Jan 032010

A full moon hung over the perfect storm that brewed below on the streets of downtown Miami. On a near 80 degree night in late-December, New Year’s Eve revelers, Phish heads, and Lady Gaga fans came together in such a mind-boggling confluence that it didn’t merely defy the laws of physics, but actually tore a hole in the space-time continuum. A¬† black hole, a swirling vortex of ravenous nothingness actually appeared over Biscayne Bay for a brief moment.IMG_2628

Droves of screaming maniacs, laden with glitter and noise makers roamed madly around the streets and sidewalks of the James L. Knight Sports Complex – and those were just the New Year’s Eve partiers! As I made my way through the downtown Hyatt, a rather large, gay man in a sparkle shirt and some type of sequined bald, skull cap stormed by with two over-sized Latino girls in under-sized tutu’s. Face bright red with his eyes blazing wildly, he began yelling out loud, “Oh my God! Oh my God! Please! Please, if you find a ticket on the floor, please give it to me. It’s mine and it fell out of my pocket – Oh God! Oh my God, I paid so much¬† money for that ticket. I’m going to fucking cry, oh God!” The girls seemed unphased. “God speed crazy gay dude,” I thought to myself. “GaGa fan,” my wife guessed. This became a game for her throughout the night; “Wook or Gaga.”


Tokyo or Miami? The packed trains around downtown.

The full moon heaved the throngs of people back and forth across downtown like the tides. A fine line between modest control and absolute chaos was drawn in the sands that night. Bumper-to-bumper traffic ebbed while waves of humanity – from people dressed-up for the glammy festivities of the night to those who haven’t showered for days – flowed across the streets, between cars and across intersections with utter disregard for traffic laws.¬† People selling liquor from coolers, others selling a wide range “party favors” from their pockets or trunks of their cars, the streets of downtown Miami were lined with¬† nitrous tanks – hundreds of people brandishing over-sized balloons, like some sort of twisted carnival. It was mayhem, but with only a (visibly) minor police presence, everybody maintained. I didn’t see one violent or criminal (besides the open drug use) act. People of all groups were kind and friendly and despite being on the precipice of complete disorder; everything went off without a hitch.

This is my first Phish show. Part of the reason I never got involved is that it seems like another language, a cult with a secret handshake. It made being a late-coming fan just seem so daunting. Another thing was that the music didn’t do much for me. I understand that these guys are master-musicians, and I love music that is heavy on improvisational jam, but Phish seemed like a nerdy jazz-fusion band with goofy lyrics. A good portion of my friends are hardcore Phish fans and some of my most musically knowledgeable friends are Phish heads as well. They just seem to care about music, so I had to experience Phish for myself.

There is almost no need to discuss Phish’s musical prowess. These guys lay it down. Each member is absurdly talented, though I would have liked to see drummer, Jon Fishman, have some more power. His touch is unnervingly soft and delicate – unbelievably precise – but very soft. I would love to see Trey let out an unrestrained banshee cry, kick over his mic stand,¬† and shred is guitar over his head, then run back and hump the guitar on the amp in an orgy of feedback and distortion – but I guess that’s not really them. They don’t have much stage presence (except on trampolines), but then again their music and the tender connection with their audience is far more powerful.

The first thing to notice is the raw energy of the crowd. It is uncanny, transforming a stale arena show into a festival.

Section 104 "Glow Man" aka Bill

Section 104's "Glow Man" aka Bill

People aren’t texting and talking as much as I thought. They are hanging on every note, surging with the same energy on the streets and in the halls hours before the show as they are 3 hours into it. There is really nothing like it.

The set-list was stellar according to true fans and I felt like I was at a giant party for four hours. I have never attended an arena show that ended at 1:40 AM. They began the show with “AC/DC Bag” and continued through the night with 3 separate 1 hour and 20 minute sets. Following the New Year’s celebration, Phish foisted one of their trademark gags on the crowd:

Drummer, Fishman, climbs into the disco ball that descended from the ceiling at midnight.

The ball was then loaded into a cannon which was to fire it into a net over the audience. The disco ball was shot through the roof instead of the net.

A helicopter then comes and lands on the roof, presumably to sweep Jon Fishman to safety. Then Phish are left without a drummer … or are they?!

A member of the audience is then chosen “at random.” A girl comes down from the lower bowl and at some point behind the amplifiers she ducks down and Jon Fishman wearing the same outfit as the girl emerges. The unsuspecting crowd thinks this girl is sitting with Phish to play her favorite song, “Fluffhead.” She (he) starts off shaky and then tears it up to the crowds amazement. I was sitting behind the stage at this point and could see it transpire. I actually saw it and was still duped for a few minutes. So at the end of the show, this “girl” who’s been drumming comes out to take a bow. Jon Fishman ducks behind the amps again and the girl runs to center stage. Abra-cadabra bitches! Later, the drummer, comes out for the encore dressed as the girl to let everyone in on the gag. Ha ha, cray-zay!


Set I: AC/DC Bag, 46 Days, Water in the Sky, Bathtub Gin, Punch You in the Eye, The Moma Dance, Guyute, Swept Away> Steep, Demand> Seven Below, Lawn Boy, Julius

Set II: Rock and Roll> Piper, Simple, Theme from the Bottom, Shine A Light, Ghost1> NO2, Suzy Greenberg

Set III: Party Time2> Auld Lang Syne> Down With Disease3, Fluffhead, Joy, The Squirming Coil, You Enjoy Myself
Encore: Blue Moon4, Lovin’ Cup

  3 Responses to “A Surreal New Year’s Eve with Phish in Miami at American Airlines Arena – 12.31.2009”

  1. Phish should hire you to review every show. You really captured the moment! I want more!

  2. I really enjoyed your take on the show. It’s always interesting to hear opinions from newcomers to the scene. It is much like a circus! The crowd continually teeters on edge of chaos but manages to maintain. Much of it is drug induced mayhem but there is another section comprised completely of characters. Phish is full of characters. I spent all 4 days of the run on the top floor of the Hyatt overlooking downtown Miami, Margarita in hand. Each night featured a new and completely distinct cast of characters. The setlists chosen each night were special for long term fans but I was curious how newer folks viewed them. They played many rarities including songs that had not been played in over 13 years. pretty special stuff.

  3. John…I absolutely loved your first time, first hand account of a band that is if nothing else, are immensely talented musicians creating controlled chaos and transmitting that same energy to their phanatical phollowing. As a long time Phish Phan seeing my 39th and 40th shows this past Summer at The Gorge in Washington state, I must say that you summed up the Phish expereince very well and with admirable humility. You captured so much of what happens at a Phish show, from the apparantly blatant disregard for the “law”, yet the calm and cohesive code of conduct that is followed by nearly every person in attendance. I cannot imagine how daunting it must have been as a music fan to finally have the “nerve” to take in a Phish show, and a New Year’s show to boot…taboot…My hat is off to you my Phishy Phriend, and I am so happy to know that you appreciated all of the sights, smells, and yes, sounds of a Phish show. By the way…Trey does let out banshee cries and hump his amp during “Big Black Furry Creature From Mars”, and I was a witness to that at Red Rocks Ampitheatre in Morrison, Colorado, August, 6, 1996 as he ran around the stage chasing Fishman with a bullhorn and his guitar…Thank you for the phantastic phirst time review…and hope to see you at President’s Circle in the Spring of 2011 with your lovely wife…

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