Madison Square Garden is one of the most celebrated Phish venues in the land. Playing the Garden for five consecutive years between ’94 and ’98, the band continued adding shows to their stands in each year but ’96, topping out with a four night stand in 1998. Four-night stands at MSG seem commonplace in the modern era, however, as this upcoming holiday run will be the third in three years. No building has hosted Phish more times than MSG, and these upcoming shows will, coincidentally, be their 28th, 29th, 30th, and 31st at the World’s Most Famous Arena. And this year the band will have a full head of steam heading into New York! On the heels of a smoking fall tour and recording their next album, Phish’s momentum will have had little time to slow come December 28th, unlike the past two years in which the guys didn’t play between Labor Day and the New Year’s Run. Needless to say, the time is near, the mission’s clear.
Though the band has played the Garden at least three times a year since their return, only a few of those nights have truly stood out—namely, 12.31.10, 1.1.11, 12.28.11, 12.28.12, and 12.30.12. If I had to bet, this year will be different. Does this year have the potential to go toe to toe with 1998′s hall of fame run, also a four-nighter at MSG? If the band plays their cards right and really throws down, perhaps we’ll have a debate on our hands. Wouldn’t that be something? It would have to be the best stand of the era, but coming off the hottest tour of this era, why not?
What used to define those legendary mid-to-late ’90s shows was a certain grit and grime that matched the old school arena congruently. This fall, with Trey laying back on rhythm more than at any time during this era, jams took on a far gritter and psychedelic feel than at any time in 3.0. If fall tour was any indication, and it always has been, we could be looking at the dirtiest MSG shows of a notably clean modern era. And wouldn’t that be the perfect way to cap a truly monumental year of Phish?
As a fun exercise, I ran through my memory and have posted my favorites of everything in MSG history. Enjoy!
Best show: 12.31.95
New Year’s ’95 was the peak of everything Phish had done in their career up to that point; a culmination of their career. Many fans view this show as the band’s finest night of music, thus is needless to say that it comes in 1st in MSG history.
Best Set: 12.29.97 II
This set delivers for the duration with not a singe lull. Jams for days, one of the best “Tubes” of all time and impeccable flow. The only weakness of this set is a fairly routine “YEM” that doesn’t quite do the rest of the set justice.
Down with Disease -> David Bowie -> Possum, Tube, You Enjoy Myself
Best Run: New Years 1998
Four outstanding nights of music, ending what I believe is their best overall year of their career.
Best First Set: 12.31.98
Nobody was quite sure what had hit them when the lights came up after this one.
1999 > Mike’s Song > I Am Hydrogen > Weekapaug Groove, Ghost -> Ha Ha Ha > Cavern
Best Third Set: 12.31.95
One of the best “Weekapaugs” of all-time and monster “YEM.” Plus a couple rarities to cap things off.
Auld Lang Syne > Weekapaug Groove > Sea and Sand, You Enjoy Myself, Sanity, Frankenstein
Best Encore: 12.30.97
The best encore in history, regardless of venue.
Carini – > Black-Eyed Katy -> Sally Reprise > Frankenstein
Best Modern Show: 12.31.10
A colossal night of Phish with a second set for the ages
Best version of (parentheses represent close seconds):
Tweezer: 12.28.12 (12.30.94)
David Bowie: 12.29.97
Wolfman’s Brother: 12.28.98
You Enjoy Myself: 12.29.98
Weekapaug: 12.31.95 (12.31.97)
Harry Hood: 12.30.95
Gin: 12.30.10 v. 12.29.12—pick em (only versions)
Twist: 1.1.11 (12.28.12)
Ghost: 12.31.98 v. 12.31.10—pick em
Down With Disease: 12.29.97
Carini: 12.28.98 (12.30.12)