After COVID booted last year’s New Year’s run to spring, Wednesday night kicked off Phish‘s first proper New Year’s Eve run since pre-pandemic times. The band’s 69th gig at Madison Square Garden and first show in nearly four months found the band having more than a little dust to kick off, but that led to some welcome space in its jams throughout the night.

“Buried Alive” is an easy contender for greatest opener in the Phish canon, and this one felt like ripping off a Band-Aid: immediate, necessary, but with a little scar tissue showing. An easy-grooved “Wolfman’s Brother” came next, which felt almost obscenely delicate in contrast. Trey Anastasio’s voice was extremely soft, which at first portended of illness, but was perhaps him adjusting to using new in-ear monitors.

Whatever it was, the gentle pocket from the verses immediately dripped into the open groove of the jam and left a ton of breathing room. Space and patience would be the theme of the night, as the jam journeyed upon a long crescendo but never lost that pocket. This feel bled into “Maze”, which was frankly too groovy for its own good.

Caught somewhere in between its traditional speed and the slow/funk version that debuted earlier in the summer, “Maze” was lacking in intensity in either direction. Page McConnell was never able to find his footing on the solo, one that is a traditional showcase moment for the Chairman of the Boards. Trey finally realized the drag when he couldn’t lock in his own solo, forcing him and drummer Jon Fishman to fire things back up to normal.

“Sigma Oasis” proved Trey’s voice was fine, (he’d never miss an opportunity to belt the newer ones) but the jam still held onto the designated float of the evening. That is until McConnell started hitting some ’90s Vince Welnick patches and Trey responded with his fiercest tone of the evening. This evolved into some multi-headed beast riffage before disintegrating into “NICU”.

Still caught in the first-set flow, the subsequent “Steam” felt more sleepy than groovy for a while but found its legs and came home strong. A finely tuned “Tela” came next and re-instilled some magic into the tail-end of the set.

“Stash” was a little slower than necessary, with some slight Broadwayfication of Trey’s vocals, but the jam harnessed the power of the set’s patience. Where the night’s thus-far restraint had caused some of the set to lag, this “Stash” was elevated by it. Chris Kuroda draped the stage in near darkness, and the band responded by playing the soundtrack to nefarious crimes being committed in late-night rowboats.

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This mist-draped plateau hit an atmospheric sustain that Trey started skipping stones on top of until he found his way into a conquering major resolve. With a 9.2 landing back into the refrain, “Stash” was easily the first must-hear of the evening.

Followed by “Split Open and Melt”, this would be the first time the two exploratory vehicles had ever been paired up in their 32 years of cohabitating the Phish catalog. As soon as the song’s main form ended, Trey started exploring glide riffs immediately, and Fish abandoned the signature 9/8 turnaround rhythm just as quickly.

With CK5 painting constellations above, Trey turned on his drunk robot filter and suddenly the Phish Time Factory reopened. Testing how far you’re willing to wade into the darkness with this band, things got gloriously weird until Trey ripped everybody out of it like ripping Carol Anne out of the light in Poltergeist.

“Free” started the second set, and its open section sounded like Phish melted 39 years of growth and explorations into one moment’s journey. Phish has always been lauded for being this cross-genre band, but the impressive part of the band’s collective improv these days is how self-referentially cross-era it can be. With the band members sashaying off their own echoes and playing into the space of the room, this “Free” just felt like the Garden.

“Wave of Hope” was arguably Phish’s song of 2022, with several expansive missions including the potential jam-of-the-year in Hartford. While it was played in MSG in spring, that was before it discovered its launch capabilities, so it felt like it still had something to prove on the big stage this run. Well, it came to play.

A definitive story of drive and propulsion, this one felt ecstatic from the get-go. Trey started crafting some fills that no other mind would develop and showed that he can still pull the machine gun trigger when he needs to. At one point, he took things into a nearly full-on version of Jeff Beck’s “Freeway Jam”, expanding far deeper on an idea he touched on in Pine Knob’s “Kill Devil Falls” in August. This settled down into some spell-casting rock, complete with whale calls and all, before a nearly seamless transition into “It’s Ice”.

This “Ice” sunk into the depths of frozen elegance but was rescued far too quickly. It could have easily held on to lasting breaths of life down there, but it rose too quickly and the rest of the set suffered from the bends.

“Leaves” popped up next, cementing its full rotation status, but furthering arguments about whether cool jams of new songs are worth the grimace-inducing verses that can precede them. “Simple” felt a little too basic for too long. It eventually fell into a Close Encounters capoeira shuffle, but then went deep into “let’s see what this button does” territory. “Plasma” gave its best shot but succumbed to the tiredness that was infiltrating a lot of these songs around the seven-minute mark.

Phish – “Leaves” [Pro-Shot] – 12/28/22

“Twist” was able to squeeze in some more exploration in its small window but kept to the mellower corners. Set-closer “Harry Hood”, however, harnessed the power of the evening’s patience. The initial motions of the jam found Mike Gordon almost sitting out while things floated to the top. It kept rolling and folding to where it seemed a massive payoff was around the corner, but it didn’t materialize in the glory shot we all dream of. Still, the journey was no slouch.

“Esther” found its way to the encore slot for the second time ever, but what’s more nerd-savoring is that it was also played at the April MSG run, making this performance the first time the song has been played at the same venue twice in one year since 1990 when Poughkeepsie’s The Chance got a couple. This version was as clean as you can hope for and was joyfully capped by “46 Days”. A solid foundation-building, rust-melting, room-feeling of an opening night in the city.

Last night’s opening night of Phish’s 2022 New Year’s Eve run is available to stream on LivePhish+, where official, professionally-mixed audio is available to stream promptly after each show. LivePhish webcasts of each of the remaining Phish MSG shows are also available here.

Phish – “Tela” – 12/28/22

[Video: Rock Wrestling]

Phish – “Esther” – 12/28/22

[Video: Rock Wrestling]

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Setlist [via]: Phish | Madison Square Garden | New York, NY | 12/28/22

Set One: Buried Alive, Wolfman’s Brother, Maze, Sigma Oasis > NICU, Steam, Tela, Stash, Split Open and Melt

Set Two: Free > A Wave of Hope -> It’s Ice > Leaves > Simple -> Plasma -> Twist > Harry Hood

Encore: Esther > 46 Days

Notes: Trey teased A Wave of Hope in Twist.