In the annals of Phish history, no dates have gone down with such a legacy as December 29th. While many other dates provided routine annual highlights, none quite approached epic musical nature of the 29th. Those mid-August festival dates only started in 1996, and the other New Year’s Run dates, while each holding a character of their own, did not consistently produce the magic of December 29th. Was it the best show of each New Year Run? Well, most of the time, yes– but even when it wasn’t, the 29th brought the fire. Phish had warmed up with one show, and felt none of the pressure of New Year’s Eve. Although the 30th is a special night, reserving its own place in my heart, the 29th is truly the Muhammad Ali of Phish dates. Lets take a trip through 29ths past (going back to 1994 to make this post manageable.)
12.29.94 Providence Civic Center, Providence, RI
What more needs to be said about this show than “The Providence Bowie.” A jam that has come to define the deepest of Phish psychedelia, this gargantuan “David Bowie” anchors this show all by itself. A terrifying voyage far into the unknown, this jam wraps darkness, bliss, terror and melody into one transcendent ball of ’94 Phish. Right up there with the best segments of improvisation in the band’s history, this Bowie is IT, pure and unadulterated. While this show and subsequent Live Phish release is dominated by the Bowie, this show has some first set treats as well. The classic opening combo of Jim > Foam laid the path for a gorgeous rendition of “If I Could” and a raucous Split Open. This ’94 installment was an instant classic!
I: Runaway Jim > Foam, If I Could, Split Open and Melt, The Horse > Silent in the Morning, Uncle Pen, I Didn’t Know, Possum
II. Guyute, David Bowie, Halley’s Comet, Lizards, Cracklin’ Rosie, Good Times Bad Times
E: My Long Journey Home*, Sleeping Monkey (*Acoustic)
12.29.95 The Centrum, Worcester, MA
The 1995 New Year’s Run was so outstanding and the New Year’s Show blew up so huge, that it is hard to say that 12.29 was the standout show. However, when assessing the three shows previous to New Year’s Eve, this outing stands out as a Phishy ride through the dark side, highlighted by one of the jams of the run. As many sinister shows do, this one opened with “My Friend, My Friend,” setting the tone for the evening. A strong first set brought a texture-laden “Stash” that featured some tremendous piano work by Page. After using a “Fluffhead” to resolve “Stash”s psychedelia, the band closed the set with a furious “Llama.”
While the first set is great, this show is famous for its second. The truly epic segment of “Bathtub Gin > The Real Me > Gin,” affectionately known as “The Real Gin” is the gem of this show. A tremendous jam that has survived the test of time, Phish gave a nod to their Halloween costume by bringing out one of Quadrophenia‘s quintessential songs. The Gin built strongly, yet innocently, and soon the powerful music transformed into The Who’s song that no one saw coming. The rest of the set followed up with a series of special songs as the band first dropped McGrupp to chill the room out for a few. But before too long, the raging musical nighttime returned in the form of a zany BBFCFM, lending its bizarre vibe to this ride. As the madness dwindled, Mike’s bass instructor, Jim Stinnett, emerged for a bass duel with Gordeaux. Providing an out of the ordinary portion of the show, the bassists revved up ZZ Top’s “La Grange,” busting out the cover before closing up with some shorter songs. This set wrapped up the Worcester portion of the run as Phish prepared to conquer Madison Square Garden in their biggest shows to date.
I: My Friend My Friend, Poor Heart, Down With Disease, Fog That Surrounds, NICU, Stash, Fluffhead, Llama, Sweet Adeline
II: Makisupa Policeman, Cars Trucks Buses, Bathtub Gin > The Real Me > Bathtub Gin, McGrupp and the Watchful Hosemasters, Big Black Furry Creature From Mars, Bass Duo*> La Grange, Bouncing Around the Room, Fire
E: Golgi Apparatus
*Mike and Jim Stinett, Mike’s bass instructor.
12.29.96 The Spectrum, Philadelphia, PA.
This standout Spectrum show is almost always thought of as the best of ’96’s run. With a classic second set Phish-fest, everyone was amped on their way up to Boston to close out the year. Really, the whole second set is a continuous highlight with stellar versions of “David Bowie” and “Bathtub Gin.” Once the YEM turned into a rotation jam and they dropped “Harpua,” this one got a plaque in the New Year’s Run Hall of Fame. Tight, directional playing characterized this second set which was so strong it overshadowed a rather lackluster first. A great night in a classic building.
I: Poor Heart, Caravan, Cavern, Taste, Guelah Papyrus, Train Song, Rift, Free, The Squirming Coil, La Grange
II: David Bowie, A Day in the Life, Bathtub Gin, Lizards, You Enjoy Myself* > Sixteen Candles > Vocal Jam, Harpua***> Champagne Supernova# > Harpua
E: Rocky Top
*With rotation jam. **Mike solo on piano. ***Story about everybody in town. Jimmy, Poster Nutbag, Harpua, etc., go to hell, where they all see the “Uber-Demon” (Tom Marshall). # Oasis cover, sung by Tom Marshall, the “Uber-Demon”.
12.29.97 MSG, NYC
Simply put, this is among the best shows ever played. Culminating a massive year at MSG, this night kicked off the three-night affair and stole the show. While the following night was a clear standout with unparalleled adrenaline, when it comes down to musical improv, it simply can’t compete. Opening with the playful trio of “NICU,” Golgi, and “Crossroads,” Phish began to scribe one of the most memorable chapters of their career. A soaring mid-set Theme paved the way for a powerful triumvirate to end the set. A near flawless “Fluffhead” pumped up the arena, as Phish took a pensive breather in”Dirt” before annihilating a set-closing Antelope. Arguably the greatest Antelope of the modern era (post-’95), this rendition of the song closed the first frame on the highest possible note. The band followed up the blistering jam with a classic ’97 funk breakdown in the closing segment of the song. At this point, The Garden was on!
What happened after setbreak was a work of sheer artistry. A ballistic “Down With Disease” jam, in the tradition of so many great ’97 Diseases, transcended the composed uptempo rock and entered into a murky, slowed down treat. Taking things from a much chiller point of view, the band collectively wove a masterful tapestry of sound and texture. A triumphant point within the entire year, this jam showcased so much off what made ’97 so special. Turning into something far more than the sum of their parts, Phish explored the depth of groove in the minimalist second half of jam. As most top-notch ’97 jams did, this segment moved out of the funk into some snarling music, featuring a nasty solo from Red.
As the twenty-plus minute unfinished exploration wound down, a similarly formidable jam geared up as Phish morphed into what everyone knew would be a colossal “David Bowie.” With the band as on as they were this night, a mid-second set Bowie was the perfect call. Delicately setting the mood of the jam, the band passed around some initial musical ideas before collectively diving forth. A contender for jam of set (it is stiff competition), Phish masterfully crafted an intricate Bowie that was both patient and urgent, simultaneously. Remaining in and around the song’s general path, the band stylistically improvised on the Bowie theme, building a monster jam that headed for the peak with a missle on its back. Yet, as the band built up one of the breaks of the climax, instead of ripping back into the song, they took a left turn, bursting with energy directly into “Possum.”
The band was clicking on all cylinders at this point and having a blast. Trey playfully strummed rhythm licks as Mike began the song over a very clean and open musical groove. As soon as the jam started, the band began toying with “Can’t Turn You Loose,” an Otis Redding jam associated with The Blues Brothers. Instead of a bluegrass interlude, this “Possum” would become a playful, crowd-pleasing and Phishy segment as they alternated between the two songs. Favoring a more rhythmic style, fitting in course with the evening, this jam seemed to be a natural flowing extension of the band’s virtuoso improvisation on this night.
Finally stopping after a “Can’t Turn You Loose” reprise, the band caught their breath for the first time in the entire set. In the small time they had to figure out what to play next, they couldn’t have made a more shrewd decision. Following some of the most inspired playing of the year, they sat into the mother of all late-97 “Tube”s, spinning The Garden like a gyroscope. “Move over Dayton!” and “Take off Albany!”– a new sheriff was in town. The band took us for a ten minute swim through the thickest swamp funk of the year. Paced at an infectious tempo, this “Tube” is the standard that all others will forever be held to. The entire venue bounced as if on a trampoline, as this set immediately grew in stature. A bombastic MSG YEM to close– peace! Put this one in the record books.
I: NICU, Golgi Apparatus, Crossroads, Cars Trucks Buses, Train Song, Theme From the Bottom, Fluffhead, Dirt, Run Like an Antelope
II: Down With Disease > David Bowie > Possum > I Can’t Turn You Loose* > Possum#, Tube, You Enjoy Myself
E: Good Times Bad Times
*A jam, from this song often associated with the “Blues Brothers,” but truly an Otis Redding cover. #”I Can’t Turn You Loose” reprised after “Possum.”
12.29.98 MSG, NY
Although I believe that the 28th was the show of this run, the popular choice is once again 12.29! A perfectly flowing second set was punctuated by one of the best YEMs ever played. A set opening “Free” took the road less traveled, leaving the funk behind for more a more dissonant path. A soaring merger of “Limb By Limb” and 2001 provided the meat of the set before Stevie Wonder’s “Boogie On Reggae Woman” funkified the filler before the YEM. A rare “Divided Sky” encore put a special cap on a special night.
I: Rock and Roll > Funky Bitch, Punch You in the Eye > Horn, Ginseng Sullivan, Split Open and Melt, Brian and Robert, Guyute, My Soul, Freebird**
II: Free, Limb by Limb > Also Sprach Zarathustra, Boogie On Reggae Woman, You Enjoy Myself
E: The Divided Sky
12.29.03 American Airlines Arena, Miami, FL
Five years later, post-hiatus in Miami, the 29th stood out once again. A refreshing run of shows after a underwhelming Turkey Run, all four Miami shows were solid from start to finish. Yet ask most fans which was their favorite night, and you’re bound to get more “29ths” than anything else. (I would lean toward the 28th.) This year’s 29th featured a well crafted seco0nd set with segues galore. Without any of the initial jams going anywhere spectacular, Phish pulled off fun transitions between “Rock and Roll, ” “Twist,” and Boogie On, creating an air of collective fun in the “intimate” arena.
But the meat of the set was the not-so-booming combo of “Ghost > Free.” The Ghost jam began patiently with a pulsing bass and bluesy feel before building into something far more. Trey elevated his playing in the second half of this jam before the entire band took a turn for a more groovy and uptempo place. A far cry from the militant Ghosts of yesteryear, this dirty version provided the most inspired and psychedelic improv of the night, leading into a slowly bouncing “Free.” The centerpiece “Free” jam gave Trey and Mike a chance to create a one-on-one jam right on the spot before diving back into the depths. A nicely juxtaposed “Divided Sky” followed, giving the set a splash of old-school Phishiness. The longest jam of the night actually came in the the show opening “Piper,” extending to over fifteen minutes of shredding.
I: Piper, Foam, Anything But Me, Limb By Limb, Wolfman’s Brother, Poor Heart, Cavern
II: Rock and Roll > Twist > Boogie On Reggae Woman > Ghost > Free, The Divided Sky, Good Times Bad Times
E: Waste, The Squirming Coil
While I am always against ranking Phish shows (it just seems like a futile effort) December 29th always provided us with a standout memory on each and every New Year’s Run. Cheers to this year’s anniversary, and here’s to 12.29.09 being the best one yet!
DOWNLOADS OF THE DAY:
12.29.95 The Centrum, Worcester, MA < LINK
12.29.98 MSG, NYC SBD < LINKCulture, New Years