On Friday night, Phish made their triumphant return to New York City’s Madison Square Garden, opening up their sold-out four-night run of New Year’s shows at The World’s Most Famous Arena. Flying high off of an incredibly creative and well-received Las Vegas Halloween run, the seasoned four-piece picked right up from where they left off in early November, delivering a high-octane two-set performance. Everyone in the Manhattan arena felt the feelings they’d forgotten, as Phish worked through some impressive second-takes on Kasvot Växt material, and also brought back memories of 2017’s untouchable 13-night Baker’s Dozen run.
Phish got the show on the road with “We Are Come To Outlive Our Brains”, or as some have already started to refer to as “WACTOOB”, immediately bringing the sold-out crowd back to the brilliance the band first unveiled at Las Vegas’ MGM Grand Garden Arena, and also counted as a first for many in attendance. The second delivery ever of “We Are Outcome To Live Our Brains” had some serious girth to it, as Trey Anastasio got his chance to take the jam out twice as far, clearly indicating his intents for another rowdy night in arguably Phish’s favorite venue.
Following a brief pause, “Martian Monster” came next, as Vermont’s finest quartet locked into the tune’s signature infectious groove. Anastasio once again took things into his own hands, spitting out some firey hot guitar licks, with Page McConnell following closely behind. It was evident Jon Fishman and Mike Gordon were loose and ready to attack, as the rhythm section anchored the band’s uncontainable energy moving forward with “Axilla”. The standard “Axilla” led way to “Free”, as the Madison Square Garden crowd immediately silenced themselves and locked in with the four masterminds on stage.
Gordon laid down his first bass-bombs of the night leading into “Free”, as a breezy sensation drifted across the room, accompanied by Anastasio’s opening lyrics. With Fishman strutting his stuff into a contagious hi-hat centered rhythm, Anastasio quickly looked to his pedalboard, charging into a roaring guitar solo. A solid take on “The Wedge” was next, before Gordon led his bandmates into “Meat”. Friday night’s rendition of “Meat” was particularly slowed down and funky, with the band utilizing their rhythmic breakdowns as a creative outlet for Anastasio and McConnell to bounce off of.
Following a final segment of Page hammering away on his grand piano, the jam smoothly segued into “Ghost”, as Trey stared directly into the center of the venue’s ceiling with a deadly glare in his eyes. Trey and Page took no time to move away from the compositional structure of “Ghost”, quickly finding themselves in some delicate interplay, as all four members eventually locked in and slowed down the groove. Longtime lighting designer Chris Kuroda left the latch unhooked throughout the night, rocking his ever-evolving monstrosity of a light rig in all dimensions, as rainbow beams blasted the enthusiastic crowd.
As “Ghost” fizzled out, the band quickly hopped into “Sparkle”, which led way to the somewhat rarity “If I Could, despite being played 2 shows prior in Las Vegas. Anastasio, Gordon, and McConnell shined as a vocal unit, belting out, “flipping backwards through the doors and through the windows”, before moving forward with “Maze”. Following Anastasio’s opening lyrics, Fishman and Gordon paved the way for McConnell to blaze into his solo on the clav, before quickly hopping in between his grand piano, dazzling the crowd with an electric whirlwind of a solo. Fishman continued to hold down the pocket, as Anastasio let it all hang out with a tenacious, ever-evolving solo. A rocking take on “Walls Of The Cave” brought Phish’s ambitious first set to a close.
Following a brief set break, Trey let out the opening riff for “Set Your Soul Free”, immediately setting a launchpad for his bandmates to dive head-first into Type II territory. “Set Your Soul Free”, which was debuted earlier this summer at the Gorge, allowed McConnell to flex his chops on the keys, as the band soared into a blissful, free-flowing segment. Fishman continued pushing forward, with Anastasio jumping around between his complex assortment of effects. Up next was the glorious return of “Swept Away” into “Steep”, played for the first time this year, and last played at Phish’s “maple” themed night during their now iconic Baker’s Dozen run.
Although the segue didn’t contain an extended jam à la Baker’s Dozen, the Madison Square Garden crowd was bouncing around the room, as Phish stealthily whipped out their second 2018 Halloween song back into the mix with “The Final Hurrah”. In similar suit as the show opening “We Are Come To Outlive Our Brains”, Phish took “The Final Hurrah” out for a silky-smooth ride, ambitiously pushing deep into improvisational territory. The band was beaming with shit-eating grins from ear-to-ear, as they showered the crowd with the beloved recent debut, adding an extra element of funk-fueled treatment.
Following a quick chance to catch their breaths, the band moved into “Fuego”, setting the mood for the remainder of the evening which was chock-full of free-flowing psychedelic Phish. Trey and Page made sure to keep things rolling, as Page powered through a continuous path of explosive work on his grand piano. The band continued down their heavily-focused exploratory path with “Shade”, before moving into a noteworthy take on “Bathtub Gin”. Friday night’s “Gin” encompassed the band’s deepest desires to continue pushing their creative bar with scents and subtle sounds of their Halloween show, before bringing the second set to a close with “Possum”. The soul-drenched one-two punch of “Bouncing Around The Room” and “Slave to the Traffic Light” in the encore slot suggests that Phish is ready to continue their quest of burning Madison Square Garden down.
Setlist: Phish | Madison Square Garden | New York, NY | 12/28/2018
Set One : We Are Come To Outlive Our Brains, Martian Monster, Axilla > Free, The Wedge, Meat > Ghost > Sparkle, If I Could, Maze, Walls Of The Cave
Set Two: Set Your Soul Free > Swept Away > Steep, The Final Hurrah, Fuego > Shade > Bathtub Gin > Possum
Encore: Bouncing Around The Room, Slave To The Traffic Light