10 Highlights from Phish’s 2016 New Year’s Run at Madison Square Garden, New York, New York
Another High Quality Run For 2016. As the snow settles after Phish’s 39th show at the world’s most famous arena, aka Madison Square Garden (MSG), fans are left with yet another multi night stand with musical gems strewn about every show that was offered. Yes, Dick’s was about as much as one can ask for in a three night run, and Vegas is arguably as good of a four show stand Phish has played in many years. But after almost two months of zero live shows for the band, show for show, MSG sent 2016 off in style. With rumors swirling of a big break after Mexico, to a baker’s dozen at MSG this summer, 2016 leaves the band in a great place as we enter 2017.
Acapella Openers. Four shows with four acapella arrangements to kick off each night. After all these years Phish still surprises show goers each and every outing. This theme was a welcome treat to frame the start of each show of the 2016 New Year’s run. Stylistically going acapella also highlights the range of the band as a whole. It’s one of those things that makes Phish so unique-the way they can go from broadway to psychedelic, blue grass to funk, and back to straight rock and roll so well. I think a lot of people-if they’ve even heard of Phish, still wonder how this band that gets next to no air time continues to be relevant in 2016, and how can they can sell out MSG for four nights in the matter of a few minutes with ease? It’s the music that matters, and quite frankly, there is no other band on the planet that does what Phish does and that’s why so many of us keep going back year after year, show after show. It’s unique, it’s an adventure, and you never know what you’re going to get.
“Wolfman’s Brother”, “Golden Age”-> “Simple” (12/28/16). There are three sections of music that really stand out from this run, and these 42+ minutes from night one are one of them. There was a break between “Wolfman’s” and “Golden Age”, but in the moment, and even upon a listen back, the tunes link up. “Wolfman’s” pushed beyond it’s normal structure, brought the venue to a funky dance groove theme, and started to go deep. The music was a fine way to kick the set off before “Golden Age”. After the memorable version recently played in Vegas this version didn’t quite “get there”, but guitarist Trey Anastasio explored some interesting space for a while before building to a hosesque point where a peak might have sent this jam into the stratosphere. Instead the flowing segue went into “Simple” in a way that was so fluid, it simply melted into one another creating a blissful selection of music that when listed to as one three-song progression is why many fans love this band as much as they do.
“Martian Monster” “Tweeprise” Mash (12/28/16). As much as I loved the “Roggae” and interesting song choices in set one, and the three songs I mentioned above from set two of this show, here’s less than ten minutes of music that was about as fun as anything I’ve experienced at a modern Phish show. The playback is worthy as well. So many elements of surprise, improvisation, and pure fun are found here, not to mention the energy of the building for this piece of music to take place deep in a set two on the first night of a four show run. I for one loved hearing “Martian Monster” get selected for placement here, but it was the slowed down tempo that really put this one in a special place right from the start. Honestly, I was hoping for a possible deep exploratory take on “Martian”, but the resulting jam was so unique, and then paired with a “Tweezer Reprise” themed minute or so singing “Your Trip is Short” equaled an unexpected, unique moment of high fun that no one could’ve expected-even the band.
“Peaches en Regalia” (12/29/16). There were plenty of so called bustouts this run. Some fans love them, others could care less. My take is when you’ve seen the same band play live for hundreds of shows over a span of decades, it’s nice to hear something new, especially when Phish has such a vast catalogue. In fact, if it was the same thing night in and night out, would it really be that fun? Absolutely not. Really, every night had at least one song that hadn’t played in long enough to make it a rare treat. My subjective song to highlight is “Peaches” (even if it was a little loose). Props to the crew that keeps trying for “Izzabella”-one of these days, but in my opinion catching a “Peaches” is a special treat that’s noteworthy, and it really set up a big energy swing for the resulting “Mikes Groove” that anchored a truly enjoyable first set.
“Harry Hood” (12/29/16). Night two had lots of highlights from a solid set one, to sprinkled strong points in the second frame such as the twenty minutes of “Twenty Years Later” with “Kung”, and the pairing of “Makisupa”. However, I recall a very salient moment at the end of “Hood” where I was listening deeply, and then the peak dropped. It was that good. After the show I had a text from a good friend who couldn’t make the run. He asked me if I felt like “this kid” during the “Hood”. His text had a short video of a young guy absolutely melting-in a good way, during the evenings “Hood”. Come to find out the webcasters must have kept filming this guy during the song and he’s become “Hood Peak Kid”. One the one hand, there’s the geekiness of Phish fans. On the other hand, I hope this kid gets lots of love because that is it. I’m not one to tell you what’s right or wrong, or what you should feel at a Phish show. But respectfully, we’ve all been there, like this kid, and if you haven’t gone there yet I sincerely hope it happens for you at some point soon. It’s when I’d argue Phish stops being a band you listen to here and there and becomes something much more. That “Hood” was as gorgeous as one could ask for, bringing me back to early 90’s versions of the song when “Hood” peaked more regularly.
Set I 12/30/16. A date synonymous with some of the best Phish shows every played did not disappoint in 2016. In fact, as solid of a run as this was, this show is well above the rest in terms of being a top tier Phish show from start to finish. “Gumbo” and “Bathtub Gin” stood out in the first set, as did the set closing”YEM”. But after an hour and a half of well played Phish to open, it was set two that makes this one stand out.
Set II 12/30/16. The last 13 minutes of “Wading” and “Rocky Top” are fine based on their placement only because of what preceded them. “Tweezer” was fire. Always a welcome way to open a second set, this “Tweezer” bounced around, explored, and got gritty before yielding to a surprising, but audibly fluid move into “Sparks” even if it comes off a little scratchy upon a respin. I could listen to this 19+ minutes on repeat for hours, and suggest at minimally you have a listen for yourself to the high quality, high energy Phish found here. The “Ghost” up next dabbled in some funky rhythms and spacey grooves, but it was the “Light” that sent this one to the outer realms. The “Party Time” lyrics more so sang over the music of “Light” was sublime. Again, another section of music-about 23 minutes, that on its own is incredible. Put it together with the first set, and what proceeded it in the second set and there you have a complete show that is as good as anything we’ve heard in 2016, really in the modern era of Phish. Top-To-Bottom a full show with incredible improvisation, a huge range of musical styles on display, and precise Type I playing. You can’t ask for much more.
12/31/16 Set II. After what went down the night before, this set did not go deep. That said, the first 52+ minutes of this set is a dance party flow that fit the evening oh so well. “2001” to open, with a monster drop into a dark “Carini”. “Twist” covered some interesting ground before the “Piper”-> “Ass Handed”> “Piper” groove where bassist Mike Gordon joined keyboardist Page McConnell on keys, and Trey joined drummer Jon Fishman to pound on his Marimba Lumina. The unique jam dropped into a fire “Sand” that kept the MSG raging until “Slave” and “More” brought the set to a close. While certain moments pop out more than others in “Carini”, “Piper”, and “Sand” this is another chunk of music that I’d recommend listening to as one cohesive piece.
New Year’s Eve Gag, “Petrichor”>”Auld Lang Syne”> “Suzy Greenberg” (12/31/16). Phish on New Year’s Eve is a highlight no matter if it’s your first time seeing the band or your 200th show. As in years past, this year the band put a so called gag together that to the author reeked of channeling and honoring their late great hero, Prince. Although they didn’t cover “Purple Rain”, Phish offered fans something special as they were accompanied by the Trey Band horns featuring Natalie Cressman on trombone and vocals, Jennifer Hartswick on trumpet and vocals, James Casey on saxophone, Jeff Tanski on keys, and Andres Forero on percussion. Set to a rain theme with dancing umbrellas, as well as cat and dog balloons raining down on the crowd, the band played Trey’s odyssey “Petrichor” leading up until the New Year countdown with “Auld Lang Syne”, and then dropped a super hot, horncentric “Suzy Greenberg” to welcome 2017. The “No Men” was fun as well, as was “555” and “First Tube”. I think many fans would’ve loved to see some more pushing in song selection and/or possibly some deeper improvisation with the added musical friends Phish had with them for this set, but ultimately it was an visually beautiful gag set alongside some uniquely played music, creating a very special way to welcome the New Year. Phish walked off the stage in style with only three shows on their schedule coming up in Mexico, and a host of questions as to what the following months will look like for the band. One thing’s for sure, if 2017 is anything like 2016 we’re all in for a treat! Happy New Year everyone!