For many people seeing a band more than once is unnecessary. The same set list will be played in the same fashion night after night. If the band is promoting a new album, maybe you will get four to five new songs in the set that you haven’t seen before, but you might be taking a bathroom break during those songs since they are new and you are unfamiliar with them. Phish isn’t like other bands. They pride themselves on changing up the set list and never playing the same song twice. On the first night of their four night sold out Madison Square Garden New Year’s Eve run, I saw Phish for the 50th time and it did not disappoint.
Familiar faces were seen all throughout the venue and when the lights went down the crowd roared as if they had not watched the band play in years. With a crowd going that wild, it’s hard for anyone to do anything but smile. The band launched into “Sample in a Jar” and didn’t take their foot off the gas for “Free” or “Simple.” The first real highlight of the night was “Back on the Train” with Trey Anastasio pushing the band forward with some furious guitar work. “Waiting All Night” off their latest record Fuego came next and gave the crowd a moment to breathe. This is a beautiful song and shows such patience from the band as they build the song into a grand climax. A Mike Gordon led “555” had a dark funky jam and was followed by the always powerful and equally as dark “Roggae.” Following this was “The Dogs” and a straight by the books but powerful “46 Days.” The jam that followed the regular confines of the song sent the crowd into set break, giving a taste of what was to be in set two.
During the break it was great to watch as friends found one another in The World’s Most Famous Arena to discuss the set that just took place. The comradery at a Phish show is just amazing to watch and so few fan bases are like it. As the lights went back down people rushed back to their seats as the band dipped into an over 20 minute version of the fan favorite “Chalk Dust Torture.” Each member took the reins on leading the jam with Gordon setting the tone early, followed by Jon Fishman’s drumming taking over and then sharing the duties with Gordon. After they moved the jam for a few minutes Page McConnell and his keyboard army took over and moved the song further away from its normal structure. Finally the entire band seemed to move as one as the song continued on its journey, much to the delight of the crowd.
As the song slowly dissipated “Ghost” started up and the Garden erupted. Unfortunately a jam heavy version was not to be as soon after the jam started a new song cropped up. Debuting “Can’t Always Listen” just as such a huge fan favorite was just about to get going showed that the Vermont quartet was confident in their new song. It was a pop heavy rock and roll number and on first listen sounded fun. Once that song ended, Phish meandered its way back to finish the “Ghost” jam and led the crowd into a straight take on “Waves” that had a solid jam on the back end. “Bathtub Gin” emerged out of that with loud appreciation from the crowd as it is a fan favorite and this version did not disappoint. There was a lot of fun interplay between Mike and Trey, including a mini vocal jam, as well as Trey and Page, which led to a great Page solo.
The band turned the corner towards home as “Mike’s Song” came out of the fantastic Gin jam. Trey took a back seat during the first part of the jam as the rest of the band pushed the song, but he came roaring back with a strong solo to the close the song out before moving into a normal take on “Bouncing Around the Room” that led into “Weekapaug Groove”. This Weekapaug was solid but took an unexpected delightful turn into “What’s The Use?.” The instrumental number brought the crowd into a frenzy, as it tends to do, before returning back into the ending of Weekapaug, which had Trey tease “Auld Lang Syne” for the coming party tomorrow. The band returned for a quick “Character Zero” to close the show on a strong rock song and send everyone home happy. With three more nights left, I could not be more excited to see them again. I’m sure the same goes for the rest of the crowd.
Article: Bryan Lasky