Thirty years ago, a band named Blackwood Convention played their first gig in a University of Vermont cafeteria. With microphones taped to hockey sticks, the group played a full set of covers, ranging from The Hollies’ “Long Cool Woman In A Black Dress” and The Grateful Dead’s “Scarlet Begonias > Fire On The Mountain.”
Over four nights at Madison Square Garden, Phish paid tribute to thirty prolific years of music by playing entirely original songs. Some old, some new… all Phish.
The first set on New Years Eve seemed standard enough. We got our casual Gamehendge tunes, “AC/DC Bag” and “Wilson.” We got some Junta favorites; “Divided Sky” and “Fluffhead.” Some newer ones as well, with “A Song I Heard the Ocean Sing,” “Ocelot,” “Sugar Shack,” and “Halfway to the Moon.” But this was just the opening act. It’s like… Phish opening for Phish. The first set closed with the cutting of a ceremonial, piano-shaped cake.
Then, they showed us a hilarious video of drummer Jon Fishman restoring the JEMP truck and driving it cross-country. In a bit of video editing magic, a clip of truck-driving Fishman was spliced together with one of those truck-hits-bridge viral videos. Then, during the setbreak, the JEMP truck was dragged into the center of the floor. Equipped with a single piano, a standard drum-kit, low-tech amplifier rigs, and, true-to-original-form hockey-stick microphone stands, Phish’s second set was something of a time capsule moment… opening a doorway and peering into the past.
The set started simply enough, with a slippery “Glide” that segued into a rip-roaring “Llama.” Sure enough, the band kept the Gamehendge theme rolling with a classic “Colonel Forbin’s Ascent > Fly Famous Mockingbird.” Such a majestic composition… and then Mike is all, “Fuck Your Face.” This odd funky composition is symbolic of bassist Mike Gordon’s style, and it was an absolute treat.
“Reba.” Always love me some Reba.
Afterwards, Trey took the opportunity to remind us youngsters that there is a book, a glorious magical book, a Helping Phriendly Book as it were, that we should all browse through. I believe his words were, “read the fucking book!” It was, after all, written by the knowledgeable Icculus.
The set closed with two classic Phish tunes: “The Lizards” and “Split Open and Melt.”
For those of us who had never heard Phish in 1983… for those of us whose parents hadn’t even met by 1983… this was an unbelievable glimpse into a different time. While the Gamehendge songs may not have been played in the original order as submitted for Trey’s senior thesis at Goddard College, we all know the story. It’s a fantasy, much like the story of Phish.
Even Trey commented to this affect, saying he never imagined he’d be playing “Icculus” at Madison Square Garden in 2013. So it goes.
The band came back at around ten to midnight, opening the third set with an jammy “Character Zero” that segued into 2014. Check out the “Auld Lang Syne” celebration!
And for those listening to Phish, your 2014 began with “Fuego,” one of the grooviest songs from the brand new Wingsuit album. If you weren’t, just ask Diego, or watch below.
The rest of the third set reads like a standard Phish second set, with an epic 16-minute “Light” jam that weaved its way into a standard “Twenty Years Later.” Then, “Bouncing Around The Room,” a fan favorite, and a perfectly executed “You Enjoy Myself.” YEM was a fitting end to nine full sets of glorious Phish-original-only music (over four days). It’s the Phish masterpiece.
The band then showed a video montage, highlighting some of the band’s more outrageous antics over the years.
Finally, the show wrapped up with a slightly-modified “Grind,” in which the band added an additional thirty years to the number of days old they are, to symbolize their 60th anniversary concert. The concert wrapped up with a beautiful “Show Of Life,” a song with easily some of the best Phish lyrics.
All in all, this was an amazing concert, and a wonderful way to spend New Years Eve. Until 2014, Phish!
-David Melamed (@DMelamz)
[All photos courtesy of Dave Vann, Phish.com]
SET LIST (courtesy of phish.net):
Madison Square Garden, New York, NY
Notes: This show was officially webcast via LivePhish.com. After the conclusion of the first set, the band carried a keyboard out to the front of the stage (with a cardboard mountain behind it, this reenacted a classic photo of Phish during their stay in Telluride, CO in 1988), and proceeded to serve cake in honor of their 30th anniversary to fans near the front of the stage. After the cake was served, a video appeared on the venue’s Jumbotron showing Fishman collecting various props from previous Phish new year’s eve concerts and driving a replica of the band’s “JEMP” truck down to New York City (although not before losing the top of the truck under an overpass). All of the songs played during both setbreaks were from the year 1983. The second set took place on top of a replica of the band’s “JEMP” truck in the middle of the floor of MSG, with the band using hockey sticks for mic stands. During Grind, the “days lived” stated by the band referenced how old they would be when they returned for their 60th anniversary. During the encore break, a video montage appeared on the Jumbotron showcasing selected highlights from the band’s history as well as glimpses into past new year’s eve concerts. After the conclusion of the show, the Jumbotrons showed a “Save the Date” picture of an aged band for their 60th anniversary concert on December 31, 2043.