Three days ago on the Phish.net admin group chat:
“You should update your MSG blog post for 2013 and repost”
“Great idea. I don’t think I wrote an MSG history, though.”
It certainly seems like we should have a comprehensive history of the venue that Phish has played more than any other (in the "modern era," anyway). I certainly have been unabashed in my love for the venue. Even though the 2011-13 facelift has produced mixed results (superior amenities and a better experience for fans in the 100 sections and floor; a far worse experience for those consigned to the upper levels), it’s still hard to come up with a better arena sized venue to see Phish. Certainly back in the day of the bowl setup, there was no better venue. Some of my most vivid ‘90s Phish memories are of simply walking into the Garden.
Unfortunately, it’s December 29th, and I don’t have time to write a detailed history that will do justice to the World’s Most Famous Arena. But, in advance of shows 32-35, I can offer up a quick look at highlights from the first 31.
1. 12/30/94: They played a 23-minute “Tweezer” at this show that would be completely justified being the highlight at any number of shows (even if it’s probably, at best, the 4th best version from the Fall ‘94 tour). In fact, for anyone listening 21 years later, it almost certainly is the highlight. But for anyone in the round room that night, what they probably remember is 20,000 fans chanting “Wilson.”
12/30/94 “Wilson” New York, NY
3. 12/31/95: Where to begin? This is probably the consensus best show that doesn’t feature a 7.5 hour set. The versions of “Reba,” “Forbin’s” > “Mockingbird,” “Drowned” (with an imaginary “FOTM” tease!), “Runaway Jim,” YEM” and “Mike’s” make nearly any of those songs’ top versions list. But it’s the “Auld Lang Syne” > “Weekapaug” > “Sea & Sand” trio that rises above the others.
12/31/95 Set III New York, NY
5. 10/22/96: The “Freakapaug.” You may notice a theme emerging here with great “Weekapaugs” at MSG.
10/22/96 “Mike’s” > “Swept Away” > “Steep” > “Weekapaug” New York, NY
6. 12/29/97: Another show with a multitude of highlights. I’d like to cheat and say “Set II,” but then I wouldn’t be earning my generous salary here at Phish.net. So I’ll give up the funk for the “Tube.”
7. 12/30/97: Another pantheon MSG Phish performance. As many highlights as the previous night, but here we have a clear winner: the mammoth “AC/DC Bag.” That said, I can’t let this show go by without also mentioning the legendary “Harpua.”
12/30/97 “AC/DC Bag” New York, NY
8. 12/31/97: This show never seems to get its due, despite having one of the best sets of 1997. The entire second set smokes, but it's the “Weekapaug” that again rises to the top.
12/31/98 “Mike’s Song” New York, NY
13. 12/31/02: The Return! Taking both the music and the moment into account, the only possible answer here is the “Piper.” But let’s also give an honorable mention to one of the most beautiful midnight NYE moments ever: the blizzard in MSG with “Seven Below” as the soundtrack.
14. 12/2/09: These 2009 shows are (mostly deservedly) overlooked in 2015, but there were some great moments. Chief among them is this version of “Light,” one of the first to venture into the stratosphere.
15. 12/3/09: Anytime you play the same venue 31 times, there are bound to be a few forgettable shows. This is one of those. The “Disease” is quite good, though.
16. 12/4/09: Grading on the 2009 curve, this is a very good second set, culminating in the best “YEM” of the year. Is that enough backhanded compliments for you?
17. 12/30/10: The forgotten great “Tweezer” of 3.0. So much Plinko…
18. 12/31/10: The so-called “Holy Ghost.” Is this version a bit overrated? Probably. But I also know this: I’ve experienced few more intense moments at Phish shows. I may not have jumped quite as high as Michael Jordan during the many peaks of this “Ghost,” but I definitely out-jumped Patrick Ewing.
12/31/10 “Ghost” New York, NY
20. 12/28/11: The “Carini” > “Tweezer” combo in the second set probably provided the most meat of this show, but the “Cities” that headed straight to bliss before grinding to a halt probably symbolizes this much maligned run as much as anything.
21. 12/29/11: Another show where you need a compass and a pack of bloodhounds to find the highlight, but there it is, buried deep in the second set. No, not the “Juan Pierre” tease in “Character Zero.” What the segue from “Chalk Dust” into “Hydrogen” lacks in execution it makes up for in surprise. It’s a small moment, but a nice one nonetheless.
22. 12/30/11: The “Piper” is the highlight of, not only this show, but the entire run. Which is good, since the rest of the show has little to offer.
23. 12/31/11: At every NYE show, you’re pretty much assured of a memorable midnight gag. So it was with this show. Best “Steam” ever, aided by dancers rappelling from the rafters. The rest of the show? Let’s just move on…
24. 12/28/12: This “Tweezer,” particularly the last five minutes, deserves so much more credit than it usually gets. Just pure hose.
26. 12/30/12: The “Disease” or the “Carini”? We’ll ponder this question again shortly. For now, I go with the “Carini.”
27. 12/31/12: This is one of those shows where the execution of the theme makes up for the lack of a true musical highlight. Just a great time from start to finish (so much fun we couldn’t bear to recap it!). The runaway golf cart marathon “Tweezer Reprise” was tremendous… one of the reasons even the most jaded among put ourselves through the NYE ticket shitshow year after year.
12/31/12 Set III New York, NY
28. 12/28/13: Even looking at this second set now, it seems like it should be better than it was. The “Steam” is probably the highlight.
29. 12/29/13: The “Disease” or the “Carini”? This time I’m going with the “Disease.” As an aside, and given the events of today, I can’t help but look back and laugh at the fact that I spent parts of the second set watching the Eagles/Cowboys game with such hope. Good riddance, Chip, and my fault for not realizing it’s always better to cast my lot with Phish. At least as long as I root for Philadelphia teams.
30. 12/30/13: There’s only one right answer here, and that’s the “Chalk Dust.”
31. 12/31/13: There’s only one right answer here, and it may be a cop-out, but I’m taking it: “Set II.” It will be tough to top the flatbed truck this New Year’s, but I can’t wait to see them try.
12/31/13 Set II New York, NY
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