Phish Uncorks Furious ‘First Tube’ In New York City On Fall Tour 2009

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This year marks 25 years since Phish’s historic Fall Tour 1995. In recognition of that noteworthy tour and to make up for the lack of shows this fall, JamBase presents a daily retrospective highlighting a noteworthy moment from a Phish fall tour concert that took place on that date over the past 25 years (read a note on Fall 1997 here). The 25 Years Of Phish Fall Tour series runs each day between the start of Phish Fall Tour 1995 on September 27 through that tour’s finale on December 17.

Phish brought Fall Tour 2009 to Madison Square Garden in New York City for a three-night stand that concluded 11 years ago today. “First Tube” is a song that typically drives the audience into a frenzy, but the version that Phish played to end the first set on December 4, 2009 saw the capacity crowd and band link up for one of the biggest peaks in the quartet’s long and illustrious history at the venue.

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Guitarist Trey Anastasio wrote “First Tube” with drummer Russ Lawton and bassist Tony Markellis. The song was debuted live during the lone 8 Foot Fluorescent Tubes show on April 17, 1998 at the original Higher Ground in Winooski, Vermont. Anastasio, Lawton and Markellis were joined by Heloise Williams and Tom Lawson for the “First Tube” opener, as the group unveiled a version with vocals. It would be nearly a year before the next “First Tube,” which was performed at Higher Ground on February 15, 1999. This time, the song was played by Trey, Tony and Russ as an instrumental.

“First Tube” was a staple of Trey’s electric sets on his debut solo tour in May of 1999 and has remained in heavy rotation for the 21 years and numerous lineup changes that followed. Phish premiered their version on opening night of Fall Tour 1999 at GM Place in Vancouver, British Columbia on September 9, 1999. “First Tube” also found a home in the quartet’s repertoire with over 100 versions played through New Year’s Eve 2019 at MSG. In fact, Phish has yet to go more than 18 shows without performing “First Tube” since that fateful night in Vancouver.

In 2009, Phish returned from a five-year breakup and played many venues that frequently hosted the band before their split. One such venue was Madison Square Garden. While MSG has been the home of every New Year’s Run since 2009, there have been two exceptions. Phish ended their first year back at Miami’s American Airlines Arena, but they did play three shows at The Garden as the penultimate stop of their fall tour.

Earlier this year, interviews with the members of Phish in which they talked about their connection to The Garden were shared on MSG’s social feeds. “When the crowd starts dancing in unison, the floor starts to move and my mic stand does this thing where it bops me in the face if I’m not careful,” Anastasio said of the venue. “It’s controlled by the unity of the audience. Everyone has to be dancing together to get the room rocking. I’ve never felt that anywhere else.” The “First Tube” from 11 years ago today is a prime example of this phenomenon.

Dave “Mr. Miner” Calarco described the scene in his review for Phish Thoughts:

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.

I’ve attended 62 of the 64 shows Phish has played at Madison Square Garden. The “First Tube” from December 4, 2009 sticks out with both the “Piper” that kicked off the band’s “comeback show” on December 31, 2002 and the cover of Prince’s “1999” that opened the quartet’s December 31, 1998 performance as the most high energy moments I’ve experienced at an MSG Phish concert.

Phish and their audience were in unison from the first note of “First Tube” through the last. The venue was bouncing up and down throughout in a way that’s forever etched into my memory. As Mr. Miner noted, it “may be one of those moments you just had to be there to completely comprehend” but fan-shot video captured by notmkdevo certainly gives a taste of what went down as does the photo shot by Graham Lucas above. Pay particular attention to the roar that begins at the 2:40 mark as Trey jumps up and down, the huge grin on keyboardist Page McConnell‘s face at the 3:20 mark and see how hard it is for the videographer to keep the shot steady over the final few minutes. Watch the video below via the JamBase Live Video Archive:


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