In just 5 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. To date, the band has played the storied midtown Manhattan room 52 times–usually surrounding New Year’s Eve–and among those 52 are some of the more exciting and memorable performances they’ve ever turned in. 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 featuring nightly donut-based themes, surprise covers and bust-outs to cater the setlists to the flavor du jour and, oh yea, NO REPEATS, culminating 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.
The Dozen was a different kind of beast: It’s difficult to pick apart the individual shows and rank them among the band’s other 39 MSG performances because these 13 shows were so inextricably linked. Those 17 summer days in the City almost felt like one long show, and so it only felt right to extend this year’s Phishmas by an extra day and relive the Baker’s Dozen as a complete set–sampling 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.
We’re now past the mid-point of our Baker’s Dozen Phishmas–into the back half of the donut box. By this point, the secret was out: something very special was happening at The Garden. In the blink of an eye, each of the remaining shows–all of which had tickets available at the box office at the start of the run–were sold the f*ck out, and the horde of restless fingers in the air on 7th Avenue was steadily growing each night. Fans eagerly awaited the announcement of a new donut each morning, and made their calculated theme predictions for each successive show in kind. And with 8 shows down and not a repeat in sight, the list of songs still on the table grew shorter and shorter each night. In hindsight, the second half of the Baker’s Dozen was, in many ways, the most “predictable” stretch of shows Phish has ever played. More so than ever before, we went into those shows knowing loosely what to expect. But of course, that didn’t stop Phish from continuing to exceed our expectations anyhow…
So much fantastic ground already covered, yet still so much to come–the second half of the Dozen was uncharted territory in the Phish Universe, boldly going where no run had gone before. Come along, relive that (not so short) trip with us, and remember that euphoric feeling of being in the thick of the Baker’s Dozen. Merry Phishmas to all!
NIGHT 9: Maple
Review by Gideon Plotnicki
— Phish (@phish) July 31, 2017
Another night, another Baker’s Dozen master class from Phish. While the band has been working their way through thirteen nights at Madison Square Garden, they’ve revealed themselves to be at the top of their game musically, with top-notch jams, killer bust outs, and out-of-left-field covers being sprinkled (jimmied?) throughout each show.
While Tuesday night’s “Maple”-themed affair didn’t reach the zany peaks of some of the more generally well-received nights of the Baker’s Dozen, it was another opportunity for Phish to showcase their skills as one of the best live outfits on the planet–and they did just that, with a first set that only got stronger as it went along and a second set that featured more of the locked-in jamming that we’ve seen throughout the run.
Phish hit the stage, picked up their instruments and started up a sort of feedback jam with lots of distortion, causing the energy in the room to swell rapidly, before Trey Anastasio‘s piercing guitar broke through, as he delivered a powerful solo version of Canadian national anthem “O Canada,” channeling Jimi Hendrix‘s iconic rendition of the American national anthem at Woodstock for the night’s first maple-themed song. Lighting designer Chris Kuroda shined a spotlight on the Canadian flag towards the back of the room, and the crowd roared with approval as the flag’s red maple leaf towered over them. Next, the band then added their first “Crowd Control” in 51 shows, before offering up another maple reference with Mike Gordon‘s “Sugar Shack”. This was the third appearance for “Sugar Shack” in 2017, which made it a disappointment that Anastasio still couldn’t quite play the song’s composed section properly. “Sugar Shack” is just one of those songs that will seemingly always trip him up.
Watch Phish’s show-opening rendition of “O, Canada” below via LivePhish:
Trey and the rest of Phish made up for the sub-par “Sugar Shack” with an excellent take on the Los Lobos classic “When The Circus Comes To Town.” They followed that up with the sixth version of “Daniel Saw The Stone” since 2003, and the MSG audience bounced excitedly to the song’s bluegrass grooves. The song’s ending featured a huge solo from Page McConnell, with Kuroda showing off some bright, white “hero” lights as the Chairman of the Boards played us out. More Page followed, as his heartfelt ballad “Army Of One” was performed for the first time this year, and contained soaring guitar playing from Anastasio and perfect vocals from McConnell. Page knows how to write a song to his own strengths, and he sounded impeccable on this version of “Army of One.”
The rest of the set featured classic and beloved Phish songs. “The Wedge” finally made an appearance at the Baker’s Dozen, before the band busted out “Guelah Papyrus” for the first time in fifty shows. This was a somewhat flubby version of the fan-favorite track. However, in the end, it was a successful attempt, with the band dropping into the ragtime classic “Maple Leaf Rag” for a brief moment before returning to “Papyrus” to finish the song.
Older, more rare songs from the band’s Gamehenge era, such as “Wilson”, “Tela,” “Colonel Forbin’s Ascent,” and “Fly Famous Mockingbird” have all been performed the past few nights, so it made sense that “McGrupp and the Watchful Hosemasters” would make an appearance at this show. The song was performed with passion and precision, a powerful rendition of a rarity that many have chased for a long time. McConnell led a short jam at the end of the song, with some possible “Maple Leaf Rag” teases thrown into the mix.
The “Limb By Limb” that followed harnessed the excited energy of the pair of beloved songs that preceded it and the band offered up their first major improvisation of the evening. This was a typically soaring version, with an exploratory build leading to a huge, sustained peak, with Anastasio ringing his guitar our while the band pushed and pushed until they seemingly exploded. Kuroda used his moving light rig to full effect on this one, adding to the song’s intensity. When they finally finished the song, Anastasio went straight into “Walk Away” by The James Gang, a blistering cover that the band has played only three times since 2013. When the Phish reunited in 2009, “Walk Away” was one of their go-to ragers, with many incredible versions appearing at shows from 2009-2013. While the song has become much more of a rarity, you couldn’t tell last night, as the band was simply on fire, as the “Tweezer Reprise”-esque jam built to a climactic peak several times before things were all said and done. After a somewhat uneven first set–albeit, a set with a super strong ending–the band took their bows and walked off stage for set break.
Phish returned from their setbreak earlier than usual on this night, walking back on stage around 9:50 PM. They quickly started up TV on the Radio‘s “Golden Age,” which evolved into a twenty-minute powerhouse jam, another lengthy piece of improvisation at this Baker’s Dozen run that just keeps on giving. The jam featured an ambient, rhythmic portion, with chunky guitar and organ parts augmenting the groove. Jon Fishman was a machine on drums all night long, and his best moments came during the “Golden Age” jam. Finally, Anastasio leaned in with a filthy distorted rock guitar sound, and built the jam towards triumph. After the peaking jam, the band dissolved into an ominous ambience once again, before transitioning into the new song “Leaves,” making only its second appearance after debuting in Chicago earlier in the summer. Another tangentially theme-related tune, “Leaves” acted as a landing pad, offering a quick reprieve before returning to the Zeppelin-esque rock jams and blissful peaks on which they dialed in for “Golden Age.”
Watch the second set-opening “Golden Age” below courtesy of LivePhish:
Next up were the two biggest bustouts (or, really, one combined biggest bustout) of the night, as “Swept Away” > “Steep” was performed for the first time in 192 shows. “Swept Away” was short, of course, but beautiful. “Steep,” however, was remarkable, as the band took the short ballad–which usually falls in just under two minutes–and stretched it out to over twelve minutes long. The jam started off as in ambient faux-plinko space, reminisecnt of the band’s playing in 2010, before Gordon dropped some huge bass bombs. This whipped the crowd into a frenzy, and the band picked up on that excitement to give the crowd another huge improvised rock moment. Kuroda focused his lights behind the stage, and the combination of the energy in the room, the gorgeous jam from the band, and the unique and interesting lighting design combined to make this perhaps the top moment of the show.
While the exciting “Steep” jam never amounted to a traditional peak, the band used this to their advantage, as Anastasio offered up some feedback as a dissolve before dropping into a raucous “46 Days.” The band used the hard rock style they had been focusing on throughout the evening to full effect on this one, with chunky power chords from Anastasio throughout the rocking version. After moving into a more ambient territory, Trey put down his guitar and ran over to the Marimba Lumina behind Fishman’s kit and started dropping some synth-bass bombs on the crowd. Eventually, Gordon and McConnell made their way over to the kid and joined Fishman for a full-band percussion jam. Last summer, the full-band percussion jam was becoming a bit overplayed, but as this is the only time it’s happened so far at the Baker’s Dozen, it was a welcome addition to the show. They kept it going for several minutes, with Fishman really showing off his improv skills before Anastasio mischievously ran back to his guitar to beat his band members back to their spots and lead the jam in a new direction of his choosing. He picked up on one of the rhythms that Fishman was repeating, Gordon and McConnell picked up on it too, and off they went for a few minutes before the jam was rip chorded in favor of “Piper.”
Watch pro-shot video of “Swept Away” > “Steep” from the Baker’s Dozen below:
“Piper” was science fiction-y, and weird–which is exactly how Phish has been playing over the past few weeks. The shows have been a mix of strange and out there jams meshed with uproarious rock climaxes, and this “Piper” contained all of those elements. The band seemed to drop back into “46 Days” during a high-energy moment, before Anastasio signaled a shift into “Possum.” The crowd resonded with huge waves of excitement, going absolutely wild for the classic song. “Possum” will always feel like one of Phish’s best songs, as they know how to take the song’s zany energy and exploit it to their best abilities. After a set filled with zig-zagging improvisation, “Possum” worked perfectly as a set closer.
For the encore, Phish broke out David Bowie‘s Ziggy Stardust masterpiece, “Rock And Roll Suicide.” The song was debuted at last fall’s Halloween show in Las Vegas, and was performed for only the second time on Maple night. While many fans were wondering where the “maple” references were in set two (though you can spot a few if you extend the theme to the already-established maple leaves), the seven song set was filled with long moments of improvisation that most fans would kill to see. To satisfy those who wanted some extra maple, the band chose “Limelight” by Rush, Canada’s biggest rock band, as the post-show music.
With only four shows remaining in the Baker’s Dozen, Phish is continuing to sprint towards the finish line. While tonight’s show will likely fade towards the bottom of the Baker’s Dozen barrel–in terms of both standout moments and theme-specific references–what’s clear is that Phish is going to keep the level of quality as high as possible throughout the Baker’s Dozen residency. This run has featured all of the best songs, the best jams, and the best energy on a nightly basis. Phish returns to Madison Square Garden tonight for night 10 of the residency, with the curious theme of “Holes.”
Check out a full gallery of photos below, courtesy of Chad Anderson.
Hot Takes From Night 9:
Repeat Watch: Phish is still going strong. No repeats.
Today’s Donut: “Maple” [“O Canada”; “Sugar Shack”; “When The Circus Comes To Town”; “Maple Leaf Rag”; Honorable Mention (leaves): “Leaves”; “Swept Away”]
We Tired Yet?: Four more nights and we’re STILL ready for more Phish. BRING IT!….Can someone please get me some coffee?
SETLIST: Phish | Baker’s Dozen Night 9 | Madison Square Garden | New York, NY | 8/1/17
SET 1: O Canada, Crowd Control, Sugar Shack, When the Circus Comes, Daniel Saw the Stone, Army of One, The Wedge, Guelah Papyrus, Maple Leaf Rag, Guelah Papyrus, McGrupp and the Watchful Hosemasters > Limb By Limb> Walk Away
SET 2: Golden Age, Leaves, Swept Away > Steep > 46 Days > Piper > Possum
ENCORE: Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide
 Phish debut; instrumental.
 Phish debut; performed solo by Page.
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
- Night 7 – “Cinnamon” – 7/29/17
- Night 8 – “Jimmies” – 7/30/17
- Night 9 – “Maple” – 8/1/17
[Cover photo by Rene Humer/Phish From the Road]