Seven summer nights of Phish at Madison Square Garden have now come and gone. Seven strong shows, seven memorable evenings, countless moments of brilliance befitting of the World’s Most Famous Arena, the band’s de facto home court.

Before last Friday, Trey AnastasioJon FishmanMike Gordon, and Page McConnell had played MSG 72 times. Other than the band’s one-off Garden debut back in 1994 and single-show New Year’s party in 2002, all of those shows have come as part of a multi-night run, and all but one of those multi-night runs (a three-night stand in early December 2009) has been feted with something “special”—New Year’s balloon showers, circus performers, flying band members, time machines, fake Tom Hankses, a 13-night course in donut appreciation, a championship banner in the rafters.

It’s no surprise that many fans—us included—went looking for deeper meaning in this summer’s seven-night Phish residency at Madison Square Garden, a run that resembled The Baker’s Dozen in more than a few ways. This was Phish at MSG, we speculated, and Phish at MSG means gags, themes, over-the-top surprises. In the words of another notable figure in New York City music history, The Notorious B.I.G., “There’s rules to this shit.

It didn’t take long for us to figure out that we were wrong—or, at the very least, that we couldn’t see the forest through the trees: The power of Phish at MSG isn’t the promise of gimmicks, it’s the assurance that you’ll get Phish at the top of its game, in the highest of spirits, in “the best city” (—Trey Anastasio, multiple occasions).

After all, the “gag” show rarely ends up being the best of a given MSG run. For every elaborately produced, three-set 12/31 celebration, there’s a “regular” 12/29 or 12/30 show that winds up being the talk of the town.

You could hear the amusement in Trey and Fish’s voices back on Night 3 when they joked about their blissful ignorance of “the rules.” We were still trying to connect push pins on cork boards with red string in a state of Charlie Kelly hysteria, and they were enjoying watching us squirm. The subtext of their laughter amounted to something like, “Sleuth your hearts out, nerds. There’s nothing to find, but you won’t be disappointed.”

That’s because they always knew the truest theme of Phish at MSG: The only rule is it’s the best.

Phish once again proved that rule’s veracity on Saturday with one last go-around in Midtown. With a sizable chunk of the band’s go-to songs already listed in the “played” column, guessers likely hit big on the run’s seventh night. Stones cover “Loving Cup” got some love (albeit in its first show-opening appearance since 2004 rather than its typical encore placement), as did reliable first-set ripper “Maze”. A long stay at a single venue yearned for a “Martian Monster” to remind those going the distance that their trip is, in fact, short. The last first set needed a classic composition as its centerpiece, so a soaring “Divided Sky” worked perfectly here.

Dark horse improv contender “Prince Caspian”, set one’s big highlight, floated in upon rings of half-court lights, thick Gordon bass tones, stop-start funk breaks, and explosions of sound and color before slipping into dissonance past the 16-minute mark.

Phish – “Prince Caspian” [Pro-Shot] – 8/5/23

Trey urged the keyboardist to “Play it slowly for us, Leo” during “NICU”, but the Chairman gracefully ignored him, punching out a lively organ solo instead. A creeping, seeping “Steam” dissipated into a red, underworld glow. A set-capping “Drift While You’re Sleeping” closed the loop started by the “Loving Cup” kickoff, one more dose of overt affection for this final, celebratory date.

Modern-day setlist staple “Set Your Soul Free” had been waiting in the wings all week, too, and its number was called to start set 14 of 14. A “so long and thanks for all the Phish” gratitude party like Night 7 of 7 merited “Everything’s Right” and “Backwards Down The Number Line”, and both of those wholesome rockers made satisfying appearances late in set two.

That’s not to say that this show was predictable, though. What happened between the end of “Set Your Soul Free” and the beginning of the “Manteca”-infused “Everything’s Right” was a thing of beauty, a 44-minute stretch of music that thrilled, surprised, puzzled, and energized—that personified the magic of Phish at the Garden.

“Tweezer” has rarely failed to make a big appearance at MSG, and thousands of Garden partiers exchanged “here we go” looks as its opening notes echoed through the building. The quartet quickly kicked it out into an atmospheric jam with enough gas for a long voyage.

As Fishman picked up the pace behind the drum kit around the seven-minute mark, he seemed to have an idea. In stride, he crooned a call for “Guy Forget” (pronounce it “Gee-Forjhay,” it’s French), the sort-of song, sort-of joke whose single line of lyrics (“I’ve never met a man that I could not forget except for Guy Forget”) has found its way into big Phish jams as a “quote” on various occasions.

Trey picked up what he was putting down and joined him on the “Guy Forget” train, singing along to the ditty for a couple minutes before returning to jam land for another extended segment of inspired improvisation. Nearly 25 minutes after “Tweezer” began, Trey dropped back into the song’s main riff—as the band often does amid long jams—then pushed back out into seven-ish more minutes of murky bass tones and ethereal synths (with hints of “Frankenstein”).

Now, I probably would have called this a “Guy Forget” quote within the 30-minute “Tweezer” jam, but all the powers that be seem to credit the nearly 18-minute chunk of improv between the “Guy Forget” lyrics and the return of the “Tweezer” theme as one long version of “Guy Forget”. If they hadn’t scored it similarly for the song’s debut 23 years ago and its lone appearance since (as the meat in an amusing “Ghost” sandwich at Dick’s 2011) I might be more inclined to put up a fight. A 30-minute “Tweezer” with “Guy Forget” lyrics or the third-ever (and longest-ever) “Guy Forget” on two slices of “Tweezer” bread? Whatever you want to call it, this was some of the most locked-in improv we’ve heard all summer.

“What’s The Use?” finally caught the back end of “Tweezer” (part two) and blew through the Garden like a cool breeze, displaying the band’s mastery of dynamics and delicate emotion. That bled into “Scents and Subtle Sounds”, which flirted with a jam of its own before taking another “Tweezer” exit for one more minute in the freezer.

After the aforementioned “Everything’s Right” and “Number Line”, Anastasio addressed “all his friends” in the crowd. “Thank you guys so much. I can’t even describe how fun these seven days were,” he gushed. “Thank you so much from the bottom of our hearts, and all these years. We love you so much and we really hope we can keep doing this. Thank you for celebrating this incredible community with us. We’re bigger fans of you guys than you are of us.”

An emphatic “Tweezer Reprise” closed the set like a stick of dynamite, clearing out any remaining doubts that the band would still manage to amaze on the final night after six great shows (and a good but not great first set). A rule-breaking “Harry Hood” that built to its feel-good climax by atypically sinister means stood alone as the Seven’s final encore.

Phish – “Harry Hood” [Pro-Shot] – 8/5/23

So ends a monumental seven nights of Phish at The Garden, a stretch of shows that didn’t need added pageantry to earn the highest of regard among fans. We sincerely hope they do this again. We’ll even do our best to not overthink it next time. Maybe.

Next up for Phish is a pair of Flood Recovery Benefit shows at Saratoga Performing Arts Center in Saratoga Springs, NY on August 25th and 26th, followed by the band’s customary Labor Day Weekend run at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park in Commerce City, CO.

For a full list of upcoming Phish tour dates, head here. Subscribe to LivePhish+ to listen to every show on the tour and browse an archive of live Phish recordings. To order your LivePhish webcasts for any of the band’s upcoming summer shows, head here.

Revisit Live For Live Music‘s nightly coverage of Phish’s seven-night run at Madison Square Garden below. Scroll down to check out the full Saturday setlist and a selection of fan-shot videos from the seventh and final night of the run:

  1. Friday, 7/28/23
  2. Saturday, 7/29/23
  3. Sunday, 7/30/23
  4. Tuesday, 8/1/23
  5. Wednesday, 8/2/23
  6. Friday, 8/4/23
  7. Saturday, 8/5/23 (You’re already there.)

Phish – “Loving Cup” (The Rolling Stones) – 8/5/23

[Video: whereshaynes]

Phish – “Divided Sky” – 8/5/23

[Video: whereshaynes]

Phish – “Drift While You’re Sleeping” – 8/5/23

[Video: whereshaynes]

Phish – “Guy Forget” (Partial) – 8/5/23

[Video: Gregory Marcus]

Phish – “Tweezer” (Partial) > “What’s The Use?” – 8/5/23

[Video: Gregory Marcus]

View More Videos

Setlist [via]: Phish | Madison Square Garden

Set One: Loving Cup > Maze, Martian Monster > Divided Sky > Prince Caspian -> NICU > Steam, Drift While You’re Sleeping

Set Two: Set Your Soul Free, Tweezer -> Guy Forget > What’s the Use? > Scents and Subtle Sounds -> Tweezer -> Everything’s Right > Backwards Down the Number Line > Tweezer Reprise

Encore: Harry Hood

Notes: Trey teased The Secret of Life (The Dead Milkmen) in Divided Sky. In NICU, Trey asked Page to “Play it slowly for us, Leo!” Guy Forget was played for the first time since September 4, 2011 (425 shows). The ensuing jam out of Guy Forget contained Tweezer teases from Fish and Trey. Everything’s Right had quotes of Manteca by Fish and teases of Tweezer.