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 Tay Zonday. The band had a good time with this one, with Page McConnell using a mini-keyboard to create the song’s cheesy, digitized beat. The band mimicked Zonday, who leans away from the microphone in the song’s video to breathe off-mic, for several laughs from the amped 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.
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 beloved and playful composed track 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 with some level of frequency, it still gets a huge, rapturous 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. 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.
A raging “Chalkdust Torture” followed, and 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 nice 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 was followed by a glorious peak.
All of a sudden, 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 soulful cover. Gordon was tasked with singing the song, and he struggled mightily with the song’s high notes, but the fans at MSG seemed too excited to care. Phish 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 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 a capella microphone and performed their emotional cover of “Space Oddity” by David Bowie.
The funny part about this show is that it will likely be remembered as one of the bottom-tier shows of the Baker’s Dozen. Don’t get me wrong, it was a great night. 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. On any other tour, this would be a standout show, but after five consecutive classic nights at Madison Square Garden, this might be the first show of the Baker’s Dozen to be considered “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.
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 tonight’s 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: It’s Saturday night, let’s rage! Seriously though, does anyone have any Advil?
Setlist: Phish | Baker’s Dozen Night 6 | Madison Square Garden | New York, NY | 7/28/17
Set One: Chocolate Rain, Ass Handed, Free, Weigh > Undermind > The Oh Kee Pa Ceremony, The Dogs, Destiny Unbound, Divided Sky, Things People Do, Sand
Set Two: Have Mercy, Chalk Dust Torture, You Sexy Thing > Mercury -> You Sexy Thing > Backwards Down the Number Line > Rock and Roll
ENCORE: Fee, Space Oddity
If you’re in town for Phish’s 13-night Baker’s Dozen run at Madison Square Garden, don’t miss all the incredible late night shows going on in the City during the run! Check out Our Official Guide To Baker’s Dozen Late-Nights for all the info.
Live For Live Music Phish Baker’s Dozen Run Late-Night Shows
July 29 – Dopapod @ Gramercy (tix) *
July 29 – Perpetual Groove @ BB King Blues Club (tix)
Aug 2 – Matisyahu @ The Cutting Room (tix) *
Aug 3 – Greensky Bluegrass w/ Marco Benevento @ Ford Amphitheatre At Coney Island Boardwalk (tix) **
Aug 4 – “Kraz & Taz” – Eric Krasno Band w/ Brandon “Taz” Niederauer Band @ The Cutting Room (tix)
Aug 5 – Spafford @ BB King Blues Club (SOLD OUT)
* (L4LM & CEG Presents)
**(L4LM & Live Nation Presents)
Photos by Andrew Scott Blackstein: