In just 8 days, Phish will make their triumphant return to Madison Square Garden in New York City for their traditional 4-night New Year’s Run at the world’s most famous arena. Over the years, The Garden has become the de facto home court for the Phish from Vermont. To date, the band has played the storied midtown room 52 times–usually surrounding New Year’s Eve–and among those 52 are some of the more exciting and memorable shows they’ve ever played. In 2016, we counted down the days until New Year’s Run with “The 12 Days Of Phishmas,” a festive collection of our favorite Phish shows at the Garden over the years. But that list was made before the Baker’s Dozen, Phish’s unprecedented run of 13 straight shows at MSG over the course of 17 days featuring nightly donut flavors, surprise covers and bust-outs to cater the setlists to each evening’s respective donut “theme” and, oh yea, NO REPEATS, which ended with a “championship” banner being raised to The Garden’s rafters on a day officially designated as “Phish Day” by the Mayor of New York.
Much of the excitement of the residency came from figuring out the game as it went along. By the thirteenth night, we were all experts on the Baker’s Dozen: We were making informed setlist guesses based on pastry flavors, hoarding our souvenir beer cups (anyone else have a cabinet full of those bad boys?), confidently debating the virtues of one concourse spicy chicken sandwich vs. the other. On the Monday morning following the run, we gushed about the impressive amount of material covered (230+ different songs) as we proudly surveyed the thoroughly baffling results of these 13 nights in NYC. But on Night 1, nobody knew much of anything. We didn’t know that the donut flavors held deeper meaning. We were skeptical of the band’s ability to play 13 shows with no repeats. We were totally unprepared.
Going back over the music of the Dozen is an extensive undertaking, and it’s been tough to know where to start in the months since, let alone how to rank these shows among the rest of Phish’s decorated history at MSG. So with the band’s historic summer at the Garden in the rearview and another four Phish MSG shows squarely in our sights, we’ve decided to celebrate this year’s Phishmas by reliving the magic of the Dozen one donut at a time–the same way it was originally tasted. By the time we’re done going back through the Baker’s Dozen spoils, we’ll all be primed and ready to add four more shows to the list, rounding out 17 in ’17–the biggest, baddest year of MSG Phish we’ve ever seen.
NIGHT 6: Double Chocolate
Review by Gideon Plotnicki
— Phish (@phish) July 28, 2017
Weekend two of the Baker’s Dozen is under way, and Phish is refusing to take their foot off the gas pedal. This has been a sensational run of shows so far, and, at this point, is starting to earn a comparison to the band’s famous 1997 fall tour, affectionately remembered by fans as “Phish Destroys America.” Forget about comparisons though, as one of the beauties of Phish is that the group is always evolving and exploring new territory. They are always willing to push themselves to be different, to change, and, most importantly, to be themselves musically. With that in mind, Phish has been absolutely destroying Madison Square Garden each and every night. While Friday night’s “Double Chocolate”-themed affair didn’t reach the levels of Tuesday’s already-legendary “Jam-Filled” night or Wednesday’s “Powdered“-themed show, the band delivered yet another top-rated show on night 6 at the Baker’s Dozen.
Four of the six shows have started with an a capella opening number, and Phish continued this trend on Friday night, as they offered up a comedic take on the YouTube classic viral video “Chocolate Rain” by viral video forefather Tay Zonday. You could see the cracks of giddy amusement shine through the band’s faux-serious deadpan performance, with Page McConnell pressing “play” a mini-keyboard to create the song’s cheesy, digitized beat with the genuine “artistry” of an orchestra conductor. The band mimicked Zonday’s signature lean from the original vide (to breathe away from the microphone, of course) earning several laughs from the amused audience. After finishing up the song, the band returned to their normal spots on stage, save Jon Fishman, who curiously remained in front of the a capella microphone. The mystery was quickly solved, as Fishman launched into the solo vocal intro to the fan-favorite rocker, “Ass Handed.” It was a typically zany opening for Phish, and a sign of the wackiness that was to come throughout the rest of the evening.
Below, watch pro-shot footage of Phish’s show-opening homage to the viral video forefather (plus the beginning of “Ass Handed”) below via the band’s YouTube page, as well as the original “Chocolate Rain” video–just for laughs.
Trey Anastasio kicked off “Free,” and the band locked in for a confident start to the Phish classic. Lighting designer Chris Kuroda started tilting his new light rig during the song’s funk breakdown and helped usher the band into an extended jam. The lights have been incredible, almost transformative, and have added an exciting new element to Phish’s ever-changing production. Just as “Free” finished up, the band kicked into the modern rarity “Weigh,” performed for the first time since August 2015. The song was well received, and the band worked through it with ease before dropping into “Undermind.” McConnell delivered a nice solo during “Undermind,” while Kuroda continued his wizardry with the lights. Anastasio picked up where McConnell left off, moving the funk jam into a more driven type I territory. Eventually, the band dropped out as Trey started up “The Oh Kee Pah Ceremony,” which was performed for the first time this year and only the third time since 2013. The classic playful ditty is usually paired with another song—typically “Suzy Greenberg” or another high-energy classic—but this time acted as the exclamation mark on several moments of first set improvisation.
McConnell started up the sample for “The Dogs” from the Chilling, Thrilling Sounds of the Haunted House, and the band turned in a raging version, inspiring many in the audience to howl at the moon. However, the real howls came when Phish busted out the beloved Mike Gordon-fronted favorite, “Destiny Unbound.” This was only the third time the track has been played since 2014, and the thirteenth time overall that the band has busted the number out since reuniting back in 2009. Even though the song—which once went unplayed for 796 shows—is now performed slightly more frequently, it still gets a huge reaction from a fanbase that just can’t seem to get enough. This version of the track was a little rough around the edges, but the band made up for it in kind with a short-but-sweet jam.
“Divided Sky” was up next, and Phish delivered an absolutely gorgeous rendition of the song. The band nailed the song’s composed section, milked its silent moment, and moved on to a beautiful and blissful jam that brought the Garden to its knees. “Divided Sky” is one of Phish’s most iconic pieces, and it was a true treat to hear it on Friday night. The “Divided Sky” “pause” is often barometer for the energy of the crowd during a given run of shows, and the long, rapturous reaction on this night was as good an indicator as any that this unprecedented residency was one for the ages.
Following a quick run through Big Boat‘s “Things People Do,” Phish shifted into high-gear with an uproarious “Sand,” which they augmented with an ambient, synth-based jam. Kuroda continued his master-class on lights, while Anastasio took over the jam and moved it into a blissful space, using twinkling arpeggios and psychedelic guitar stabs to full effect before completing the song, taking a bow, and walking off stage for set break.
Phish started off set two with a shocker, as “Have Mercy” by The Mighty Diamonds was busted out as a standalone opener for the first-time ever. Since 1993, “Have Mercy” has only been played eleven times, and all of them except for this version came in the middle of an extended jam. “Have Mercy” is typically a surprise that appears out of the ether of ambitious improvisation, so to say that fans were caught off guard by the song’s placement as set-opener would be an understatement. The Baker’s Dozen has been all about breaking down pre-conceived notions, so, in retrospect, “Have Mercy” in the opening slot makes perfect sense.
Watch pro-shot video of the “Have Mercy” set two opener below:
A big, raging “Chalkdust Torture” followed, as the band linked up for a twenty-four-minute exploration that stands out as the Type II improvisational highlight of the evening. The jam was driven and focused, with the band delivering a space-jazz vibe as they settled into a satiating groove. Anatasio’s playing was exploratory and exciting, while the rest of the band zeroed in on some bouncy, rhythmic elements. The funky vibes transformed into a psychedelic speed-rock jam which built to a glorious peak.
After breaking the jam down into near silence, the band made good on their “Double Chocolate” theme by dropping into “You Sexy Thing” by Hot Chocolate. The Garden simply erupted with excitement as the band started up the unabashedly love-smitten favorite. Gordon was tasked with singing the song, and he struggled mightily with the song’s high notes, but the band and fans alike were having too much fun to care. On the soundboard recording, you can arguably hear the crowd singing along just as loud as you can hear Mike, anyway. There was no time to nitpick about Gordon’s falsetto range: Phish was debuting this universally-beloved number in the midst of another fantastic set, in the thick of a 13-night MSG run, to satisfy their now-anticipated inside donut joke of the evening. The Garden faithful was too busy living the Phish dream–believing in miracles.
Watch full crowd-shot video of Phish’s debut cover of Hot Chocolate’s “You Sexy Thing” below courtesy of LazyLightning55a:
Trey, Mike, Page, and Fish took the song out into exploratory territory, with a patient, synth-and-bass-focused jam that wound its way into “Mercury.” The multi-sectional new favorite was down and dirty, as the band found even more places to explore before dropping back into “You Sexy Thing;” Call me crazy, but this second appearance of the Hot Chocolate classic seemed conspicuously like a play on the “Double” part of the evening’s “Double Chocolate” theme.
The familiar opening chords of “Backwards Down The Numberline” rang out, and the band performed the song with passion and excitement. “Numberline” isn’t everyone’s favorite at a Phish show, but the band sure knows how to jam it out, and that’s exactly what they did last night, bringing the song to a huge and exciting peak before moving into a joyous, set-closing cover of “Rock And Roll” by The Velvet Underground. The band and crowd alike were all smiles as set two came to a conclusion.
To start the encore, Fishman started up the hi-hat-laden beat for “Fee” while Anastasio went to his guitar rig, pulled out his old megaphone, and delivered the song’s vocals with perfection. He augmented the song’s lyrics towards the end of the track to tell fans to “have a chocolate donut and catch your breath,” which got a huge applause from the appreciative crowd. For the evening’s final song, the band moved back over to the acapella microphone and performed their emotional cover of “Space Oddity” by David Bowie, a complex arrangement that keeps getting better and better each time they break it out.
On any other tour, this would be a standout show. The first set featured bust-outs of “Weigh,” “The Oh Kee Pa Ceremony,” and “Destiny Unbound;” beloved classics like “Free” and “Divided Sky;” and a raging “Sand.” Then, set two offered a twenty-plus-minute “Chalkdust Torture,” an absurd cover of “You Sexy Thing,” and plenty of ambient and blissful jamming. There’s no accounting for taste, and some may rank this show higher than others among its Baker’s Dozen peers. It was, without a doubt, a fantastic night of Phish. But after five consecutive classic nights at Madison Square Garden, this might be the first show of the Baker’s Dozen that could be considered any semblance of “standard.”
However, if this show is considered standard, then we are truly enjoying Phish at a modern peak—certainly their highest level of playing since their return in 2009. If you are a hardcore Phish fan and you don’t have plans to hit any of the remaining seven Baker’s Dozen shows, you would be foolish to miss out on this opportunity to witness them as they harness their powers to the best of their abilities in an attempt to destroy Madison Square Garden.
Hot Takes From Night 6:
REPEAT WATCH: No songs have been repeated, and by now it doesn’t look like that will happen. We are almost 50% of the way through the Baker’s Dozen—set break of the next show marks the halfway point of the run—and Phish hasn’t shown any signs of slowing down.
TODAY’S DONUT: Double Chocolate [“Chocolate Rain,” “You Sexy Thing,” “Fee”]
WE TIRED YET?: Tomorrow’s Saturday night, let’s rage! Seriously though, does anyone have any Advil?
Check out a full gallery of photos from Night 6 of the Baker’s Dozen, “Double Chocolate” night, courtesy of photographer Andrew Scott Blackstein below.
SETLIST: Phish | Baker’s Dozen Night 6 | Madison Square Garden | New York, NY | 7/28/17
SET 1: Chocolate Rain, Ass Handed, Free, Weigh > Undermind > The Oh Kee Pa Ceremony, The Dogs, Destiny Unbound, Divided Sky, Things People Do, Sand
SET 2: Have Mercy, Chalk Dust Torture, You Sexy Thing > Mercury -> You Sexy Thing > Backwards Down the Number Line > Rock and Roll
ENCORE: Fee, Space Oddity
We’ll see you back here tomorrow, as we continue to re-sample all the donuts on our way back to the Garden for New Year’s Run 2017-2018. For a list of pre-show plans and late-night after-parties, check out our guide here.
13 Days of Phishmas 2017:
- Night 1 – “Coconut” – 7/21/17
- Night 2 – “Strawberry” – 7/22/17
- Night 3 – “Red Velvet” – 7/23/17
- Night 4 – “Jam-Filled” – 7/25/17
- Night 5 – “Powdered” – 7/26/17
- Night 6 – “Double Chocolate” – 7/28/17
[Cover photo: Andrew Scott Blackstein]