In 8 short days, Phish will settle in at Madison Square Garden for their traditional end-of-the-year run. Phish is no stranger to the Garden, having now played the famed venue in the heart of New York City 35 times over the course of their career. From their MSG debut in 1994 to their most recent appearances at the very beginning of 2016, the storied room has played host to some of the most treasured shows in the band’s history. As we inch closer to this year’s New Year’s Run, we will be bringing you our 12 Days Of Phishmas series, highlighting a different milestone MSG Phish show each day until we all head back to the Garden on the 28th. It wasn’t easy narrowing 35 down to 12, but we think you’ll be pleased with these classics from the Phish catalog. Enjoy!
On the fifth day of Phishmas, we head to December 29th, 1997. ’97 was, of course, a landmark year for Phish. After successful European tours in the Winter and Spring and The Great Went festival in August, the band absolutely crushed their 21-date Fall tour in November and December, remembered fondly by fans as the time that Phish Destroyed America. It’s one of the best tours of their career, as they showcased their new groove-oriented style of jamming known as “cow-funk”. The tour was a wild success, finishing up on December 13th in Albany, ultimately giving Phish a mere 15 days off before their traditional New Year’s run began. The band performed one show at USAir Arena in Landover, MD on 12/28 before heading to New York for a three-night New Year’s Eve run at Madison Square Garden. They kicked off the run with a blistering show on December 29th that featured a second set for the ages, as Phish played an exciting and improv-heavy five-song run.
The first set had its merits, with a bust out of Robert Johnson‘s “Crossroads” and an awesome “Theme From The Bottom” into “Fluffhead”. Yet, the second set is what truly stands out from 12/29/1997, It all started with “Down With Disease”. The band had tons of energy as they launched into the “DWD” jam, with Trey Anastasio showing off his speed and confidence right out of the gate. He was strong throughout the 23-minute version of the song. After 10 minutes of straight forward jamming, the band dissolved into their cow-funk style, with Page using his clavinet to full effect. The band would bring that jam to a huge peak before transitioning into “David Bowie”.
“Bowie” had an intro jam with crazy ambient playing, with Jon Fishman contributing a unique, hi-hat led drum beat. The “Bowie” jam saw Anastasio and Page McConnell linking up for an extended improv section, chasing each other’s musical tails around the stage. They eventually locked back in with Fishman and Mike Gordon on a section that got more and more intense as Anastasio’s explosive playing pushed the whole band. Finally, they returned to complete the song with the zany energy that only Phish can produce.
Right as it felt like they would bring “Bowie” to its natural peak, they dropped into “Possum”. “Possum” featured a jam based around Otis Redding‘s “I Can’t Turn You Loose”, which McConnell started and the full band eventually picked up. This made for a unique version of “Possum”, as the band remained on the theme before for a bit before finishing up the song. The band returned to “Can’t Turn You Loose” again at the end of the song as well for a quick reprise.
A cow-funk-heavy “Tube” was perfect for blowing off some steam after the blistering opening hour of the set. Anastasio used his looping pedal to create some interesting sounds, while McConnell took the lead on what turned out to be a keyboard-heavy jam. Page teased “I Feel the Earth Move” by Carole King, which the band links up on for a moment before they completed the 10-minute “Tube”.
“You Enjoy Myself” capped off the set. “YEM” clocked in around 18 minutes long, and served as the ultimate cap to the excellent five-song set. It featured another short cow-funk jam that saw McConnell reprise his “Can’t Turn You Loose” tease, and the vocal jam came right out of an ambient dissolve at the end of the jam.
In the end, those five songs totaled 82 minutes, showing just how much they stretched things over the course of this Madison Square Garden classic. It was a wild set filled with highlights, as the band continued to push each other into new musical directions. The band returned to the stage and encored with Led Zeppelin‘s “Good Times Bad times” to bring the show to its conclusion. Of course, this was only the beginning of their famed 1997 New Years Eve run at MSG, as the band had several tricks still left up their sleeves.
Watch the full second set from 12/29/1997, courtesy of YouTube user The Phish Jams, below.
Setlist: Phish | Madison Square Garden | New York, NY | 12/29/1997
Set 1: NICU > Golgi Apparatus > Crossroads, Cars Trucks Buses, Train Song, Theme From the Bottom > Fluffhead, Dirt, Run Like an Antelope
Set 2: Down with Disease  -> David Bowie  > Possum, Tube, You Enjoy Myself
Encore: Good Times Bad Times
Disease was unfinished. Bowie included Antelope-esque jamming and a tease from Mike of the Theme from James Bond. Possum contained a Can’t Turn You Loose jam, which was briefly reprised after the song and teased by Page in YEM. Tube featured an I Feel the Earth Move tease. The soundcheck’s Funky Bitch featured Trey on vocals. This show is available as an archival release on LivePhish.com.
 Antelope-esque jamming. James Bond Theme tease from Mike.
Stay tuned over the coming days for more Phishmas! ‘Tis the season!
On the fifth day of Phishmas, a Phish phan played for me…a Five Song Second Set (12/29/97)
Four Light Year Jams (12/29/98)
Three Phishy Decades (12/31/13)
Two Sitting Legends (10/22/96)
and The Gamehendge Time Factory (12/31/95)!
If you’re attending the run, there are plenty of things to do in between shows. For fans of the jam, head to any of these concerts in the area for a guaranteed good time!
12/28: Aqueous + Mungion @ DROM (Phish After-Party) – tickets
12/30: Phan Art w/ Formula 5 @ American Beauty (Phish Pre-Party) – FREE SHOW
12/30-31: Spafford & Magic Beans @ American Beauty (Phish After-Party) – tickets