As I am slowly recovering from 18 total nights and 13 nights at the Garden with 20,000 of my closest friends, the magnitude of what I just experienced is still forming, rolling over me like aftershocks of a 9.0 earthquake.
I’ve been seeing Phish since 95 and have seen them at their best (97, 99, 15) and their worst (04). I’ve done a majority of 6 different tours, at least one each decade. My 200th show was the first night of the Baker’s Dozen. What occurred in shows 200 to 212 is certainly the most amazing experience of them all.
Going in, there were questions around lots of things, repeats or not, guest appearances, summer Phish indoors, as so on. Even during the shows in Chicago, everyone knew it was going to be good, but no one expected it to be this good.
After Chicago but before the run, I told an old tour buddy of mine, there were a few things I think I knew about the Dozen: 1) No repeats; 2) Very few if any special guests; 3) Extended jams in sets, very similar to the 99 run up to Big Cypress; and 4) Five song sets. So I was pretty dead-on with those predictions. But this was next level… life-changing… such a unique experience all around, I’m still wrapping my head around it all.
From the opening “Shake Your Coconuts” and “Martian Monster” all the way to the end, it just kept getting better. “Your spaceship is about to blast off on its voyage of discovery” couldn’t have been more right! By the 3rd night, any lingering questions about repeats seemed to be answered. Fishman dressed as the Pope, blessing everyone during “Sunday Morning”. With the early announcement of Jam night, everyone seemed to sense how special this was becoming.
Jam night…. WOW! I posted “Type II Lawnboy!” and the set and show kept getting better. My personal setlist had about 6 “Jam →” and even a “Jam → Jam”. When they busted out “End of Session” to close out the jamming, it really started to dig in. Definitely a top 5 show of all time. Best versions of this and of that all over the place, multiple first set Type II versions, and so on.
And the next night was Tuesday’s equal. The Carini → Mr. Completely → 1999 → Steam → No Quarter is one of the best sets ever. 1999 hadn’t been played since New Years in 1999, and for those of us who were at both, the second version was a glorious surprise! Character Zero is not high on my list of songs I want to see during a set, but this one was as high energy as I have seen and I danced as hard ever for that one!
Every night was something new, a different set construction, sandwich jams and set list games, at least five things to write home about every night. And no messing around with set killers / slow stuff. When slower songs came in, it was the ones you want to see, when everyone needs a break from the dance party.
There were mini-questions everyone was asking about. Will they include Destiny, which they hadn’t played in the Garden before? Will Tweezer Reprise be the closer? When will they play YEM? What will be tomorrow’s flavor? With or With out? Will they really play Harpua on Jimmie night or is that too obvious? WIll they play Lemon Song on Lemon night, or is that too obvious?
Will it be a Mike’s → Simple → Hydrogen → Groove or something else? The talk was different every day and I talked with a lot of people, since I was vending almost everyday with either American Beauty or PhanArt.
Since I started doing tees in 2014, I’ve really grown to love doing it. The downside though is that I miss out on some of the fun happenings. I didn’t get one donut and somehow missed the mural. I didn’t get to hit up local bars pre-show or do much sight seeing.
But post-show and off-days had so many things to do. I got a chance to see Bela Fleck and the Flecktones, Spafford, Electric Beethoven, James Brown Dance Party, Pink Talking Fish, and Brandon “Taz” Niederauer for sound check at AB. I partied on a rooftop bar until 4 am, and partied harder than I have in a long time with old friends and new people and trying new things and finding new adventures. And so many friends came in for at least a few shows. It really felt like home for 18 days with all my phishy phriends.
One night, I was meeting my good friend Zac at Waterwheel Page side. I’ve never really been a “meet at Waterwheel” person on tour, as I tend to wander around when I’m solo. When I got there, didn’t see Zac at first but I saw one group of friends and stopped to say hello. I turned back and saw a separate group of friends right behind me. And then my buddy Zac tapped me on the shoulder right behind me. Three different groups of friends, who didn’t know one another, all right there! Needless to say, I’m a Page side Waterwheel person now 🙂
And that is kind of how it was for the run, seeing so many friends, meeting so many new ones, feeling that connection about how special this run really was shaping up to be. The energy that was building and flowing back and forth between the crowd and the band. It is almost as if Madison Square Garden was an echo chamber and every night, more and more energy became trapped and saved up for the next night. On multiple occasions, Trey has talked the connection and energy that they get when they are on stage. Being in one place for this extended time just intensified it.
If you’ve see Phish for long enough, you’ve probably had that feeling that they are playing the perfect song/songs for you at that moment. Not necessarily the whole set, but maybe couple songs in a row that connect with how you are feeling at that moment, almost as if they feel your energy and are sending it back to you. (And with social media allowing us to connect much closer with the band, sometimes you think they might just be paying a little attention.) But during the Baker’s Dozen, that feeling ran throughout sets, and it felt like the whole building was connected with the energy. On the 30th, it was like the whole first set was a connection with me in some way or another. (Well, up to the Bowie. If it was a Maze, my face would have completely melted off).
By the time we got to the final Sunday, the energy in the building was more than I have ever seen or felt at a show. The only thing that was close was the first night of Hampton in 09. When the “one more night” line in Dogs Stole Things, the sheer joy of it all shown throughout the room. And a big shout out to Bella for getting her Dad to play Izabella! What a bust out to close the last first set, possibly my favorite first of the run. When those first notes of You Enjoy Myself hit, the place exploded! It was like the big bang of a new donut-shaped universe exploding into existence.
Afterward, I ran into Steve Pollak outside of American Beauty. He saw me and grinned from ear to ear with outstretched arms and “How about that!” “Epic. Just totally epic!” I replied with a big hug. Everyone around was just beaming. It was that sort of feeling that we just witness the most impressive musical achievement. Not just for Phish either, that was clear midway through the run.
This was a musical achievement to which I can’t fathom anyone (even by themselves) ever repeating in my lifetime. If you did all 13, just like Trey felt, “The whole thing became such a blur.” I’m just now going back and looking at all the set lists again and running back over memories. I know I learned some things about myself that I’m still unpacking myself, but one thing I think I know after Baker’s Dozen is that that energy we all shared in the groove with has energized and changed us.
Talks of hiatus I feel are over exaggerated. Residencies have tended to bring bands together. We have Dick’s in a few weeks and New Years to look forward to. Rumors of Summer ’18 are already floating around. Some folks took On The Road Again as a goodbye. I think that couldn’t be more wrong. “Like a band of gypsies we go down the highway / We’re the best of friends / I can’t wait to get on the road again”.
See you at Dicks!