Expectations were running high for this four-night run, in part because of the epic face-meltage which went down at their previous shows, the now-legendary three-night stand over Labor Day weekend '12 in Colorado. I was fortunate enough to be at those shows, and I have to agree that on those nights the band established a new standard for 3.0 improv; I eagerly put the "Sand," "Light," and "Jim," (and possibly a few others) up against anything they've done in 3.0 including (off the top of my head) 6/7/09 Camden "Sand," 11/22/09 Albany "Seven Below" > "Ghost" > "Seven Below," 6/27/10 Merriweather "Piper," 12/31/10 MSG "Ghost," 5/26/11 Bethel soundcheck "Waves," 5/27/11 Bethel "Golden Gin-Teca", 8/15/11 UIC "Waves" > "Undermind," 6/16/12 Bader "Light-Teca," etc. etc. etc. yadda yadda yadda.
However, on the opposite end of the spectrum of Colorado's greatness, we have last year's largely highlight-free NYE Run at MSG (which I also attended), which had the band seeming unfocused, unmotivated, uninspired, and unpracticed. Which band would show up tonight, pray tell, and how many "Streets of Cairo" teases would we get?
Each member of our crew was in town by early afternoon, so after eating at a (let's go with) "decent" burger place in Fort Greene, we headed back to Billyburg to get this train a-rollin'. Took the M into Manhattan, and after stumbling past a bunch of predictably overcrowded and boring midtown watering holes, we settled on the reasonably priced (and relatively spacious) Galway Pub on 36th St. A few phone calls were made, and in what seemed like no time flat, our modest four-man crew had more than doubled in size, and, most importantly, the beverages were flowing like the Ganges.
Once we got inside "The World's Most Famous Arena," the pre-show "HOLY FUCKING SHIT THIS IS AWESOME"s started up. Fortunately, we were surrounded by similarly-sentimented seat neighbors, including some suspiciously nice young kids behind us, who seemed just a little too eager to encourage our boisterous shenanigans. (I may or may not have accused them of being Christian moles on a "field trip" sending them out amongst us dirty, dirty sinners, but no feelings were hurt. Good kids indeed!)
Anyway, after nearly 4 months of anticipation, it was a liiiiiiittle bit disappointing that they chose to open the run with a mediocrity like "Stealing Time." (I was hoping for an "Emotional Rescue" opener which would've been a hat-tip to both the most recent Colorado shows AND the approaching 15th anniversary of the Stones cover-bookended 12/31/97 MSG show, but who the fuck was I kidding.) The rest of the first set continued as pretty much your super-typical garden variety Johnny Average first set, with "Tube" benefiting from a little bit more mustard than normal, and with "Stash" providing its typical mid-first set 10+ minute freaky workout.
The first (and only) real fireworks in set one went down during the closing "Wolfman's," weaving its way in and out of a seamless "Little Drummer Boy" jam. This "Wolfman's" has to rank amongst the best 3.0 "Wolfman's"es (Wolfmen?) I've seen, along with 10/30/10 AC and 8/15/11 UIC. The "Wolfman's" pushed the set into "above average" territory, enhanced by pretty good song selection - I always love me some "Moma Dance," "Bitch" and "Free" even if they're all standard-ish 3.0 versions.
Set two was a different story, however, leading off with the first 20+ minute "Tweezer" the band has performed since 2003. While the 10/30/10 AC "Zeppeneezer" is probably the most entertaining "Tweezer" I've seen live in 3.0, that's due to more to my obsessive Led Zeppelin fandom (said 10/30/10 "Tweezer" included "Heartbreaker," "Ramble On" and "Thank You" before concluding with the second half of "Stairway to Heaven") than due to the jamming that occurred discretely within the actual "Tweezer" sections. For my dollar, tonight's version was the best pure "Tweezer" I've seen live since the incredible 2/28/03 Nassau version. The jam remained largely in uplifting, soaring, joyously melodic territory, before erupting into the most furious improv of the entire four-night run over the song's final few minutes.
"Tweezer" segued into "Maze," which hammered home the first set's assertion (during the "Tube" and "Wolfman's," in particular) that Night One was Page's night. Fucking hot "Maze." "Twist" was up next, and I guess it's a bit much at this point to expect something too wacky considering that the last truly balls-to-the-wall "Twist" happened, what, 12 years ago? For that reason, it's fitting that "Twist" segued into "Theme," a song that always manages to deliver despite practically never deviating from the standard blueprint.
Of course, it gets no more old school than a show-closing "Fluff" / "Bowie" duo. Can't ask for anything more than that for song choices, and the band delivered like a motherfucker during each of these incredibly challenging compositions. Good work, gentlemen!
So, Encore Time. When I suggested that "it'd be great if they got 'Show of Life' out of the way tonight," I got accused by the tweaker in front of me of being "one of those assholes who hated 'Show of Life' at first but now thinks it's OK." Of course, I was able to truthfully report back that, no, in fact, my hatred of "Show of Life" has actually increased with each subsequent performance. Attempting to change the subject, I called "GTBT," which earned me plenty of congrats when it actually happened (video below).
Post-show, I clusterfucked us into a lengthy wait at Essex for the J train home instead of (sensibly) walking a few blocks East and grabbing a cab, with our crew evenutally stumbling into B.A.D. Burger on Grand for some late night grub, which ran the gamut from "great" (the "Dirty South" chicken sandwich) to "barely edible" (my fried chicken platter) to "mysterious" (the "nachos with everything").
So, the Phab Phour delivered AND THEN SOME on night one. We could only hope that they'd keep up this stellar level of playing over the remainder of the run. Did they? Tune in next week and find out.