Phish | 12.02.09 | MSG Night 1

Words by: Brian Bavosa | Images by: Dino Perrucci

Phish :: 12.02.09 :: Madison Square Garden :: New York, NY

Phish :: 12.02 :: MSG
Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome back to Mecca. Magical Square Garden. Simply put, it's the greatest arena in the world - for anything. Compound that with the fact that December 2, 2009 represented Phish's 26th anniversary together as a band, the palpable energy for their first show at Madison Square Garden in seven years (and second since '98) was unmatched even before the band hit the stage.

Kicking off the only three-night stand of the fall tour with an old-school, fire blazing combo of "AC/DC Bag" and "Chalkdust Torture," it was apparent that the band was glad to be back at the indoor arena that has arguably witnessed the most magic of their legendary career. Two tunes that can sometimes go through the motions, they simply rocked. Early on, Trey spoke about the '97 holiday shows, and how during certain grooves, the floor at the Garden actually bounces. I've experienced it during several second sets here since '94, and during "Chalkdust" I felt the first "bounce" of the night.

A super funky "Wolfman's Brother" showcased Page McConnell's skills (a recurring theme on night one), while Anastasio crushed the ascending riffs. The only new tune in set one was the bubbly "Ocelot," another sign that pointed to big things on the horizon. But, clearly, clearly, clearly, the bust out of the night, the tour, and maybe '09 was the late set cover of Frank Zappa's "Peaches en Regalia." Only the 39th time it's ever been played in over 20 years, and the first one since 9.24.99, the excitement of older fans who knew the significance of this tune as it started up was apparent around the venue (just check the video below). It was one of those moments that validated the time and money for those who travel and devote their lives to this band, making it all seem worthwhile. It was also executed to perfection, as was the majority of the first set. "The Divided Sky" saw the crowd going bonkers during the middle pause section, and a perfect "Cavern" closer topped off a powerful first set back at MSG.

Trey :: 12.02 :: MSG
But as solid as set one was, set two was simply packed with some of the biggest tunes in the catalogue, including some serious jamming - which Phish 3.0 has lacked for the most part - and a relentless onslaught that felt like an all-out pile-on. "Golgi Apparatus" was a nice springboard to "Light," which has clearly emerged at the biggest jam vehicle off 2009's Joy. "Light" is vintage Phish. It allows the band to slowly and comfortably stretch out, while Chris Kuroda shines his own lights over the masses, before ultimately peaking in a soaring crescendo where one envision the crowd exploding in a cannon shot of colorful confetti. For those that say this song is overplayed, I disagree, simply because it opens so many doors and allows limitless possibilities for exploration.

"Light" landed in a welcome mid-set "Slave to the Traffic Light," which saw the gentle thunder of Phish at its finest envelope the Garden before Thor's almighty hammer slammed down in the form of "Tweezer." Both dark and funky, this version was raucous and had the crowd going bananas - a true night one highlight, especially coming off "Slave."

After a brief breather in "Joy" and the infectious, breakneck "Sparkle," the band kept pouring it on with the opening notes to "Harry Hood." One of the band's oldest songs, you could see the masses simply kick back as we basked in the glory that is Phish - for 26 years and counting! This one was patient and sublime, exactly how it is meant to be.

By the time the band smashed into "Suzy Greenburg," one of 3.0's strongest tunes, McConnell was all over both his Clav and baby grand and the four-headed monster was firing on all cylinders. In a word, scorching. The icing on the cake was the set closing "Run Like an Antelope," solidifying an outstanding setlist. But it was more than just the songs. It was the stellar way they were played, not to mention Trey was so lively and animated all night, it was clearly a great sign of things to come for the remaining nights of Phish's triumphant return to MSG.

An encore of The Beatles' "A Day in the Life" was another treat, followed by one of the most raging five-minute songs ever written, by any band, ever: "Tweezer Reprise." Trey destroyed it, Fishman hit the kit with a thunderous force, and Gordon - who was also very, very prominent this night, especially in set two - was locked in.

All in all, a frickin' super first night at the legendary venue, which ranks as one of the Top 3, if not THE number one show I've seen since the return. Stay tuned for Night 2...

Phish :: 12.02.09 :: Madison Square Garden :: New York, NY
Set I: AC/DC Bag, Chalk Dust Torture, Wolfman's Brother, NICU, Ocelot, Brian And Robert, Poor Heart, Sample In A Jar, Peaches en Regalia^, The Divided Sky, Cavern
Set II: Golgi Apparatus > Light > Slave To The Traffic Light > Tweezer > Joy, Sparkle, Harry Hood > Wading In The Velvet Sea, Suzy Greenberg, Run Like An Antelope
E: A Day in the Life, Tweezer Reprise

^ = not played since 9.24.99

Continue reading for more pics of Phish at MSG...


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