[We'd like to thank volunteer recapper Mark C. Lynch (@Mondo_Butts) for writing this recap. -Ed.]
Tradition is king when heading to a four night run at MSG. As I'm sure the majority of fans would agree, it's the tradition we’ve established all these many years that guides us ever so gently toward the focal point of the weekend. 12/28 was the band's 80th show at the Garden and it felt special. With the 40th anniversary looming, the 80th show was a special kind of appetizer for the hardcore excitement to come.
I rode the rails up from Richmond, Virginia and stepped out of Penn Station at 3:30pm the day of the show. I was greeted by dampness and cold. MSG loomed large in the background, taunting and teasing me. I will see you later, old friend. I gave the arena a nod, hailed a cab and headed down NYU way to meet my pals, drop off my bags, give a shake to my favorite doorman Henry, and head over to the ye old faithful Knickerbocker Bar and Grille for a little pregame meal. This is always the strategy, and always the tradition. My second favorite part of the night is the pre-show meal. With the four night experience still ahead, anything was possible. I had a little lobster bisque, and a caesar salad - the typical light affair that gets the juices flowing inward, never outward.
The New Year’s run is a tradition unlike any other... Okay maybe one other. The pre-show meal is a must. Having done the run dozens of times before, it's old hat. It's comfortable. It's a comforting - the love of friends, pregaming, a few beers, a few laughs “our troubles are over dude.”
My pals and I left the Knickerbocker and took an Uber to the Garden at about 6:30. Getting out at the venue, it was a classy 50 degrees. It was a little misty and there were a lotta puddles. I didn't wear the right shoes for the rain, to my chagrin - I ignored the band’s famous motto. If I'd stepped in a puddle that early in the game, the run would be over before it even started. Look out for the puddles! Honestly this was probably the earliest I've been to the venue before the show, but figured I should get to the scents and subtle sounds sooner than later for recap purposes.
I can’t report on the main gate’s entrance, but getting in the backdoor was pie. 8th Avenue Entrance B for the win. Every year entering gets easier, another bonus the fabulous folks working the garden have figured out after doing this 80 times.
After standing in a short line to get our tickets checked, my buddies and I headed up the bank of escalators to the 100 levels. The first thing I noticed upstairs were the cups. Yes, the souvenir cups. They are a little better than years past. It's a stronger plastic. More Tegrity.
I took my spot in Section 116, next to my buddy, Edward, and his girlfriend, Sarah. Eddie is a balloon guy. It's a dying art, and he’s a dying breed. Shout out. Divisive topic. But I say, let them fly. He began his pre show routine, blowing up a few for the fans to poke around in our section.
Watching from Page side, I thought about how nice it would be to see Trey turn towards our seats, rather than away. A view from Mike side hits a little different, where you only get a view of the back of Trey’s headstock. From 116 you get Trey full on.
Lights went down at 8:03. I’m a gambling man and unfortunately, I did not bet on the “No Men In No Man’s Land” opener. As it began, I immediately thought they started off the whole show in the wrong key, but on a quick relisten, I think I was just overly excited. This mix sounds fairly clean. Soon Trey had picked a person out of the crowd to stare at, and then took the band on a relatively steady jaunt through the song. A couple explosive peaks, but an overall standard opener for Night One - Just aiming to get those inward juices flowing.
“Halley's Comet” follows. A pretty typical run of the mill start at it; a couple flubbed lyrics, some issues with Mike’s monitors. I’m about to write it off, when the band takes an off-kilter turn into the back half of the jam. Trey unleashed the first menacing WAH of the night, allowing his guitar to start chanting at the crowd. Really gritty, really tasty. Wish it opened a bit more here and went on for longer, but it solidified really well in the end. Beautiful warm reds bathe over the crowd. I thought the jam was getting some momentum, but the band pulled out quickly and jumped into “Sample In A Jar.” This song got everybody singing. I’ll allow it.
At some point during the “Sample” my friend put his arm around his girlfriend. I do some quick math in my head. They'd seen a lot of “Samples” together. Another great tradition - touching. There’s a delightful ending here. “Sample” did its job. But let’s keep it moving!
“Runaway Jim,” a song that reminds me of my old dog Jake. What a rascal. Oh Phish! Such lasting memories conjured out of pure sound.
This “Jim” was a solid rendition with your typical elongated opening and quick bursts of power and light. It kept everyone on their toes. All in all just a fun song to see live. Another tradition - love me some “Runaway Jim.”
Now, I don’t remember what came first, the urge to urinate, or “Bouncing Around the Room,” but either way I had to leave for the bathroom. I knew there was no way in hell they would do anything different with this song, so I saw my oppurtunity and seized it. I walked with pace toward the little boy’s room. Gross. I always find the ugliest toilets.
Then Phish decided to play a funny joke on me - They decided to play one of my favorite songs while I was still in the bathroom. Thinking I was pulling a fast one on them, I had egg on my face when they blasted into “Axilla Pt II.” I think I may have left some drops on my jeans after having to rush back to my seat in a hurry. Calico cut pants. You gotta give!
Shoutout to my dear friend in Santa Barbara, CA who has “Axilla (Part II)” on his license plate. It’s a good look, Andrew!
“Axilla (Part II)” took its outro for a walk. A longer trippier outro then I remembered ever hearing live. Thought it would go on a bit longer, when the band opted to move into the heavy rock and roll favorite “Funky Bitch.”
“Bitch” is a good companion piece to the early “Jim.” Is it possible both these songs involve a dog stealing money? All these dogs taking peoples money and rent? Sounds like the concessions at MSG. For shame - good chicken tendies though.
The ending of this “Funky Bitch” was electric. There’s a climax-shock towards the end that, in unison with the lights, almost knocked me out. A startling build, drop, then power all in one moment. You’ll know the section when you hear it.
There’s a slight pause. Then, the familiar taste of “Bathtub Gin” fills the room. A taste you can hear. I’m ecstatic to continue this 90s momentum, especially as we all splash into the back half of this “Gin.”
The rolling and tumbling dark second half of the “Gin” started a little loose, then took off. It just kept tumbling till something special started to form. Bubbling out of the strange trippy heart beat monitor jam was a climactic soaring triumph. CK5 crushing it here. All in all, the second half of this “Gin” is the first "must relisten” of the night.
There was an effort made to transition into “Ghost,” but it just doesn’t really creep in like it used to. This one, while not not creepy off the bat, eventually gets there.
It tumbled, much like the “Gin” before it. Rolling through like my favorite kind of pace jams, gaining speed with nowhere to go but out. Busting at the seams. The ending was peak Phish improv with a little Benjamin Button dexterity from Trey. The head of “Ghost” creeps back in out of absolutely nowhere and we get a stellar end to a great 12/28 1st set. An excellent beginning to the run. End set time approx 9:25.
Shout out to Shane and Julian who chatted with me during setbreak. Always nice to have a real conversation about the music in between sets. Thanks.
Leaving seats and wandering out into the setbreak crowd is tough. Some people make it look easy, but the bustling corridors are painful. I don’t like it, I tried to stay out of it, but I wanted to check it out for the recap. I can officially report back, it is indeed crowded. Surprise, surprise. I instead return to my seat empty handed. Lights go down at 10.
Sci Fi Soldier made its first appearance of the run. “The Howling” is a fan favorite that included some rare audience interaction. I say keep up those howls! Fun times in my opinion. As the jam comes in heavy, down drops the transformer light rig. Creaking around menacingly. The light rig, when in action, is a sight to behold. I fear for the lives of everyone in the crowd when those things come to life. “Look out man!” The howling sfx continued to roar, and the crowd played along.
“A Wave of Hope” up next was my guess for the NYE song. Guess I can scratch that off my list. Here they proved why I had considered it the NYE song. This is a fire rendition. A lot of moving pieces in this one. The only song on the night, that half way through it had me wondering if this was still “WOH.”
All of a sudden, one of my buddy's balloons made it to the stage. Woulda loved to see it stay in the crowd longer - the balloon on stage eventually was taken offstage by security. I assume it got to go backstage. Probably scored some free catering. Maybe even got to touch Trey’s backstage rig. Who knows, the balloon had a lot of promise.
Heater second half of “Hope.” I can’t emphasize enough how good this was live, in the moment. First real heavy type 2. Kept thinking they were gonna go into the Blues Brothers song, “Cant Turn Me Loose” during the fast paced portion, but where they ended up taking it was even better. Such high energy here. Highlight of the night.
“The Howling” gets teased in the beginning of “Mike’s Song.” Let’s go. Phish gave this one the Wittles treatment. Fucking crushed it. The masterful 11 minute “Mike’s” is the third BIG moment of the night. Absolutely lethal. Chalk up another must listen to the list. The song built to a chaos of sound, a cacophony of loops that would eventually come crashing down into a well placed “Simple” instead of my preferred "I am Hydrogen" pairing - but this one was a perfect choice in the moment.
And, oh, what’s this? I noticed an orchestrated balloon effort on the far side of the arena, not blown up by my buddy. A ton of them all launching simultaneously over the 102 area. Maybe they still like them after all! Or maybe the fans just know when to time it, because these balloons worked their way through the crowd during the peak of the show.
In “Simple” we got the first truly blissful jam of the evening. Then the bliss started to bubble a bit and quickly turned dark and soupy. “Utah get me type-two!” The song moved along gracefully into a section with nodes of “2001.” But I knew better. “2001” is better saved for a Saturday or Sunday night. Save it. Then "Simple" kind of just... trickled off. They tried to rev up for another section but in unison pulled the plug on the stellar one-two punch.
At the time I had no idea that the chunky “Blaze On” would be our second set closer for the night. I was a little confused at the time. I would go on to think 2 of the 4 encore songs could have easily been played at the end of the 2nd set. I also think that "Squirming Coil" would have been a great ending to the show - but Phish as of late has been adding more songs to their encores, so I guess it makes sense for them to end at 11:12 only to come back out for four more songs. “Thank you sir may I have another!”
The encore opened with “Mercy.” My first time hearing it live. This one will need to grow on me like a lot of the ballads do. I’m sure with some more time it will, but as for now it's the neglected child in this four sibling encore. I don’t see myself listening to this song from this particular night ever again.
Then, “The Squirming Coil.” I thought to myself, like the rain outside as we entered, we would now exit to a trickle of music. To a trickle of Page’s ivory keys leading us into the night. I was wrong.
“Weekapaug Groove” came on fast and furious. While not a perfect rendition, it got the job done in a big fun way. Smiles all abound. Hell, enough smiles in the building to probably call it a night. But then we got one more.
A big fat “Say It To Me S.A.N.T.O.S.” firing on all cylinders. A concerted effort by the band to elevate the status of Night One to MASS HYSTERIA! Cats and dogs living together. This version almost gave me a heart attack. It was so loud and forceful. The whole place shook like a polaroid picture. "SANTOS" came down the chimney and gave me the greatest present of all - to bask in the line: “You will always remember where you were,” with my friends and Family. I can't think of a better way to go. Doing something you love. Say it to me Santa! Ho ho ho ho ho!
Boom. Finished. Awesome. This is why we do this. Look around at this moment in space and tell me this isn’t a tradition worth revisiting time and time again.
House lights up at 11:45
Minnie Riperton walk out music, a great little touch. Their walkout music is always on point.
We exited 32nd and 7th by Penn Station and it was a disaster. Note to self, do not exit this way for the rest of the run. Long lines with nowhere to go. Stay in the venue for as long as you can. Cherish it!
And then last but not least, the final tradition of the night - The post game pizza slices. Then we headed back to the apartment to re-listen to the show. Post show re-listens back in the day were with DATS, now it's Livephish. What a blessed time to be a Phish fan. Long live YEMSG. Enjoy the now while you have it, Pham. Three more shows. The tradition is all around us, and the music and the memories we create are still ahead of us. Take care of your shoes. Watch out for those puddles.
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