In just 10 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, that 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 and baddest year of MSG Phish we’ve ever seen. Merry Phishmas, kiddos…
NIGHT 4: JAM-FILLED
(Review by Andrew O’Brien)
— Phish (@phish) July 25, 2017
When Phish announced after their velvet-y Sunday performance that Tuesday night’s donut theme was “Jam-Filled,” wild guesses as to what the clue meant abounded. After all, the daily donut “puzzles” have been one of the most entertaining aspects of the Baker’s Dozen so far. We get one clue, and our imaginations take over as we try to figure out what tunes will fit within the established framework for the evening. Would they play “Jam” songs like “Mountain Jam?” Or maybe they’d play a Pearl Jam song? And so on. But in the back of everyone’s minds, there was only one right answer. The answer that just seemed a little too outlandish to be true—more outlandish, even, than Phish playing “Black Betty” by Ram Jam.
On Tuesday, Trey Anastasio, Mike Gordon, Jon Fishman and, of course, Page McConnell, answered the hypothetical that has been bouncing around the inter-webs since their reunion in 2009—a dream scenario for even the most jaded of vets: “What if they just, like, came out and jammed for a full show?” Well, on a Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden, the foursome did just that. You can go ahead and mark Jam-Filled night at the Baker’s Dozen as a full-show entry in the ongoing and rapidly expanding upcoming series entitled, “For Real, Though, You Do Just Need To Go To All The Damn Shows.”
It seemed a lot of familiar faces from weekend one were running a little late—and dressed a little more formally than they were on Sunday—as they filed into the Garden. It’s Tuesday, after all, and the real world doesn’t care that Phish is playing thirteen shows across seventeen nights. The real world wants you to go to work. So as those first “Sample In A Jar” guitar jabs rang out, the incoming “straight from work” crowd in the venue concourse seemed to slow down a couple notches—”Maybe we’ll just get our beers now before we head to the seats. ‘Sample’ opener, nothing we haven’t seen before.” Wrong. “Sample” quickly launched into majestic Type-II space, the audience let loose a rapturous roar as the concourse kids stampeded toward their respective sections. Jam-filled Tuesday was already making good on its promise. Hope you grabbed those beers when you had the chance latecomers, because there was nary another “piss break” moment the rest of the night.
After 10+ minutes of “Sample,” Trey Anastasio kicked up “Lawn Boy.” It’s early for a “breather,” but hey, who doesn’t love to hear the Chairman strut his stuff? After a quick, knowing “Good evening, everybody,” Page McConnell started in on the verse, quickly ceding to spotlight to Mr. Michael Gordon, who dove into his usual bass solo with a determined focus. But it quickly became apparent that this was not your regularly scheduled “Lawn Boy” programming. Exhibit A: After the extended Mike solo, it was Trey who picked back up on vocals, not Page. The keyboardist had other plans, grabbing his notorious keytar instead, as Trey tossed him an alley-oop: “He gets so overwhelmed by olfactory hues—Mr. Page McConnell!” Mr. Page McConnell, indeed. Leo started with a keytar run through the song’s theme before linking up with Jon Fishman and powering into a meaty funk groove. Yes, in “Lawn Boy,” a song with no earthly reason to spawn a groove. And yet, there it was. And on it went. And on, and on…
Trey joined the fray before long, helping build the jam to its first of many peaks and distinct sections, ranging from crunchy funk, to beautiful, to melodic vamps, to space-rock ambiance, to towering lead lines, and virtually everything in between. Powered by an impeccably tight Fishman (quite possibly the evening’s MVP), the “Lawn Boy” jam was patient, focused, and enthralling, and clocked in at just under 30 minutes (?!) when all was said and done. People read show reviews to get a feel for the music that was played, but at a certain point, verbally describing a jam becomes a fool’s errand. Some things you just have to hear for yourself. So listen back to this “Lawn Boy” at all costs for some of the finest Phish you can hope to hear. For our purposes here, we’ll just say this: On Jam-Filled Tuesday at MSG, “Lawn Boy” became a Lawn Man.
Watch pro-shot footage of Phish’s enormous “Lawn Boy” from Jam-Filled Tuesday at the Baker’s Dozen below, via the band’s YouTube page:
Thunderous applause ensued as the band moved into “My Friend, My Friend,” ending what was by far the greatest rendition of “Lawn Boy” ever played. Phish continued their jam-filled mission on the Rift favorite, eschewing the song’s “myfe” ending for a blissful major key jam that seemed to briefly touch on “The Very Long Fuse” from Chilling, Thrilling Sounds. “Stash” was up next, with Trey stepping up and swinging for the fences with delicate but powerful jazz-rock guitar leads, giving the classic composition its own hearty helping of sweet, sweet raspberry jam. “Bathtub Gin” then popped up out of “Stash,” making its highly-awaited Baker’s Dozen appearance on Jam-Filled Tuesday to the still-dumbstruck delight of the crowd. The roaring Type-I shot of “Gin” would have easily been a highlight of any other Phish show, and is definitely worth several re-listens, but on this night, the set-closing tune quickly faded into the background.
Set break was jammed full of high-fives, awe-struck stares, and a chorus of “wtf did we just see?”. The answer to that burning question: A five-song FIRST SET, with excellent versions of “Sample,” “My Friend,” “Stash,” and “Gin” all eclipsing the ten-minute mark. And, oh yeah, thirty overwhelming minutes of olfactory hues! And Jam-Filled Tuesday was still just getting started.
Phish returned from the break with a set-opening “Fuego,” giving the fans a chance for some cathartic “whoa” chants before, once again, launching deep into blissful Type II territory and, eventually, descending into the murky depths (with touches of “2001” and “Piper” thrown in, to boot). With Fishman once again keeping things rolling, the band put together a gorgeous “Fuego” jam reminiscent of some of the tune’s early extended outings (see 7/4/14; 7/8/14) during the “Summer of the Fuego.” Right around the 20-minute mark, the bottom dropped out of the “Fuego” jam, and the infectious guitar riff of recently debuted original, “Thread,” took its place. While “Thread” would prove to be one of the few songs that didn’t get the jam treatment on Tuesday evening, it further affirmed its stature as the strongest of the summer’s original debuts.
After the brief detour into “new tune” terrain, Phish got the “Jam” train rolling once again as they kicked into the Talking Heads‘ “Crosseyed and Painless”—and oh, what a “Crosseyed” it was! Riding a steadfast determination to jam the living daylights out of this song, the band delivered a multi-section, multi-faceted, multi-“wait, is this still ‘Crosseyed?” rendition of the fan-favorite cover, vaulting it into the upper reaches of the “best of” conversation. A slinky “cocktail lounge” jam, building and breaking bass-forward sonic chem-trails, flighty guitar flutterings, and seemingly endless thematic twists and turns, with some 1.0 hose, some 2.0 weirdness, some 3.0 groove, and more generally impeccable work behind the kit from Fishman. This jam had a bit of everything, all served up in the form of a half hour-plus of immaculate Phish improv. Just like the big, burly first-set “Lawn Man,” it’s a farce to try and do justice to this “Crosseyed” with words—it’s a dish you simply have to taste yourself.
“Makisupa Policeman” followed the massive “Crosseyed” jam, serving as the show’s first true “breather” and a welcome choice for that role (Keywords: “Woke up this morning, stumbled out on stage; I only came here so I could listen to Page” > funky Page solo). In the midst of the reggae bounce, Trey inserted one of the night’s most amusingly appropriate embellishments: a quote of Bob Marley‘s “Jamming,” serving as a second set of “keywords” to introduce a solo from the Cactus: “We’re jamming, hope you like jamming too. It’s the kind of music I like, especially when I’m listening to Mike.”
“Makisupa” even got a brief dose of synth-led major key jamming itself toward the song’s end, before bleeding into another totally unexpected surprise—the cotton-soft ambiance of “End of Session,” the “quasi-song” coda from the end of 1998’s The Story of the Ghost, making its first-ever live appearance almost 20 years after its release.
[Thanks to Phish Tour 2014 member Christina Elaine for the fist-pump GIF]
The remainder of the set was the definition of a “victory lap”—just take a look at Trey’s emphatic fist pump above if you need proof. Newly Phish-ified TAB rocker “Tuesday” served as a celebratory nod to a Tuesday night show for the ages, and a raging “Cavern” drove the set home. “Julius” kicked off the encore, and Trey, at first, seemed tired and winded after several solid hours of electric improvisation. However, that, too, proved to be a parlor trick, as the guitarist tore into the song’s closing solo. Finally, Page walked out from behind the keys toward center stage, as the band landed back on the “Lawn Boy” theme, allowing the keyboardist his usual chance to ham up the tune’s closing notes.
So, there we have it. Jam-Filled night is in the books, and it’s proved to be one of the most exciting, creative, and all-around high-quality shows in recent memory. With the Baker’s Dozen, nothing is off the table, not even an all-time great show on a Tuesday night. It’s hard to imagine the shows getting better from here. But, in case you forgot, this was still only night 4 of 13, and after a monster show like that, it would be thoroughly unwise to doubt the powers of the Phish. There’s still a lot of magic to come, so strap on your seat belts and enjoy the ride. See you all tonight for some Powdered Donuts!
Listen to Tuesday’s “Jam-Filled” performance below, courtesy of Phish Rabbi.
Hot Takes From Night 4:
REPEAT WATCH: Pshhh, come on now. On Jam-Filled Tuesday? No shot.
TODAY’S DONUT: Jam Filled [5-song first set, each song at least 10 minutes in length, including a 30-minute “Lawn Boy”; 20-minute “Fuego” set two opener; 33+ minute “Crosseyed and Painless,” the second-longest jam of the 3.0 era; Bob Marley “Jamming” quotes]
WE TIRED YET: Tired? Sure. But after Jam Tuesday, we’ve all decided we’re never missing a Phish show again. Whether or not we’re tired.
SETLIST: Phish | Baker’s Dozen Night 4 | Madison Square Garden | New York, NY | 7/25/17
SET 1: Sample in a Jar, Lawn Boy > My Friend, My Friend > Stash, Bathtub Gin
SET 2: Fuego > Thread > Crosseyed and Painless > Makisupa Policeman -> End of Session > Tuesday > Cavern
ENCORE: Julius > Lawn Boy
 Page on keytar.
 No “Myfe” ending.
[Cover photo: LivePhish]
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 complete 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