What a finale! Capping a year of shows that were etched into our collective memory one by one, Phish destroyed Madison Square Garden over the course of four nights in a style unseen since the late-Nineties. Dropping a bevy of timeless jams, sought after bustouts and an array of new material, the guys showcased all the reasons that they are now—after their thirtieth year of existence—riding a wave like never before in their career. In a calculated move, Phish filled their Holiday Run with nine sets of exclusively original material, showcasing their eclectic musical virtuosity that won over all of our hearts in the first place.
Over the past couple years, the band had fallen prey to their extensive autumnal offseason, rolling into Madison Square Garden with little momentum and dropping spotty performances. This year, however, following a fall tour and the recording of a new album, that was not an issue. Finely oiled and playing with precision from the first set of the first night, the guys made no bones about their single minded holiday mission—to take care of business. Through the course of four nights, Phish nodded to their roots, the three “eras” of their career and a bright future, bringing the audience on a musical tour de force that cut to the core of this grand experiment. I said before this run that it had all the ingredients to become the most prolific stand of the modern era, and lo and behold, that is exactly what happened.
On each night the band dropped top-level improvisation, the likes of which we dream. “Steam,” “Disease,” “Carini,” “Chalk Dust,” and “Light” led the way with outlandish, mind-bending excursions that we will be listening to until the end of time. “Wolfman’s Brother,” “Sand > Piper” and “Simple” played supporting roles in the open jam category, while “Stash,” “Twist,” “David Bowie,” “Harry Hood” and “You Enjoy Myself” anchored the band’s structured improv—all pieces with ample playback value.
But this holiday run was about so much more than jams. This run was a celebration of our four musical super heroes from Vermont, and their illustrious thirty-year history. The band’s own nod to their earliest days culminated in an unforgettable second set of New Year’s Eve atop a faux tour truck in the center of the Garden. Ever lessening the gap between themselves and their audience, Phish replicated the stage set up of their first-ever show at the University of Vermont and played a set’s worth of über-old school material, the most recent of which was “Glide” debuted in 1991. Along side a divine “Reba” and a closing “Split Open and Melt,” the set featured the central Gamehendge tales of “Colonel Forbin’s Ascent > Fly Famous Mockingbird,” “Icculus” and “Lizards.” And amidst “Icculus,” Trey cut to the chase, instructing the audience in the ways of The Book, imparting the message of Gamehendge to a new generation on the most high profile night of the year. In another setting in another time, one might have taken move as being drenched in nostalgia, but as Phish has now reached a modern peak that few believed was possible, this message was an affirmation of all that was right in the land of Lizards as we crossed the threshold into 2014.
Beyond celebrating their unequaled past, however, this holiday run also kick-started the future as the band brought back most of the songs from their Halloween set. Phish interspersed their Wingsuit material throughout the four nights, highlighted by the dramatic placement of “Fuego” directly after midnight on New Year’s Eve. While all the other new songs were delivered in straightforward fashion, “Fuego” featured a tasty improvisational segment in a sure-fire preview of the next big jam in the Phish universe. Each new piece brought a jolt of excitement, as it evoked memories of Halloween while upping the ante of what is to come next summer.
To end their thirtieth year, Phish—finally—played a modern Madison Square Garden run that both upheld and paid homage to their prestigious past in the World’s Most Famous Arena. Scribing an unforgettable four-night chapter in their ever-expanding legacy, Phish—the four-headed, one-minded musical monster of Vermont—proved, once again, that it has no parallel in the history of live music.