We all love it when Phish plays games with us. Sometimes these take the form of actual games (like the Audience-Phish chess matches of 1995), but generally speaking, they come out in carefully crafted setlists. While the band’s annual Labor Day weekend run at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park has been their focal point for setlist games in years past, the band fully took advantage of their thirteen donut-themed Baker’s Dozen performances to play countless setlist games with their avid fanbase.
Some of these games were obvious: Almost every show featured a direct shoutout to the theme, including one-off covers from “Shake Your Coconuts” to “Powderfinger,” “Chocolate Rain” to “Strawberry Fields Forever.” These were all quite fun–especially my favorite of the bunch, “Strawberry Letter 23”–but deeper investigation reveals some clever setlist quirks that may have gone unnoticed to the untrained eye, whether or not they were actually intended to have a deeper meaning.
That being said, if you’re reading this, you’re probably as big of a Phish nerd as I am. You probably caught some, if not all, of these. If that’s the case, then at the very least take this opportunity to appreciate the enormous dedication and mastery that this band brought to Madison Square Garden for their Baker’s Dozen run (or, you know, to decide if you think the theories are just a result of over-enthusiastic fans digging a little too deep for significance)…
1. The Sweetest Encores
From the get-go, Phish playfully came out with a series of sweet-tooth-appropriate encores for our indulgence. The first three shows alone featured “The Mango Song,” “Peaches en Regalia,” “My Sweet One” and “Sweet Jane,” not to mention the (Orange) “Julius” from night 4. How sweet it is to be loved by Phish.
2. All of the Jimmies
In the face of the Sprinkles vs. Jimmies debate, Phish seemed to lean towards their Vermont heritage with the “Jimmies” verbiage. Yes, they used sprinkles in the night 13 description, but they drove the “Jimmies” point home with not one, not two, not three, but four Jimi Hendrix songs in the last six shows, starting with “Jimmies” night” (“The Wind Cries Mary,” “Bold As Love,” “Fire,” and “Izabella”). It was as if the Jimi floodgates had opened, and we certainly reaped the rewards. Of course, just to confound the whole debate, they played one of the most-sought-after Jimi songs (the 574-show bust-out of “Izabella”) on the night with sprinkles in the description. We may never know what to call this topping again.
3. And another Jimi!
With “Jimmies” now being sprinkled (err… jimmied?) throughout the remainder of the run, Phish paid tribute to Jimi Hendrix one show later in an unusual and totally Phish-y style. They opened their Maple theme night with a version of “O Canada,” honoring both the theme of the show and the master guitarist’s iconic take on the “Star Spangled Banner” from his festival-closing set at Woodstock Music & Arts Fair in 1969. This was certainly a nod to Jimi, Jimmies, and Maple all in one gut-busting opener.
4. The O’s are donuts too, man
Another fun fact about “O Canada”: Its first word is the letter “O.” This is fairly uncommon in modern English, and yet the same pattern appeared in the next night’s donut selection as well, “O Holy Night.” Of course, the letter O is actually representative of the shape of the Universe, which is to say that it looks like a donut. It’s almost as if they planned this out…
5. Lemon “Party Time”
Was the choice to play “Party Time” on “Lemon” night a nod to the gross-out “Lemon Party” Internet meme of yore? Maybe so, maybe not. Either way, this mainstay middle school prank was quite ripe for word play.
6. A show of snow and dust
The “Powdered” theme of night 5 was perhaps one of the less obvious choices, lending itself to only two direct uses of the word Powder: Neil Young‘s “Powderfinger” and Chilling, Thrilling Sounds of the Haunted House‘s “The Very Long Fuse,” which mentions gun powder/explosions. “1999” continued the “gun powder” nods with its references to “bombs.” There were snow references everywhere throughout that show, from the opening harmonies of Fleet Foxes‘ “White Winter Hymnal” to the second set jams of “Steam” and “No Quarter.” Even “Gumbo” has some snow in it. And if we’re going wide with the theme, “Pebbles and Marbles” and “Farmhouse” both feature references to “dust,” which is certainly powdery in its own right.
7. Chalk-ocolate donuts
The first syllable of the word “Chocolate” is a homophone for Chalk, which is the first word of “Chalk Dust Torture,” the biggest jam on “Chocolate” night. I’m proud of myself for using the word homophone correctly in context…
8. The unspoken Jimmy
Though many of the “Jimmy” references from the “Jimmies” show were straightforward (including “Runaway Jim,” “Harpua” and “The Wind Cries Mary”), “Drowned” also gets credit for being on-theme. The song is a cornerstone from The Who’s 1973 rock opera, Quadrophenia, which centers around a teenage protagonist named… you guessed it… Jimmy. Unlike the Jimmy in “Harpua,” however, The Who’s Jimmy does not have a cat named Poster Nutbag. He might have benefited from a dog, though.
9. The Boston Cream “Frost”-ing
In an NPR interview, Federal Donuts’ chef Matt Fein explained that some of the hardest donuts to mass-produce for the Baker’s Dozen shows were the ones with fillings. This could explain why the “Boston Cream” donut didn’t have the traditional Boston Creme filling, instead using the flavor as a frosting drizzle. It seems plausible that the band could have attention to this detail, following up their own “Sunshine Of Your Feeling” medley with just the second-ever performance of “Frost,” and the first since 2013. [EDIT: In Trey’s post-Baker’s Dozen New York Times interview published today, he talks about the band’s spontaneous decision to follow their “Boston Cream” mashup with the quiet “Frost,” which turns out not to have been an intentional nod to the “frosting” situation. Oh well, that’s how it goes with Phish: “Most Shows Spell Something” to fans, even when they’re not meant to.]
10. A “whole” set inside Mike’s Groove
“Mike’s Groove” is the cute nickname that Phish fans have given the suite that begins with “Mike’s Song” and ends with “Weekapaug Groove.” Though “I Am Hydrogen” traditionally fills the space between the two songs, dozens of songs have occupied that coveted setlist spot. It’s almost always one song that fits in the Mike’s Groove sandwich, but on “Holes” night, they fit the “whole” second set between the two bookends of Mike’s Groove. Yes, whole and hole are different words, but they are homophones! Hooray for homophones!
Bonus points to “Way Down In The Hole” for its “Garden” reference, and to all of the names in the first set of “Jimmies” night – Esther, Brian, Robert, Col. Forbin, Nellie Kane and David Bowie! I’m not reading too much into this, you are…Thanks for each and every one of the 237 songs, Phish!
[Cover photo by Chad Anderson]