Friday at The Garden with Phish, Lemon-Scented

Story by Daniel Downing

After performing ten nights at MSG, Phish embarked on the final stretch of the 13-night Baker’s Dozen run. Without repeating songs during the run, they proved there’s still more up their collective sleeve. 

Trey Anastasio, Mike Gordon, Page McConnell and Jon Fishman took the stage to fired up crowd and delivered a worthy set. The first song played was “See That My Grave is Kept Clean,” a cover of blues master Blind Lemon Jefferson. It was a slow number that would prove to set the tone later on. 

“Punch You in the Eye” picked up the tempo. The song’s prog rock elements helped demonstrate the band’s virtuosity by stringing together straight ahead-rock and Spanish breakdowns. This culminated with Trey and Mike dancing around while Page and Fishman held down the Spanish grooves. Then they let the Garden know is was “Party Time.” You didn’t have to tell the audience, because they already knew it, and the upbeat jam was punctuated by the rainbow lighting provided by lighting director Chris Kuroda

The old-school song “Big Black Furry Creatures From Mars” brought the energy to a fever pitch. The tune sounded like a Misfits outtake, which for a jam band was a welcome change of pace and possibly my favorite song of the night. “Ocelot” was rolled out and proved to be one of the highlights of set one. The light and danceable grooves harkened back to Phish’s Grateful Dead roots. Anastasio was feeling the song as his soaring guitar solos lit up NYC (this will be a recurring theme).

Fans went to the bathroom for the newer tune “Winter Queen,” but they missed out on a jam that had real potential. Unfortunately the group did not push the piece to its limits; they really could have made something cool out of it. Just as “Winter Queen” was peaking, they chose to cover Hendrix’s “Axis: Bold As Love.”  McConnell took vocals duties for what began as an uneventful cover; when it came time to channel Hendrix’s solos, however, Anastasio knocked it out of the park. 

They capitalized on the fury brought with “Axis” by ending the first set with “First Tube.” This fiery instrumental rode the energy of the previous song, turning the Garden into a madhouse. The song ended with Anastasio holding his guitar above his head, signaling the end of set one. 

The second set started with the unusual move of performing “Dem Bones” a cappella (these are normally used to start the show). The weirdness continued when the funky “No Man in a No Man’s Land” went into a spacey place. Out of the ambience came a cover of Radiohead’s “Everything In Its Right Place.” The vibe brought about from the previous jam made this odd cover feel completely natural and one of the highlights of the show. The song ended with Anastasio dropping his guitar to play with his petals (not at all like Johnny Greenwood and his switchboard).

The next major set piece of the second half was “Subtle Scents and Sounds.” The soft jam quickly picked up the pace, going into more soaring guitar work. Then it became a dance party before going back into the space territory represented earlier in the set. 

The final highlight of the night was when they brought out one of their earliest compositions, “Fluffhead.” The amount of love tossed towards the song was infectious. Every word sung by Anastasio was drowned out by the crowd singing along. To put a nice cap on the evening, he whipped out another face-melting guitar solo. 

The encore was a cover of The Edgar Winter Group’s “Frankenstein,” featuring McConnell front and center on Keytar! The high-energy instrumental was a great way to end the night. 

This being my last night attending the Baker’s Dozen (I went to five), I was saddened that I wouldn’t be able to see these guys here next week. After attending a show each weekend, it began to feel like a routine. Which is incredibly bizarre, but incredible at the same time. 

The ability to play the Garden 13 nights in a row is no small accomplishment. Really, try to think of what other acts could pull that off. I can’t think of many. After Sunday they will have played as many shows at MSG as the legendary Grateful Dead, and they’ll be back again someday in  the near future (possibly NYE, but who really knows at this point?)

The Baker’s Dozen was ultimately a testament to the greatness of Phish. Watch out, Billy Joel! The band from Vermont is gunning for your record (Joel has banner saying that he has played the Garden 88 times).

[SET 1: See That My Grave Is Kept Clean, Punch You In the Eye > Party Time, Big Black Furry Creature from Mars,Dinner and a Movie, Ocelot, Poor Heart, Winterqueen, Bold As Love, First Tube; SET 2: Dem Bones, No Men In No Man’s Land > Everything In Its Right Place, What’s the Use? > Scents and Subtle Sounds > Prince Caspian > Fluffhead; ENCORE: Frankenstein]