On the heels of an uneven and often timid opening night, Phish returned to midtown Manhattan and ignited Madison Square Garden for night two of the band’s annual New Year’s run. With one-third of the setlist also having appeared in the same room 25 years prior to the day, Thursday seemed like a throwback to the days when both musical nuance and the destruction of structural could walk hand in hand on the Phish stage.

“Fluffhead” openers have become common enough the past few years to not necessarily warrant a special night on the horizon, but when they go into a dark Type II jam and break the 20-minute mark, there’s certainly something in the air. Trey Anastasio leaned in a variety of directions before landing the jam on loftier shelves and releasing an uplifting riff reminiscent of The Beatles’ “Baby You’re a Rich Man”.

Phish – “Fluffhead” -> “Your Pet Cat” [Pro-Shot] – 12/29/22

He then molded things seamlessly into “Your Pet Cat”, a move made even smoother by a notable dearth of Page McConnell hitting his cacophonous cat wail samples. The feline excursion started in its regular “Tube”-esque lane before merging into more of a blues attack and finding the Bad Lieutenant entering full-on, scorch-the-Earth territory two songs into the first set.

As such, “Bathtub Gin” came in confident, as well—nearly strutting out of the verses—and Jon Fishman was relentless throughout its nearly 17-minute runtime. Even when things started to settle down, the drums kept driving and caused the jam to reignite. Incendiary celebrations ensued—truly an all-timer of the modern era.

At this point only three songs in, 45 minutes had already passed, and it was an ideal spot to try out a new one. “hey stranger”, a funky cut off Trey’s recent Mercy solo record that’s been in regular rotation on the TAB stage, felt great its first time out with Phish. It’s not necessarily a groove that’s missing from the Phish catalog, but it seems well suited to stick around.

The real “Tube” arose next and initially seemed like it would stay mellow relative to the prior fires of the set. But it too found its way into ripping ground and concluded with a stupendous segment in which Page hit the high octaves on the piano while Trey held an infinite sustain.

“Slave to the Traffic Light” landed in the first set for only the fifth time in the past decade and came with a welcomed conviction that’s been less present in its normal show-capping role as of late. It seemed obviously poised to close the set, but Trey decided he needed one more shred-sesh before hitting the veggie platter backstage. The ensuing “Blaze On” stretched out like the whole band forgot it was supposed to be a triumph closer. Easily moving past the 10-minute mark, it stayed just as bold and enormous as its predecessors and sealed up an MSG first set for the ages.

As hard as it is to believe, “David Bowie” hasn’t opened any Phish set since June 24, 2010 and hasn’t opened a 2nd set since November 14, 1998. So, when it stepped up in the lead-off role, the pressure felt high for it to show it still deserves its Mt. Rushmore status in the Phish repertoire. And… it was great; still lacking in the demented journeys it used to propagate, but great.

“Everything’s Right” found its way into the depths, though. Its jam got charging, and even felt vindictive in a vein contradictory to the promoted mantra of its lyrics. I would have loved to hear this one just end right where there in the dark glimmer, but the whole band seemed to be dedicated to finding their way back to the refrain.

Phish – “Everything’s Right” [Pro-Shot] – 12/29/22

A sudden, mid-set “You Enjoy Myself” then came charging in and went huge. An extended pre-vocal jam jam went as fierce as they come, a sort of grateful anger ripping out of Trey like you had just told him his cat was ugly. When the vocal jam section finally arrived, it was able to work a surprisingly glossy transition into “Ruby Waves”.

“Ruby” felt like it instantly wanted to go into “Crosseyed and Painless” and you could see Page watching Trey for the cue to take the exit. Instead, Trey went cliff-diving and ended up right on the toes of Led Zeppelin’s “Heartbreaker”.

“Lonely Trip” came next in its now standard late-second set ballad spot, a placement that I think suits the song perfectly. Unfortunately, the energy couldn’t be reclaimed afterwards, and “Get Back on the Train” felt like it was just filling time. Sure, it was great, but in a night with monumental versions of songs, a par performance is going to sound thin.

“Character Zero” didn’t pull any surprises in the closing spot, but Trey kept his pulverization plan of the evening going strongly enough to discourage anyone from leaving early for the hot-dog carts.

“Guyute” popped up in the encore. The ugly pig had seemed so ubiquitous in Phish setlists for so long that it’s wild to think this was only the 12th one of the past decade. But then Trey completely bit it on the fast middle section, and its absence unfortunately made sense. Once he remembers his fingering on that one, the redemption pig is going to be glorious.

“Possum” gave one more opportunity for rock-slaughter and humorously ended with Trey geek-bantering his way through the final chord. Repeating his farewells unto the crowd, he eventually hollered, “Where’s the party? We’re coming! Just tell us where it is!”, The ironic thing being that after years of this being an earnest request, now it’s one filled with blatant sarcasm. Everyone knows the man will be home in bed ten minutes after he puts his guitar down, but after the showcase of what was prime Anastasio all night long, the man deserves to sleep.

Phish returns to the Garden on Friday night for New Year’s run’s third installment. Tune in to a live webcast of the remaining two Phish shows at MSG via LivePhish. Scroll down to check out a gallery of photos from night two of Phish at Madison Square Garden (1/29/22) via Bahram Foroughi.

Setlist [via phish.net]: Phish | Madison Square Garden | New York, NY | 12/29/22

Set One: Fluffhead -> Your Pet Cat > Bathtub Gin > Hey Stranger, Tube > Slave to the Traffic Light, Blaze On

Set Two: David Bowie, Everything’s Right > You Enjoy Myself > Ruby Waves > Lonely Trip, Back on the Train > Character Zero

Encore: Guyute, Possum

Notes: Fluffhead was unfinished. Trey teased Dave’s Energy Guide in Bathtub Gin. This show featured the Phish debut of Hey Stranger. Trey teased Heartbreaker in Ruby Waves.