[We would like to thank user SpltOpenAndMalt (Max Alter) for the recap! -Ed.]
C’mon, who built a bridge in the World’s Most Famous Arena?
After sitting far and wide across the varying sections in Madison Square Garden, the home of the New York Knicks, Rangers, and 3.0 Phish, I finally put a crippling fear of heights and a larger-than-normal susceptibility to get spun in New York aside to experience the band from heights anew: the Chase Bridge. After constant adhering to the communal messaging to avoid 200’s level seating above Row 15 (give or take) due to obstructed viewpoints resulting from the Chase Bridge, I’d expected my view on this brisk Manhattan Friday evening to be forgettable. And boy was I mistaken. Upon arrival, I’d noticed my seats in Section 324 came equipped with four electrical outlets (for maximum phone charging ability), a screen accessible during breaks in the show (enabling me to watch my beloved Ohio State Buckeyes), a bathroom right outside the section (for ease in bathroom break timing), and about three times as much dancing space as I’ve ever had on the floor at the Garden. For those who have yet to enjoy the wonders of the Chase Bridge, I implore you to take in a show from up above it all.
Myself, my girlfriend, and my primary show partner arrived at our seats at 7:06pm succeeding a few rounds of drinks at Stout NYC pre-show. One of my favorite things about seeing shows in New York is seemingly how wonderful all of the Penn Station-adjacent businesses tend to treat us as fans: always packed to the brim with people headed to the show and usually some heady tunes to accompany. I digress. Our seats were essentially a diagonal view outward from the stage onto the crowd, almost directly in line with the stage on Page side. This gave us a direct overhead view of Trey and his pedals, the entirety of Page’s piano rig, and the vibes up front on the floor. Upon our arrival at our seats, I chatted it up with Scott, our Section 324 usher. Scott explained that he’d worked a few New Years’ runs at this point and he is continuously impressed by our fan base’s passion for the music. After exchanging pleasantries, I assured him that my show group would not be posing any issues for him tonight. As such, we loaded up our specialty Phish cups with Michelob Ultra (the closest beer to bottled water) and anticipated the start of the second night of the 2023 New Years Run.
Lights dawned on the stage at 8:05pm and the band hit the ground running with “Free,” making its first appearance in Phish’s opening slot at the Garden since 12/28/2011. During the beginning of this edition of “Free," Trey turned to side stage and behind the stage, offering the fans an opportunity to provide an introductory ovation to the band. Per usual, the crowd obliged. We were off to a high energy start. Nearly instantaneously, you could tell that this “Free” was going to be driven by rhythm: a repeating tone of the night. In line with the preceding night’s show, Jon Fishman was the absolute man tonight. Throughout the first set, he worked hand in hand with Mike, maintaining the initial tempo and tone of each song and really providing Trey with the opportunity to mess around and experiment with sounds. Around 6:30 into “Free," we received our first peak of the day. And we’re off.
“The Moma Dance” followed, evoking much of the same high-energy vibes provided by our opener. A nice and funky intro (including wonderful cymbal work from Fish) brought us into the song, eventually finding a nice groove and build to a similarly-timed initial peak to its preceding song at 6:40. And then the drums kick in. The typical murmurs echoed throughout the arena: “Is it 'Maze' or 'David Bowie'?” (Disclaimer: I had initially written “David Bowie” in my notebook until I heard Mike’s bass. Our usher, Scott, definitely think’s I’m a total noob.) Of course, a nice “Maze” ensued, providing us with two distinctly strong sections: first, a great Page solo section and second, a great build by Trey to the song’s natural peak. Through the vast sea of differences between the two, both Page and Trey showed a very resilient commitment to patience. This, of course, is my top criteria with which I assess good versus great improvisation. When the band’s members (and, correspondingly, the band as whole) gets in a flow enabling them to naturally find their groove rather than forcefully culminating their individual sections, the band tends to play better. As such, “Maze” was an absolute dance party—I broke my first sweat at this point of the night, a feature I would not be without again until post-show.
Our next song was “Evolve.” We got some Broadway Trey herein (who doesn’t love when 4.0 Ernest Anastasio unnecessarily goes an octave up?) but I’ll always have a soft spot for this song. I actually got goosebumps during the first chorus, a rare occurrence these days in non-jam based segments. Just taking in the view of the swaying on the general admission floor, hearing the band bellow, “…then came the people, with problems and hopes, that don’t mean a thing if they just knew the scope,” while being around my girlfriend, one of my closest friends, and a couple ten thousand of other phans, all with varying life experiences and ups and downs, was a poetic experience to me. In a sea of corny Phish lyrics, this one resonates with me.
The band continued along with “Stash.” Just as the floor bounces as the Garden, so too does the sound of phans providing three simultaneous claps bounce off the rounded walls. Succeeding the composed portion, we got our first taste of a heavier tone coming from Trey, a theme that we continued to see throughout the night and that we’ll revisit upon the second set. The band broke out into a hard rock sequence that made up the meat of the jam before Fishman eventually pushes Trey back into the song at large. The high energy and rock-like sound continued into a standard “Back on the Train” before a nearly 11-minute “Theme From the Bottom” that may have been the most unique jam of this night. Unlike “Stash” and its second set counterparts, this “Theme” provides us with the typical bliss section you might be used to from your “Intro to Phish 101” course. “Theme” has had a recent and strong track record at the Garden (its two prior versions offering us new entries to the song’s Jam Chart) and this version continued that trend. You can almost hear Page catch on to the direction desired by Trey, and, boom, you’ve got your sound.
As it turned out, “Theme” really gave us our last true “IT” moments in the First Set. It was succeeded by “Mountains in the Mist,” a Farmhouse tune that just recently found its way back into regular rotation and then “46 Days,” which provided us with a quick dive into an up-tempo rock section immediately after the first verse and a nice peak, but all within the tight boundaries of around 6 minutes. And then, it came. The opening notes to “Drift While You’re Sleeping,” began to play and my show partners began to chuckle. It is long known by my friends that “Drift While You’re Sleeping” is my least favorite song in the Phish repertoire. The long, composed sections of the song take away valuable time from the rest of the set, it lacks conduciveness to any improv, and it’s the longest Ghosts of the Forest song, adding the (rightful) sentimental value to keep it in rotation for quite some time. I took advantage of my nearby bathroom and made it back just in time to hear a handful of Trey flubs prior to the set’s closing climax before the band exited the stage at 9:33pm.
Set Break commenced and we flipped our televisions on to check on the performance of our Ohio State Buckeyes, who were tied in the Cotton Bowl with the University of Missouri at halftime in an abysmal game. We turned to the right and realized that our show neighbors were wearing Missouri garb and a discussion ensued about the game, the set, and our varying wonderful experiences at the Garden. Phish shows are among the last great environments to make friends at any turn of the corner—how lucky are we to still be sharing in the communal groove 40 years later? Once again, I digress. Our general discussions around the first set were pretty similarly aligned: the set had some truly quality moments (à la “Maze,” “Stash,” and “Theme”) but the set did not truly have a specific “flow," so to speak. Whenever the band heated up, it seemed to follow in a non-linear fashion. As we wondered what this meant for our second set, we upgraded our beer choice to Stella Artois and my buddy got a pretzel that he called “the worst pretzel he’d ever eaten.” How can you even eat anything in that venue that is not Carnegie Deli? To each his own.
Lights for Set Two dimmed at 10:08pm and our critiques of the first set were met right off the bat with “Chalk Dust Torture.” This tune has been played as a part of every YEMSG run since 2016, producing numerous notable versions (see: Baker’s Dozen, 12/30/15, 4/21/22) and you could tell right away that the band came out of the break with a vengeance. A jam that initially started with a funky and soft approach as maintained and monitored by Fishman’s "Chalk Dust" drum line gave the rest of the band the runway to just take off, an opportunity the remaining three members took in stride. Trey invoked his loop effect and the band built the rhythm together, quickly and surely synching up. Upon synchronization, Trey took the back seat on the jam for a handful of minutes, repeating a two note sequence while Page takes over as the jam’s ringleader. The Garden received a sequence of electric and contemporary portion that has some 2023 “Ruby Waves” undertones before settling into a dark and ambient tone. This aspect of the jam (to many, the pinnacle of this nearly 23-minute behemoth) was somehow downright demonic and worthy of evoking a repeated series of “Woo!” from the crowd. Those people walking around the venue wearing those lot shirts with “EVIL” inside the Phish logo had to have been satisfied.
This jam differed from, say, 12/28/23’s “A Wave of Hope,” last night’s leading jam vehicle, in the sense that the differing sections of the jam had some correlation throughout. Sure, this CDT was multi-elemental, but the flow of the jam in the chronological state that it presented itself in was necessary for the success of the risks that the band continued to take. Calls for Jam Chart admission took place in real time. This one is the must-hear jam of the night.
After the monstrous and dark CDT, we were treated to “Oblivion.” Amidst murmurs of a new Phish project in 2024, “Oblivion” is one of a handful of 2023 debuts that can have fans truly excited for more studio Phish, along with “The Well,” “On Pillow Jets,” and “Monsters.” In its live iterations, since debuting in Huntsville in July, “Oblivion” has been among the most consistent and delivering new songs this year, including enormous versions in Syracuse and Nashville. This version lived up to its precedent, immediately maintaining the strong tone set by the set’s opener. This “Oblivion” gave us 16-and-change minutes of danceable, soaring action, yet again driven by Fishman. I’m by no means a music theorist (accountant by day, wook by night), but Fishman relied on one particular cymbal on his set today more than usual, and this cymbal drove this jam into its heavier place. Once again, this was a rock driven jam, continuing the dark, ambient, and almost spooky feel to the first 38 minutes of the second set. This, my friends, is not your ordinary Love and Light.
“What’s the Use?” is a bonafide banger. I find this song to resonate so much more with me when experiencing indoor Phish as opposed to outdoor—the echoing of music off the walls juxtaposes with the sheer silence of an arena when the band drops into the sorrowful yet promising tune. The beauty, the wonder, is there anything more that you could possibly need?
Succeeding the cool down (of sorts—it doesn’t quite feel right to call “What’s the Use?” a cool down), the band immediately resumed its trajectory of the set with “My Friend, My Friend.” This one went through a resurgence in 2023, experiencing two drawn-out, sharp jams prior to this one. It always amazes me that the band continues to challenge itself to reinvent tunes that have been in rotation for so long and I could get used to Type II “MFMFs,” for years to come. The composed section came and went in a flurry of heat as per the norm before Trey took his guitar off and waved it in the air. For clarity, take a look at the end of any 4.0 “First Tube” to see the specific motion pattern. The shrieking noise that this generated added to the evil connotation that the ending of “MFMF” always portrays and Trey continued to repeat “He’s got a knife!” for about a minute as the jam progressed. Muffle effects, Fishman superiority, and dark, spooky repeating riffs were the name of the game here. Can you see a theme with the second set yet? I’d recommend this jam if you’re trying to scare visiting children on Halloween for trick-or-treating or if you’re trying to warn a pig of an incoming butcher. In reality, though, this jam, much like the “Chalk Dust” and the “Oblivion," was very well done.
A clear and fluid transition -> “Sand” proved as the emergence of the fourth quarter of the show. So, too, did an inflated Antelope (or reindeer?) emerge in the general admission below. Just as a balloon would bounce back and forth from spun fan to spun fan, you could see the inflated Cervidae flowing back and forth with the band. This abridged jam provided us with a similar build to what you might hear in a “46 Days” sequence (such as the one from the first set) and built to a fun peak as we’ve begun to expect out of “Sand.” This went hand in hand with its succeeding “About to Run,” which I’ve always credited for its rocking peak succeeding the final verse. This selection by Trey was on point. While not the longest version, the energy from the rocking peak mirrored those generated by the band throughout the entirety of Set II. It was in touch with the tone of the room, something that Phish does exceedingly well at The Garden.
There’s no better way to wrap up an energy-driven set than with an energy-driven encore. Fishman earned his flowers all night and brought another raucous cheer to the building through the introductory drums of “Harry Hood.” Mike’s sound in the mix was, from our angle, absolutely perfect: his solo sequence was very good and he played the leading role in the slow-but-sure build to finish out the set. There were some elements in this “Hood” that mimicked that of the MSG N7 Encore version in the sense that the post-Miner section kept the arena on their toes, dancing back and forth as the band built up into its traditional peak. The same formula that has made so many fans fall in love with “Hood” was replicated tonight, and so ended a set that was in touch with its theme throughout the set.
The band left stage at 11:36pm, and, whereas it was already quite late, those around me speculated that we’d be receiving a one-song encore tonight, a reasonable assumption. As the opening notes to “Lonely Trip” broke out, we all realized that this prediction was naught. But hey, as far as slow songs go, “Lonely Trip” is a solid tune—my girlfriend is infatuated with the song (helping provide a resurgence of energy prior to our departure) and it provides some nice, soft Page work. Nonetheless, the ending of “Lonely Trip” led to an encore that wrapped up the show in the only reasonable way to finish out a night of Evil Phish: “Carini.” The unexpected nature of the call and consistently outstanding nature of 2023 “Carini” got the room dancing for one last outing, and this one packed a punch in just over eight minutes. Carini’s head was, in fact, lumpy, as the band twice shifted the tone of the jam, building to a final and evil peak. This one had constant motion and did not waste a second of the body of its jam. Per usual, the band held their final notes for the final twenty seconds, took their last bow, and exited the stage.
We stumbled out of the arena and collected ourselves before parting our separate ways. I’m an Ohio native, so I’m always awestricken that I can find 100 places after shows slinging sandwiches. Housed a turkey sandwich and hit the road with the girlfriend, decompressing the show along the way. I found the task of putting into words the way that the show made me feel much more challenging than I’d initially presumed: how can you convey the emotion that you felt in real time behind a computer screen? But I guess that feeling is what’s so great about the band.
All in all, the band did an outstanding job of finding a consistent footing within the second set. The heavy, rock tone took over, enabling the band to find a musical motif to rely on for the whole second half of the show that they didn’t quite land during the first half. The absolutely killer "Chalk Dust" and "Oblivion" sequence is as good as you can ask for, the MFMF provided another example of how that song can develop as a truly exciting jam, and the whole second set provided a “Split Open and Melt”-type of feel from start to finish in the best way possible. On the @RubyWaves Rating Scale, which I regard as quite a helpful tool in assessing shows and identifying shows to revisit, I’d likely give this show around the B2 range. The overall rating is assuredly diminished by the lack of definitive flow within the first set, even with the varying high points, but the tenacity and energy of the second set still enabled this show to be a great listen.
While my seat did not provide me a great view of Kuroda, the view of the floor and everyone’s smiling faces and dancing bodies is a memory that I always hold dear to myself. Two more shows loom, but that feeling that we forgot? As Trey reminds us in “Sigma Oasis,” we’re already there.
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