The moment of exhilaration when the venue lights go down and Phish returns to the stage elicits an unmistakable sound, as a festive and anticipatory crowd awoke from their dormancy to start the third consecutive Holiday run at Madison Square Garden in New York City. Electric waves of cheers scream out, as Trey Anastasio, Page McConnell, Mike Gordon and Jon Fishman walked out to perform ‘Stealing Time From the Faulty Plan” followed by “The Moma Dance”; Phish was back, the best Christmas/Hanukkah present anyone could ask for!
Floor seating was restricted this year through an alternate entrance, giving ample room to conduct Phish fueled dancing. The warm and happy 20,000 collected inside MSG’s round room hung on each song, waiting for that first big moment of the shows. Each song gave an opportunity that satiated, if not built up, the eager crowd to the point of release; “Funky Bitch” gave Trey a chance to hit the peaks of Son Seals’ accelerated blues number. Page’s “Army of One” was a brief piano-led curveball before the funk of “Tube” descended for a short yet thrilling few minutes. “Stash”, “Kill Devil Falls” and “Free” followed, with each one building up but left fans waiting for that moment when the building would shake from a combination of band and audience. That came in the form of set closer “Wolfman’s Brother”, a 14 minute funk odyssey that set the tone for the second set with Mike Gordon makes synthesizer affects on his bass that sounded more Edgar Winter on “Frankenstein” than anything else. Trey took over mid-jam and led the Type II improvisation that cranked out a jam based on the traditional “Little Drummer Boy”, getting the crowd to respond with a response of “Rum Pa Pa Pum”, amid an up-tempo beat that was far from traditional – if you haven’t danced to a funkified version of “Little Drummer Boy”, you’re missing the potential.
After a break to catch our breath, meet up with friends and coordinate with friends, the second set opened up with a monstrous version of “Tweezer”, leading to the second six-song set in a row, dating back to the previous show on September 2nd in Commerce City, Colorado. With “Tweezer”, a vehicle arrived for what has led to the greatest jams that Phish has historically played, slowly arriving at the peaks amid Chris Kuroda’s sea of lights. About 12 minutes in, the song falls out of the first jam, serenely settling into a Trey-led jam that finally peaked a minute before dissolving into “Maze”
Full show playlist from Mkdevo
“Maze” got down and dirty, with more meandering and exploration from Page on the keys, even sounding like Booker T. Jones for more than a few moments, adding on a few minutes to this stalwart of a tune. Fishman took a minute to play a drum beat similar to “Under Pressure” that Trey identified as “Little Drummer Boy”, leading to a brief reprise and crowd participation and laughs from all, before dipping into “Twist”. This version got so deep into its jam, as it has been prone to do in 2012, that is nearly disappeared from the song proper before reemerging 10 minutes later, like Jaws taking four barrels down and only showing up a short while later with teeth ready for action. Having taken the crowd on a sojourn to improvisation a dark and scary “Little Drummer Boy” jam arose, before the final “WOOOs” brought the song to conclusion.
“Theme From the Bottom” was simply beautiful, and these appearances in the second set are becoming a welcome treat. Trey let loose with some focused jamming, complimented by Page’s grand piano play. And to push the tempo back up towards 11, “Fluffhead” came back to New York! Even though it caught some by surprise, the tune was as incredible and never felt so good mid second set. Every section of this long composition was masterfully played and from the experience of dancing this one out on the floor, it might have been the spark for the rest of the weekend. The elation that “Fluffhead” inspires, especially when you recall that it was the first song back on March 6th, 2009 at Hampton – this version stands up to the long awaited return of Fluffhead and Phish.
“David Bowie” from Saratoga Performing Arts Center on July 8th is a standout version from 2012 but MSG night 1 may have it beat by a nose. Five minutes in, the jam breaks out and everything from Set 2 that preceded the song was brought to fruition. The four band members on the stage were completely in sync as the builds arose and the curves were thrown, with Trey leading the way into the finale amid start/stop jamming and hitting the adrenalized peak of Bowie
An encore of “Bouncing Around the Room” and Led Zeppelin’s “Good Times Bad Times” were a decent encore for a well-practiced and dialed in band. There would be no “Tweezer Reprise” in the encore slot this evening – that was going to be saved for a bigger peak later this run. The first of four nights in the books, it was time to head out into New York City and find more adventures for this night. Phish was just getting warmed up. The New Years run is on! Happy New Year!