[After covering hundreds of hockey and basketball events at and for Madison Square Garden over the past two decades, Emmy Award winning writer, David Kolb has officially crossed over to cover his other love, music -- more precisely, Phish! The native New Yorker, who was first introduced to Phish in the 90's by his long-lost Bear Stearns co-worker, Frank "Chip" Tolve, won his Emmy for his coverage of the New York Rangers' run to the Stanley Cup Final in 2014.]
The challenge following-up the universally recognized epic 12/30 show loomed large, yet seemed to be no problem, when the show kicked off with a bit of a surprise. Trey opened blasting out the first bar of "Carini," while letting out a smile, restoring any energy that might have been lost overnight. It was a quick way to let us know, the night, would be no letdown!
Unlike the previous shows during this New Year’s run, my perspective changed from my incredible G.A. floor position -- several feet from the stage, to row 17 of section 118, helping gain perspective of what was about to unfold. The first three shows were outstanding, particularly Saturday’s wonder.
The show’s opener lasted over eleven minutes, more than two minutes longer than the last time they opened with “Carini” on 10/31/16, also the fourth and final night, but this time of their Halloween run at MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas. The fun didn’t stop, as the band unleashed a most energetic "Suzy Greenberg," something we don’t regularly hear two-songs in -- a truly wily way to start a first set.
Soon after, we quickly realized that there was a ride to take tonight, as they brought the crowd back down to earth deftly, with "My Friend, My Friend." This wasn’t the first time this year this tune was used as a transitional one, keeping the crowd in-check, as they similarly followed up the marathon rendition of "Lawn Boy," on the fourth night of The Baker’s Dozen.
Right into "Fluffhead" with the crowd showing massive appreciation, roaring and then singing the lyrics in unison along with Trey, until the crowd belts out, “FLUFFHEAD,” before the jam begins with two spotlights on Page, as he provides a quick get-go, slapping the keys as only he can. The nearly 17-minute version, which debuted live back in 1984, couldn’t have been more energetic, with Trey now feeding off of the MSG vitality.
The lights went out, and Trey and Fish discussed something for a moment. Trey returned front-and-center, swaying, prepping for what he knows is going to touch the New Year’s crowd. "Reba" begins! For the eighth time in a row, it’s performed during the first set, and is played to perfection, including the familiar, second-half emotional slow jam.
A quick change of mood, with "Poor Heart," a chop-chop on the keyboards, and a “yeehaw” and away they went into a raucous chorus. This was a cute reversal from the pace of the show, but it was back to business with "46 Days" next. Then with cymbals slowly rattling, and Mike joining in with some deep bass, "Maze." Fish drives the central jam providing his continued systematic cymbal spine. Then its Page’s turn, before Trey takes us on a ride -- continuing his brilliance.
“Maze” ends, and the set closes with "Character Zero," which has now been played seven times on 12-31, including six at Madison Square Garden. The set ended at 9:35 pm, and Phish.net’s Scott Marks tweets, letting us know the newest song played so far is 14 years old — “46 Days.”
At 10:04 pm, lights, and right to "Possum" -- the second time it’s been used to open a set in 2017, as it kicked things off on 7-16-17, in Chicago. Mike used the set break for a quick wardrobe change, and is now in new pants, with a somewhat Miami-like look. Then a slow buildup -- into "Fuego." Eight minutes into the second-set-staple (now played 14 straight times during the second set), and well into a slow wonderful Trey-driven jam, it occurs; tonight doesn’t feel like New Year’s at all. In fact, it has the feel of a Set Three, and now Four, of yesterday’s 12/30 extravaganza. No letdown! “Fuego” runs nearly 14 minutes and closes with a slowed down jam, easing the already-pleased crowd right into a pick-me-up, "Gotta Jibboo," only performed twice in 2017, the first also at MSG, on Night Twelve of The Baker’s Dozen. A big long jam, slowly cradles the crowd, until Trey and Page noticeably pick it up a notch. It escalates, until the jam crescendos in conjunction with full, blinding white lights cascading from the stage. Bedlam -- then we’re taken back home again, “Gottaa Jibbooooooooo…”
“Jibboo” turns out to be a real highlight to a memorable evening for me.
Then to "Golgi Apparatus," ticket stubs out for some crowd participation; “I saw you With a ticket stub in your hand…” we sang and waved.
Back to Earth, as our emotions were played with again, going from high to low in an instant with, "What's The Use?" The beautiful melodic deep guitar jam allowed for a quick breath of air before the second set was closed out by a smartly placed 20-plus minute "YEM," which was also played on the final night of The Baker’s Dozen.
They closed the set really strong, as Page and Mike began the jam, soon to be taken over by Trey. The crowd was ready for it, and so were Mike and Trey, who bounced up and down on their trampolines, the night’s first prop. Within the jam, Trey somehow coaxes the crowd into a “wooo” each time they hit a quick pause, during a stop-and-start kinda routine. They get going again, deep into the jam, hitting a high, while the strobe lights at MSG gleamed brilliantly and repeatedly. It ends to Mike jamming, as Trey dances without guitar to Mike’s bass solo. Trey doesn’t pick up the guitar again.
The second set ends at 11:15 pm and the New Year’s anticipation begins to build in a real way, as the bracelets handed out pre-show, were given a flash test, revealing a scattering of different colored lights throughout the arena’s bowl. The crowd erupts, still trying to figure out what is next.
At 11:43 pm, still at set break, Toto’s “Rosanna” played over speakers, softly. Yet, the celebratory crowd picks it up, and starts to jive and sing.
Soon after, and before “Rosanna” ends, the lights go down, and Set Three begins, 15-minutes to midnight with "Soul Planet," a Trey solo song, played four times this past fall, debuting in the Phish realm on New Year’s Eve!
The lit wristbands turned blue and green lending a water feel to MSG, as Trey sang the latest Phish tune surrounding the ocean. The New Year’s Phish spectacle began, as a curtain, soon to be revealed as a sail for a boat is unfurled over the stage. Mike, by the way, swapped his top for a new silver, shiny one -- New Year’s style. The sail meanwhile did a 180, aided by men wearing red, high above the stage, and a Phish pirate banner is revealed. The stage was transformed into a Phish-pirate ship!
Trey roars into a jam, and two cannons are revealed on the far right and left of the stage. They jam harder, with steam emerging from the cannons, eventually climaxing with the cannons exploding, firing cannon disco-balls that explode to confetti bursts in different parts of the arena.
They jam still. 11:59 pm!
3,2,1… 2018!!! MSG explodes. Literally. Cannons, balloons, confetti and massive pyrotechnics.
Blue and white balloons, of all sizes, are now bouncing around the room, while the wristbands begin to produce blue and green lights, coordinated with the stage and house lights, as "A Song I Heard The Ocean Sing" begins. The water theme engulfs the Garden, and the sail hovering overhead spins around again, as it accepts projections, of Trey’s silhouette, coming from a light on stage, in front of his feet. This was a really neat look!
"Moma Dance" was then played for the 150th time, live. The slow easy groove had me wondering, what will this lead to, because they will undoubtedly turn it up again. It happens quickly as a strong cutting methodical approach makes way for the stellar closing jam, including a tease of “Auld.”
The sail above the stage is now gone, but "Prince Caspian" arrived, continuing the wave of water themes, as the red-dressed sail-helpers descend, and leave stage to cheers. A slow jam closes out “Caspian,” and "Wading in the Velvet Sea" begins, staying on-point, but culminated the water theme.
Then a momentary pause, "FIRST TUBE!" Trey felt it in a big way, with his head bobbing to the beat -- hair flying. He feeds the crowd such energy, with ease at each escalation – and the crowd roars. They faded out the up-beat tune with serious distortion, as Trey eventually held his guitar above his head to end Set Three to thunderous applause. Then speculation begins. How do the end this masterpiece?
The lone encore song was "Loving Cup," which is only the second cover during this New Year’s run.
For me, it was 4-for-4 during this visit, and a true 17-for-17 in NYC in 2017.
While some wanted more, namely "Lawn Boy" or a "David Bowie," I was fine without them at the four year-ending shows, as their respective renditions were truly played uniquely and at seriously high level during The Baker’s Dozen run. It was almost as if the band decided to leave those two off all of this week’s set lists, with the intent of allowing the July masterpieces more room to breathe.
With nothing yet announced for this year, I personally, as a New Yorker, “sel-PHISH-ly” hope for 18 Big Apple shows in 2018, yet am content with wherever the road takes us next.
Happy New Year to all the Phish.net readers, and thanks to the kind folks at Phish.net for having me!!!
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