Phish opened their annual 4-night New Year’s run in grand fashion last night at Madison Square Garden. Perhaps picking up on the palpable political tension this year has brought us, an a capella rendition of “The Star Spangled Banner” served as a somewhat fitting opener. With a raucous Garden crowd now energized, “Stealing Time From the Faulty Plan” followed, allowing guitarist Trey Anastasio to shine early with some fierce guitar licks. The first of three first set covers (not including our national anthem) then appeared in the form of “Lonesome Cowboy Bill,” a song prominently featured on the band’s cover of the The Velvet Underground album Loaded done in 1998 for their musical costume. This fun, semi-bustout of a cover then gave way to “Free” which picked up the energy level in the building significantly and seemed to have everyone dancing in unison for the first time all night.
However, the pace settled back down again afterwards as “Train Song” and “Prince Caspian” followed, two songs featured on the now 20-year-old album Billy Breathes. “Roggae” kept the mellow first set vibe in full gear, allowing lighting director Chris Kuroda to show off some new lighting techniques in addition to some old favorites. A cover of the blues classic “Funky Bitch” then followed, highlighted by tremendous vocal and bass work from Mike Gordon. “Halfway to the Moon,” a song penned by keyboardist Page McConnell, gave him a chance to take center stage before another bust out of a cover in the form of a beautifully melodic “Corrina.” The first set wouldn’t be complete without one last jam and chance to stretch out a little and “Stash” fit the bill perfectly for that before a standard first set “Cavern” closer ended an enjoyable yet fairly laid back first set.
The second set that followed was anything but laid back as a three-headed monster of musical mayhem kicked things off. A top notch rendition of “Wolfman’s Brother” started the proceedings and saw the four musicians in perfect harmony with one another. Then, although it may not have been up to the epic level of the previous version played in Vegas a few a months ago, the “Golden Age” that followed was not that far off and featured some of the most inspired interplay of the evening which eventually led into a seamless segue into the classic arena rocker “Simple.” This three-song section of the evening was, by far, the highlight of the night, prompting one show goer to call it “her new best friend.”;
After a typically splendid “Simple” outro jam, the band picked things back up with an uptempo number in “Chalkdust Torture” that, once again, seemed to have the entire arena moving as one. The “Martian Monster” that followed was anything but typical as sound effects delivered by McConnell and steadfast drumming by Jon Fishman soon gave way to a full on “Tweezer” outro jam that took everyone by surprise and even had Anastasio integrating “your trip is short” lyrics sung to the tune of “Tweezer.” Phish playing around both musically and lyrically is when they’re at their best and this was no exception. “Wingsuit” then followed as the requisite breather song to slow things down a little before a fairly standard run through of “Possum” closed a ferociously enjoyable set of music. One last cover in “Good Times, Bad Times” served as the encore, undoubtedly sending everyone on their way ecstatic from a great night of music with, presumably, three even better ones to follow.
SET 1: The Star Spangled Banner, Stealing Time From the Faulty Plan, Lonesome Cowboy Bill > Free, Train Song, Prince Caspian, Roggae, Funky Bitch, Halfway to the Moon, Corinna, Stash, Cavern