solo
performance by Page of Sea and Sand, and the 12/15 Rotation Jam culminated
in Fish's stab at crooning over his own piano accompaniment. I doubt that
Trey will ever feel silly enough to take his shot at the honor.
After the concluding vocal jam, the biggest surprise of the Run,
harpua, occurs. Last year's New Year's Narration occured during Forbin,
but given this fact, and the fact that Forbin was played at Halloween, and
the playing of Harpua at the Tour closer in Vega$, it seemd quite
plausible that there would be no New Year's Narration this year. In the
midst of the Harpua narration, TOm Marshall come sonstage for his annual
apperance (although this was notably not on New Year's Eve) and, in the
clear tradition of last year's "Shine", performaed "Champange Supernova"
to the dleight and confusion of all. Last year's narration was directly
confronted, and, imo, surpassed.
Overall, 12/29/96 was extremely rich in the extent to which it
alluded to previous shows in Phishstory. No doubt, the musical excellence
of this nigh twill add to the mystique o the date, and hold up on its own
as a show toe lived up to on New Year's Runs of the future. By the way,
the house music after the show was Elton John's "Rocket Man". Sound
familiar? Listen to the end of your 12/29/95 tape.
12/30 brought the band back to Massachusetts, and opened with Ya
Mar. Ya Mar opened Great Woods on 7/1/95. The Sloth immediately conjured
images of 12/31/95, on which it also made a prominent second song
apperance. Likewise, Gumbo appeared early in the first set on 12/28/95.
The second set of the first Massachusetts show of the New Year's Run
opened with Timber Ho!, for the second consecutive year. It also contained
a Tweezer for the second striaght year. Tweezer's placement in this Run
seemd to indicate that the band was not going to take a break at any time
during this Run. After ripping through Mike's, Weekapaug, Bowie, and Yem
in Philly, Phish unloaded one of its few remaining first-tier jam songs on
the last pre-New Year's Eve show. During Scent, the band made an allusion
to the Clifford Ball, with trey trading his dueling duties wiht another
member of the band. On 8/17 it was Fish, on this night it was Mike. Mike
reprised to some extent his prominence of 12/29/95 (Bass Duo with Jim
Stinnette) with an extended bass solo in this Scent. Steven Wright's
appearance heightened the overwhelmingly gleeful attitude among fans that
just about anything could (and would) happen on this New Year's Run. Long
Delay Loop Jam, first night MIke's, Caravan, Bowie set opener, Rotation
Jam, Mike on solo piano, Harpua, Tom Marshall siinging Oasis, Steven
Wright onstage, Mike solo in Scent. Note tha tthis list is of "events"
which are notable because of their very occurance; it does not take any
note of the actual musical accomplishments which took place.
One notable substring of "conversations" between shows is the
opening song of high profile shows. This really began in earnest with the
Icculus opener of Halloween '95, which drastically raised teh stakes for
surprise openers to come. New Year's '95 makes a stab at the record books
with the unprecedented Punch, Sloth opening. The first day of the Ball
opened lamely, but 8/17 opened auspiciously with MOHP (although an opener
several times before, it spoke to the setting of the show. See the
Addicted to Noise interview for Trey's explication of how much he enjoyed
this particular opener at the time) and, pointedly, PYITE. Next, Halloween
'96 opened with The Sloth ("Hello, 12/31/95") and Highway to Hell. On the
evening of 12/31/96, the precedent had clearly been set. The greatest
opener (Halloween) was followed by a first tier opening duo, then mixed
messages at the Ball (and another PYITE) and another historic opening duo
New Year's '96 opened with a trio. First, Axilla I. This was not a
knockdown, takeout, record book opener. However, it served a few
functions. It carried on an unexpected trend from the Fall Tour (the
revival of the song) and also nodded to the band's past. This was the
first Axilla I opener since its revival; in its original history, it was
almost always an opener. Also, the pick nodded to Axilla II's surprise
appearance a year earlier. Then, Peaches. Similarly, Peaches had been
brough tback for two perforamnces at the very end of the tour (rehearsal
for NYE?), so this performance was a nod both to the recent Tour and the
less recent past. Notably, Peaches was revived for an appearance at each
New Year's Run show of '93. After Peaches came our old friend PYITE.
Bumped down a slot from its appearance at the Ball, PYITE completed
Phish's shot at a historic opening for this prominet show, because CTB
signalled a return to normalcy. SITM made an New Year's appearance, as it
did at the last Boston NYE show (btw, these are the only two times in this
song's five year history that it was played on NYE, the most poignant
night on which to sing the "just last year" line). The Tweezer Reprise
closer completed the trend of excellent first set closers (Frankenstein,
La Grange, GT/BT, Tweezer Reprise), becoming the second-ever Reprise first
set closer on a Tweezer-less night.
The band took the stage for Set Two with very prominent ghosts
hiding in the rafters. Particularly, one of the greatest set openers in
modern Phish history, the Drowned of a year ago. Teh band folded in the
same way it had done at the Ball, hiding form history and offering up
Chalkdust. Wilson, Sparkle confirmed that this was not a night for
precedents in the Set Two Opener catagory. No Drowned, no greatest Jim,
most likely no Weekapaug...Simple was highly anticipated in light of its
performance on Fall Tour, but 12/31/96 was not to be the site of a
landmark Simple. An adequately beautiful rendition, but not analygous to
the Runaway Jim of a year before (that is, Jim was a better and more
important Jim than Simple was a Simple). The end of the set firmly
reminded the crowd what year it was.
As the intermission neared the fifty-minte mark with a good ten
minutes left in the year, it seemd apaprent tha tthis year's New Year's
"stunt" would occur midset, unlike last year. Several mikes had been set
up onstage. All signs throughout the Run pointed away from horns
(Wolfman's, Caravan, Gumbo, CTB were all played) and indeed, if this setup
was for some incarnation of the GCH, it would be, by far, the largest horn
section Phish had played with to date.
2001 met its natural partner, Auld Lang Syne, and the New Year was
ushered in in a way tha twas probably predicted sometime in August '93,
but has never happened until now. Out of ALS came DWD. On 8/16, the
prominent thirs set placement of this song made a bold statement about its
quickly-established maturity and prestige; on 12/31 it was compeltely
natural and anticipated. This placement recalls 12/31/93, on which the DWD
Jam followed Auld Lang Syne. After missing one year ('95), Run Like an
Antelope made a New Year's Eve appearance for the seventh time in eight
years, As Trey began the intro to the song, he was harkening back
throughout the band's entire career, celebrating the past and pushing
forward into the future. Bohemian Rhapsody wrapped up a week of completely
unexpected and off the wall surprises, and has no real parallel in modern
day Phish, to my knowledge. My impression is that ll past cover songs were
intended for at least some time to be an addition to the repetour, while
Rhapsody seemed clearly to be a one time event. Wait, "I'll Come Running"
is the historical antecedent to this breakout. It's not unparalleled.
Unfortunately, Trey did not live out his wish (articulated in a
'91 interview) to perform Golgi Apparatus with a choir, but Amazing Grace
ended the New Year's show fo rthe second time (plus it has ended the 95
Summer Tour, and the second to last day of Summer 96).
What do we learn form the '96 New Year's Run? Expect Mike's any day. The
Delay Loop Jam has a potentially bright future. 12/29 is the most
prestigious night of the Run, strictily musically speaking. The next time
it wants to knock our socks off with an opener, Phish will have to dig
deep into the bag of dormant songs, or continue the practice of an opening
As I said, believe none, some, or all of this.
"Rabbit runs. Ah: runs. Runs" --John Updike
"The revolution is just a tie-dyed t-shirt away" --Billy Bragg
"Rabbit runs. Ah: runs. Runs." -- John Updike
"All I can tell you is, it's not so bad"-- "Rabbit Angstrom"
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