Inside Madison Square Garden, one can feel the history of Phish in the arena. Having just completed their 17th show at the storied venue, the corridors drip with memories of nights past and moments we’ve enjoyed. When songs are dropped, one can’t help but remember the classic versions that have gone down within the round room that surrounds. On the final night of their three-night stand, the band evoked, and added, to their 34th Street legacy with a two-set performance of current hits, classic jams, and a significant return to their catalog. Locked and loaded with another non-stop setlist, the band blasted off in the greatest indoor Phish arena, bar none. When Phish has The Garden in the palm of the of their hand, manipulating energy with their minds and instruments, there is simply nothing like it. And last night was again one of those nights. With their least exploratory playing of the run, Phish defined their show with a second set of flowing, succinct improv, and a monster “YEM” to punctuate the whole shebang. With fierce playing, the band treated the Friday night audience to a plethora of grandiose anthems that created a memorable two-set experience.
After a string of high-energy rockers to start things off, the band whispered into the first version of “Glide” since their poignant and bittersweet Coventry farewell. A song that seeped heavy emotion in the fields of Vermont, nodding to the physical survival of all band members at their 2004 demise, the songs carried a distinctly celebratory feel when broken out last night. In a complete juxtaposition of tone, on this night “Glide” celebrated the arrival of this era, and the everlasting spirit of the Phish. Bringing an undeniable air of redemption to the set, this version’s significance wasn’t lost on anyone.
The sparkling gem of the first set came in the form of an old-school, up-tempo “Reba” that saw impeccable communication and interplay between the entire band. Drenching the arena with a sublime waterfall of driving melodies, Trey led the band in a version that immediately stood out as an indelible memory of the MSG run. Dropping, without whistling, into “Dinner and a Movie” the sinister bust-out sent the energy through the roof. Following the only “Guyute” of tour with a particularly smoking “Maze,” the band brought the house down to close the first set with a “First Tube” that matched “Fluffhead’s” peak as the MSG’s two points of near implosion. With collective energy pouring from the audience in tidal waves, this version defined the interplay between Phish and its audience as the two forces brought each other higher and higher to a mind-bending peak. This may be one of those moments you just had to be there to completely comprehend – ridiculously powerful stuff.
The second set held the promise of further experimental improvisation, and a small dose bubbled out of “Seven Below,” but more than anything, this set brought a series of heavy hitting songs that torched The Garden like MJ. But before the band launched into a string of connected pieces, they stunned everyone with the return of their post-hiatus masterpiece “Scents and Subtle Sounds.” Having not played the opus since Summer ’04, and never indoors, the reintroduction of one of post-hiatus most promising jam vehicles brought waves of blissful emotion through throngs of kids throughout the arena. Anticipating an experimentation of the likes we’ve seen at the beginning of the last couple second-sets, instead the band played a standard version that brought the song back into play; and there are few better developments over the three-night run.
After the opener, Phish put a spotlight on another of ’09’s greatest hits, “Rock and Roll.” One of the year’s indelible type-II vehicles, last night Phish played a rather contained rendition with a hefty dose of blistering rock and a section of percussive breakdown typical of many versions. With no shortage of precise playing, this jam didn’t break or explore any new ground the band hasn’t covered many times proficiently this year. But as the song came to its arguably premature end, the band twisted into “Seven Below,” a certain nod to Albany’s epic that awakened their improvisational spirit a week ago. Phish jammed from off the song’s theme into a segment of hypnotic whole-band interplay that Trey painted with a repetitive lick, potentially a loop, lending a drone feel to the night’s most compelling excursion. Placing their open improv in the middle of set rather than at the beginning, this mystical music brought the band out to its furthest point of the evening, crafting a abstract escapade. A not-so-exploratory second “Twist” of tour still transcended the near-composed jam in Syracuse with some tight and creative type-I improv while bringing a welcome return to the setlist. Without letting up, the band returned to the historically terrorizing territory of MSG “Mike’s Songs.” Channeling the arena’s copious energy, the band built a gnarling rendition that brought echoes of “Grooves” past from the rafters.
Following a “Horse > Silent” interlude, the band brought down the house with the groove-based highlight of the night in a stupendous “YEM.” Once settled into a funked-out jam, Trey played off Mike’s bass patterns, taking a signature rhythm lick – one codified on The Siket’s Disc “The Name is Slick” – and turned the party out. Weaving variations of the staccato lick throughout the band’s rhythmic gymnastics, Trey hit his solo in full stride, stretching things out in the biggest blowout of the night and a rightful cap to the stand. But just when you thought Phish had played it all, they came out with the memorable peak to their Exile on Main Street set, the gospel-laced “Shine a Light.” A perfect ending to a phenomenal three night stand, the band integrated their Halloween costume into their triumphant Garden finale. Forever etched in the memory of all in attendance, and with musical memories galore, Phish’s MSG run ended in a fitting lyrical tribute to the entire Phish community.
And now, the Southern denouement…
I: Heavy Things, Possum, Wilson, Kill Devil Falls, Glide, 46 Days, Bouncing Around the Room, Reba, Dinner and a Movie, Guyute, Maze, First Tube
II: Scents and Subtle Sounds, Rock and Roll > Seven Below > Twist, Mike’s Song > I Am Hydrogen > Weekapaug Groove, The Horse > Silent in the Morning, You Enjoy Myself
E: Shine a LightTags: 2009, Fall '09