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Phish Covers Tom Waits, Takes “Mike’s Song” On 22-Minute Ride On “Holes” Night

Last night, Phish took the Baker’s Dozen into double digits with their 10th performance in 13 days at Madison Square Garden. Unlike Tuesday night’s “Maple” theme, which predominantly left fans scratching their heads until showtime, Wednesday night’s donut, “Holes”–you know, like “donut holes”–immediately spawned a litany of guesses. Phish is at their best when their creativity is at its peak, and just like Sunday’s “Jimmies” donut, “Holes” was another clever, off-kilter flavor choice, allowing the band to stretch the run’s thematic boundaries and check another chunk of songs off their ever-shorter yet still expansive list of remaining numbers. Fans quickly scoured all the songs still in play for the Baker’s Dozen, from originals to staple covers to outlandish guesses (which, on this run, are just about as likely as even the most often-played Phish songs), putting together a comparatively long list of potential picks.

Many of the calls turned out to be correct, the band clearly having designated them for “Holes” night from the start (“Buried Alive,” “Heavy Things,” “A Day In The Life”). But Phish still wound up proving the majority of their fans’ guesses incorrect. This fan was convinced that “Holes” night would finally signal the return of long-lost tongue-in-cheek ditty “In A Hole,” which was referenced at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park on 8/30/14, but has not been played in earnest since December, 1989. Of course, this fan turned out to be wrong. That’s how it works with this band: Whenever you’re certain Phish is going to “zig,” you can be sure they’re actually plotting to “zag,” and last night’s “zags” far exceeded any pre-conceived expectations. Who really wants to “zig” anyway? “In A Hole” is so 1989, and you can bet that these days, most fans would take high-concept, creatively finessed, fully realized 2017 Baker’s Dozen Phish over late-80’s goofiness any day of the week. There’s a Golden Age comin’ round…

The surprises got started early, as the band led off with their live debut of Tom Waits‘ “Way Down In A Hole.” While many in the crowd were understandably unfamiliar with the new and relatively obscure cover, the song’s opening notes sent what seemed to be about half the crowd into a frenzy. The cheering fans, no doubt, were the ones who have watched universally acclaimed HBO crime drama The Wire. The show used a different rendition of the song under its opening credits for each of its five seasons, including the original Waits recording and versions by The Blind Boys of Alabamathe Neville BrothersDoMaJe, and Steve Earle. [Note: To the other half of the crowd that didn’t recognize the opener: Watch The Wire, already. Seriously, what are you waiting for?]

Watch the band’s surprise “Way Down In A Hole” opener below via LivePhish:

A fire-starting “Buried Alive” came next, quickly bringing the rowdiness that seemed to be missing at Tuesday’s “prettier” performance. “Kill Devil Falls” followed, growing into a chugging Type I groove and, finally, a satisfying early-show peak, despite a handful of flubs from Red. Any KDF flubbery was quickly forgotten as the band moved into rare original “Guyute.” While the complicated composition wasn’t perfectly played, the beloved “ugly pig” still pulled through and retained his patented power and shadowy grit.

“I Didn’t Know” came next, as Trey coaxed Henrietta to center stage with a nod to the “Jimmies” night “Universe-As-Donut-‘Harpua’” (“You know what they say about holes: The more holes, the more complicated…the vacuum cleaner!”). Fishman’s vacuum chops can always be classified in varying levels of cringe-worthiness, and this attempt was no different. But the vacuum had yet to make an appearance at the Baker’s Dozen–where Phish is sure to pull out virtually everything in their bag of tricks at some point or other–and the antics served as an amusing interlude.

A brief and bubbly NICU followed, prompting big cheers with its “look back on those days when my life was a haze” line before giving way to Mike Gordon-led jaunt “Meat,” with Fishman masterfully keeping the jive and stride alive. The song gave the crowd its first taste of Type II on the evening, building into a twangy, plodding groove.

“Maze” finally punched its Baker’s Dozen ticket after “Meat,” as the band conjured a dissonant, avant garde atmosphere, augmented by spectacular light work from Chris Kuroda. The “Maze” jam reached not one but two giant white-light peaks, the second of which was lent some added sonic girth by a 60%-ish throttle Mike bomb (good money says he’s saving up the big boys for the monster “Tweeprise” that looms on night 13). “Ginseng Sullivan” and “Waiting All Night” followed before ceding to the hole-referencing “Heavy Things,” depleting some of the energy in the room with a run of slower tunes. However, the audience quickly riled up once again as a raging “Run Like An Antelope” closer moved the gear shift back to “high,” where it would remain for the rest of the performance.

The set break chatter centered largely on “Way Down In The Hole,” as fans of the Wire nerd-ed out over the reference. The tune was all too appropriate for the Baker’s Dozen. With shenanigan-seeking fans traveling from all over to a dedicated area to indulge their societally frowned-upon proclivities, and the venue staff and security generally cultivating a permissive atmosphere for such behavior (as long as you’re in the agreed-upon space), the Garden has had a certain similarity to the notorious “Hamsterdam” over the course of the residency. [Note: For those who don’t get that clever, hilarious reference: don’t worry, it’s not a spoiler. It’s just one more reason you really do need to watch The Wire].

When the second set began with “Mike’s Song,” the Garden crowd knew they were in for a ride–but none could have predicted just how wild that ride would be. From funk feathered with gorgeous beams of blue, purple, and green, to a bright, foamy bounce, to a breezy, echoing vamp, to dark and murky cocktail lounge fare and a patiently realized and chill-inducing peak, this “Mike’s” when “out there” like no “Mike’s” has in almost a decade, breaking the 20-minute mark for the first time since ’97 and just the third elusive “second jam” in the modern era. For now, let’s call this monster “Big Mike,” and imagine he’s a musical beer hall brawler who’s never lost a fight. As “Mike’s” dissipated, the fog machines came alive, billowing smoke across the stage over an ambient rumble, and a choral refrain began to build. It took a few moments of unsure recognition to understand the play: Holiday season staple (and appropriate “Holes” night anthem) “O Holy Night.”

Watch pro-shot video of “Mike’s Song” (via LivePhish) as well as fan-shot footage of Phish’s haunting “O Holy Night” from “Holes” night at the Baker’s Dozen (courtesy of YouTube user rdeal1999) below:

After “O Holy Night,” Trey kicked into “Taste” for the first time since Texas last Fall. The “Taste” jam provided a second bona fide improvisational highlight for this thrilling second set, quickly moving into a charge reminiscent of the “Mike’s Song” jam that preceded it, continuing the considerable momentum they established with the massive set-opening song. Mike and Page bought the jam to a slow, rolling boil, which bubbled over into bright major-key ambiance. Trey picked up the reins from there, using single, solitary, sustained notes to sing songs and pierce through the static like only he can before bringing the jam to a close with a blues rock peak.

“Wingsuit” floated in on the pulsing Fishman fills that closed the Type II “Taste.” Hitting hard as always with a pretty piano jam and towering riffs from Trey, “Wingsuit” eventually landed on a brief “Sneakin’ Sally.” Finally, the band resolved the set-spanning “Mike’s Groove” with “Weekapaug,” before an encore victory lap through a widely-predicted cover of Sgt. Pepper favorite “A Day In The Life.”

Remember 2012? When we wished longingly but skeptically that Phish would revive the “Mike’s Song” second jam? When we wished they would dig deep in the catalogue, play the “white whales,” try out new and adventurous covers. When we longed for just one 20-minute jam, but reluctantly recognized that those days may have been behind them? The Phish we all merely wished for 5 years ago pales in comparison to the Phish we now get on a nightly basis in Summer 2017, and it only keeps getting better.

[Cover photo via Chad Anderson]


Hot Takes:

Repeat Watch: As Fishman says, “DUH.” The universe is a donut. And the Phish will play no repeats…

Today’s Donut: “Holes” [“Way Down In The Hole” (Bonus Points: “When you walk through The Garden…”); “Buried Alive”; “Heavy Things” (“two holes in my face”);“O Holy Night”; “A Day In The Life” (“although the holes were rather small…”)]

We Tired Yet?: …Yes. Home stretch! Who’s got my 8/5 and 8/6?! (For real, though, shoot me a message…)


SETLIST: Phish | Baker’s Dozen Night 10 | Madison Square Garden | New York, NY | 8/2/17

SET 1: Way Down in the Hole[1], 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[1] > Taste > Wingsuit > Sneakin’ Sally Through the Alley > Weekapaug Groove

ENCORE: A Day in the Life

[1] Phish debut.


If you’re in town for Phish’s 13-night Baker’s Dozen run at Madison Square Garden, don’t miss all the incredible late night shows going on in the City during the run! Check out Our Official Guide To Baker’s Dozen Late-Nights for all the info.

Live For Live Music Phish Baker’s Dozen Run Late-Night Shows
Aug 3 – Greensky Bluegrass w/ Marco Benevento @ Ford Amphitheatre At Coney Island Boardwalk (tix) **
Aug 4 – “Kraz & Taz” – Eric Krasno Band w/ Brandon “Taz” Niederauer Band @ The Cutting Room (tix)
Aug 5 – Spafford @ BB King Blues Club (SOLD OUT)

* (L4LM & CEG Presents)

**(L4LM & Live Nation Presents)