IT has been twenty-five years, but Phish’s performance on 12/31/95 at Madison Square Garden continues to be among Phish’s most legendary shows. A favorite of countless fans of improvisational rock music, the magnificently unplacid performance will be streamed by Phish as a “Dinner And A [Chess] Rematch” this New Year’s Eve in support of The Waterwheel Foundation, the band’s charitable organization founded in 1997.
I reviewed the concert on Rec.Music.Phish in January 1996, only days after it blew thousands of minds including my own, and changed the course of many lives. Those remarks---as well as the version revised for publication in “The Phish Companion”---are available to read here, along with other reviews by fans of 12/31/95 on this site. After witnessing a wonderful NYE run, highlighted in particular by “The Real Me Gin” on 12/29, I saw 12/31/95 with two guys who were much, much smarter than me. One was a graduate engineering student who attended Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering, and the other was a philosophy professor who obtained a graduate philosophy degree from BC when I was there in the late 1980s. While I fell out of touch with the engineer (Jim), and the philosophy professor (DK)---who became a highly regarded environmental ethics expert---died in 2013 from a recurrence of cancers originally caused by radiation he had received in the early 1980s (!), I have often thought of them while re-listening to the show. It was one of the most musically important nights of our lives, during a time when we were still mourning the loss of Jerry Garcia earlier that year (DK had seen 183 Dead shows, and Jim and I combined had seen over 100, iirc).
If you’ve never listened to 12/31/95 and will be watching and listening to it on Thursday night, I hope after it’s finished you add your own review of it to this site, or at least Comment on it below. I’m particularly interested in what fans who only came to love Phish’s music within the last decade think about the show. And frankly, even if you were at the show, I hope you Comment below as well about your thoughts about 12/31/95’s music in the context of Phish history. Why? Because if you’re taking the time to read this, your “take” on its music is likely informed by what’s now been nearly eleven years of “Phish 3.0,” an era whose improvisational highlights have been as musically and improvisationally impressive as those of previous eras.
And why do I say that? Because how does one rank a transcendent musical experience over another transcendent experience? When many experience “the Hose” and IT from witnessing, or even simply hearing, a performance, who’s to say one of the performances is “better” than another? And I assure you, thousands of fans experienced IT and “the Hose” throughout 12/31/95, including those who didn’t hear the “Fire on the Mountain” tease out of “Drowned” before “Lizards” or who could not have cared less whether it was teased in honor of Jerry or not, now available here for easy listening (this has been my main iphone ringtone for more than ten years, fwiw and btw and ftr).
And the quality of the many improvisational highlights of 12/31/95 “hold up on tape” even today, decades later, after 1.0, after 2.0, and, soon, after 3.0, which hopefully will end in 2021 with the band’s return to the stage, after an extraordinary gap in the their tours instigated by the still-ongoing, global COVID-19 pandemic.
The best things in life usually don’t come without risk. It’s a testament to Phish’s greatness that, at least until the pandemic struck and stalled their touring, they continued to take significant musical risks in recent years, whether in the form of a live performance of a fake album by a fake band, another 30+ minute “Tweezer,” or a “type II” you-name-it. Indeed, for most of the last 37 or so years, Phish has been exceedingly generous with their fans. They did not have to tour like they did over the decades; touring entails health and other risks. Yet we got Cypress and the festivals, and dozens of Halloween and NYE-run and Baker’s Dozen shows.
And then, earlier this year, despite the pandemic---during a time when the band had every right to, and could have, cocooned themselves with their families and park Phish in a second hiatus---the “Dinner And A Movie” nights began, announced two-hundred-and-eighty-three days ago on March 23, 2020. (Fwiw, I was honored to discuss Episode 12, the 6/19/95 Deer Creek DAAM, with the HFPod folks back in June; if you haven’t heard, the Helping Friendly Podcast merged earlier this month with Beyond the Pond and Tom Marshall’s Under the Scales to form the world’s first triune-Phish-podcast, Undermine, which launches on February 3, 2021, the 28th anniversary of the must-hear “Water-Your-Team-In-A-Beehive-I’m-A-Sent You YEM”).
Thursday night’s 12/31/95 stream will be THE TWENTY-NINTH (29th) DAAM. The DAAMs have raised approximately $750,000 this year for many different charities, including The Mockingbird Foundation, whose volunteers manage this site, and which with the help of the Phish fan community raised and donated $105,000 to numerous music education programs impacted by COVID-19 earlier this year. And how inspiring have Trey’s “Beacon Jams” and their fundraising for Waterwheel’s Divided Sky Fund been, raising over $1 million for the fund, while bringing inestimable joy to fans worldwide.
And, most recently, Trey and Page’s “December,” released only one week ago: A live performance at The Barn, it is a soulful and tranquil gem, offering warmth and light in a cold and dark month in an unforgettably anxious time.
Back in 1995, I used to offer to dub tapes for people for blanks and postage if they read or skimmed an RMP post of mine this far, and sent me a thoughtful request for the tapes they wanted to obtain. It’s nearly 2021, and even though I mailed two (2) analog cassette tapes to Charlie Miller only last week for digital transfer of a ZERO show (that he somehow didn’t have) (!), tapes are uh not in high demand these days. But I’m informed and believe that “compact discs” are still listened to by some people. So, inspired by the Phish, I am giving away hundreds of Phish CDs (and will ship them at my own expense), including LivePhish official releases, boxed set(s), and discs I was sent by dozens of generous fans 15+ years ago that have only a date and set number scribbled on them. Just email me a polite request and include suggested shows or releases or time periods etc. etc., particularly if you were born in or after 1995 (or if you would like to get CDs for a new/newish fan who will really listen to them). This is also an experiment to see if there in fact are people who still listen to CDs, given that in this day and age one can stream everything Phishy that circulates online, whether via LivePhish or Relisten or phish.in.
We are immensely fortunate to be Phish fans, and I am proud of our community for raising over $1.85 million this year for charitable causes nationwide. Thank you Phish for continuing to inspire us, continuing to “be there” for us, and continuing to care about our welfare during this demoralizing year. We love you! See you at a show in 4.0. -two cents
p.s. Since this is a thing one can easily do now, listen here for Page teasing the heck out of "Dave's Energy Guide" during 12/31/95's Mike's Song for several measures. And if you never knew when the "second jam in Mike's Song" started within the song's structure, you know now.
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I actually don't think I have ever listened to this show in its entirety in one shot, so I am looking forward to tomorrow night!
On a 12/31/95 related note, I went to a show a few years ago and met a guy who claimed to be dosed by Tom Marshall while he was watching the show from the front-half section of the MSG floor. The guy seemed on the level, but certainly a tall tale. Have a Happy New Year and thanks for sharing the memories.
This is a lengthy, nerdy, heartfelt review written by a musician who appreciates Phish more than words can describe. Even though it happened fifteen years ago, I maintain the present tense in describing listening to Phish’s 1995-12-31 show at MSG. I add some retrospective in parenthesis, but my goal in writing this piece is to give you an idea of exactly how my first Live Phish experience went as it happened. It absolutely changed my life. ALL CAPS ARE ADDED FOR EMPHASIS. I AM NOT YELLING AT YOU. FINE..MAYBE A LITTLE
Hi my name is John Caudy and I’m from Chicago. Turned 33 in early November of 2020. I’ve played piano since 1995 and drums since the age of 2. I have been a recording engineer since 2002. My whole family is obsessed with music. From Miles Davis to The Beatles to Dvorak, Zappa to Dixieland to old RNB, The Grateful Dead to Prince (Batman 1989!!), to The Blues Brothers and Scott Joplin (The Sting soundtrack), musics of all kinds peppered themselves atop my curious musical psyche. When my sister brought home a VHS tape of The Beatles movie “Help!” in 1989, that was it! This is one of my earliest memories. I saw Ringo for the first time playing a “drum set”, and I instantly became enthralled with the drums. I wanted to be a drummer, and have worked towards that goal ever since. On Page 102 of Richard Gehr’s book “The Phish Book”, Fishman says, “Drumming at that point became a virtual physical addiction for me.” He is not alone in that idea. I came to Phish later on when I was 18. Since I started my journey with Phish, I am still amazed at how Phish seems to understand what I want to hear musically from a band. They really listen to each other and the fans listen as well . With Phish, it is ALL about the music and it shows. (…is that a pun?..NO?…fine..) Having older brothers and sisters exposed me to a wide range of music in the 90’s when they were in High School, but I had to discover Phish on my own.
First of all Charlie Dirksen, thank you or all that you have done for us newer fans over the years. You and I have emailed a few times. Your giving nature with your time, resources, and in helping other fans find the music truly exemplifies the uplifting spirit of Phish. 1995-12-31 is one off the most influential pieces of musical history I will ever experience. Thanks for asking for our impressions of this Phish show. This Phish show changed my life more than any other record has since first hearing it in 2006.
When I say that 1995-12-31 was my first Live Phish experience, I mean this literally…or not-literally ….take your pick… I was not physically in MSG as an eight -year -old for NYE ’95. But the first time I ever heard the blissful, expansive, progressive, jazzy, funky, high energy, soaring-guitar, beautifully-solid-bass, elegant-sparkling-piano, out-of-this-world-drumming, eight-armed-telepathic-genius that is : **!!!!!!!!LLIIVVEE PPHHIISSHH!!!!!!!!** : …. was the release of Jemp Record’s “Phish - New Years Eve 1995 - Live at Madison Square Garden”. This was watershed moment in my life, and the date was April 17, 2006. I had heard Phish before, but only in the context of a Phish studio album. In Spring 2002, I was in an eighth grade band with some folks who are today still among my best friends. We covered “Character Zero” off of “Billy Breathes”, and I wasn’t that into it, ya know? I foolishly wrote Phish off as something I used to call “Smooth-Alternative” (‘kinda like smooth jazz…but for rock….I digress…) Delving deeply into early Santana, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Led Zeppelin among many many others, and delving ever deeper into jazz and classical, I was totally unaware that Phish 1.0 had just ended a year and half prior. A 17 year odyssey of a historic American musical history had made its mark across the world. But I had no clue about Phish until I reached the other side of High School. Of course I knew nothing about their history until after my first Live Phish Experience of 1995-12-31.
It’s Monday April 17 2006, and I’m 18 years old. Today marks exactly one week into my High School Senior Project producing a double CD of our high school jazz bands from this year, and I am looking for inspiration. I have been in the recording studio since 7 am today, and I have all the younger bands’ music mixed down to DAT from the Mackie multi-track HDs AND transferred to my 2004 Dell via an M-Audio Sound Card. (48k to 44.1k of course). I now have 6 weeks left to mix the senior level stuff for “Disc I” and it is 11:00 AM on one of the first really nice days in NE Illinois since winter. If you’re “on senior project”, you stop classes, keep the grades you earned as they were in your respective classes, set your own schedule, can come and go from the school campus as you please. You would graduate High School on a pass/fail basis solely tied to the successful completion of the project in June. (Sounds familiar, eh? …Goddard) This is the best way to learn. Hands on learning especially when there is true passion for the task at hand is like heaven on Earth.
I decide to take the rest of the day off, play some basketball, eat lunch, and drive around to my favorite record stores in the city. Remember, it’s 2006, so the Chicago area has numerous CD/Record shops all over the place. (Virgin Mega Store Downtown, Tower Records on Clark or Wabash, Dr Wax, Second Hand Tunes, and The Jazz CD outlet in The Loop are all gone now, but Reckless Locations still thrive in that city as of 2020. I’m lucky to have caught the last wave of being able to order Sony Pro-DATs wholesale through Sony/Panasonic and shopping at record stores.) I’ve parked and am walking into Reckless Records near Broadway and Oakdale in Chicago. This part of the city is where “Boystown” “Lincoln Park” and “Lakeview” all meet. It is a thriving community. I am very much obsessed with Yes at this time, along with their first drummer Bill Bruford. So here I am with two used copies each of “The Yes Album” and “Time and a Word” to give to friends at school, some more Miles Davis (there’s always more Miles), and a rare No Doubt live show. No Zeppelin bootlegs are in the store, and after an hour or so of perusing I’m confident that I will now make my easy escape hoping noting else catches my eye when a stack of new CDs catches my eye.
On a cart there is a stack of about twenty or so copies of “PHISH - New Years Eve 1995 - Live at Madison Square Garden”. ‘Hmm…Phiiiish…riiiight. Character Zero right?…. they played shows this long??? interesting.’ That cover shot of the balloons and a full MSG house ignited my instincts to investigate. A three disc set of “One of the most important concerts of the 90’s” for only $25.99? Sold!! Even if I didn’t like it, I knew I could trade it with friends at school. I paid and went to my car. I decided to go on a scenic drive through Chicago and listen to music. Funnily enough, I go straight to Lake Shore Drive and drop Disc I of Phish’s “NYE 1995.” To this day, this is one of the most important 3.5 hours of my life. Gas? Check. Snacks? Check. Coffee? Check. Shades? Check. I haven’t heard any of these songs before and I have no idea what to expect. HERE WE GO!!
“PUNCH YOU IN THE EYE”
I get on Lake Shore Drive at Belmont at around 2:00 PM, following The Lines Going South. My window is open and a nice spring breeze fills my car space. I pop in Disc One of “NYE 1995” just after I pass Diversey Parkway and am enjoying the view of The John Hancock Building. A murmur of the crowd turns into a huge roar of 20,000 enthusiastic Phish Phans. Many of you were in that audience. Thank you all so much for putting out such good energy. This show wouldn’t have happened the same way without you!!
Trey’s guitar plucking to start the show sounds very focussed an determined, funky and metronomic. The song “Shaft” is about to appear at any moment I guess. The whole band comes in, and the power of PYITE has me rocking out hard. I now notice how the crowd reacts to seemingly every little twist and turn the band takes. What a great intro, this is going to be good. The song has been built up with these thematic rhythmic ideas and harmonic intensity filling my tympanic membranes. Together in support, the band and audience are now shouting “HEY!!”, and I am getting very excited… and hooked.
“Heeeeeyyyyyyyyyy (two, three, four, five-SMACK!) I come form the land where the oceans freeze, spent three long nights on the open C’s”.
As a drum and band geek, I can hear that Phish may have silly lyrics, but are absolute musical geniuses. And Fishman, MY GOD!! The groove is driving and on top of the beat. This band makes Tasteful use of odd meter. This is a lot like what I admire in drummers such as Bill Bruford, Billy Cobham etc. This sounds timeless I say! Like classical meets rock. Neo-Classical. Proto-rock. ….Preo-practical?? (…dont ask…)
“Ooooooooh Wiiilson. Someday I’ll kill you ‘till you die. OOOh Wilson…PUNCH YOU IN THE EYE!!!”
Who is this “Wilson” guy?? Whatever this music obviously rocks. THIS is PHISH? I thought they were .. like…lame. WRONG!!! This music perfectly fits the images of trying to escape on a sea that is eager to beat you back. But unlike the chaotic crashes of waves that may leave you bereft ore, I’m noticing how absolutely TIGHT this band is and so much more.
PYITE has now taken an amazingly Latin turn musically. (A section I would later come to know as “The Landlady”). Wow this is amazing writing!! I am really into this. I immediately think of Santana, and how Trey’s sustain is like a wonderful mix of Carlos Santana, Brian May, Jimmy Hendrix, Joe Pass, and Pat Metheny all rolled into one. Four minutes into my first ever live phish experience, I can hear that these guys listen to a lot of the same stuff that I do. Progressive rock, jazz, classical, and with a certain pop-eclecticism that I just love. Where as a lot of veteran Phish fans discovered “Pat Metheny” “Mahavishnu Orchestra” “Sun Ra” “Yes” or “Talking Heads” through Phish, I’m the opposite. Already familiar with a huge understanding of not just rock history, but jazz and classical as well, I can hear so many musical ingredients in the musical dish that is Phish. During this first listening in 2006, I am getting hooked on Phish. Every part here sounds measured, literally. These Phish guys are composers and are composed and relaxed on stage while still delivering a high energy performance.
The lyrics return before Trey plays a solo. And now Page comes in. Page’s jazz vocabulary in his PYITE solo is revealing to me that this band indeed has a deep deep DEEP well of musical knowledge not just harmonically, not just stylistically, but HISTORICALLY. Page’s jazz vocabulary sounds like a mixture of Fat’s Domino, Stevie Wonder, Herbie Hancock/Chick Corea, Lyle Mays, Chuchu Valdez and Greg Rollie all rolled into one. Mike Gordon laying down some classic “Big Three” latin bass lines under Fishman’s latin groove completely seals the deal for me; I AM IN LOVE WITH PHISH….AFTER FIVE MINUTEs. They speak a language few bands DARE to speak. The amazing start/stop conclusion of Punch You In The Eye ends with one of those big crazy Phish-notes until they all simultaneously hit one final beat. WWWWWWWWOOOOOOAAAAHHHHHHHHHH!!!!! A huge roar from 20,000, Im banging the roof fo my car with one hand and my jaw is on the floor. The Skyscrapers pass me by as I cruise. (IMO THIS IS THE BEST VERSION OF PYITE OF ALL TIME.) I make my way over to The Eisenhower Expressway. I am now O-Phish-Ally hooked on Phish.
My adrenaline is pumping. I couldn’t believe what I had just heard!! It’s only 2:10 in the afternoon and I am on Lake Shore Drive in Chicago just having a ball in my 1995 Buick Regal Custom II. (I just realized that…the car I was driving was from 1995. Those Buicks had kick ass sound systems back then.) “The Sloth” comes out of nowhere, and fast. Golly gee wizz. Don’t Trey, Mike Page and Jon need a break from that killer song they just played?? Guess not! A nice riff in 5/4 timing and … “THEY CALL ME THE SLOTH!!!” This is my first Taste of Page on a Hammond B-3 Organ with a Leslie speaker. Wow. Page can REALLY play. Really Really Really. Trey’s atonal section intrigues me. A short, tight, mistake free performance so far. My head is spinning. When did these guys start playing? Did they start playing this way, or was this the culmination years of touring and hard work? How old were these men and these songs in 1995? I have so many questions to ignore while I just listen to this amazing music and watch the road, communicating with my fellow Chicagoans. Wishing I had a dictionary to look up “outcasty”, I wonder how many more songs they had that mentioned paper cuts on the nipple (I didn’t hear Fee until “The Bluegrass Sessions” had dropped on this obscure web sight called “YouTube" in Fall of 2006, by which point I was completely obsessed with Phish and knew they were on of the greatest bands of all time.) Page displays a second soulful solo on the Organ. The Sloth ends just as it began; out of nowhere, and fast. (IMO THIS IS THE BEST VERSION OF THE SLOTH OF ALL TIME.)
Let’s come back to 2020 for just one second. 1995-12-31 is and will always be my first Reba. I don’t care what anyone says, THIS IS THE BEST REBA OF ALL TIME. I know that 1995-05-16 is a favored one, or 1994-10-31, or 1994-07-08, or 1993-12-31, or 1993-08-16. These are all great, but they don’t have as consistent a tempo during the composed sections. Even the great Rebas of Fall 1995 such as 1995-09-30, 1995-10-21, 1995-10-25, 1995-11-09, 1995-11-18, 1995-12-07 or 1995-12-16 have slight awkwardnesses which are eradicated with Reba’s 1995-12-31 demonstration. (9/30 and 12/07 start so fast such that Fishman has to slow it down once the jam section starts. Trey started Reba at a perfect tempo on 1995-12-31.) Reba, as performed on 1995-12-31, has the best groove, dynamics and jam of them all. And yes, since 2006 I have listened to them all. On phish.net, the page on Reba’s song history says that Trey “botched” the composed section. The wording is something like “botched composed section but great jam.” I disagree that Trey has botched anything. Trey falls off the unison part off “The Line” for only about 10 seconds while Page totally nails it. In both The Jemp/Livephish mix and the Audience tapes, Trey simply drops out while Page totally nails it. ( similar to a section of Esther from 1995-11-14, where Trey falls off a composed line by dropping out, and nails it the second time.) No harmonic language is lost within the 1995-12-31 Reba and the second round where Page and Trey play “The Line” contrapuntally, they both nail it. The groove, the timing, the rhythmic feel of the 1995-12-31 Reba is so good, so spot on, so relaxed yet on top, that it almost boggles mind that it is indeed human. The 1995-12-31 Reba is pure confidence. Pure measured musicianship of a very complex song. And I can’t just fast forward to the jam section because Reba is one amazing composition. Now, back to April 17, 2006.
Wow, “THE SLOTH” was just an amazing little piece of music. A rock song in 5/4. Good job Phish! And thank you. Reba starts a millisecond second after The Last Beat of The Sloth. I’ve got one hand on the wheel, one resting on the open window, and my head is just bobbing along to this sing along song. Right now I’m thinking Phish is a lot like Yes in that their lyrics are interpretive.
“Bag it! Tag it! Sell it to the butcher in the store!”
The directions and lyrics are through, and I am now being treated to 12 minutes of some of the most compelling music I have ever heard and WILL ever hear. (Later in college, one of my band directors would always say to the horns “Play the dynamics of the melodic line”. Phish does exactly that in this Reba.) Only about 15 minutes into Disc One, I decide to Jump on The Eisenhower Expressway towards The UIC Pavilion. The Frank Zappa-esque beauty of Reba unfolds, and I wonder how many times this song must have been rehearsed before they could play it like this. I AM LOVING THIS. I mentioned Yes earlier. I am deeply obsessed with Yes here in 2006, so Reba is scratching the progressive-rock/compositional musical itch.
My heart is pounding before Trey and Page tear into “The Line” in unison. As this unique incredible, almost readICCULUS section happens, I am lost in the music. You know that feeling you get when music is so good that it makes your spine tingle? Imagine that happening to your whole body times infinity. This is one of the most natural and highest form of euphoria I have experienced to this day. My jaw is absolutely on the floor I probably am freaking out a few other motorists on this pre-rush-hour, fast moving section of highway. I pull over because I realize that Page and Trey are now playing “The Line” contrapuntally and it’s simply mesmerizing. I CANT BELIEVE WHAT I AM HEARING. This is building up so much tension!!! Don’t break me Phish!! I am a mere mortal!!! I am absolutely in love with this band and on only 20 or so minutes into Disc One! Im glad I took the day off school early!! What’s coming???????!!!!
Some clever drum fills lead us right into the jelly of Reba. Sometimes a jam is jelly. Boy am I glad I pulled over. Traffic is Light and I have some sips of coffee. This Reba jam starts so quietly. Again, the audience roars in appreciation of a well played compositional section. But this is where things take a turn for me. Up to this point, everything I’ve heard from Phish is tight and compositional. I can tell that Phish is going to snake me in and out of harmonic and rhythmic motifs of improvisational ecstasy, and I’ve pulled over right next to UIC so I can just listen. The first thing that strikes me about this jam is how incredibly well these four men listen to each other. If only all men listened to each other this way. Of course, if this were a perfect world, we wouldn’t even need music. They get even quieter, Fishman displaying terrific control.
During this quiet section at exactly 00:07:04 to 00:07:07 on The Jemp release, Trey quietly plays a motif that he would revisit at a louder part of the song at 00:12:09 to 00:12:13. This level of conceptual continuity - of spontaneous composition - is one of the reasons why I consider Phish’s Fall 1995 Tour to be their greatest tour (with Summer 1994 as a very close second place.) The music seemed to play THEM and not the other way around in 1994 and 1995. I would learn more about he significance of 1994 and UIC in 2007.
Reba is now growing and growing and I’m watching the traffic and Blue Line of the ‘L’ roll by near The UIC Pavilion. (Yes, it’s just ‘L’ …look at any CTA map…i digress) I’m about to graduate High School and go to U Iowa. Earlier this morning I thought I knew SO MUCH!! But now, pulled over on a highway in my favorite of Cities in the world, I get a sense that I know nothing about life, let alone music, and am Free. I am now truly opening up. This jam …er JELLY of Reba is bringing me to a level of musical appreciation I never felt in ten years of formal musical training. I feel my Heart Chakra opening in ways with which no amount of straight A’s, or High School make-out sessions between classes, or playing Firebird at Carnegie Hall with my high school Symphony Orchestra(two weeks earlier), or cheerings-on from my friends at backyard concerts could ever compete. Phish is Freeing me as I listen to them live for the first time ever. I feel safe and recline. Reba is a blissful song, and the jam keeps building and building. The peak in Reba is surrounding me in Circles of Light. Trey’s soaring guitar lines, Mike’s supporting bass, Fishman’s keen drumming ear, and Page’s intense poise come to an awe inspiring, climactic end. The crowd on my stereo is roaring, and I am now half inspired to head back to The Loop area of downtown Chicago honking and screaming to every working stiff “PHISH!!! PHISH!!! LISTEN TO PHISH!!! NNNEEEWWW YYYEEEAAARRRSSS EEEVVVEEE NINE-TEEN-NINETY-FIIIIIIIIIVE!!!!” Kinda like Doc in Back to the Future screaming “EIGHTY EIGHT MILES PER HOUR”, ya know? But I didn’t. It would have interrupted my PHLOW! Reba!! Wow. Thank you Phish.
“THE SQUIRMING COIL”
As Reba ends there are a few seconds of silence. “Wow, a little break for these gentlemen,” I’m now thinking. (Of course, when it comes to Phish, no break lasts very long. It was true for the Hiatus, it was true for the “breakup”, and will remain true in terms of The Covid-19 Pandemic). Could anything top this “PYITE, THE SLOTH, REBA”????
“The Squirming Coil of sunset, I kept within my reach. Tried yesta-deey, ta-geta-weee, and hitchhiked to the beach.”
Okay, a soft one apparently. Good. And God! Phish just packed all the energy of everything I’ve ever heard of Led Zeppelin (Including “DVD” and “How the West Was Won” which were released only a couple years prior and represented staple pillars in “The Obsession of Music” between my friend’s and I), Queen, The Who, Sly Stone, The Chili Peppers -all of it, combined- into 27 minutes of music. “The Squirming Coil” has to be a breather, right? (The Squirming Coil will become one of my favorite compositions of all time, but right now I don’t know as I’m hearing it for the first time, pulled over on a Chicago freeway on a beautiful spring day.)
“It got awaaaaaaayyyyyyy yeah.”
Key change up a whole step and on of the most beautiful passages from Trey ensues. Again he drops out (not “botches”), this time the latter half of the little composed section, only to emerge with some of the most killer, KILLER!!, guitar work I’ll ever hear in my life. As Trey hits those sustained notes in the high point of The Squirming Coil, the tingles I feel from Reba become even more intensified. I AM FLOORED!!! THIS IS MUSIC!! THIS IS TOUCHING EVERY SEXY MUSICAL GEEK NERD NERVE MY BODY AND PHYCHE COULD EVER IMAGINE. THIS SONG IS THE BEST OF THE SET SO FAR!!!! WWWWWOOOOOWWWWW THIS IS SO GOOOD!!!!
“The muscles flex the mother’s ring,
She fastens children to her king,
And sends him down the crooked street,
when he returns the birth’s complete”
The lyrics are finished, Trey recapitulates that soaring, beautiful, majestic guitar line. And the band hits YET ANOTHER CLIMAX. I am now realizing, suspended in time, that Phish is on of the greatest bands of all time. But nothing could prepare me for the piano solo that Page is now playing.
This piano player, Page McConnell, is absolutely amazing. Trey and Page riff off of each other before Trey hits a low note on his guitar which acts as a perfect antecedent to another crowd roar and the launching pad for Page to take a true “solo’. Page is playing by himself now, and this piano solo sounds like it was composed on sheet paper and practiced to perfection. But I know it’s improvised. Page’s piano solo here is truly worthy of an orchestral transcription. (Much like the piano solo Page plays during “McGrupp and the Watchful Hosemasters” during Set Two of 1994-06-18, which I wouldn’t hear until May 2007.) Page’s piano solo during The Squirming Coil of 1995-12-31 is bringing me to tears. I hear the rhythmic intensity, the compositional mastery, and driving ambition that represent the first half hour of 1995-12-31, but now I am overwhelmed with emotion. Halfway through my first “Coil” Piano solo, I can feel my Heart Chakra open like never before.
Remember, right now I am pulled over on The Eisenhower Expressway near UIC, but the music has me in a dimension all of its own. I FEEL LIKE A GUEST TO SOME PARTY WHERE ALL ARE WELCOME. Page is channelling the best of so many of the greatest pianists before AND after him, and IT IS OVERWHELMING. I AM CRYING TEARS OF JOY. The past half hour of my musical life has altered me forever. I know that Phish is one of the greatest FORCES OF NATURE, NOT MERELY A BAND. I NOW KNOW THAT PHISH IS A FORCE OF NATURE. “Smooth - alternative???” How naive was I in 2002???! (0r 2020 for that matter ) I AM COMPLETELY FILLED WITH ELATION. Page’s piano is amazing. Phish is amazing. I have to show everyone this CD set of “Phish - NEW YEARS EVE 1995- LIVE AT MADISON SQUARE GARDEN” when I go back to school tomorrow. (IMO THIS IS THE BEST VERSION OF THE SQUIRMING COIL OF ALL TIME, A CLOSE SECOND IS 1994-12-02.)
Im sure as hell not going back to “The Office” today because I have two and a half more hours of music of this show to listen to. Myself and a few other seniors have access to our recording studio at school 24/7 as we are student leaders and have keys. We can be found there late at night on school nights smoking out the window, eating good food between projects, and working on digitizing videos or mixing audio of bands. And this was to pleasure of our jazz band director who valued hard work… so we would sometimes call it “The Office”.
I am now fully committed, I am going to listen to this whole show top to bottom as my first live experience with Phish. Tomorrow, when I go back to “The Office”, I AM GOING TO PLAY THIS FOR ANYONE AND EVERYONE WHO WOULD LISTEN. Page’s solo comes to an authentically show stopping conclusion, and I put my car in gear. I'm ready to drive again, or at Robert Plant said, “ya know where their drive is at”.
I am now cruising back toward downtown Chicago and am aiming for “The Museum Campus” next to Lake Michigan. Maze is one kick ass, high energy song. (Over the years, I choose 1995-12-31, 1995-11-14 or 1997-12-11 as my go-to Mazes.) The 1995-12-31 demonstration of Maze is another banger!! Four bar phrases in the soloing, everyone staying in their own lane until it’s their turn to rip it up, and a sense of control that will eventually define Fall 1995 for me. At first I thought they were saying:
“You look at outer space. You look at outer space. You look at outer space.”
I love this song too!!I hear Fishman’s right hand stick control and it is just a terrific display of technique!! Trey sounds like he’s channeling some heavy metal here, then Page comes in with a blistering organ solo. I am floored again, making my way towards The Field Museum in good time. Page solo keeps building and building, and towards the end of his solo, Trey plays the exact guitar riff from James Brown’s “Sex Machine”, only much faster. These men have amazing musical skills. Trey’s solo is looser than the others and it works since Mike and Jon are holding it down so well. I’m still trying to figure out what song the ending of “Maze” is quoting when again I am treated to some of the most compelling musical writing of The 20th Century.
“COLONEL FORBIN’S ASCENT>FLY FAMOUS MOCKINGBIRD>SHINE>FLY FAMOUS MOCKINGBIRD”
The playful side of Phish comes out again. As I’m cruising toward Lake Michigan, I learn that Phish DOES (Phish DO?….whats the proper grammar here Pholks???…) indeed not just play music. They have made music a science….rather time. They manufacture time apparently. Trey is telling me that they manufacture time. As I pass Columbus and Michigan Avenues on Roosevelt Road, I’m utterly shocked at the brilliance of COL. FORBIN’S ASCENT because at this point I know Phish is brilliant. It’s like, I get it now. Phish is the best band in the universe and anything they do is going to be amazing. COLONEL FORBIN is like a broadway show tune, or as Brad Sands said in an interview in 2005, “It’s broadway ALL THE WAY.” I love it so much. This sequence of songs is a gem.
I now have a great parking spot facing Lake Michigan. Meigs Field has been gone for three years, and I wonder to myself what will become of this land in years to come (Northerly Island). The sun is peaking through some afternoon clouds and I am on cloud nine.
“The years just keep sliding by, you ever notice that?”
They cover “Shine” by Collective Soul tongue in cheek style only to get back into this lovely opening theme of “Fly Famous Mockingbird.” Once the Mockingbird is in flight I am stunned again. Trey’s guitar tone here is quite possibly the best guitar tone I have ever heard. Trey really has a sense of rhythm and harmony that most “rock stars” can only dream of. This is the band I’ve been waiting for my whole life. As the short but intense fire of Mockingbird ensues, I am now again filled with elation. “WOW!” I yell. The song hits a peak that I completely didn’t expect, and I realize that Trey must have had one heck of a musical teacher to be able to write in this vaudevillian-meets-progressive-rock conception. (Ernie Styres). I didn’t think this CD set was going to so beautifully shatter my mind as it did, but it did. I wont be giving this CD away, EVER! I will be encouraging others to buy it. A final bass piano note from Page concludes this amazing tune and we segue immediately into >
At first I definitely thought it was: “Laugh and laugh and fall apart.” Years later “The Phish Book” by Richard Gehr will teach me that it’s “Laugh and LAUGHING fall apart.” This indeed changes things, and in a good way. Another fun tune, and short! Phish really seems to love variety and flow and it’s so refreshing to hear a band play so many styles in an hour. And they know how to speed up. I better get my hands on all the Phish I can (more on that soon). Direct segue into >
A true rocker. Rock-chalk Dusture. I’m watching the uncharacteristically placid Lake Michigan and rocking out to this raging song. Being the music snob that I am, I expect this to be on hell of s set closer. Phish does not disappoint.
“Can I live while I’m youuuung???!!!!
Can I live while I’m youuuung???!!!!
Can I live while I’m youuuung???!!!!
Can I live while I’m youuuung???!!!!”
Challenge accepted! Another high energy, ripping guitar solo from Trey ensues. Fishman again is capturing my attention with his technique. And Mike is the true leader of “Chalkdust” with his agile bass forging a wonderful groove.
“We’ll be back in fifteen minutes don’t go away!” Baaaaaaammmm mmmmmmuussssiccc!!!!! An amazing version of Chalkdust.
I get out of the car, stretch, stare back at the Chicago skyline (which in 2006 is absent Wilson’s tower), and just breathe. I have never heard such a combination of musics in one set!! I can't wait for the next set, and see that the first song was called “Drowned”, so I opted to stay by the lake for all of set two. I eat a snack and place the second white labeled disc into the CD player.
Set two has even more energy than set one and much more improvisation. Listening to “Drowned” while watching the lake is fun. (IMO THIS IS THE BEST VERSION OF DROWNED). I close my eyes and am in a more controlled state of mind until >>”The Lizards”. The Lizards moved me more than everything from set one. And now I am starting on unravel the apparently deep story lines of Phish’s music. I’m sure that they’re singing about the same “Wilson” form “PYITE”. Absolutely gorgeous piano solo from Page and Trey’s repeated line at the end keeps building into a release of energy that made my head spin again. This one reminds the most of Pat Metheny. An amazing version of The Lizards among many others. This is my favorite tune so far of the show, but that isn’t putting the others down because they’re all so amazing. I am so into this band. “Axilla (II)” was a rocker. (IMO THIS IS THE BEST VERSION OF AXILLA (II). ) While processing the fact that phish had only taken a few seconds break between The Lizards and Axilla (II), they start right into “Runaway Jim”. I am again being mentally puddled by the sounds of “Jim”. The quiet section isn’t fooling me this time! Bam, explosion of energy. What is that Trey said before the jam?? Runaway Daubs? (Was Mark Daubert at this show? In the video, right before the “Jim Jam” watch for Trey saying what sounds like “Runaway Daubs” and smiling at someone near the front row.) This jam was magic. In and out of so many grooves until returning to the main theme. I found "Strange Design" a beautiful positive message. “Hello My Baby” felt like a breather, and I dig Mike’s Song’s nearly twenty minute exploration as it ends in a digital delay loop jam. A strong end for Set II.
I think I’ll drive over to The United Center. The Bulls are in Orlando later tonight and this is the second to last game before the playoffs. I pop in Disc Three, take Michigan Ave to Madison Street and head due west. I am just in a state of pure musical Bliss. The etherial tones of “Gamehenge Time Factory” give way to “Auld Lang Syne”, where Trey’s perfect guitar tone Shine’s yet again. “Weekapaug Groove” in a way sums up the whole show and perhaps puts into words the fundamental ethos of Phish’s musical journey. Wow MIKE!! YOU CAN PLAY THE HELL OUT OF THAT BASS!! YOU SOUND JUST LIKE FLEA HERE! THANK YOU!!! Mike quotes something that to my ear sounds like Runaway Jim, and then Weekapaug’s lyrics come in.
“And we’re sharing in a Weekapaug Groove”
Well thanks for sharing!! The guitar solo that transpires is Trey’s best of the night. I’m almost to The United Center at this point, it’s just after four thirty, and the sun is fully out now. Fishman’s drum beat is reminding me of Billy Cobham’s drum part on The Mahavishnu Orchestra’s song “The Noonward Race” and is so tastefully on top of the beat it’s a wonder Jon Fishman isn’t a Brazilian drummer!! JUST WOW!!! I park near Michael Jordan’s Statue. (It was still located outside the arena at that time) and continue to rock out. A few other people have the same idea and are tailgating in the lot at The UC, clad in Rodman, Pippen, and Jordan jerseys. Some bring it way back repping Paxson or Cartwright. It’s a really nice day out. The volume goes down, the intensity stays up, and now Page is soloing. Mike is still using that funky filter which gives him that classic Mike tone. His sound reminds of Flea a lot and I love it. Page quotes a rhythm found in Runaway Jim before Trey comes back with some guitar ferocity that rivals everything I have heard prior. And I am just in utter disbelief. (IMO THIS IS ONE OF THE BEST VERSIONS OF WEEKAPAUG GROOVE. WHEN EDITED TOGETHER WITH THE ENDING OF 1995-06-10, IT BECOMES THE BEST EVER). “Sea and Sand” shows me how sensitive Page can be. More from The Who, and Parke Puterbaugh’s wonderful liner notes tell me exactly why.
“YOU ENJOY MYSELF”
Now this is even more interesting. This sounds like Bach wrote a rock tune. It’s like Bach meets Santana and Yes. I am in shock. One thing I notice now- during this build up section after that beautiful, new age sounding quiet section - is that Jon Fishman was DEFINITELY influenced by Bill Bruford and Yes. He’s playing some of the exact vocabulary you hear in Brufords' linear stylings of the late 60’s/early70’s. COOL!! The climax before the jam shows a band who know each other and their music so beautifully well. This jam in “YEM” is very Santana like indeed. WOW twenty-five minutes gone in a flash. Time flies when you are having fun.
“Sanity” seems like a gag song, like something Zappa would write. But this third verse is reminding me of our nuclear-age. “I don’t care if the world explodes.” And what’s this? “Frankenstein” by Edgar Winter??!! YES!!!!! AMAZING. The “Johnny B. Goode” encore caps off one of the most important concerts of the nineties, and one of the most deeply moving three hours of music I have so far experienced. Time to be Driving Home to Mom and Dad for dinner. It’s April 17, 2006, and I have a lot more than food to digest.
In Parke Puterbaugh’s book “Phish: The Biography” Trey asks and answers his own question describing adjectives of Billy Breathes by saying, “Like there was nothing left to prove(?)” 1995-12-31 is the axis point. It is where the old Phish were heading. I think Charlie Dirksen (?) said “it took them over a year to figure where to go from there. And cow funk was it.” 1995-12-31 is a highly composed, Gamehendge heavy, and conceptually continuous show form start to finish. My first Live Phish experience was 1995-12-31 AND I WILL NEVER FORGET IT. IMO 1995-12-31 was the last show of this era of Phish. Once certain things were introduced into Trey’ psyche during the Billy Breathes sessions, a line was crossed and the music started become less accurately played. Listen to any version of The Squirming Coil from 1997….they started to unravel a bit after 1995-12-31. Thank God they fixed things!!! I love you so much Phish and community!
None the less, all eras of Phish are beautiful. To paraphrase Trey from a February 17, 1993 phone conversation, “I like to think that people can use their own creative powers to interpret the lyrics and the music.” Describing Phish’s music, one fan said in a Rochester NY Parking Lot on 1997-12-11, “It’s full of freedom. It’s full of happiness, and that’s what I’m looking for.”
Now I wouldn’t realize what Gamehndge was until a bit later, but Parke Puterbaugh’s liner notes in the booklet to Phish’s NYE 1995 CD gave some hints. But I didn’t realize that PYITE, THE SLOTH, REBA, AXILLA (II) and THE SQUIRMING COIL were all related. As Trey said in the 1992 H.O.R.D.E. interview, “It takes a long time to unravel the story line to a lot of this stuff (00:11:24). So I embarked on said unraveling. Soon after April 17, 2006. I went to Second Hand Tunes in Evanston, right next to The Dempster ‘L’ stop. Inside I found “Live Phish Vols. 14 and 9” 1995-10-31 completely blew me away again! It turns out my older sister was at that show along with many of you, exactly two months before 1995-12-31. There it was; “Icculus” “Wilson” as their own songs. Then Jimmy comes back in “Harpua” I didn’t make “The Divided Sky” connection yet. But I was hooked. I started my obsession for Phish and quickly found sights like this (please add "https://" before each link.)
Within a couple more years I quickly found the etree community, week4paug and The HUB. I filled hard drives with every available source of Phish I could find. I have listened to every available Phish show in circulation of the so-called 1.0 era, and 1995-12-31 still ranks in the top ten along with 1995-10-31, 1994-06-11…My two favorite tours are Summer 1994 and Fall 1995. I want to personally thank everyone who encouraged me to dig in and get my hands on all that I could. Bill Mitchell at The Hub was especially nice to me, and we got hang a couple times in Sacramento CA when I moved to San Francisco. RIP GeneralB you were a great man. Your HUB helped start The Spreadsheet. All this joy came from the seed of picking up 1995-12-31 on a complete whim. I wonder how different my life would be had I not. In fall of 2006, I switched my major from Engineering to music, and have never looked back..
April 17 2006 was a night I will never forget. The Cubs beat the Dodgers, The Bulls sunk Orlando and were back in the playoffs, and the most recent World Series Championship Winning Chicago White Sox beat The Royals. The Bears would go the Superbowl soon. It was an amazing day. Over the next year, I dove deeply into a band called Phish for whom I have a love I cannot begin to describe. I wouldn’t even have to scribe it, let a long DE-scribe it; our hearts know why we love Phish. And my life is better because of them.
I love you all so much. I hope this story shows you a little piece of the serendipitous energy that surrounds Phish.
Thanks for reading.
John "moonmoog" Caudy
P.S. I think Phish’s next show will be a huge one. Ill see you all there.
Here is a Drum Cover of me perfomring “Foam” from 1995-12-14. IMO 199512-14 is the best ever version of Foam, and I'm proud to be able to play at this level at the tender age of 33.