Phish setlist stirs controversy during excellent New Year’s Run at Madison Square Garden on New Year’s Eve 2018.
By: Arthur Calyx – New York Daily Weed Report
Phish just completed another mesmeric four-night New Year’s run at Madison Square Garden. To paraphrase the great newsman Kent Brockman – I can say without hyperbole, those four concerts were a million times better than all other shows ever played at MSG combined.
How ridiculous is that statement?
Fairly ridiculous. Then again, who’s to say I’m wrong?
In an irreverent postmodern world, ironic self-referentiality reigns supreme. This is especially evident when one delves into the enmeshed world of jam band taping, archiving, concert reviews and the ancillary, documentary history that undergirds the whole megillah. Anyone who has amassed live recordings of their favorite bands, collected ticket stubs or cracked open a copy of DeadBase to look up the first time Crazy Fingers was played in the first set, knows of what I speak.
Postmodern thought is broadly characterized as relativistic and subjective in nature – and so is the way in which five heads will interpret the sound, feel and quality of any given concert. Beauty truly is in the eye of the beholder.
This deconstructive approach to interpreting the music is essential to the evolution of the written and oral histories of the artists, their performances and of the music itself. Although understood to be completely relative in nature, a postmodern deconstruction of music (or any cultural text) presupposes an established cannon of cultural schema and historical frameworks.
In other words, you can “feel” any way you want about a certain song, performance or the implied meaning therein. However, you can’t create your own facts about said performance. The facts are collectively established and subsequently defended by the group of individuals who self-identify as the owners of the cultural material.
For the sake of this discussion, the greater Phish community leaves any given Phish concert, collectively owning the experience, including the list of the songs played. When this ownership is challenged, the community in question invariably reacts swiftly to remedy the transgression.
Take for example, the Phish community’s reaction to the setlist posted on Phish.net for the December 29th show. A set list in which the song Party Timewas erroneously omitted:
I would posit that the song Party Time was played, for almost six minutes, sandwiched in the middle of Wolfman’s Brother, at the end of the first set. Case in point, the lyric “Party Time!” is clearly sung multiple times – the band proceeds to take the easily recognizable, two-chord vamp jam for a spin – before they joyfully return to the sole lyric, “Party Time!”
You want proof? Listen for yourself:
To me, it couldn’t be more obvious that Phish played Party Time. Then again, who’s to say I’m right?
I got my answer the following night, when I overheard a rather spirited debate at an event before the next concert. Some folks in-the-know had approached the guys who run Phish.net, to discuss their decision to leave Party Time off the published setlist.
From what I could gather, the grieving party was comprised of a two old school heads (phamily, who have seen more Phish shows than pretty much anyone else on the scene), as well as the band’s archivist. Keep in mind that Phish’s archivist is a salaried employee, whose duties include collecting, curating and documenting all the band’s audio and video recordings.
In short, if ever there was an authoritative body on the subject matter of Phish set lists, it was this crew.
The three wise men proceeded to state their case that Party Time was in fact played. They heard it – we heard it – all 20,000 people in attendance heard it. Well, almost everyone heard it.
The Phish.net defendants pushed back, with vocal alacrity…among my favorites of their self-referential rationalizations was this gem:
“Party Time has a very specific drum intro, which they did not play. I’m a drummer – and as a drummer it was would be disrespectful for me to ignore that. Without that drum intro, it’s just not Party Time.”
Additionally, the folks from Phish.net posited that the community relies on them to maintain accurate records. Erroneous set lists will throw off the statistics (last time played, song sequencing, etc.) – the integrity of the historical record will be compromised – the people will suffer.
It was at this point that an interested observer turned to the room and loudly asked of the people, “Hey! Did they play Party Time last night?”
A mixed chorus of “Yes!” “Of course!” and “Obviously” rang out in response. I am certain that at least 95% of the people in attendance on the 29th would agree, Party Time was in fact played (clearly, the other 5% weren’t paying attention).
Phish.net was unmoved.
The band’s archivist spoke through a smile, that he might be forced to release an authorized recording of the show, just to set the record straight.
Phish.net was unmoved.
Another curious onlooker asked, “What if Trey himself walked in and told you the band played Party Time? Would you change the set list then?”
Phish.net was unmoved
It was after this utterly preposterous statement that collective hands were thrown in the air, noises of disbelief and disgust were broadcast, and the impromptu forum disbanded. No logic or reasoning was going to move the Phish.net crew from their stance.
Then again, who’s to say they’re wrong? (Aside from the 20,000 people at the show and the myriad others watching the live stream on the 29th)
As it stands today, the “official” Phish.net set list does not contain Party Time. My set list does; as do the set lists being circulated amongst my circle of friends.
In conclusion, I leave you with the words of the postmodernist thinker Harold Painter:
“There are no hard distinctions between what is real and what is unreal, nor between what is true and what is false. A thing is not necessarily either true or false; it can be both true and false.”
In other words, Phish played Party Time on 12/29/18. Choose to accept that reality or don’t – the choice is up to you.