Phish 2009-12-28 20.07.58

Set 1: Sample in a Jar, NICU > My Soul, Roggae, Undermind, Bouncing Around the Room, Poor Heart, Stash, I Didn't Know, Beauty of a Broken Heart, Possum

Set 2: Mike's Song > Light -> I Am Hydrogen > Weekapaug Groove, Alaska, Backwards Down the Number Line, Makisupa Policeman > Harry Hood > Contact > Character Zero

Encore: First Tube

This was my first Phish show since the debacle at Coventry five years ago. We, along with thousands of others, told to turn back from the disaster area that was the farm where it was being held, parked our cars and hiked in. Though the band was obviously touched at this display by fans, it was their announced last show as their problems, in particular, as we would soon find out, leader Trey Anastasio's drug problems, had spelled the end for the band. The resulting show was reminiscent of a wake: an attempt to celebrate the life of the band, but ultimately sad at the same time.

Following Trey's drug bust and resulting rehab and community service, the stage was set for the band's return. They finally reunited this spring with a series of well-received, but tentative, shows at Hampton Coliseum. They followed these with a summer tour and a new album. Reviews were good, but not great as the band re-acquainted themselves with each other and their music. The band's Halloween festival in California and fall tour received much better reviews and it was about this time the Miami New Year's Eve shows were announced. I entered the ticket lottery and somehow managed to score tickets for all four shows.

I was never a full-on obsessive Phishhead. This was my twenty-first Phish show, which is a bit more, but still in line with other bands I've seen live as often as I've had the opportunity. And though I was less than excited by their latest album, I was still excited by the prospect of the shows as this band has almost always been better live than on record. And I am happy to report that this band can still bring it live. They may have needed the better part of a year to get back up to speed, but they've still got it.

The first set started nice, uptempo and poppy then got quiet with the first Roggae since the breakup. The composed part at the end was a touch sloppy but otherwise the song was very well-played and well-placed, slowing the tempo down a little before the second performance of Undermind and the pop of Bouncing. A slamming fast Poor Heart got the tempo back up before a nice, dark Stash and I Didn't Know, featuring what Trey referred to as "the last vacuum solo of the decade." That was fun, especially as I'd seen the last vacuum solo of the previous decade, at Big Cypress. They upped the tempo again they rocked up the opening (and best) track from Page's snooze-fest of a solo album and then closed out the set with Possum.

After the Roggae and Poor Heart/Stash combo, I was pretty excited about the next set. That was the best set of Phish I'd seen since 2003. Easily beat all of the 2004 shows I saw. Mike's opened up the festivities. The transition into Light was interesting and unexpected and the jamming from Light into Hydrogen was especially good and along with Stash, the highlight of the show. A couple more new ones followed and then a Makisupa where Trey sang about going to Mike's House. And it was Mike's set, as his playing stood out as being particularly good. From there they went into Hood, which was again well-played. The Contact was unexpected, but fun, and Character Zero is always a good way to end the set as far as I'm concerned.

By the end of the set I was excited for the next three days of shows and expecting a quick encore before we went on our way, but it was not to be. No, I was finally going to see a First Tube. Somehow, of all the songs on Farmhouse, this one, my favorite, had eluded me to this point. They revved it up and then pulled it back to end the night on a high note, leaving everyone ready for the next show.