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Words by: Garrin Benfield | Images by: Dave Vann

Phish :: 12.31.10 :: Madison Square Garden :: New York, NY

Used with permission from Phish.
Photo by Dave Vann © Phish 2010

Getting to New York’s Madison Square Garden for Phish‘s New Year’s run was a cakewalk compared to the blizzard conditions that had universally complicated travel plans earlier in the week in Worcester. Outside the hallowed venue, hundreds of hopeful, ticketless souls wandered the tightly packed blocks of midtown Manhattan. Inside MSG, site of so many notable moments in this band’s history, Phish closed the year in which they truly returned to form with three focused, sharp sets that were also not short on collective improvisation.

The first half of the first set was a perfectly paced party that also included its share of surprises. “Punch You in the Eye” and “AC/DC Bag”, despite being two of the oldest and most frequently played staples in the Phish repertoire, were played with real commitment by the whole band. Trey particularly zeroed in on the climax of the latter tune. As “AC/DC Bag” concluded with its upwardly spiraling fade out, the mid tempo funk of “Moma Dance” emerged and quickly became the song when the band and audience truly relaxed into the set, the evening, and perhaps the reality of another passing year. The clip of the infrequently played “Scent of a Mule” took the energy up a notch, and was spot on throughout, including the tricky to navigate transitions from the klezmer jam back to the bluegrass outro. And, as someone who won’t shy away from saying that Phish sometimes has an uphill climb with accurate vocal harmonies, “Mule” was quite well sung.

The rest of the first set was a pleasantly mixed bag of debuts (the instantly likable shuffle of Phish’s next FM chance, “Burn that Bridge”), classic staples from the near-yet-far era of the mid nighties (“Weigh” and “Beauty of my Dreams”) and the downright unfamiliar (“Gone”, the obscure track from Party Time, that in my opinion may have been this set’s only misstep, inserting a pensive, tentative note into an otherwise celebratory collection of tunes). “Rock n’ Roll” closed out the early set with a textbook jam that demonstrated Trey’s newfound climax-building concision, a distillation of years of experience in the rarified field of jam artistry.

After a relatively short break, the band returned and burned through a non-stop second set that never let up in intensity. Trey’s recent, more aggressive distortion tone led the charge on “Wilson” and a searing, Zappa– fied “46 Days”. The whole band appeared recharged for this set and ready to lay down some serious psychedelic prog-funk. As “Sand” opened up into a weave of pointed staccato accents, the room exploded and the evening’s promise began to truly come to fruition. In a year of many versions of “Down with Disease”, this outing delivered with both heroic, major key riffage and twisted excursions into darkness. “Ghost” was also well balanced between its creepy funk verses and a long, lighthearted major I-IV section. On a dime, the band collectively began to slow down until Trey counted off a wonderfully executed “You Enjoy Myself” that included full blown “Manteca” choruses interspersed in the jam, the bass solo, and in the final vocal improv that closed out the set. I think it’s safe to say the folks who have dutifully carried around that “Manteca” banner all year were feeling pretty good right about now.

Used with permission from Phish.
Photo by Dave Vann © Phish 2010

“Meatstick” ambled to life to open the New Year’s set and at first didn’t even hint at the 19 minute spectacle that was to follow. After the Japanese lyrics, a quartet of men dressed in traditional African garb entered stage right and sang a few choruses, followed by a Mariachi band stage left, followed by an increasingly diverse collection of cultural representatives all dressed in traditional outfits. Around this time, either a pre-recorded version of “Meatstick” began playing or the front of house engineer had live-looped eight bars of the tune. Either way, the band was subtley ushered off stage while the 50+ ensemble of dancers and singers went through a tightly choreographed Broadway-style routine in the front of the stage and on risers behind the amps. Then the loop stopped, and the company sang “Meatstick” in a chromatically ascending pattern until Phish emerged in the Hot Dog from New Year’s past! Thousands of hot dog colored (and shaped) balloons began falling as the band, all smiles, traversed the rooftop of the arena tossing foam wieners down on the crowd. Eventually landing on the stage, the band seamlessly continued the tune until the countdown. A brief but incendiary “After Midnight” followed and served as the bridge into the rest of the first set of 2011.

The whole band outdid themselves on the version of “Backwards Down the Number Line” that followed. This was a valentine to the crowd, managing to simultaneously channel both a heart-tugging poignancy and a ferocious energy. The same could be said of “Waste”, which induced memories of the many years and hundreds of shows many in attendance had experienced together. Trey wove knots of Leslie-drenched notes at the song’s conclusion, and eventually fell into a long, patient “Slave to the Traffic Light”. The band gathered at the front of the stage for the absurd barbershop of “Grind”, and closed out a well considered and appropriately high energy show with “First Tube”. Though for the first time in the band’s history they and many in the room would be returning the following night for another show, this set felt like the exclamation point it was meant to be — to a remarkable year for a band whose diverse history is already marked with many.

All setlist information from Phish.net

Monday :: 12.27.2010 :: DCU Center :: Worcester, MA
I: Sample in a Jar, Funky Bitch, Cool It Down, Roggae, Heavy Things, What Things Seem, Roses Are Free > It’s Ice, Mountains in the Mist, Julius
II: Mike’s Song > Mound, Weekapaug Groove, Farmhouse, Seven Below > What’s the Use? > Twenty Years Later, Wading in the Velvet Sea, Possum > Cavern > David Bowie
E: Loving Cup
Notes: The end of Cavern was changed to “take care of your boots.”
Live Phish Download

Tuesday :: 12.28.2010 :: DCU Center :: Worcester, MA
I: Kill Devil Falls, My Mind’s Got a Mind of its Own, Alaska, She Caught the Katy and Left Me a Mule to Ride, Wolfman’s Brother, Pigtail, Stash, Bouncing Around the Room > Rift, Stealing Time From the Faulty Plan, The Birdwatcher
II: Carini > Backwards Down the Number Line > Back on the Train -> Limb By Limb > The Wedge > Frankie Says > Albuquerque, Harry Hood > Bug
E: Shine a Light
Notes: She Caught the Katy was last performed on July 21, 1998 (323 shows). Trey used a device that played Sarah Palin quotes during Alaska and after the debut of Pigtail. This show also featured the Phish debut of Birdwatcher. Back on the Train featured a Streets of Cairo tease from Trey.
Live Phish Download

Thursday :: 12.30.2010 :: Madison Square Garden :: New York, NY
I: Cities, Chalk Dust Torture, Gumbo > Quinn the Eskimo, Halley’s Comet > Camel Walk, Maze, Driver, Bathtub Gin, Fat Man in the Bathtub, Timber (Jerry) > Golgi Apparatus, Character Zero
II: Tweezer > Light > Theme From the Bottom -> My Friend, My Friend > Axilla, Fluffhead, Boogie On Reggae Woman -> Also Sprach Zarathustra > Suzy Greenberg
E: Run Like an Antelope > Tweezer Reprise
Notes: The P.A. cut out during Camel Walk. My Friend did not contain the “Myfe” ending.
Live Phish Download

Friday :: 12.31.2010 :: Madison Square Garden :: New York, NY
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
Notes: This show featured the Phish debut of Burn That Bridge. Ocelot, NICU and First Tube contained Auld Lang Syne teases. Beauty of My Dreams was played for the first time since July 22, 2003 (133 shows). Manteca was played for the first time since October 30, 1998 (301 shows) and the ensuing YEM vocal jam contained Manteca quotes. Before midnight, several groups of multiethnic dancers appeared on stage and sang the Meatstick lyrics in their respective languages. The band joined the dancers and then stealthily disappeared from the stage, only to reappear at the other side of the arena in the giant hotdog from past NYE shows (’94 and ’99). As a result, portions of the Meatstick were pre-recorded. Appropriately, the post-show music was Captain Beefheart’s Tropical Hot Dog Night.
Live Phish Download

Saturday :: 01.01.2011 :: Madison Square Garden :: New York, NY
I: My Soul, Tube > Runaway Jim > Foam, Guelah Papyrus > The Divided Sky, Round Room > Walk Away > Gotta Jibboo > Reba, Walls of the Cave
II: Crosseyed and Painless > Twist > Simple, Sneakin’ Sally through the Alley > Makisupa Policeman -> David Bowie
E: Fee, Frankenstein
Notes: Round Room was played for the first time since July 13, 2003 (140 shows). Twist contained Manteca quotes from Trey. Makispua included the lyrics “I went home late last night after doing the New Year’s stunt, I laid back on my couch and rolled myself a blunt” and also featured a “kick drum solo.” Frankenstein featured Page on keytar.
Live Phish Download