For six of the last seven New Year’s Eves, the band Phish has chosen to ring in the new year at the world famous New York City venue, Madison Square Garden. With a history of such unique and thoughtful New Year’s performances at the Garden, each year end becomes a veritable guessing game of possibilities for the fans. The band’s creativity ultimately encourages this guessing game, and this year’s stunt was certainly one of their most creative. For 2016, Phish treated fans to a full theatrical production of their newest composition, “Petrichor.” It was, without a doubt, an awesome spectacle.
Let’s start at the beginning, though. Before the rains came down, Phish had come into the 31st with three incredible performances behind them. The first three nights of the run simply smoked, with big jams, bust out tracks, and some fun and unexpected song mashups, like the “Kung” in “Twenty Years Later” or the “Party Time” in “Light”. Along with some really inspired moments, it was this playful nature that encouraged such memorable performances, as 2016 will go down as one of the best MSG runs in the band’s 33 year history. It’s certainly hopeful for 2017 to have 2016 end on such a high note.
The fourth and final show certainly lived up to expectations, albeit in a different way. The first set was filled with some of Phish’s tried and true crowd pleasers, including the fourth consecutive a cappella opener in “Don’t Bogart That Joint” – a tune last played during the band’s Little Feat Halloween back in 2010. The fun early bust out gave way to another Halloween track, “Your Pet Cat” from the Haunted House in 2014. The song’s opening narration never fails to get fans excited, and the subsequent jam kept the house rocking at MSG.
Watch “Don’t Bogart That Joint” and “Your Pet Cat” below, courtesy of LivePhish.
After “My Soul,” Trey took a moment to tell a story about Phish’s earliest touring days, and the weird dreams that Mike Gordon used to have, where the band would be performing but something would be off – floating microphones, bass turning to butter, etc. Weird stuff. Trey said that he felt like he was in one of Mike’s weird dreams, because the stage on New Year’s was much longer than it had been the previous nights, throwing off his depth perception in relation to the crowd. With the extra stage space, Trey encouraged Page to come out from behind the pianos and sing “Lawn Boy”. He obliged, and brought Gordo along with him for a fun bass solo in the midst of the MSG mayhem.
The band would ultimately come to reflect on said mayhem during the next song, “Divided Sky.” The great Phish instrumental piece was executed to perfection, complete with the momentary pause in the middle where Phish and the audience bask in each other’s presence. It’s become something of a New Year’s run tradition, and is always a welcome moment of celebration.
They kept up the fun in set one with a great “Ya Mar,” letting loose on the island groove with another soulful performance from Leo himself. “Character Zero” came next; an unusual placement for a song that typically ends a set or a show. This “Zero” was more patient than any of its previous iterations in recent memory, as the band built up a steady peaking jam behind Jon Fishman‘s tight drumming. By the song’s end, the Garden was truly on its knees. The fans would be rocked once more, as Phish closed out the set with a tight “Walls Of The Cave.”
After a short respite, Phish returned for their second of three sets, ultimately starting what would be an hour of non-stop musical exploration. The band wasted no time finding a groove, as they opened up the set with a loose and funky “2001.” The space odyssey was short and sweet, before Trey ripped the opening notes of a remarkable “Carini.” This would ultimately begin an improv-heavy segment of the show, as “Carini” transferred into a deep, dark jam driven by the band’s rhythm section. Page got in some funky work on the clavinet, while Mike powered the groove through his funky tones. Trey helped lead the jam into a new key signature, opening the door for the next song of the jam, “Twist.”
Watch “2001” below, courtesy of LivePhish.
After the “Piper” shenanigans, Fishman rocked the beat into a funk-fueled frenzy known as “Sand.” Though the rhythm kept the song going, it was Trey that was in the driver’s seat, as he locked in early and helped to deliver one of the show’s musical highlights. It was a hose jam, through and through, as the crowd hung on Trey’s every note for this “Sand.” The sweet groove led into another Phish favorite, “Slave To The Traffic Light,” as the band worked through the classic song with style. They closed the set with a powerful rendition of Big Boat tune “More,” entreating fans to sing along triumphantly with its optimistic lyrics. It was the perfect message for a stressful year in the world of music, as Trey confidently reminded that “there must be something more than this!”
During the second set break, the crew assembled some additional risers on the stage, platforms that would ultimately hold four additional musicians for the remainder of the show. These four include the three horn players from Trey Anastasio’s band, trombonist Natalie Cressman, trumpetist Jennifer Hartswick and saxophonist James Casey, as well as percussionist Andres Forero. Forero met the members of Phish when they caught the Broadway production of Hamilton after last year’s MSG run, and he would ultimately contribute to a number of Big Boat tracks during the band’s recent studio session. The full horn section and percussionist served to enhance the festivity of the celebration, bringing the Big Boat songs and other choice selections to life with a fuller instrumentation.
With the new musicians revealed to the fans, the third set began promptly with a rendition of the newest opus song, “Petrichor.” This would serve as the meat of Phish’s New Year’s stunt, as the band essentially choreographed a theatrical Broadway-style production of “Petrichor” for the performance. This included magical raindrops that poured down on the stage (it must have been silica balls or something of the sort, but it really looked like rain), as well as a troupe of masked stage dancers with a well-rehearsed routine. The dancers were dressed in “Singin’ In The Rain” style garb with fedoras, suits and umbrellas, though they were masked initially. One performer in the center took off his mask, and started juggling umbrellas in the midst of the rain-soaked proceedings. Eventually, floating umbrellas were lowered down from the top of the stage, and those began rhythmically bouncing up and down along with the routine. The theatrical “Petrichor” was only enhanced by the playing of the eight musicians on stage, who locked into a tight jam near the song’s end. While the band jammed, the dancers put up a “Back In Five Minutes” poster, though the raindrops never stopped flowing and the umbrellas never stopped dancing in the sky. Finally, as the band returned to the song’s composed finale, the dancers returned and took off their masks, with a celebratory dance that would ultimately usher in the final moments of 2016.
Though the band was a couple minutes fast, Trey literally said “ah fuck it” and began the countdown anyway. Really, anything to get us out of 2016! They broke out into “Auld Lang Syne” as thousands upon thousands of balloons filled the venue, including a number of inflatable cats and dogs that rained out over the crowd. The Phish New Year’s balloons will never cease to amaze me, every single year. It’s just such a beautiful sight.
You can see most of the “Petrichor”/”Auld Lang Syne” celebration in this video, uploaded by kembra allen on YouTube.
What followed was ultimately a Phish set with horns and a second drummer, as the band treated us to an array of Big Boat songs like “No Men In No Man’s Land,” “Breath and Burning” and “Tide Turns.” Fans may critique some of these choices as a slower end to a high-energy run of performances, but the energy and enthusiasm from the band was quite palpable. Trey, especially, served as a gratefully emotive beacon for the performance.
Not content to just play songs from their new album, the band broke out into Mike Gordon’s song “555” with a composed horn and percussion section. The funky tune never strayed too far from its roots, but the horn lines added a new element of funk to the Gordo jam. They also added a new element in “Ocelot,” the subsequent selection from Phish. This was a jubilant moment of the show, as the band moved towards the end of the night was a bouncey upbeat tune. They would close out the third set with a TAB classic, “First Tube,” as Trey held his guitar firmly overhead to usher in the final notes of this great, great set.
To close it all out, the full eight piece band returned once more with a cover of The Rolling Stones’ “Loving Cup.” It was a chance for everyone to reflect on the majesty that they had just experienced through four nights and nine sets of music. “What a beautiful buzz,” indeed.
Thank you for a great year of music, Phish, and thank you for remaining a beacon of light throughout such a tough year in the music community. Between this all-out New Year’s celebration, the David Bowie Halloween and more, it’s been an absolute honor and a pleasure watching you perform this year.
Check out the full Phish.net setlist below, as well as further clips highlighting the New Year’s celebration. A full gallery from Jeremy Scott Photography appears below.
Setlist: Phish | Madison Square Garden | New York, NY | 12/31/16
Set 1: Don’t Bogart That Joint, Your Pet Cat, Kill Devil Falls > Back on the Train > My Soul, Lawn Boy, Divided Sky, Ya Mar, Character Zero, Walls of the Cave
Set 2: Also Sprach Zarathustra > Carini -> Twist > Piper -> Ass Handed > Piper > Sand > Slave to the Traffic Light, More
Set 3: Petrichor > Auld Lang Syne > Suzy Greenberg, No Men In No Man’s Land, Breath and Burning, Tide Turns, 555, Ocelot, First Tube
Encore: Loving Cup
 Trey on Marimba Lumina. Mike on keys.
 With horns and Andres Forero on percussion
Don’t Bogart That Joint was last played on 10/31/2010 (238 shows). Twist contained Low Rider tease. Piper fetaured Trey on Marimba Lumina and Mike on keys. Horn section consisting of Natalie Cressman, James Casey, and Jen Hartswick and Andres Forero on percussion joined Phish for third set.
Happy New Year! Cheers to a wonderful 2017! I was at the Phish concert at Madison Square Garden to ring in the new year. Where were you?!? #phish #madisonsquaregarden #phishnye #nye #nye2016 #newyearseve #happynewyear #happynewyear2017 #newyork #newyorkcity #nycnye #ny #nyc #newyorknewyork #ig_newyork #ig_newyorkcity #newyorkers #concert #msg #nyclifestyle #nycblogger #citygirl #boomerang