In 11 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 second day of Phishmas, we’re taking you back to ’96. Despite the fact that the two-night stand was not a New Year’s run, Phish was not content to let an MSG run pass by without the proper pomp and circumstance–leading to a truly memorable performance on 10/22/96.
The band kicked things off with “The Curtain” before opting for “Runaway Jim” instead of a “(With)” jam. After a brief pause, the band quickly ran through “Bouncing Around The Room” before a delivering a well-played “It’s Ice”. Next, Phish offered a breather–the fourth-ever performance of Billy Breathes ballad “Talk”.
From there, the band served up an order of “Split Open and Melt” with some extra sauce (clocking in at nearly 12 minutes) and a high-energy “Sparkle” > “Free” segment before launching into a rocking “You Enjoy Myself” to cap the first set.
Any time YEM ends set 1, fans have come to expect the second set be something special–and the second set on 10/22/16 most definitely fit that description. After a short-but-sweet “2001” opener, the band flowed into “Down With Disease”, which featured dextrous riffing from Trey throughout. Next, the crowd the crowd sang along with “Taste”, followed by fan-favorite “The Mango Song”, which reached its typically-ripping peak to great effect. After laying down some serious piano mastery on “Mango”, Page McConnell stepped out from behind the ‘boards to do his cocktail lounge singer schtick on “Lawn Boy” (with some alternate lyrics that may or may not have been intentional).
If you’re not familiar with this show, you may be thinking, “Hey, this guy said this show was special, but we’re halfway through the second set and it seems pretty straightforward to me so far.” Fret not, astute phan, we’re about to get to the shenanigans.
The show’s “fourth quarter” began to pick up steam with a raucous “Scent of a Mule”, played at a faster-than-usual tempo and with unhinged abandon by all four musicians, particularly McConnell. After about five minutes, the typical “Mule Duel” was preceded by a jazzy, synchronized (read: clearly rehearsed) surprise vocal jam with call-and-response crowd claps, guitar/keys riffs, and more for one of the most interesting “Scent of a Mule”s you’ll hear.
“Mike’s Song” came next, signaling the start of what would go on to become a truly memorable “Mikes Groove”. After a down-and-dirty “Mike’s”, the band bled into a classic “Swept Away” > “Steep” pairing, before the Jon Fishman‘s driving drums and Mike Gordon‘s bass slaps lit the fuse for the customary “Weekapaug Groove”.
Roughly 2 minutes into the “Weekapaug” audio recording, you can hear an audible roar erupt from the crowd, seemingly unprompted. In fact, what elicited the cheer was the appearance of a slew of lavishly-costumed circus performers (as well as Fishman’s mother, Mimi) to dance along with the performance. The circus freaks lent an undeniably festive element to the set’s final number, as the added energy from the dancers invigorated both the band and the audience for a truly memorable rendition of the classic song, earning this version the moniker “Freakapaug”. You can enjoy crowd-shot video of the whole “Mikes Song” -> “Swept Away” > “Steep” > “Weekapaug Groove” segment below, courtesy of YouTube user FieryBill:
After taking their bows and clearing the stage, Trey Anastasio led the band back onstage for the encore with an announcement: “The fun’s not over yet, we’ve got a couple more friends who are gonna come out and play this last tune with us. Very excited about this, everyone give a warm hand for Mr. Buddy Miles and Mr. Merl Saunders!” The appearance of these two musical heavyweights understandably sent the crowd into a frenzy once again. Both Saunders (Hammond B-3 organ) and Miles (drums) had collaborated with a slew of highly influential musicians over the course of their respective careers (Saunders most notably leading the Saunders/Garcia Band with the Grateful Dead‘s Jerry Garcia, and Miles serving as the drummer for Jimi Hendrix‘s Band of Gypsys). For their Phish debut, Miles and Saunders joined the band on their second-ever performance classic rock n’ roll standard “All Along The Watchtower”, written by Bob Dylan, popularized by Hendrix, and covered and interpreted by damn near every musician you listen to. The off-the-walls collab was a smashing success, with the circus freaks returning to add some extra flare to 1996’s last gasp of MSG Phish. Check out crowd-shot video of the “Watchtower” encore with Merl Saunders and Buddy Miles” below, thanks to YouTube user FieryBill:
You can also watch some prime behind-the-scenes rehearsal footage with Miles and Saunders backstage at the Garden below, courtesy of YouTube user Lawrence Blumenstein:
From fantastic playing, to theatrical antics, to a pair of very special guests, 10/22/96 stands among the most exciting performances Phish has ever delivered at the World’s Most Famous Arena.
Setlist: Phish | Madison Square Garden | New York, NY | 10/22/96 (via phish.net)
Set 1: The Curtain > Runaway Jim, Bouncing Around the Room, It’s Ice, Talk, Split Open and Melt, Sparkle > Free > You Enjoy Myself
Set 2: Also Sprach Zarathustra > Down with Disease > Taste, The Mango Song, Lawn Boy, Scent of a Mule, Mike’s Song -> Swept Away > Steep > Weekapaug Groove
Encore: All Along the Watchtower
 Buddy Miles on drums and lead vocals, Merl Saunders on keys, and Fish on Trey’s percussion rack.
This Weekapaug, often referred to as the “Freakapaug,” included circus dancers and Mimi Fishman dancing around on stage towards the end. Watchtower (first since April 21, 1994, or 227 shows) featured Buddy Miles on drums and lead vocals, Merl Saunders on keys, and Fish on Trey’s percussion rack. The circus dancers also appeared for the encore.
[cover photo via Glide Magazine]
Stay tuned over the next ten days for more Phishmas! ‘Tis the season!
On the second day of Phishmas, a Phish phan played for me…Two Sitting Legends (10/22/96)
Don’t miss out on any of the fantastic pre-shows and after-parties around NYC during Phish’s upcoming MSG New Year’s Run!
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