2018 wasn’t a great year overall for many people around the world. Many tried to make the best out of terrible situations. In a crazy world, it’s the best you can do. In the world of music there’s one band that aims to do this every time they step out on stage. They do their best to make you forget about all the problems happening outside the venue. This year Phish had a festival planned, only to have it cancelled at the last minute due to turbidity in the water. With it cancelled went everything special and months of planning. The band regrouped and decided to give their fans something amazing.
They did a four night run in Las Vegas for Halloween and “covered” a Norwegian band Kasvot Växt and their only album í Rokk. Of course it turned out the band made up the album and then played it for fans as a gag, but also as a thank you for believing in them and the hardships of the year. Fans had been wondering if the songs were going to be a one-time affair, or if they would make the regular rotation. It was answered fairly quickly as the first song of the run was a song from that set. Over the course of the four nights of their annual Madison Square Garden New Year’s Eve run, the band played nine out of the ten songs from the album, including one of them after the countdown into the new year.
With balloons adorning the ceiling of the venue and everyone in their best dressed attire, the night began with a fiery “Moma Dance” followed by “Stray Dog” for the aforementioned Halloween set and then “555.” A quick romp through of “Sand” with some great playing by Trey Anastasio during the brief jam. As the song ended Page McConnell came from behind the keys to welcome the crowd and let us all know that the song is in fact still “Lawn Boy,” a joke from the 2018’s amazing Baker’s Dozen run at the same venue.
Up next was a back to back of songs used for past New Year’s Eve stunts “Steam” and “Chalk Dust Torture.” “Steam” was fairly straight forward but had a wild feedback induced ending that went right into “Chalk Dust Torture” that had it’s usual rocking feeling, but it’s ending was led by Jon Fishman who powered right through with some pounding drums that went right into “What’s the Use?,” where at times you could hear a pin drop through the arena. We were on to “Play by Play” next followed by the always welcome ballad “Waste.”
To finish off the first set Fishman and Trey joked about the next song being a fan and Trey favorite and we got the silly “Ass Handed,” with the whole band singing the ridiculous refrain before a constant peaking “Run Like an Antelope.” Trey was in slight machine gun mode and hit the solo hard during the song. The first set break of the evening saw everyone walking around the concourse or moving from seat to seat talking with friends and discussing what the gag could be.
The second set started innocently enough “Down with Disease” that quickly got to the jam section and it was very upbeat and colorful, helped along the way by lighting director Chris Kuroda. About halfway through the jam the band took a sharp left and went into a dark section that exploded from Mike Gordon’s bass playing and Page using every keyboard he had on stage to produce some wild sounds. Near the end of the jam there was a mash up of the light and dark jams that melded into one another perfectly. It sounded like it was going to keep going, but was cut off for “Farmhouse.” The best jam of the night took place next in “Seven Below.”
The dark jam from earlier in the set in “Down with Disease” came back with a vengeance and went further into the darkness. Page used some heavy synth work to drive the band forward before Trey took over with some wild guitar work which Mike followed along with on his bass. Eventually you couldn’t tell who was leading the jam as a team mentality took over and the four of them became one. Some starting and stopping of the jam to include some crowd “Woos” began and then Fishman pushed the pace of the jam and eventually the band landed on “Twist.” The jam stayed in the confines before we headed for “Harry Hood,” that was a great as ever. Before heading to the end section of the song there was a complete dissipation that went into “Passing Through” from Halloween and then eventually went right back into the ending of “Harry Hood.”
Anticipation was high during the second set break with space themed music playing over the PA (including “Intergalactic Planetary” and “Planet Rock”). Roughly 15 minutes before midnight, the band came back on stage, with Trey and Mike in space suits as the band launched into “Mercury.” As the song continued dancers came out as some lighting and harnesses were lowered to the stage. As they got in them the lyrics “the tomb of the Red Queen is painted in Vermillion” were sung as red confetti was dropped from the ceiling. Once they were in the harnesses it was revealed that they were actually nets to go the lyrics “but the net’s unbreakable, don’t worry about falling.” The dancers were raised in the air and danced in the air as they went up and down from the stage. Eventually the lighting changed above and below them as well as smoke began to billow around them. With 30 seconds left a computerized voice started the countdown.
Once it hit midnight all of the white and silver balloons, along with long silver confetti pieces dropped from the ceiling as the band played “Auld Lang Syne.” As the sold out crowd celebrated the new year, the band launched into “Say It To Me S.A.N.T.O.S.,” the last of the new songs that would be played over the run. Mike and Trey flew up and down from the stage during the song as dancers dressed as pizza, hot dogs, and other creatures filled the stage. Alien balloons were tossed around the crowd while MSG looked like a spaceship with all the silver and white around the building. The chorus of “this is what space smells like, you will always remember where you were” had the crowd laughing and singing a long as volunteers went through the crowd and handed out air fresheners as keepsakes for the evening.
The rest of the third set had a celebratory feel with a run of “Saw it Again,” “Limb By Limb,” a cover of The Velvet Underground’s “Rock and Roll” and “Suzy Greenberg.” The “Rock and Roll” seemed to have an extra little kick to it as did Page’s piano solo in “Suzy.” The encore started with “The Lizards,” one of the most beloved songs in their whole catalog before launching into a rocking “Character Zero” to close not only the final show of the run, but the band’s 60th ever at the venue. With a see you later this year from Trey, the band waved to the crowd as the lights went up around the venue. Millions might go to the ball drop a few blocks north in Times Square every year, but there’s no better NYC tradition than Phish closing the year down at The Garden.
Article: Bryan Lasky