Phish and New Year’s Eve has always been a highly combustible combination. Throughout the band’s career, this night of revelry has provided Phish the grandest of stages to play soundtracks for the passing of time. Regardless of where these new beginnings took place — from Boston Garden to Big Cypress — a special electricity always filled the air on the final night of the year. But when the band took their high holiday to New York’s Madison Square Garden, first in 1995, and then in 1997, 1998, and 2002, it became quite obvious that the venue was a perfect match for the party of the year. Matching the grandiosity of the music and the moment, MSG became the ultimate room for Phish’s larger-than-life holiday show. Thus, when the band announced New Year’s Eve would return to The Garden in 2010, they sent shock waves through the community, as everyone knew we were in for a special night; another magical convergence of time, place and Phish. And when the last piece of confetti hit the ground last Friday night, Phish had — as expected — added another chapter to their legendary legacy.
Setting an upbeat tone early on, and bringing back memories of 12.31.95, Phish kicked off New Year’s Eve with ‘Punch You in the Eye.” Delivering a message of enthusiasm, Phish tore though the adrenalizing opener, getting everyone in The Garden on the same rocking page immediately. Continuing the high-energy vibe, the band followed with a crisp “AC/DC Bag” and a gooey “Moma Dance” — each of which hold a significant link to MSG via 12.30.97. The only conceivable lull in the show came next with the combination of “Scent of a Mule” and the debut of the mid-tempo, bluesy “Burn That Bridge,” a collaboration between Trey and Broadway songwriter and performer, Amanda Green. But the first improvisational dip of the night came next, in a dreamy mid-set “Ocelot.” Mike stepped out front, pacing the methodical jam as Trey favored early whales which gradually turned into swankier, sustained licks. The whole band tapped into each others’ playing, creating a cohesive whole. Page’s and Trey joined forces bringing the jam to a peak in which Trey unleashed a perfectly-fitting “Auld Lang Syne” tease, capping the version with extra excitement. “Beauty of My Dreams” and the second-ever performance of “Gone” set the stage for a closing “Rock and Roll.” As the band tore through a contained version of the usually open-ended vehicle, something in their communication clicked and caught fire. Revving up a thrashing rock jam that catapulted them into the rest of the night, Phish never looked back as they finished a year of phenomenal versions of Velvet Underground’s cover with a scorching exclamation point to the first set. Trey stepped forward and completely annihilated a never-ending solo that also got him warmed up in full for one of his most impressive sets of the run that sat around the corner.
Traditionally, the first set of New Year’s Eve is reserved for songs and compositions, the third is saved for celebrations, and middle set contains the evening’s most serious music endeavors. Following this pattern to a tee, Phish transformed the second set of New Year’s Eve into the night’s unquestionable highlight, providing stylistic diversity while crushing everything in their path. Opening with the hard-edged stylings of “Wilson” and “46 Days,” the latter piece turned into a tidal wave of face-melting arena rock as the entire band just about blew the roof off The Garden with airtight fury. Continuing his spectacular night, Trey’s comically-intense playing took center stage in an animated guitar blowout.
Taking no time to rest, Phish launched into one of their central jam vehicles of fall tour — “Sand.” Placed under the white-hot spotlight of New Year’s second set in New York City, the gritty rhythmic juggernaut seemed destined to blow up. And over the course of ten ludicrous minutes, that destiny would be fulfilled. Trey leaped into the jam with his crack-like staccato-funk, while Mike and Page echoed and altered the same patterns, transforming the piece into an hyper-dynamic exercise in groove. Fishman laid down slick dance beats as all three members formed some of the most collaborative music to ever stem from the song. As Trey moved out of his staccato playing and smoothly into laid-back solo, the band’s communication translated into this second section as the piece turned into a more flowing build. The gritty and aggressive interplay fit congruently with MSG’s big-city surroundings as Phish put a shimmering close one of fall’s most indelible songs.
The band took respite with the ska-pop of “NICU,” before diving into the defining musical sequence of the evening. When Phish bucked convention and brought out “Down With Disease” in an unorthodox, mid-set slot, it seemed like the beginning of an adventure. Always holding potential for open-ended action, “Disease” proved to be the first piece of the show that departed from structure. Following a raucous composed jam, highlighted by more ferocious guitar work, the band took the music into the abstract, shifting gears quickly but not abruptly. Oozing into a mystical, ambient realm, Trey emerged from this sonic sludge with the smooth opening licks of “Ghost.” As the band dropped into a “Ghost” jam on New Year’s Eve in The Garden, one could feel an oncoming journey. Beginning on traditional ground, Mike stepped out to lead the early jam as Page hopped onto his clavinet. Trey slowly joined in the fray with sparse licks, deferring to Mike’s leadership early on. Building his own part gradually, Trey subtly infused himself into the piece. But when he hit a gorgeous harmony with Mike and Page, the groove transformed into a tidal wave of bliss. While the rest of the band came together in emotional exchanges with a full head of steam, Trey rewrote the universe atop it all. Somersaulting into some of his most cathartic playing of the year, Trey transformed the jam into a showcase of his soul, spewing melodies that could save the world with subconscious mastery. A never-ending peak sent chills down the spine of anyone with a pulse, as Phish, led by their Jedi master, clicked in the type of musical treasure we travel the country questing for.
Resolving this emotional masterpiece and to close the set, Phish dropped into “You Enjoy Myself.” A song that is virtually synonymous with The Garden, itself, a history of climactic versions wafted in the rafters of the famous venue. And on this night Phish added one more stellar version to the “YEMSG” collection. Harnessing the energy of 20,000 rabid fans, a smoking set, and a year’s worth of musical playfulness, Phish embarked on a thick jam that Trey soon transformed into “Manteca.” After dancing around “Manteca’s” rhythms and melody for much of the year, the band finally bust into the song, in earnest, on New Year’s Eve. Crashing back into “YEM,” the band periodically hit breaks where Trey, in rhythm, sang “Crab in my shoemouth!” in a display of Phishiness that brought the venue to the brink of implosion. As the band finalized their vocal jam and walked off stage, they left behind them a trail of musical vapor, and a set that any Phish fan had to love.
A distinctly short setbreak ended as the lights dropped at 11:40 pm, far earlier than usual for New Year’s Eve. The band must of had something in store, but when they started up “Meatstick,” nobody’s wildest dreams could have imagined what was coming. As the band finished the Japanese lyrics and vamped over the funk, four African warriors emerged on stage and bust into a translated “Meatstick” chant with a powerful delivery! Then a Mexican mariachi band came up from the other side of the stage, playing a rhythmically coherent Spanish version of “Meatstick!” Then out came Hasidic Jews, and Swedish women, German couples, and before anyone knew what was happening the stage was filled with dancers in costume, representing ethnicities from all over the globe — all singing and dancing the “Meatstick!” And in one sublime moment, the entire troupe switched into a choreographed routine over “Meatstick’s” liquid funk in an unmatched display of theatrics. In a world divided by bullshit and politics, here was Phish, albeit symbolically, uniting the world with the “Meatstick;” and it was spectacle to behold. The dancers were so colorful and entrancing that it took quite a while to notice that the band had actually left the stage while their music was left looped throughout the arena.
As the dancers summoned “The Meatstick,” out came Phish from the back of the venue aboard their famous hot dog from New Year’s Eve 1994 and Big Cypress. The band rode over the crowd while pelting them with toy meatsticks, meatstick-shaped balloons fell from the ceiling, and faux hot dog stands emerged on stage. Climbing out of the vehicle, the band surrounded the hot dog stands, continuing to throw meatsticks at their adoring fan base while mayhem ensued! The band slowly got back on their instruments and the countdown on MSG’s scoreboard began at 15..14..13… When 2011 hit, Phish, in a classy act, backed off and allowed their guest performers take center stage for the New Year’s anthem “Auld Lang Syne.” Trumping any previous midnight “stunt” in history with a monumental affair, many jaws were left hanging as Phish tore into “After Midnight.”
The “Meatstick” / “After Midnight” combo had Cypress allusions all over it, as Phish rang in the New Year with a song few saw coming. While balloons filled the room, the band tore through a high-speed rendition that was followed by tight versions of “Number Line,” “Piper,” and “Free.” In a frozen moment of dripping wah-funk, it felt like Trey might finally let “Free” out of its 3.0 cage, but before long he turned towards the song’s final chorus. After “Waste,” that continued to illustrate Trey’s passionate playing, the final set of 2010 came to peak with “Slave to the Traffic Light.” A delicate version floated in a beat-less space before setting sail for the sunset, and “Slave” put poignant punctuation on another year of Phish, and an unforgettable New Year’s Eve show that will go down in history. Favoring melodic themes we’ve heard throughout fall’s monster versions, Trey led the troops through a massive musical climax.
After “First Tube” finalized a cathartic evening of music, Phish took a well-deserved bow; not only for an amazing show, but for the transformative year of 2010 that saw the band migrate into the newest golden era of their career. And the best part of saying “Happy New Year!” to everyone while leaving the building, was that for the first time in history, the next sentence was, “See you tomorrow!” Phish was coming back the next day to follow up a New Year’s show that plastered smiles onto the faces of just about everyone in the building. After a celebratory evening, we still had one more night to celebrate. But thinking back on the entire run, that second set shimmers like a gem and the International Meatstick Extravaganza will live on forever in another truly memorable New Year’s Eve with the Phish from Vermont.
I: Punch You In the Eye, AC/DC Bag, The Moma Dance, Scent of a Mule, Burn that Bridge*, Weigh, Ocelot**, Beauty of My Dreams, Gone, Rock and Roll
II: Wilson, 46 Days, Sand, NICU**, Down with Disease > Ghost, You Enjoy Myself > Manteca > You Enjoy Myself
III: Meatstick^, Auld Lang Syne, After Midnight, Backwards Down the Number Line, Piper > Free, Waste, Slave to the Traffic Light, Grind
E: First Tube
*debut, **w/ Auld Lang Syne teases, ^International Meatstick Extravaganza
Tags: 2010, 2011, New Years