Phish Kick Out Top Flight Old School Faves & Bionic “Ghost” at Madison Square Garden Night Two (SHOW REVIEW)

Some shows have IT. Hanging out near section 104 last night (4/21/22), preshow, watching original Phish artist Jim Pollock sign various pieces of his work, raising money for the Waterwheel Foundation (Insert link), one couldn’t help but feel the vibes were tuned up for a special night.

As it goes, when you walk into the world’s most famous arena there are only four entities memorialized in the banners that hang from the rafters. And yes, Phish is one of them. Kicking things off with a message to “the hero of the song”, who was apparently in attendance attending their first show, Phish jumped into a lively “Suzy Greenberg” followed closely by strong “46 Days”. “Plasma” was up next, and only three songs into the show, Phish was already finding a sweet spot of improvisation. The groove signaled exciting excursions to come as it wanned into a brief pause before the hallowed, “The Man Who Stepped Into Yesterday”-> “Avenu Malkenu”-> “The Man Who Stepped Into Yesterday.”

Having danced through several different melodic themes thus far in the first set, “Wolman’s Brother” was up next bringing a healthy dose of funk with some major energy. Near the end of the tune, having passed off a chance to kick out of the jam in exchange for a few more notes of groove, MSG completely turned on. If you were there, you felt the venue shake and could barely hear the band. If you were listening from home, you must have caught the instant as well-those beautiful organic moments of magic that happen during live music are part of what makes these spaces so special.

With energy soaring the band took a pause to wind down the funk and landed on one of the more beloved, older songs in the catalog with “Esther”. A gorgeous, somewhat rarely played composition, it was clear a few notes fell out of sync during this one, but my interoperation is if Phish is willing to launch so effortlessly into such a difficulty composed song, they’re just as ready to take chances outside of the structure of songs in group improvisation. That’s exactly what happened with the final tune of set one in “Ghost”, 17 minutes that are worth a respin today, and will be worth many replays on down the road. There are so many great “Ghosts” out there, and this one used all of its psychedelic searchings to arrive at a monstrous peak that ended the adventurous set in style.

Set one had a diverse sample of musical gusto throughout, and with some super cool song selections, found a unique flow that stomped the landing beautifully in “Ghost”. Set break had bouncy, palpable energy from showgoers as set two had all the potential Phish fans hope for after such a solid first frame. Coming out on fire, with psychedelia at the core matched to ferocious band interplay, “Chalkdust Torture” started set two and lit MSG up. Trey and Page were dancing a grove with each other, and the rhythm of Mike Gordon’s bass helped scaffold a boisterous jam, building with Jon Fishman to yet another incredible peak.

The musical space created here could’ve marinated for some time, but those infamous notes to “Tweezer” seemed to flow oh so well and completely took over the ongoing improvisationally crafted theme. MSG didn’t explode but came close as “Tweezer” explored a bit before taking a breath in a transcendent, melodic jam that spoke to patience. The music explored here was floaty, brilliant, and distinctive. For a while, guitarist Trey Anastasio seemed to be trading themes, one of which sounded like the band would eventually segue into “Your Pet Cat”. In the most accepting way, it was cool they didn’t actually go there as the jam that ensued did have a flavor of the song yet stayed true to the totally new, exploratory notes taking place.

At this point, the flow of set one, “Ghost” and the opening set two pairing of “Chalkdust Torture”-> “Tweezer” was enough to cement night two in MSG as a heater. But just to make sure, “2001” appeared out of “Tweezer” ramping up the energy yet again before a ferocious version of “Maze”. Yeah, how about a deep-set two “Maze” where Trey once again locked in with Page to build a blistering peak shaking the venerable walls of MSG.

Great song selection all night. A unique flow sowed together with the songs chosen, and energy of the vintage that literally makes one a Phish fan stayed consistent all night. After “Maze” Trey was clearly fired up, seemingly gesturing to the rest of the band he didn’t know what to play. “About to Run” found its way to the front and took a cue from “Maze” as Trey ripped into those notes as unruly as he ever has to keep the juice of the venue flowing. At the song’s end, this felt like a full set even though time-wise it clocked in at just under an hour of music.

So where does the band take you deep into set two after almost an hour of pure psychedelic flow? The old school favorite “Mango Song” right into what I think many would have voted for in the moment, “Harry Hood”.  There you have it, a pretty cool pairing to close things out although Trey didn’t want to stop. “Hood” has the perfect set close feel, but “Character Zero” often does in providing that one-more-time rock and roll shred that in itself does a good job at closing a set. Still, this band was not done weaving a full “Tweezer” theme in the middle of “Character Zero” to offer one more special nugget to a truly special night of music. “A Life Beyond the Dream” and “Tweezer Reprise” to close felt like the perfect way to cap this one off once and for all. It was an incredible night of music, a memorable show, and there are still two more left in the run (and a long summer tour to look forward to). 

Phish Setlist Madison Square Garden, New York, NY, USA 2022

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