Happy New Year!
Okay, I know it’s the middle of April and an Earth Day greeting would be more appropriate, but the jam band Phish held a make-up New Year’s Eve performance last night—rescheduled from December 31st due to the wave of Omicron cases that swept the country last winter. And, while the Vermont quartet did play a webcast-only show on December 31st, there’s nothing that quite compares to a three-set performance inside Madison Square Garden. Even if it is a few months late.
Phish kicked off night three of its four-night run with Sigma Oasis tune “Everything’s Right”, nodding to the circumstances of the show. Everything was indeed right with this opener, as the band jumped quickly from the verses to a lofty jam that began in a lighter space but quickly started rocking with some swampy guitar tones from Trey Anastasio and funky bass drops from Mike Gordon. The funk jam built up tension and, after 15 minutes or so, dropped into the fan-favorite, “Tube”. This was a stretched-out, albeit Type I, version of “Tube” that stayed funky and kept the house grooving.
Phish – “Everything’s Right” – 4/22/22
As “Tube” concluded, Gordo tapped the opening riff to “555”, which also saw some depth as the rhythm section drove a tight, in-the-pocket jam session. Trey brought the band into the next song, “Back on the Train”, which he whipped into a very energetic rock and roll moment. Four songs into the first set and the band was locked in tight for the long night ahead.
Phish – “Back On The Train” – 4/22/22
[Video: Alison Camardella]
Page McConnell next led the band through a soulful “Army of One” that featured some uplifting guitar work from Trey. “Axilla (Part II)” followed—the song emerged last year for the first time since 1995 and continues to find its way into the rotation. This “Axilla” contained a light, ethereal jam session, giving fans a reflective moment in an otherwise high-energy set. This dreamy segment faded, giving the band room to break into an all-time classic, “Bathtub Gin”.
There were some fun moments in the “Gin” improv, including a stop-and-go section that elicited a brief “Woo!” response before moving on. Trey brought the jam to its peak energy levels with some wailing guitar soloing, ultimately returning the song to its familiar ending. It was the Kasvot Växt number “Say it to me S.A.N.T.O.S.” that would close set one, and this was a rock and roller that did not disappoint. Overall it was a great first set that had fans smiling as the band left for its first set break.
Phish kicked off set two with a lengthy “Set Your Soul Free”, in which the band quickly built upon the song’s structure with some flowing musicianship. The 20-plus minute jam was a standout of the show, weaving from flowing to spacey to funky to spacey all over again. An honorable mention goes to Page for the echoing synth effects that enabled the band to blast off into space before ultimately bringing it back down to the song’s ending.
Phish – “Set Your Soul Free” – 4/22/22
The band segued into “Light” with ease, which served as another vehicle amidst a jam-heavy second set. The band started in the brighter territory that “Light” affords, dipping into darker, minor-key melodies briefly before driving things home with some bluesy classic rock vibes. The song ended triumphantly, leaving room for the band to find their way into the opening notes of “Fuego”.
The “Fuego” jam took time to develop, but it settled nicely into a dark and groovy space with the whole band seeming to be in the driver’s seat at one point or another. Whether it was Trey’s thick guitar tones, Jon Fishman’s pulsating drums, Gordon’s tight bass counterpoint, or Page’s space-filling keyboards, the band was delivering tight musicianship throughout this version of “Fuego”.
At a lighter moment in the jam, Trey shuttled the band into “What’s The Use?” The longing instrumental has been in the band’s tight rotation for years and was a welcomed slow-down song to let the crowd catch their collective breaths. After the song’s conclusion, the band broke into a set-closing rendition of “Backwards Down The Number Line”. While singing the song, Trey took a moment to wish his daughter, Bella, a happy birthday—an endearing moment in an otherwise standard version.
Phish – “What’s The Use?” – 4/22/22
[Video: Fred Ramadan]
Five songs and 70-ish minutes later, Phish left for the second setbreak of the evening. Fans had been wondering whether the band would pull one of its famous New Year’s stunts during this performance. The anticipation peaked during these final moments as the clock drew ever closer to midnight.
The set started in typical fashion with the opening of “Free” at 11:46 p.m., but upon closer inspection, it became clear that the band was playing on a smaller stage with a stripped-down equipment setup—fewer drums, amps, and keyboards. Soon thereafter, lighting made it apparent that a large curtain was encircling the bottom of the stage. Opaque letters “FREE” could be seen on the sheet on occasion, but before long it was used as a flowing surface upon which to project lights and patterns.
The band shredded its way through an energetic take on “Free”, with Trey smiling ear to ear at his bandmates, evidently excited about the festivities ahead. As the band broke into the second song of the set, “A Wave Of Hope” from Trey’s Lonely Trip quarantine album, it was clear that this was to be a water-themed expedition. Lights and patterns flashed across the stage sheet, and beads fell from the sky in corresponding patterns to create a light-through-the-rain effect.
Phish – “Free” – 4/22/22
Bypassing “Auld Lang Syne”, which admittedly would have been out of place, Phish jumped into “Waves” to go along with the theme. After the first verse or so, inflated dolphins dropped from the sky and began swimming through the space overhead. As the band jammed, the sea creatures of the MSG aquarium swam along, and a whale was introduced into the mix.
Phish – “Waves” – 4/22/22
[Video: Channing Benjamin]
— Jonathan Rose (@StayHuman) April 23, 2022
Following an ethereal, aquatic jam, Phish added some “Sand” to the scene, both musically and visually. The latter was again achieved with falling beads upon a watery backdrop, the beads reminiscent of what fell during the rainstorm conjured by a “Petrichor” New Year’s Eve performance back in 2016. “Sand” developed into a tense-and-release jam session with some tight band member interplay before resolving into the main riff.
Phish – “Sand” > “Waves” – 4/22/22
Next up was “Split Open and Melt”, and with it a steady stream of bubbles were blown toward the band. As Phish reached the song’s “We breathe deep in a steam dream” bridge section, streamers fell from the top of the stage to give the appearance of seaweed plants on the seafloor (below the waterline). The jam veered through atonal, exploratory ideas before reaching its traditional ending.
Phish – “Split Open and Melt” – 4/22/22
[Video: Fred Ramadan]
The seaweed streamers dropped to the floor as the watery display on the stage curtain turned icy and, soon thereafter, began to rise. Sound effects accompanied these activities and continued to play through the arena as the band left the stage for the pre-encore break.
The sound effect of water bubbling, like the running water of an aquarium tank, continued until the band returned and played, perhaps predictably in retrospect, “It’s Ice”. At some point during “It’s Ice”, a giant donut was projected behind the band, the steadfast symbol of Phish and its Madison Square Garden performances.
Finally, as the band wrapped up “It’s Ice”, confetti rained from the sky and Trey wished the room a “Happy Earth Day” before the band exited the stage and put an end to the performance. “La Mer (Beyond the Sea)” played over the PA as the lights turned back on—a final nod to the theme of the evening’s performance.
Phish – Madison Square Garden – New York, NY – 4/22/22 – Set Three
[Video: kembra allen]
I hope my words captured the spectacle of Phish’s third set, but much of it is worth watching to visualize the shenanigans that the band organized. The pandemic era has been marked by many unusual circumstances, but the human spirit can always find a way to prevail. Phish showed us that everything’s right if you just hold tight, and four months after the band meant to celebrate New Year’s Eve, they gave us an Earth Day celebration that fans will not soon forget.
Phish concludes the four-night MSG run tonight, April 23rd, and kicks off a summer tour on May 27th. Plenty more great music is yet to be played. You can see the full setlist below. Check out Live For Live Music‘s coverage of nights one and two of Phish’s rescheduled MSG run.
Setlist [via phish.net]: Phish | Madison Square Garden | New York, NY | 4/22/22
Set One: Everything’s Right > Tube, 555 > Back on the Train, Army of One, Axilla (Part II) > Bathtub Gin > Say It To Me S.A.N.T.O.S.
Set Two: Set Your Soul Free > Light > Fuego > What’s the Use? > Backwards Down the Number Line
Set Three: Free, A Wave of Hope, Waves > Sand, Split Open and Melt
Encore: It’s Ice