Story by Daniel Downing
On a rainy Wednesday in New York City (August 2nd), Trey and Company found a way to bring some sunshine into the night. Phish has been on an epic run of shows, playing 13 shows in three weeks at Madison Square Garden. The run has been dubbed the Baker’s Dozen.
Through night ten of this amazing MSG run, the band has yet to repeat a song. Phish has dug deep into their enormous catalog of songs, covers and jams to make every night of the Baker’s Dozen wholly unique (shoot me for the pun). However, each night there has been a clue as to what might be played.
Each night’s show has been teased with a themed donut. For example, July 22nd used a strawberry-covered donut, and they opened the show with an a cappella version of The Beatles’ “Strawberry Fields Forever,” and the jam-filled pastry night on July 25th lead to an epic “jam”-filled show (30-minute-long “Lawn Boy,” anyone?).
This was the fourth show of the run I attended. With many of their songs played so far and tonight being being hole-themed (think Dunkin’ Donuts munchkins), he crowd was left wondering what are they going to do. Trey Anastasio, Mike Gordon, Paige McConnell, and Jon Fishman got on around 8:10 and launched into a cover of Tom Waits’s “Way Down in the Hole.” Due to the obscurity of the song, only half the crowd was truly hyped at this point. The tune’s easy grooves did provide a nice way to slip into the show like a good pair of jeans.
They kicked into the short instrumental “Buried Alive” before going into the first highlight of the introductory set, “Kill Devil Falls.” The ten-minute jam infused energy into the show and got the crowd fully involved. The calming “Guyute” that followed made for a delightful pairing in the set. It was after that when drummer Fishman put down the sticks for a couple minutes to play… his vacuum cleaner. The jazzy “I Didn’t Know” delighted the Garden crowd with its chorus. Come on! The song’s awesome because he’s playing a freaking vacuum cleaner!
The show coasted along until the rarity “Meat” was played right before a rousing performance of “Maze.” This “Maze” set the Garden into a frenzy. Anastasio delivered some fiery solos with the rest of the band setting the dissonant vibe that makes the song great. Phish proceeded to play couple of “okay” songs, signaling to me and the crowd that set one was coming to a close, so you should get your beers and beat the bathroom line now. But after a nice “Heavy Things,” the band stayed on to play “Run Like an Antelope,” bringing the Garden to a fever pitch. The jam started out pleasantly and built to a frenzy with the whole crowd screaming the chorus “RUN LIKE AN ANTELOPE / OUT OF CONTROL!” This brought the run time of the first set to over 90 minutes (the average Phish set is around 75).
During the set break, I engaged with my neighbors and learned that people all the way from California had come to see Phish in glorious Madison Square Garden. I also chatted with people who are more locally based to trade stories on how many shows we have hit on the run (the guy next to me had six; I had four).
The long first set raised hopes of a second set that would be few songs but full of epic jams. The band came back to play an awesome “Mike’s Song.” The 20-minute-long jam went from to happy groves to ambient noise that culminated in a rendition of “O Holy Night.” It wasn’t Christmas, but you wouldn’t have known it with the joy in MSG. This led into a dope 20-minute “Taste” which was simply sublime. After 30 years playing together, Phish proved that they could be as inventive and as invigorating as ever. Exploring all the ways the song could be played, it was clear that these men were locked in.
With the crowd at its peak, the crew slowed down things with the newer “Wingsuit.” The Pink Floyd jam slowed down things to make for a nice pairing with “Taste.” Though many old-school fans don’t seem to like it, I found it to be quite delightful. “Sneakin’ Sally Through the Alley” brought the energy before playing one my favorites, “Weekapaug Groove.” It was a decent version of the song, but even a mediocre “Weekapaug” is better than most band’s best sets.
For the encore the boys played “A Day in The Life.” Since it’s one of the best songs ever created, the show ended on a definitive high note. After the Beatles cover, the band took their bows. They have to get back to work on the final three shows starting Friday! The crowd was left a-buzz after the song with much singing on the way out. It was pretty clear that most people felt like they got their money’s worth.
Overall the Baker’s Dozen shows have shown why this classic band has endured for over 30 years. These shows are great and make for an excellent argument for why you should still see Phish. I can’t wait to go back on Friday night.
[SET 1: Way Down in the Hole, Buried Alive, Kill Devil Falls, Guyute, I Didn’t Know, NICU, Meat > Maze, ginseng Sullivan, Waiting All Night, Heavy Things, Run Like an Antelope; SET 2: Mike’s Song > O Holy Night > Taste > Wingsuit > Sneakin’ Sally Through the Alley > Weekapaug Groove; E: A Day in the Life]
The show is available for download on the Live Phish app.
LivePhish is webcasting the shows as well. Watch for banners fro Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.