In 7 short days, Phish will settle in at Madison Square Garden for their traditional end-of-the-year run. Phish is no stranger to the Garden, having now played the famed venue in the heart of New York City 35 times over the course of their career. From their MSG debut in 1994 to their most recent appearances at the very beginning of 2016, the storied room has played host to some of the most treasured shows in the band’s history. As we inch closer to this year’s New Year’s Run, we will be bringing you our 12 Days Of Phishmas series, highlighting a different milestone MSG Phish show each day until we all head back to the Garden on the 28th. It wasn’t easy narrowing 35 down to 12, but we think you’ll be pleased with these classics from the Phish catalog. Enjoy!
On the sixth day of Phishmas, we look at the band’s lone performance at Madison Square Garden during the “2.0” era of their career. After announcing their first hiatus at the end of 2000, the band announced that their return to the public eye would fall on New Year’s Eve of 2002. While fans tend to overlook the shows played during the early 2000’s, there’s truly something to be said about, not only making a triumphant return, but making it at Madison Square Garden, with three new songs in tow.
The music in the Garden certainly enhanced the mood, as tracks like the “Welcome Back Kotter” theme, “The Boys Are Back In Town” and more greeted fans through the PA system. The music built up the anticipation, and the band’s appearance on stage set the crowd into an uproar. The band, meanwhile, responded with a show-opening “Piper” to hit the ground running. All systems go, Phish was back and ready to rage.
Watch a short video compilation highlighting Phish’s return to the stage, below.
The first set continued with classics from the catalog, like the ugly pig “Guyute” and upbeat numbers like “NICU” and “Horn.” Perhaps the biggest moment from the first set came during “Wilson,” when the band introduced “Tom Hanks” on stage in reference to his recent appearance in the movie Castaway, and his volleyball of the same name. While major media outlets hilariously reported that Hanks had appeared on stage with Phish, the man in question was none other than Steve McConnell, brother to Phish’s Page McConnell. Hilarious!
The set continued with the first “Mound” since 1996, followed by the ballad “The Squirming Coil” and a jammed out rendition of “David Bowie” which featured references to the musical theme of “Dave’s Energy Guide.” After the short break, Phish would return with their debut version of the song “Waves,” treating fans to the first new Phish song in years. They kept the music flowing by segueing into “Divided Sky”, and kept the set upbeat with a number of classics from their catalog.
Set three featured more new music, as the band debuted their new snowy tune “Seven Below” just a few minutes before midnight. As the song played, a giant disco ball lowered from the MSG scoreboard, and dancers clad in all white descended onto the stage, and subsequently into the crowd. The snowy New Year’s celebration was capped by the release of white snow-like soap and balloons, showering the crowd in a sea of snow before playing the traditional “Auld Lang Syne.”
The night was far from over, however, as the band segued into a mean “Runaway Jim” to give the jam fans some loving. Interestingly, the band brought “Jim” into a cover of Little Feat’s “Time Loves A Hero”, and kept things fun with performances of “Taste” and “Strange Design” to wind down the third set. Finally, Phish made their third song debut of the night, playing the new original song “Walls Of The Cave” to close out the third set.
After “Wading In The Velvet Sea,” Phish left the stage, with fans feeling stronger than ever about the band’s return. While the “2.0 era” would only last until 2004, those feelings of triumphant return have certainly carried over to the current time, where Phish is as healthy and happy as they’ve ever been. 12/31/02 remains a testament to the reunion of Phish, and with three new songs in the mix, serves as one of their most memorable at Madison Square Garden.
Listen to the full audio via fromtheaquarium, and check out the Phish.net setlist below.
Phish | Madison Square Garden | New York, NY | 12/31/2002
Set 1: Piper, Guyute, NICU, Horn, Wilson, Mound, The Squirming Coil > David Bowie
Set 2: Waves > Divided Sky, Lawn Boy, Carini, Rift, Harry Hood > Character Zero
Set 3: Sample in a Jar, Seven Below > Auld Lang Syne > Runaway Jim -> Time Loves a Hero, Taste, Strange Design, Walls of the Cave 
ENCORE: Wading in the Velvet Sea
 Castaway intro and “Tom Hanks” guest appearance.
Phish returned from their hiatus with their first public show since October 7, 2000. The pre-show music alluded to the end of the hiatus with such songs as the theme from Welcome Back Kotter, Feels Like the First Time, Back in the Saddle Again, Reunited, and The Boys are Back in Town. The final selection was Foreplay/Long Time, during which time the band took the stage. Piper included a Low Rider tease. Prior to Wilson, a scene from the Tom Hanks movie Cast Away was played in the arena (referring to Hanks’ character searching for his volleyball/companion named Wilson). Trey subsequently introduced Hanks to sing the final lyric. Major news media reported the Hanks appearance, but the guest singer was actually Page’s brother, Steve McConnell. Mound was played for the first time since November 19, 1996 (276 shows). Bowie included a DEG tease. This show included the debuts of Waves, Seven Below and Walls of the Cave. Appropriately, Seven Below began about seven minutes before midnight. During the song, the crew lowered a disco ball from the scoreboard and created a “snowfall” on stage. Dancers dressed in white as snow creatures took the stage and circled the band before dispersing into the crowd. Some of the dancers ascended ladders and donned stilts to become snow angels. At midnight, white balloons and confetti were dropped on the crowd. A dwarf remained on each front corner of the stage, popping balloons, while the snow angels continued to dance. Runaway Jim contained a Weekapaug tease from Page. Time Loves a Hero was last played August 11, 1998 (or 151 shows). Walls included a San-Ho-Zay tease from Trey. The evening was capped with perfect post-show music: Let’s Stay Together.
 Antelope-esque jamming. James Bond Theme tease from Mike.
Stay tuned over the coming days for more Phishmas! ‘Tis the season!
On the sixth day of Phishmas, a Phish phan played for me… six Walls a-Cavin’ (12/31/02)
Five Song Second Set (12/29/97)
Four Light Year Jams (12/29/98)
Three Phishy Decades (12/31/13)
Two Sitting Legends (10/22/96)
and The Gamehendge Time Factory (12/31/95)!
If you’re attending the run, there are plenty of things to do in between shows. For fans of the jam, head to any of these concerts in the area for a guaranteed good time!
12/28: Aqueous + Mungion @ DROM (Phish After-Party) – tickets
12/30: Phan Art w/ Formula 5 @ American Beauty (Phish Pre-Party) – FREE SHOW
12/30-31: Spafford & Magic Beans @ American Beauty (Phish After-Party) – tickets