Posted to RMP in early 1996:
12/31/95 Madison Square Garden, New York, NY
You've seen the reviews. The PYITE Sloth opener was the first in history, and was better than any dream opener I could have imagined. Reba was fiery with non-stop action from Trey; a great version, up here with my favorites (Lowell, Ween 94, Deer Creek..). Mockingbird had some glaring mistakes from Trey (if they played this more often he wouldn't have as much trouble ... ;^), but I was still psyched to hear it (Shine was very amusing, but I think I would rather have heard Icculus... w/ Tom Marshal! ;-). Sparkle Chalk was average, and a frighteningly simple close to an otherwise **SICK** setlist.
The Drowned > Jam > Lizards to open the second set was AWE-INSPIRING, and must be heard at all costs. We were hosed, frankly, throughout sets two and three of this show. There were/are Fire on the Mountain teases in the JAM preceding Lizards (listen to the tapes, you can't miss them.. one is more subtle than the other, but the second tease is strong as hell and occurs roughly 15 seconds or so before Trey starts playin' Lizards, and right when Fish drops the groove into a Fire-esque beat). Drowned was for me a dream come true, since it was the song I most wanted to hear brought back from Quadrophenia... and it was jammed out severely!! Runaway Jim was actually a Runaway JAM... it was about 16 minutes long, and is without question my favorite version ever. I was at Walnut Creek last summer, and this Jim is just more exciting and rockin' than that somewhat spacey 6/16 version.
The Mike's Song to close the set was the best version I've ever heard (I own about 140 versions), but I'm anxious to hear Hershey (at least I think it is Hershey at which a great MikeS was allegedly performed). The MikeS has some truly great grooves in it (no bullshit tramps dissonant jam), incl. a Dave's Energy Guide-like groove (briefly), and it was topped with a mellowing digital delay loop JAM from Trey, reminiscent of Bomb Factory, the Bozeman Tweezer, the Providence Bowie, and the opening of Maze at NYE last year (you know, the digital delay loop jam...). Very gentle close to an insane set of Phish.
The third and final set also witnessed some ferocious jamming, particularly in Weekapaug, YEM and JBG. Weekapaug was arguably the best version I've ever heard -- just sick, non-stop jams... no spacey or dissonant experimentation. It was also twice as long as the average Weekapaug (well, maybe not twice as long as average 1994-95 Weekapaug), at about 13 minutes, and it segued magnificently into Sea and Sand. YEM was very good, with some serious Oye Como Va jamming at times from Page and Trey especially (this is not uncommon, of course, but doesn't usually occur with the same degree of intensity as it did in this version). I can think of many YEMs that are comparable to this version in their gloriousness... it was still an excellent, above average YEM.
Sanity was the first since the Murat in June 94, and was quite a treat. I had forgotten at the time that they had played Sanity twice in '94, and thought it had been the first since '92 (oh well). It was a remarkably fun version, though, and you could tell that the band enjoyed playing it. Frankenstein was typical, albeit a killer closer. The JBG (E) was the best version Phish has played. I've been lucky to have heard *live* all of the JBGs that Phish has done, and this version certainly cleaned up.
12/31 was the best Phish show, next to 10/31/94, that I've ever seen live, and certainly one of the best Phish shows that I've heard. I cannot recommend it enough -- but get the whole show, for Icculus' sake, and don't pick and choose sets like a tyro. The show as a whole needs to be listened to and admired. For those of you who didn't make it, I am sorry, but you'll get it on tape (and you were thought of). The band was playing for its die-hards on 12/31, wherever they may have been at the time. Anyone afraid of improvisation and jamming should stay the fuck away from this show!
Best wishes to all, and thanks to Phish, for making this NYE run the best run of four shows -- Dead or Phish -- that many of us had ever seen!!
And here's my two cents on this show as published in The Phish Companion:
12/31/95 Madison Square Garden, New York, NY
Charlie Dirksen, San Francisco, CA
1995 had been the most improvisationally thrilling year of Phishtory, and everyone was excited pre-show about what was to come. How could the band top the Gin -> Real Me -> Gin from 12/29, or the 12/28 Tweezer, not to mention numerous jams from the Fall tour? Few if any predicted that this New Year's show would -- even years later – be glowingly referred to by Phish fans as one of the best Phish shows ever performed.
The PYITE Sloth opener was the first in history, and was better than any dream opener I could have imagined at the time. Reba was fiery with non-stop action from Trey. A great version, up there with fan favorites like Lowell and 'ween 94. Mockingbird had some glaring mistakes from Trey (if he only played this more often...), but everyone seemed just as psyched to hear it as I was. Shine was hysterical, and I'm glad that The Tom Marshall New Year's Run Tradition continued. Sparkle and Chalk Dust pleased the crowd even more, and ended the first set powerfully.
The Drowned -> Lizards to open the second set was AWE-INSPIRING, and must be heard to be believed (along with the "Fire on the Mountain" tease, which occurs within forty seconds of Lizards' first notes). Drowned was for me a dream come true, since it was the song I most wanted to hear brought back from Quadrophenia. It was passionately and melodiously jammed out, and is still, to this day, a version to hear at all costs. Runaway Jim was actually a Runaway JAM. It was about 16 minutes long, and was the most spectacular version I'd heard since Walnut Creek 6/16, when they first took Jim for an experimental run. The Mike's Song to close the set contains some of Phish's most brilliant improvisation to date. It also closed with a mellowing digital delay loop jam. A very serene end to an enchanting set of Phish. People were awe-struck by what they'd witnessed, and almost afraid of what was to come.
After some Gamehendge Time Lab frolicking, Weekapaug segued raucously out of Auld Lang Syne, starting 1996 out on a GREAT note. The Weekapaug went from the high-energy, mellifluous soloing we all know and love into an improvisation so spine-tinglingly good that itcharmed people into thinking that it was composed. This jam segued beautifully into a gorgeous Sea and Sand, masterfully sung by Page.
YEM contained a haunting, mesmerizing jam segment, which to this day commands respect. Sanity was the first version since June '94, and was quite a treat (the band seemed to enjoy it as much as the audience!).
Frankenstein was an appropriate close to a frighteningly awesome show. At this point, I couldn't have cared less whether Phish played an encore. But they came out and buffalo-billed Johnny B. Goode, taking him for strong and performing a version that is still very compelling.
The glorious improvisation at this show profoundly affected thousands of lives, including those of the band. What we believed would be a once in a lifetime experience, though, soon proved to be simply another exalted show in the career of one of rock history's greatest bands.