In just 13 days, Phish will make their triumphant return 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’re celebrating 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, it’ll be time 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 1: COCONUT
Shake your coconuts, coco boys and coco girls—this party’s just begun! The moment is now, the day is here, and Phish‘s “Baker’s Dozen” residency at Madison Square Garden in New York City is finally, officially, underway. Earlier in the day, the band announced via their socials that they would be distributing donuts–real, edible, actual donuts–to their MSG guests as they arrive each night, a new flavor for each of the 13 days. Friday’s flavor: Coconut. Why does the kind of snacks the band gave out pre-show matter to the music? Don’t worry, it’ll all make sense soon…
— Phish (@phish) July 21, 2017
The band got the ball rolling on the first of 26 Baker’s Dozen sets with the Phish debut of “Shake Your Coconuts,” an obscure 2003 “call to party” by Danish pop duo Junior Senior. With the last notes of the opener still ringing, Page McConnell launched the vocal sample for “Martian Monster.” After all, this particular Garden crowd had been selected as the first astronauts to explore the planet Baker’s Dozen, with the Chilling, Thrilling Sounds of the Haunted House track making its second appearance of the summer after landing during Northerly Island night two. This particular Martian trip may have been short, but the band took visible pleasure in the irony of the lyrics as they embarked on the longest single run in their history.
“Shake Your Coconuts”
Next up was a slow-boiling “Timber (Jerry),” whose impending visit was foreshadowed with heavy teases during the not-so-simple “Simple” from Chicago. The Phish rode that Arkansas mule for 8+ minutes of focused type-1 improv, culminating in an anthemic build toward the first of night 1’s many grandiose peaks. A straightforward “555” came next, with some amusing antics coming at the song’s end, as Trey Anastasio cheekily asked the crowd “are we tired yet?” The audience roar that erupted in response answered Trey’s inquiry emphatically. Hell no, Trey. Hell no. After a long pause, the band counted into their next tune, but after a few drum beats, the “song” was abruptly cut short, with Trey introducing “Mr. Jon Fishman” behind the kit. Fishman responded to the mulligan in kind, joking “that might be our greatest composition yet.”
Sunny TAB ditty “Pigtail” followed, just its fourth appearance in the Phish setting–and its fourth successively better rendition. “Pigtail” will end up being a great Phish tune. Mark it. “Halfway To The Moon” followed, and it seemed that many fans were halfway to the bathroom when, suddenly, “Halfway” launched into orbit, with Trey and Page flexing their musical muscles and Chris Kuroda showing off his spectacular new rig, which moves, spins, and generally blows last year’s LED screen setup out of the water. We’re way beyond “stage lighting” this year, as Kuroda’s new toys encompass the entire arena, making for a jaw-dropping, 360-degree spectacle. The whole damn room lights up this year, guys [early review of the rig: 5-out-of-5 gooogley-eye emojis].
After an extended stop, the band kicked into the first classic Phish epic of the evening, “Reba.” After nailing the song’s complex composed parts, the band built out a typically high-flying jam, before skipping the tune’s whistling outro and opting instead for what was perhaps the evening’s most exciting song selection: David Bowie‘s “Moonage Daydream.” The first tune from last Halloween’s Ziggy Stardust costume set to appear since made an emphatic statement. Bobbing and weaving and shrugging off hits with the supreme confidence of a champion prize fighter, Trey lathered the “Moonage” jam with meaty guitar flourishes. For our purposes here, we can go ahead and call this tune Part 1-of-many in a forthcoming series entitled “Why You Really Just Have To Go To All The Shows.” A typically ripping “Walls Of The Cave” followed to close the set, leaving high expectations for what was to come.
You can watch great crowd-shot footage of Phish’s “Moonage Daydream” cover from the Baker’s Dozen, courtesy of YouTube user LazyLightning55a:
An opening night “Tweezer” was near the top of many fans’ “guess list” for night one, and the familiar opening riff of the Picture of Nectar favorite prompted an ecstatic reaction from the audience. This 16+ minute “Tweezer” excursion packed an entertaining punch, Kurodas arena-enveloping visuals once again adding some extra “wow” factor. The band built “Tweezer” into a calculated groove, with Trey flutters foaming up over the top before Page and Fishman pushed the jam into “bliss” territory and, subsequently, into a classic “Tweezer” peak. Finally, Fish took the reins once again, driving the band into “Seven Below” for the second improvisational excursion in as many songs to start set two. “Seven Below” reached some great, minimal, synth-led 80s grooves that evoked a Phil Collins-type sound (think “In The Air Tonight”) with Page absolutely blaring as the song built to another impressive climax. While far from all-time versions, both jams highlighted Phish’s intentions for the run to come: Each member of the band was trying things, taking risks, connecting in different ways, pushing each other. We may not be “there” just yet, but it’s clear the band is determined to make this unprecedented residency something truly special.
A “Billy” breather came next, sucking some of the air out of a great set-opening pair of jams, before moving into “Sparkle,” which built to its cacophonous apex with a little more intent and purpose than your average “Sparkle,” if you’re into that kind of thing.
With the third-quarter breathers out of the way, Phish launched into “Everything’s Right,” one of the strongest songs from a selection of early Summer 2017 debuts. The song once again got the improv treatment, with Mike Gordon serving as the locomotive and Trey milking his previously-established 80s arena rocker finesse to fantastic effect before guiding the band into a towering “Slave,” which may or may not have made this writer shed a few emotionally-gobsmacked tears, before a tight-and-funky “Suzy Greenberg” appeared to end the set. However, since these are no ordinary Phish shows, the band had one more surprise in store–the debut of an a cappella rendition/quasi-vocal jam on ubiquitous tropical chant “Coconut” (original by Harry Nilsson), which saw the clearly-amused foursome put the lime right into the coconut as they held back giddy smiles–almost like they know something we don’t know…
That was when the big picture began to come into focus for all in attendance. Friday’s donut: Coconut creme. The opener: “Shake Your Coconuts.” The closer: “Coconut.” “Coconuts” in “Reba.” Starting to see a pattern? Just like that, the “Baker’s Dozen” mission was clear: 13 nights. 13 donuts. 13 special shows.
The band returned for their encore with a rare “Mango Song,” which made a welcome appearance despite Trey’s usual struggles on the tune’s tricky guitar theme before ceding to a red-hot “Good Times, Bad Times,” in which Trey reminded everyone who’s boss, and restored whatever faith may have been lost during the “Mango” flubbery.
It’s difficult to digest this show as a single, isolated performance. If this was a one-off–a lonely donut, if you will–it’s likely a lot more fans might feel like the show left something to be desired. But this show felt perfect as the start of something big. It’s the mo-fuckin’ Baker’s Dozen! There will be no repeats. There will be no prisoners. Twelve more nights to go!
Hot Takes From Night 1:
REPEAT WATCH: Zero so far, since it’s only night one. But considering all the new tunes, covers, rare covers, and more, it sure looks like we won’t see any.
TODAY’S DONUT: Coconut (“Shake Your Coconuts,”, “Reba”, “Coconut”)
WE TIRED YET?: Hell no.
SETLIST: Phish | Baker’s Dozen Night 1 | Madison Square Garden | New York City, NY | 7/21/17
I: Shake Your Coconuts, Martian Monster, Timber Ho! > 555, Pigtail, Halfway to the Moon, Reba, Moonage Daydream, Walls of the Cave
II: Tweezer > Seven Below > Billy Breathes > Sparkle, Everything’s Right > Slave to the Traffic Light, Suzy Greenberg, Coconut
E: The Mango Song, Good Times Bad Times
 Phish debut.
 No whistling
[photo by Andrew Blackstein]
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