On Monday night in NYC, Phish orchestrated yet another surprising, happy-go-lucky New Year’s Eve performance to cap off 60 shows at the fan-favorite Madison Square Garden. Mark Twain once wrote, “Wrinkles should merely indicate where smiles have been,” and after decades of shocking the brains of their beloved fans, one might assume that Mike Gordon, Trey Anastasio, Jon Fishman, and Page McConnell would be a lot more wrinkly. The final performance of the four-night extravaganza merely indicated that Vermont’s finest is not only ready to continue the tradition, but to do so with invigoration, innovation and í rokk.
As 12/31 happens to be the most frequently played date in Phishtory, it comes with a balance of expectation and anticipation from fans new and old. Tradition proves that first sets tend to be fairly straightforward, and Monday night’s performance was no different. “Moma Dance” kicked off the festivities in the identical fashion of 2015’s New Year’s Eve celebration under the same roof. It became evident very early on that the theme of the night would be “time,” and the “Moma” lyrics were an excellent starting place for such a blueprint. In the two-hole, a cut off Halloween’s Kasvot Växt album made the sixth appearance of the four-night run with “Stray Dog”, and added yet another dog-friendly Phish tune to an MSG setlist. Gordon enjoyed his time with lead vocals during “555”, before Anastasio took the mic back for “Sand.”
“Flowing through the hourglass” lyrics may have tickled the nerves of those present for the disappearing act that occurred during 2015’s NYE gag. The following tune, “Lawn Boy” definitely got a rise out of audience members that were at the Garden for the jam-filled Baker’s Dozen performance. McConnell rose from the boards rocking a gorgeous snakeskin shirt to announce, “Yes, it’s still ‘Lawn Boy’,” and received ferocious applause from the crowd. While the beautiful bass solo didn’t morph into a 30-minute improvisation, the moist, green organic tune certainly brought smiles to faces throughout the room. A standard “Steam” reminded fans of the 2011 NYE gag but as the lyrics state, “There’s no time to reflect,” as the quartet quickly moved into a high-energy “Chalk Dust Torture” which begged the question ,“Can I live while I’m young?”
The ominously dank “What’s the Use?” made its second NYE appearance in a row and kept the jukebox-style first set moving along by introducing the Billy Breathes classic, “Waste”. Anastasio’s daughter, Bella, thoughtfully gifted her father a book made up of fan-submitted pictures which he has flipped through prior to each performance this run. This might explain the emotion behind “Waste”, which was gently placed into the set as Trey used his “Mar Mar” guitar for the first and only time of the night. Phish snuck more clock-themed lyrics into the set during another í
While the first set only contained two songs that broke the 10-minute mark, jam-seekers got what they wanted in the second of the three-set event. “Down With Disease” made the cut on yet another NYE setlist, but this year was the first time it has ever opened Act Two on an NYE occasion. The initial Type I jam was bright and airy, featuring McConnell swirling on his organ, accompanied by Gordon plucking away on a driving bass and Fishman carrying a danceable beat. Anastasio layered thick-delayed effects to initiate a Type II journey, yet cut things short by peppering in the “Farmhouse” ballad. A serenely spacey “Seven Below” would follow, and found McConnell hammering away on the synthesizer to follow along with Gordon’s big bass lines.
Chris Kuroda turned up the lighting theatrics to match the playful transition established by Anastasio’s fluttering guitar. McConnell’s grand piano followed along with Fishman’s up-tempo drumming, as the band begun a “Seven Below” dance party. During the peak of the groove, Gordon mixed an electro-funk bass effect with McConnell’s clav while Anastasio fed off the crowd’s wooing energy. A fiery, yet concise “Twist” contained even more whooing, before a noteworthy “Harry Hood.” This high-impact version began to break free from normality, before Trey put on his Kasvot Växt hat and informed the band it was time to sandwich “Passing Through” into the mix. While the “way-oh way-ohs” are a little too European boy-bandish, Gordon’s rocking bass solo during the brand-new tune makes it relistenable. Trey ecstatically returned to the “Hood” to close out the eighth set of the í rokk-jam-sandwich-filled run.
When images of shiny silver balloons surfaced on social media earlier in the weekend, fans naturally began drawing conclusions about the annual New Year’s gag. The fast-moving element of mercury has crept its way into not one, but two different Phish songs with “Cool Amber and Mercury” as well as “Mercury”, which made fans accurately guess one of these two songs would be featured in the third set. As Gordon and Anastasio came on stage dressed in silver jumpsuits, it was clear that The Garden was about to blast off.
As Fishman moved to the Marimba Lumina during “Mercury”, ten performers were lifted into the air wrapped in elongated silver streamers, and surrounded by gravity-defying smoke machines. The group of suspended aerial acrobats, in unbreakable nets, danced and swayed to yet another song about time, as Anastasio drew inspiration from their incredible talent. The arena was greeted by a NASA sounding announcer that counted down from “T-minus 30 seconds”, prior to wishing everyone a “Happy New Year.”
For the 12th time at Madison Square Garden, Phish flipped to a new calendar with the traditional “Auld Lang Syne”, as thousands of silver balloons and enormous shiny streamers, like the ones attached to the acrobats, fell from the ceiling. For the first time ever, “Say It To Me S.A.N.T.O.S.” was played to welcome in the new year. Although it started off a bit rocky, the band quickly recovered as even more lyrics about time and space were sung to a peaking audience. Anastasio and Gordon were literally dangling from midair, to get an even better view of the insanity taking place throughout the arena. As if the silver-soaked chaos off stage wasn’t enough, dozens of dancers with various pool floats jumped on stage to join in the shenanigans. This was rock and roll at an entirely new level, and the four members of the world’s most theatrical rock band will always remember where they were on December 31st, 2018.
One may never know the true meaning of the acronym “S.A.N.T.O.S.”, but Anastasio told writing-partner Tom Marshall that the sacred name stands for “Subterranean. Arctic. Neuro. Technology. Orientation. Station.” While the description isn’t intentionally simple, the next song of the set was just that. Out of all the cities in the United States that Phish has seen in 2018, New York has the grandest skyscrapers of them all, and the band was not afraid to show their excitement about being in town, as they energetically played a concise version of “Simple.” Much like the night prior with Billy Breathes tunes, Phish symbolically pointed fans to the merch stand as one of their Garden specific shirts reads, “What is a band without skyscraper?”
After a short and sweet “Saw It Again” followed by “Limb By Limb”, the band landed to reform on the Velvet Underground’s “Rock and Roll.” This cover generally is well-received, but the New York-based lyrics certainly give it an added punch from band members and fans alike inside the midtown Manhattan mecca. “Suzy Greenberg” closed out the ninth set of the four-night run in classic fashion to the intense delight of the satisfied crowd. Trey couldn’t help himself avoid a dad joke when proclaiming, “We’ll see you in 2019, well it is 2019. See you this year,” before exiting the stage.
A well-received dose of Gamehendge kicked off the encore with “The Lizards”, and saw the band showing some extra emotion during the “Helping Friendly Book” lyrics. Anastasio initiated some fuzzed-out effects during “Character Zero” after urging the fans to “rush and never waste the day,” just one more friendly reminder about time during the New Year extravaganza.
After life-changing events like New Year’s Eve at Madison Square Garden, it’s hard to believe that just 10 years ago, Phish was just gearing up for the Hampton Coliseum reunion after calling it quits for good. Since that time, the Garden has hosted 47 Phish shows, and the band is about to play their 400th show of the 3.0 era in Mexico this February. More importantly, Anastasio and his bandmates have brought joy and love to a new generation of fans. In a little over a decade, Trey went from drug court in Upstate New
You can check out a gallery of photos from Phish’s New Year’s Eve space voyage below courtesy of photographer Andrew Blackstein.
Setlist: Phish | Madison Square Garden | New York, NY | 12/31/2018
Set One: The Moma Dance, Stray Dog, 555, Sand, Lawn Boy, Steam > Chalk Dust Torture > What’s the Use? > Play by Play, Waste, Ass Handed, Run Like an Antelope
Set Two: Down with Disease > Farmhouse > Seven Below > Twist > Harry Hood > Passing Through, Harry Hood
Set Three: Mercury > Auld Lang Syne, Say it to Me S.A.N.T.O.S., Simple, Saw It Again > Limb By Limb > Rock and Roll > Suzy Greenberg
Encore: The Lizards, Character Zero