In just 11 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 3: RED VELVET
(Review by Gideon Plotnicki)
— Phish (@phish) July 23, 2017
Phish returned to the cozy confines of Madison Square Garden last night to finish up weekend one of their Baker’s Dozen residency, and left the audience shell-shocked after two incredible sets of music. Following Friday’s “Coconut” theme and Saturday’s “Strawberry,” spectacle, the tone had been set for the run, with an “anything-goes” vibe permeating throughout MSG. Phish harnessed that energy and excitement for Sunday’s “Red Velvet” theme and used it to put together arguably the most solid two-set performance of the summer (so far), with a pair of beloved Velvet Underground covers book-ending a night of red-themed lights and wild full-band improvisation around every corner.
— Phish: From The Road (@Phish_FTR) July 24, 2017
When the lights went down and the band emerged from backstage, drummer Jon Fishman was notably missing. Instead of heading to center-stage, Trey Anastasio took Fishman’s seat at the drum kit. With the excitement for this show-opening quickly swelling, Fishman suddenly appeared–wearing a cape and a bishop’s hat, no less–waving incense at the crowd like a donut-clad Pope impersonator. To the delight of the audience, Page McConnell started the Sunday show by starting up the dreamy intro to the doubly-appropriate “Sunday Morning,” delivering on the “Red Velvet” theme immediately with thick red lighting for the beloved track from The Velvet Underground & Nico. Fishman performed the song with his typical off-center vocal delivery, and Mike Gordon gave the crowd some early theatrics with his cheesy powerslide aided bass solo, basking in the revelry of the Blessed Father Henrietta.
Anastasio and Fishman then returned to their normal places on stage for a typically-rocking version of “Axilla I,” which was followed by a funky reading of “Your Pet Cat,” a holdover from the band’s landmark Chilling, Thrilling Sounds of the Haunted House set from Halloween 2014. “Your Pet Cat” remains a fun one, taking the funkiest parts of “Tube” and inserting screaming cat sound effects. Lighting designer Chris Kuroda used “Your Pet Cat” as his first opportunity of the night to show off his new moving light rig, tilting the rig back and forth, seemingly toying with the room’s center of gravity. The new lights add an intriguing three-dimensional element to the band’s ever-changing production, and they’re getting better every night.
Just as “Your Pet Cat” finished, Anastasio cued up the jangly opening to “Back On The Train.” This version featured a patient jam, with Fishman shuffling away while Gordon pushed his bass rhythm in various different directions. Anastasio snuck in a “Streets of Cairo” tease before dropping some tension/release guitar stabs into the fray, leading to a blissful Type I peak. Gordon’s “How Many People Are You” was similarly blissful and glowing, a recurring theme that would return again and again throughout the night.
“Glide” came next, busting out of storage for its first flight since August 2015, and the crowd collectively held their breath; it’s felt like a long time since Trey has really nailed the tune’s notoriously tricky guitar line. But Red managed to make it through the intro mostly unscathed, and the audience seemed to exhale in unison, pleasantly surprised. “Glide” isn’t what it used to be, but the complicated composition was played to the best of the band’s current abilities, and, in the end, they did the track justice, even making sure to pause during the song’s a capella finale to give the crowd an opportunity to roar with approval. They did exactly that, letting out excited howls across the arena.
Next up, the one-two punch of multi-sectional classics “Theme From The Bottom” and “It’s Ice” proved to be the climax of the first set. “Theme” was pure rock’n’roll, with Anastasio building his way towards a huge, screeching peak following a patient jam. “It’s Ice,” stretched out to 15+ minutes, and easily pushed its way into the realm of the best versions of the Anastasio/Marshall gem ever played–a perfect layer of “It’s Ice”-ing on the proverbial Red Velvet donut. The song’s typical funk breakdown was ditched for type II improvisation, complete with a dark, sci-fi vibe (something that Phish has been toying around with for the entire tour so far). McConnell leaned in on his synth pads as the rest of the band built up a minimalist groove, the reverberating tone and the understated blue/purple/white lights lending a cavernous texture to the jam, submerging the audience 20,000 leagues under the ice. Trey added a rhythmic, jazzy lead that shepherded the band towards a psych rock peak before rising to the surface for the song’s closing stanza. After a joyous run through the Big Boat standout “More,” Phish pulsated with love and light as they took their bows and walked off stage.
The band got the show on the road quickly in set two with a rollicking version of Gamehenge classic “AC/DC Bag.” The beloved track featured some zany moments of Phish-y insanity before the band dropped into “Wolfman”s Brother.” The foursome took “Wolfman’s” out for an almost-fifteen-minute exploration, as multiple raging, red-hot rock peaks came down on MSG. A Gordon-led funk section dissolved into an extended, bass-heavy ambient portion, before a final, epic rock’n’roll build and climax. This “Wolfman’s” jam was indisputably awesome, and will likely be making an appearance in many “best of” conversations for years to come.
Phish followed up the wild “Wolfman’s” with another fantastic improvisational expedition, as “Twist” offered for more high-octane jamming and synched-up moments from the clearly-locked-in quartet. The “Twist” jam stretched the song to just under sixteen minutes long, and showcased the best of the band’s abilities: patient Type I solos, a blissful, ambient Type II section, and some deep speed-funk, during which Kuroda focused his lights on the seats behind the stage, skillfully utilizing the three-dimensional “canvas” to perfection. As the jam built, Trey started inserting some psychedelic guitar jabs, whipping the crowd into a frenzy for an 80’s synth-rock climax that prompted a full-blown spontaneous glow stick war throughout the arena.
The band then moved into “Waves,” which continued the contrast of ambient and blissful jamming that had been so prevalent throughout the show. “Waves” saw Kuroda once again showcasing his moving light rig, while the band moved back and forth between the dark and the light with their improvisation. Phish used “Miss You” as a landing pad after forty-plus minutes of balls-to-the-wall improv, and the often musically and energetically flat Big Boat tune felt triumphant in that context, as Trey continued implementing the blissful, feedback-powered theme he had been focusing on all evening.
After a quick breather, Phish started up the funky Stevie Wonder classic “Boogie On Reggae Woman,” which got a roar of approval as Gordon dropped meatball bass bounces. The song quickly evolved into more twisting and turning improvisation, and at one point it sounded like they were about to start “2001” before the jam fizzled out and the tune everyone knew was coming, “Wading in the Velvet Sea,” finally got the call as the set two closer. Typically, Phish fans yearn for surprises around every turn. With the band announcing flavor/theme before each Baker’s Dozen show, it’s been somewhat easy to predict some of the song choices–“Reba” for Coconut night, “Halley’s Comet” and “Strawberry Fields Forever” for Strawberry night, and now “Wading” on Red Velvet night. That being said, the audience has only reacted with positivity in these moments, and “Wading” got a similarly huge response. The song provided a sing-a-long moment for the audience, and also allowed for one more moment of bliss as Kuroda bathed the crowd in velvety red lighting as the band brought the set to a close.
For the encore, many fans were expecting “Rock And Roll,” but Phish instead turned to another, much more rare Velvet Underground cut, “Sweet Jane,” which they performed for only the fourth time ever. Kuroda once again covered the room in red light while the band worked through the classic track with ease.
After the show, Mike Gordon tweeted out that the show was “a religious experience.” Whether he was referring to the undoubtedly electric atmosphere in the Garden last night, or to Fishman’s appearance earlier in the evening to “bless” the bassist as he knelt at his feet, one thing is clear: Phish is playing at the top of their game, and they only seem to be getting better as the donuts keep rolling.
That was a religious experience.
— Mike Gordon (@mike_gordon) July 24, 2017
Shortly after the show, Phish announced the theme for the next Baker’s Dozen show, which is set for Tuesday, July 25th. The theme is “Jam Filled,” which should excite every living and breathing Phish fan. If you don’t have your tickets, get ’em now, because you don’t want to be the fan who missed the night filled with jams!
Hot Takes From Night 3:
REPEAT WATCH: None, and the band only seems to be digging deeper into their catalog with each show. With new songs being debuted every night, an assortment of bust outs, and several long jams per evening, the odds of there being no repeats during the Baker’s Dozen continues to increase.
TODAY’S DONUT: Red Velvet [“Sunday Morning”, “Sweet Jane” (Velvet Underground); “Wading in the Velvet Sea”]
WE TIRED YET?: Not going to lie, we’re excited to have 24 hours to re-charge our batteries…
SETLIST: Phish | Baker’s Dozen Night 3 | Madison Square Garden | New York City | 7/23/17
SET 1: Sunday Morning*, Axilla I, Your Pet Cat, Back on the Train, How Many People Are You, Glide, Theme From the Bottom > It’s Ice > More
SET 2: AC/DC Bag > Wolfman’s Brother > Twist > Waves > Miss You, Boogie On Reggae Woman, Wading in the Velvet Sea
ENCORE: Sweet Jane
* Debut; Trey on drums; Fishman dressed as the pope and waving incense at the crowd
[Photo: Rene Huemer/@Phish_FTR]
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: