If any holiday embraces the theme of good times and fun, it is New Years Eve. For their fourth and final show of 2012’s Holiday Run at the Garden, Phish manifested this theme through three sets of high-energy rock and roll. Remaining largely within song structures, the band treated 20,000 fans to a rousing performance while infusing humor throughout the final set of the year. Playing with authoritative command, the band shook the World’s Most Famous Arena for over three hours highlighted by a golden sequence of “Ghost > Piper” in set two. After letting it all hang out on the 30th, the guys got back to polished rock music in their 2012 swan song and showed that even an improvisationally contained show can bring the house down.
Upon entering MSG on New Year’s Eve, fans were greeted by a floor and stage covered in Astroturf while “actors” dressed in country club attire were spread throughout the floor playing an array of lawn games such as mini-golf, badminton, and croquet. Additionally, the stage was covered in plant life with trees, shrubs, and assorted flora providing the feel of a true garden. Phish musically referenced their surroundings right off the bat with an out-of-the-blue opener of Ricky Nelson’s 1972 song, “Garden Party,” inspired by his experience at a Madison Square Garden concert. Through the lyrics to the song— “it’s all right now, I learned my lesson well / you can’t please everyone, so you gotta’ to please yourself”—it was clear that the guys had were going to have a blast in their year-end finale, and their musical confidence oozed from their high octane performance all night long.
The meat of the show transpired, as usual, in the second set with an eye-popping run of songs that were connected quite smoothly, though only “Ghost” and “Piper” were given room to breathe. Continuing their modern era New Year’s Eve tradition, “Ghost” transformed into the improvisational centerpiece of the night. Sparking the jam with hard-edged playing, the band united in a section of groove that saw all members contribute equally to the mix. Before long, however, the guys followed Trey’s lead out of conventional territory into an uplifting plane of harmonic convergence. Sprouting patient and soul-caressing leads, Trey spearheaded the most transcendent passage of the evening. Cascading guitar melodies brought the jam to its peak while coaxing spot-on piano accompaniment from Page. Reaching a plateau of creative reverie, the guys had, once again, sculpted a phenomenal New Year’s Eve “Ghost” to go along with the standout versions from ’09 and ’10. A mellow denouement to the jam brought the music smoothly into “Piper.”
Juxtaposed against the beautiful music of “Ghost,” Phish blasted off into a full throttle version of “Piper.” Trey carved out gritty leads amidst a musical fury in which the band connected as well as they did all night. This high-speed chase upped the intensity of the second set and never relented as the band flexed their improvisational muscle throughout this torrid rendition. Trey’s leads and rhythm chops stood out at the guiding force of this voyage as he dictated the path and tempo with Fishman tightly glued by his side. When the jam did finally come to an end, the guys only took a moment to merge with the most prolific song of 2012, “Light.” Placed in the middle of the New Year’s second set, a monster version of the seminal jam felt imminent. Trey took a spectacular solo within the contained portion of the jam—something he did in virtually every selection of the night—but when the time came for the band to spring into the ether, they, instead, relaxed into an ambient washout and revved up “2001.” Keeping the setlist moving where it might have benefitted from a bit more improv, the guys closed the set with a run of “2001,” “Horse > Silent,” and “You Enjoy Myself,” none of which separated themselves from average versions. The second set, however, featured non-stop action from start to finish, and a certain flow to the action, fitting the vibe of the show congruently.
Who knows what prompted the band to create a golf-themed third set of New Year’s Eve—perhaps it’s a hobby of their golden age (Trey and Page’s at least!) or perhaps it was a natural extension of “Kung’s” runaway golf cart marathon that was actually staged during “Chalk Dust”—but as usual, the band took it the extra mile. None of my friends nor I picked up on the golf-themed setlist in real time, but when I saw a tweet about it after the show it seemed hilarious that we hadn’t noticed. “Sand > Wedge,” “Fly Like an Eagle,” “Wilson,” “Lawn Boy,” “Driver,” and “Iron Man” made up the post midnight set, all with a golf references right in their titles. Later someone noted that “Party Time” (Par-Tee Time) kicked off the comic-laced set, leaving only “Tweezer Reprise” as the only non-golf related song in the set, but what an exclamation it made for the midnight hour! Following a rambunctious golf cart marathon within a compact “Chalk Dust,” the band, with assistance of their trusty New York City dance troupe, counted down to midnight. And after the tradition of “Auld Lang Syne,” they busted into their most adrenalized song in their catalog (which had been looming since the 28th) to ring in 2013, “Tweezer Reprise.”. Complete with strobe lights, dancers and a diva, Carrie Manolakos, belting out vocal melodies alongside Trey, “Reprise” created quite the midnight festivity!
Once the balloons had dropped and hugs were exchanged throughout the crowd, the band kicked into 2013 with a scorching dance session in the first ever third-set version of “Sand.” Though the show’s final set played out without much jamming, the band managed to throw three entertaining curve balls into the stanza with the debut of Steve Miller Band’s seventies anthem, “Fly Like an Eagle,” a rearranged, a cappella version of “Lawn Boy,” and the first full version of Black Sabbath’s “Iron Man” with Page playing the role of Ozzy Osbourne. Once again, fun was the pervading theme of the night.
Page recognized the onset of Phish’s 30th anniversary year during the encore, a year that allegedly holds a large touring docket the band. But this night was about finishing 2012 in style. This New Year’s show ended what was unanimously heralded as the band’s best year since their 2009 return, and in the heart of New York City on a stage they have made their home, Phish delivered a robust and celebratory performance. Thirty years deep and still going strong—only the Phish from Vermont.
I: Garden Party*, Possum, Roses Are Free, Rift, Sample in a Jar, Alaska, Mike’s Song > Walk Away, Weekapaug Groove, Character Zero
II: Birds of a Feather, Ghost > Piper > Light** > Also Sprach Zarathustra > The Horse > Silent in the Morning, You Enjoy Myself^
III: Party Time, Kung > Chalk Dust Torture > Auld Lang Syne > Tweezer Reprise^^ > Sand > The Wedge > Fly Like an Eagle*, Wilson, Lawn Boy#
E: Driver, Iron Man##
*debut, **Auld Lang Syne tease, ^Birds of a Feather tease, ^^With Carrie Manolakos on vocals and backup singers, #a cappella, ## first full performance