Photo by Julia Mordaunt via @phishfromtheroad
After three nights of excellence at Madison Square Garden, Phish elicited much speculation about what the band’s New Year’s Eve gag would be: Fans spotted a prop corpse on a platform on night two and theorized about the band’s use of IEMs on night three but no one could’ve guessed that for their 40th New Year’s celebration the quartet would offer a little bit of everything – a time machine with nods to four decades worth of zestful jests that have united friends, lovers and families on the New Year since 1983.
The final evening of the four-night run in New York began with “Tweezer,” which would pop up a handful of times throughout the evening. Next came “Halley’s Comet,” perhaps their first hint to the theme of time, as it appears cyclically (the comet was last visible from Earth in 1986, just three years after they started playing together). After the tail of the song passed from view, Phish flowed into a rousing “Set Your Soul Free,” which ripped into “Rift.” Without pause, they flowed into the second “Tweezer” of the evening, which melded into the tender ballad “Shade.” The first set was seamlessly rounded out with “Mike’s Song” into “I Am Hydrogen” into the cheerful “Weekapaug Groove,” which contained a tease of “Super Bad.”
After a short set break, Phish returned to the stage for their beloved song “Say It To Me SANTOS” again, locking into their improvisational inclinations and setting the bar for the set high off the bat. They brought it even further as they moved into “Also Sprach Zarathustra,” also known as “2001,” which lifted fans to their feet, and they stayed there as the song flowed into “Kill Devil Falls.” After huge applause, Phish moved into “Mercury,” which was followed by “Light,” equipped with notable bass riffs from Mike Gordon; soon after the song reached its peak, the band gave it space to breathe, and the lovers’ song “Waste” made its way into the arena, hands found each other throughout the crowd and heads rested on shoulders from the songs opening line until its close. After the crowd was properly wrapped in a loving lull, they moved into “Drift While You’re Sleeping,” reinforcing the sense of a shared dream. To close the frame, Phish reminded friends to reunite and blow out candles with “Backwards Down the Number Line.”
Those with very keen ears in the crowd and sharp minds may have noticed that all the songs during the second set break were hints at past New Year’s shows, but it was during the third set that it became completely apparent. Before the set began, a barbershop quartet stepped on stage with a singing telegram for the band, which informed them that as the clock hit midnight and the ball in neighboring Times Square would fall, it would mark 40 years of Phish, and they were allowed to make a single wish. Trey Anastasio listened intently and, after some thought, wished that he had a time machine so he could do it all over again. Suddenly, a green cube, with fog cascading around it descended over stage left. The magical quartet activated the cube, which displayed images, video and audio rapidly from last years of Phish’s New Year’s show. Soon a little squirrel-an homage to the beginning of it all, Bivouac Jaun-broke the time machine, and Phish began to play “Ghost.” Dancers and characters like the Famous Mockingbird from Dec. 31, 1993, Father Time from Dec. 31, 1992, people dressed as hot dogs as a nod to Dec. 31, 1994, and Dec. 31, 2010, and more appeared on stage. The song also included lyrics from “Meatstick,” sung by both the band and dancers in different languages as a nod to Dec. 31, 2010. Next, Phish performed their first cover of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” since their performance on Dec. 31, 1996, 850 shows ago, long before many of their newest fans were born. The rendition included a full choir that elevated the call-and-response operatic segments of the song. Page McConnell sang with them, changing lyrics to reference the set’s opener, “Ghost.” They then moved into “Jungle Boogie,” which marked the track’s first appearance since Dec. 31, 2003, with a marching band in tow.
With tens upon tens of performers on stage, it was a wonder what would grab the attention and awe of the ocean of people in the crowd. Still, all eyes found the platform that Trey Anastasio was stranded upon in 2019; the man lying on the platform stood up. Anastasio introduced him as Tom Hanks (a nod to NYE 2002 when Hanks allegedly performed with the band– it was actually Page’s brother, Steve McConnell), the disheveled castaway stood, discovered, and saved, and Phish broke into “Wilson,” dancers bumped inflated volleyballs towards the crowd. They then moved into “Auld Lang Syne,” which had a short break as the band members celebrated their 40th anniversary together with a cake as the band and choir continued on. Next came “Carini,” less dark compared to most renditions leaning more toward the absurd as several dancers dressed in “naked dude” costumes–skin tone body suits and boots–in homage to the “naked dude” from Madison, Wis., in 1998, which forever changed the lyrics, or perhaps, more recently to their latest streak at their recent run at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park in Commerce City, Colo.–emerged from the cake. They ran around, chased by security, who were quickly overcome and stripped of their uniforms, becoming “naked dudes” themselves. With everyone united, Phish played the theme from New York, New York and the “naked dudes” showcased their unity with the iconic Rockettes kickline. The track also saw lyrics changed to “if I could be naked there,” to the amusement of fans. Phish then returned to “Tweezer,” which flowed into a flowing “Prince Caspian,” > “Crosseyed and Painless.” The run continued with “Piper,” which included lines from the song before it. For the penultimate track of the third set, Phish played “A Life Beyond The Dream” before rolling into the set closer, “First Tube.”
After the final break, Phish returned for a two-song encore. They began with “Show of Life,” perfectly reflecting on the incredible meditation and expression of time that was the third set, and bid good evening to an absolutely content and joyful crowd and mischievous dancing squirrel–who ran across the stage–with a “ Tweezer Reprise” supplying a fine sonic bookend.
Here’s to 40 years of Phish – the music they’ve shared, the friendships they’ve helped create and maintain, and the absurd amount of joy they’ve spread since their inception – and here’s to more in 2023 (and beyond).
Madison Square Garden – New York
December 31, 2022
Set I: Tweezer, Halley’s Comet -> Set Your Soul Free > Rift, Cavern > Tweezer > Shade, Mike’s Song > I Am Hydrogen > Weekapaug Groove
Set II: Say It To Me SANTOS > Also Sprach Zarathustra > Kill Devil Falls, Mercury > Light -> Waste, Drift While You’re Sleeping, Backwards Down the Number Line
Set III: Ghost > Bohemian Rhapsody > Ghost -> Jungle Boogie > Wilson > Auld Lang Syne > Carini > Theme from New York, New York > Tweezer > Prince Caspian > Crosseyed and Painless > Piper, A Life Beyond The Dream, First Tube
Inc.: Show of Life > Tweezer Reprise