Ok, so now that we’ve all had a bit of time to process and digest Phish’s 2017 NYE run at Madison Square Garden, let’s revisit the highs (and lows) of these four shows to close out an incredible year for America’s Greatest Drug Band, aka the Phish from Vermont.
Thursday’s kick off, 12/28/17, opened the run with a decidedly appointed pick of “AC/DC Bag,” which in and of itself is not a rare opening number. But considering that “AC/DC Bag” maybe be the only song Phish undoubtedly flubbed and abandoned during the Baker’s Dozen (07/23/17, Night Three).
“Naaaa, that’s not why they opened with Bag,” you say? Well, may I present further evidence: the second song of the NYE 2017 run, “Wolfman’s Brother,” is the same song that followed that erroneous “Bag” on Baker’s Night Three.
From the very beginning, Phish was thinking 17 in ’17 and perhaps righting wrongs from the Baker’s residency.
But let’s pause for a moment here. We need to discuss Kuroda, because he most certainly leveled up on this run.
Having premiered this brand new intergalactic lighting rig earlier this year, Chris Kuroda, I imagine, was thinking “What else can we light up?” And so we got this new addition, a 360-degree addition of lights in the ceiling spokes of The Garden. And Kuroda rocked these new, dynamic lights, illuminating the ceiling, the pit, creating expanding and contracting circles, ahem, donuts, on the crowd, even playing a bit of cat and mouse with the band by moving a spot of sorts round and round in circles around the venue. Kudos to Kuroda!
— matthew stowell (@coolmatt600) December 31, 2017
Ok, now on with the show!
That first set’s “Tube” jam was certainly the highlight for me, with “BOTT” and “Theme,” tying for second. “Your Pet Cat” was a welcomed rarity also, it’s 12th performance to date.
For the second set, you gotta love a “Wilson” opener. It just brings everyone together, gives folks some added time to get settled and get in the zone. And this night’s ZONE came in the form of “No Men In No Man’s Land,” which damn near went 30 minutes before dissolving into “Twist,” which certainly had its moments and was heading for true greatness when Trey pulled up, unfortunately.
The rest of the show featured solid playing from everyone on some nice, composed tunes. Solid, being the key term here. Nothing much to write home about, and can’t say I’m excited by a “Wedge” > “Slave” encore, are you?
Night two, set one: With a nod to our famous, cavernous venue, Phish bookend the set with “Cavern” and “Walls of The Cave,” which ain’t bad at all. This set has I think the best “Blaze On” and “Ocelot” I’ve ever heard live. But it’s the “555” that takes home the gold, highly recommended! Whether or not they’re riffing on the theme to Lynch’s 1984 film “Dune” or not, I’ll let you be the judge. Either way, I just love how dark they take “555,” bravo, y’all!
Opening the second set with “Sand,” is a promising start. And with three sets under our belt, I’m calling Gordo as MVP, so very excited to get that heady, dirty, sandy riff to kick off the set. But it’s not “Sand” that brings the fire. A nice warm up, certainly, and when it gives rise to “Chalk Dust Torture,” everyone in the room buckles in. That “CDT” is what it’s all about, my friends! Wow. “Ghost” has its moments too, but doesn’t have the depth in the end. Same with “Melt.”
Also, I kinda like a “Julius” encore, so what!
And so, night three… opening with “Mike’s Song,’ whaaaaa? Love that! Further cementing Gordo as MVP in my opinion. The “Mike’s > Hydrogen > Weekapaug Groove” that comes is some damn fine Phish music: loose, fun, dare I say, ambitious? In some years it seems that maybe the band leans on this stalwart tryptic a little bit but recently it seems to invigorate them, inspire them, and push them to new heights. Translation: a first-set “Tweezer” follows. And a damn fine “Tweezer” it is, not too crunchy, not too spacey, not too hot, and not too cold. Just right, really!
“Tweezer” concludes, actually ends, which is not exactly common. Then Fishman delivers perhaps his best performance of “Ass-Handed,” and everyone is brought back to Earth to catch their breath after that 40-minute romp.
“Kill Devil Falls” and “Bathtub Gin” but have beautiful, incredible moments, though at this point it seems we’ve already had our main course. And dessert too.
Then “Brother,” oh hell yes! I’d been calling it all run and they heard me! Is it the best “Brother”? Absolutely not. Is it the worst? Maybe so, maybe not. But it got me cheering and smiling and dancing all the same!
“More” closes the first set, a sentence written all too many times.
For the second set, Phish would need to dig deep if they aimed to top that first set. And they did. Opening with our good ol’ dependable “Down With Disease” (MVP Gordo, y’all), the band takes us on a journey into uncharted territory, with another 30-minute jam, besting the first night’s “No Men,” and continuing into a powerful “Steam” and a “Light,” the former a favorite of mine and the latter, well, I can’t really fault it.
However, the “Farmhouse” and “Antelope” that followed to close the set feels just a bit perfunctory. I’m never yearning to hear “Farmhouse,” and “Antelope” almost always feels like filler to me, like a poor man’s “First Tube.”
Which brings us to the encore: “Sleeping Monkey.” Ok, fine, I’ll take it but at this point hearing “Sleeping Monkey” is like hearing a joke retold again and again and again. It’s just not funny anymore. That said, neither “Farmhouse” nor “Monkey” can bring this show down. Closing with “Reprise,” as expected, Phish puts 12/30/17 in the books, which, as of writing this post, has settled quietly into the 10 slot on Phish.net’s Top Rated Shows Chart, deserving or not.
Personally, while 12/30/17 is perhaps one of the best shows of the year, I can’t agree that it’s one of the top 10 Phish shows of all time. C’mon, y’all! (As an aside, Jam Night is now No. 21, for what it’s worth.)
Night Four, New Year’s Eve: with all its anticipation and expectations, replete with some strange cosmic bracelets for attendees with messaging that feels like a red herring in hindsight. Intentional or not, the messaging emailed to ticketholders day-of seems “cosmically” misleading.
You have been selected to ring in the new year as the first travelers to explore the universe by cosmic wristband. You’ll find this wristband when you arrive at your seat (or when you enter the venue for GA ticket holders). Please be considerate of other fans and take only the one wristband given to you.
The countdown has begun, and your vessel is about to embark on its voyage of discovery. Because of the incredible power of your wristband, your trip is short. Your wristband will not activate till close to midnight, so don’t worry if it’s not functioning yet when you first put it on… The closer you are standing to your actual seat at midnight, the better your wristband will work.
— Scott Marks (@bizarchive) January 1, 2018
Opening the first set of three, Phish played “Carini,” perhaps the darkest, power-chord rocker in their arsenal. The band is here to play, kicking off with the lumpy head anthem for the first time since Halloween 2016. And the crowd goes wild! Next is “Suzy Greenberg,” a welcomed homage to last year’s New Year’s Eve performance. “My Friend, My Friend” is next, a quick and dirty performance, leading to the double-shot of “Fluffhead” and “Reba,” stellar choices for a NYE first set. And while the performances of these songs were not the band’s best, their intention was clear and focused.
After nearly seven sets of music thus far, Phish has proven that they’re here to play and play Phish music: funky compositions and deep jams from their vast catalog of originals. Baker’s Dozen themes and covers this is not, for better or worse.
With a quick jaunt through “Poor Heart,” Phish spends another 30 minutes running through “46 Days” > “Maze” > “Character Zero,” all well-performed but short of extraordinary.
Opening the second set with “Possum” wakes everyone up real good and Phish performs a 70-minute, six-song second set with highlights including “Gotta Jibboo” and an eerie take on “What’s the Use?” The 20-minute “YEM” feels like home, and everyone seems to be having a good time. Again, this is Phish playing Phish: classic compositions, with just a dash of panache.
And now for our third and final act of the evening: After Phish has already played for two and a half hours, the band takes the stage and plays… A Trey Anastasio Band song?
Yes, after eight sets of Phish playing tried and true Phish, practically zero cover songs, they conclude 2017 with a “cover” of a Trey Anastasio Band song. It’s a brand new song, which Trey premiered in Las Vegas only two months prior (10/27/17), so I’m not sure many people had heard it or even knew of it. And, so… I’m not convinced this works.
Ok, sure, suddenly stage techs are unfolding a giant pirate ship sail from a forty-foot mast on stage and the spectacle adds some validation of the song’s lyrics, kinda… “We’re screaming through space on a Soul Plane / the wind is the music / and everyone’s together in this one big ocean, and the ocean is love.” Because, ya know, Phish is the “Big Boat” and we’re the ocean? An ocean of love?
Look, I don’t want to be too critical of “Soul Planet,” so I’ll just say this: I don’t think I’m the only one who wanted Phish to play a Phish song towards midnight.
But also, they could’ve played any song while those sails were revealed and the boat motif would’ve still worked. It’s pretty awesome, and surprising, which is all I ever really want at a Phish show: surprises. The mast and sails, complete with fans keeping them swelling and billowing, then the mast rotated? I can dig it. It’s a solid idea, well-executed.
I absolutely loved the cannons shooting “cannonballs” into the crowd, complete with an Acme sound effect and “splashes” in the audience ocean.
And the “cosmic” bracelets worked too! Illuminating 20,000 wrists is no easy task. And coordinating synchronized patterns and colors among the 20,000, between various levels of Madison Square Garden? Wow. I was impressed. Was it some kind of pyrotechnic hyper-color cornucopia? Not quite. But it was cool! And it went one more step towards bringing everyone together that night, under one roof, together… Together, ugh, in this one big ocean of love.
After the countdown, projected on the sail, the balloons drop and the band segues into Auld Lang Syne. Happy New Year! Everyone hugs and kisses, one couple gets engaged, and then back to business! “Free” is the first song of 2018, and ain’t nobody mad about that. And Phish does it well.
Next up, “A Song I Heard the Ocean Sing”, which offers one of the best jams of the run. Trey and Page exchange melodies, building, building, then belaying each other upward to a gentle boil of a peak… Page hits the “Shipwreck” lyrics, Mike drops a bomb, and we’re back! We’re back, back to Phish playing Phish again. Phew!
The band continues the third set with “The Moma Dance” > “Prince Caspian” > “Wading in the Velvet Sea,” none of which offer any significant jamming, including that darling of Magnaball, but all do well to fit with the ocean / big boat / pirate theme of the set just fine. That “Moma” is worth a listen and includes an Auld Lang Syne tease at the end for ya.
Then, to close out the set, the evening, the NYE run, and the 17 in ’17, we get “First Tube,” the big energy, bass-driven (Gordo MVP!) instrumental rocker, a personal favorite of mine. And this one delivers, for sure. “First Tube” always delivers, more or less the same every time. Regardless, it’s damn nice to go out on a high note, with a bang.
Though… wait a minute, didn’t they end the third set NYE 2016 with “First Tube”? They did. And then they encored with… Yep. “Loving Cup.” Strange that they would repeat that pairing conclusion. Maybe they forgot about NYE 2016? I mean, they’ve played 17 shows in MSG since then, ha!
Last summer, Scotty B and I commiserated on how many people actually did all 13 shows of the Baker’s Dozen. He did. I did. But both he and I only caught two shows for the NYE run, 15/17 at MSG.
Initially, I had guessed maybe 1,000 people saw all 13 Baker’s Dozen shows. And considering that myself and Scotty only added two more, how many people actually made it to 17 in ’17? We’ll likely never know. As Scotty put it, “This is all guesstimates.”
But if you did, bravo. Here’s to you.
Ya know, someone recently wrote that this is “peak Phish”, that it can’t get better than this. And sure, there’s some logic to that, in our post-Baker’s world. After playing 13 shows with no repeats and just tearing the whole city apart with jam after jam, it’s easy to think that won’t be eclipsed, at least in its grandeur and execution.
But with the band returning to MSG for these last four shows of a NYE run, and delivering some stellar Phish with a capital “P,” including Trey’s new guitar rig and thick, gooey effects, I think it’s safe to say we ain’t done yet.