“We didn’t play that already, did we?” a laughing Trey Anastasio asked Jon Fishman after a vigorous version of “Llama” during set one on Sunday, the third night of the ongoing seven-show Phish residency at New York’s Madison Square Garden. “I can’t remember what we played. Is that allowed? What are the rules? I don’t know the rules!”

“Okay, Fish says we didn’t,” Trey grinned. “So, let’s play it again!”

Taking the cue, Fishman kicked back into his blistering “Llama” drum part while Anastasio fanned away at his intro riff. They quickly ended the second “Llama” intro after a couple measures, but that was more than enough to send the crowd into a state of hysteria.

“Are there rules?” Trey asked again. “Imaginary rulebook I keep within my head?”

They didn’t quite address the swirl of theories about hidden themes for the MSG run, but the interlude came off like a knowing wink at the fans who have been searching for deeper meaning in the New York setlists and a unifying thread for the residency.

During 2017’s Baker’s Dozen, the rules were strict and clearly defined from the start: One “donut” per night, setlists and covers catered to the dessert du jour, no songs repeated throughout 13 shows. While those restrictions helped produce some all-time great shows, they represented a meticulous undertaking by the band.

In one scene from 2019’s Trey Anastasio documentary Between Me and My Mind, we see Anastasio in his apartment in 2017 preparing for the 13-night stint. “We need songs right now because we’re trying to do this thing called the Baker’s Dozen, where we’re gonna do 13 consecutive nights at Madison Square Garden and we’re going to try to do them without any repeats,” he explained. “So that will probably be about 280 songs. You know, most bands do a similar show every night, so, my head is kind of exploding with the whole thing. It’s exciting.”

Cut to summer 2023 and Phish is back at the Garden for another extended run—but this time, it seems, they’re taking a more organic approach. Unlike the Dozen, this run was never given an official “name,” and through three shows there have been no real themes to speak of—which, of course, hasn’t stopped us from discussing theories about them ad nauseam. I can’t help it. I’m a Phish fan, this is what we do.

While no songs have been repeated in full, the “Llama” banter and almost-repeat on Sunday seemed to address the 2017 residency’s song selection standard, too: This is not the Baker’s Dozen. There are no rules here. This is just Phish at MSG. Don’t worry, you’re gonna love it.

Phish – “Llama” [Pro-Shot] – 7/30/23

They didn’t actually say that, no, but they showed it as they let that “Llama” banter interlude drift off the rails. “We didn’t play that yet, did we, Trey?” Fishman asked in his best grandpa voice. Trey mimicked his inflection as he grumbled a response: “I think we played it in 1994, before many of these kids were born, Fish! In 1994! I remember the old Madison Square Garden. Back before you kids were born. It was crazy back then.”

Trey was still laughing as he sang the opening line of “Tube”, and the loose giddy tone carried over as he, Fish, Mike Gordon, and Page McConnell proceeded to blast through an all-out funk dance party jam that pushed well outside the early-’90s track’s composed foundation (Did they jam out “Tube”? YUP.)

The lack of self-imposed structure and the nod back to the ’90s both figured into the MSG 7’s only Sunday show. The first set, comprised entirely of songs debuted in 1995 or earlier, played out like a dream for the fans in attendance who remember the old Madison Square Garden: An extended opening “AC/DC Bag”, a maniacal “My Friend, My Friend”, a reliably peaking “Bathtub Gin”, a big, unusual, euphoric “Theme From The Bottom”, the aforementioned “Llama” and “Tube”, a spotless “Golgi Apparatus”, all performed with creative, engaging gusto.

The second set flipped that approach, with five of seven songs played hailing from 2009 or later and the remaining two dating back to the late ’90s. After “Sigma Oasis” (debuted in 2019) manned the set-opener position, the bulk of the set’s improvisational output came from the brooding Phish debut of “Life Saving Gun” (from Page and Trey’s recent January duo album) and a “No Men In No Man’s Land” (one of the jam heavyweights from 2016’s Big Boat first played live in 2015) that worked through rocking, ambient, and beachy sections over the course of its 18-minute runtime. A touching take on quarantine-era Trey ballad “Lonely Trip” led into the only two pre-2000 selections of the set, a rare “Frankie Says” and a patient “Gotta Jibboo”, before early-3.0 vehicle “Light” (debuted in 2009) offered one more explosive improvisational outing in its first appearance as a set-closer in five years.

The encore to this excellent performance threw it back to the old school once again with a pair of beloved ladies in the Phish universe, longtime favorite “Suzy Greenberg” and rare yet beloved Jimi Hendrix cover “Izabella”.

Did they know they were doing the old/new thing? Who knows? Who cares? It sort of seems like that’s the point. Boundaries have never much interested Phish. Tearing them down is the role in which Trey, Mike, Page, and Jon thrive, and through three strong nights at the Garden, they have surely been thriving.

Forget about themes. Forget about donuts. Listen to what Frankie says: relax. Phish is at the Garden sounding as good as ever and there are four more nights to go. We’re game for whatever the chefs are cooking up.

Scroll down to view the full setlist from Sunday night’s Phish show at Madison Square Garden. Click below to watch a selection of videos from the performance.

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:

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

Phish – “Llama” – 7/30/23

[Video: Gregory Marcus]

Phish – “Tube” (Partial) – 7/30/23

[Video: Alan Gofberg]

Phish – “Light” – 7/30/23

[Video: Alan Gofberg]

View Videos

Setlist [via Phish.net]: Phish | Madison Square Garden | New York, NY | 7/30/23

Set One: AC/DC Bag -> My Friend, My Friend -> Bathtub Gin, Theme From the Bottom > Llama, Tube > Golgi Apparatus

Set Two: Sigma Oasis, Life Saving Gun > No Men In No Man’s Land > Lonely Trip > Frankie Says > Gotta Jibboo > Light

Encore: Suzy Greenberg, Izabella

This show featured the debut of Life Saving Gun. AC/DC Bag was unfinished and My Friend My Friend did not contain the “Myfe” ending. After Llama, Trey said he wasn’t sure if they had already played Llama and after Fish said they hadn’t, Trey said “let’s play it again!” and Llama was started again for a few seconds.