It’s hard to fathom that Phish has now been back playing together for longer than their “hiatus” (2000-2002) and “break up” (2004-2009) – combined. Phish 3.0, as this era is commonly called, is also days away from seeing its seventh consecutive New Year’s Eve of the band’s modern day. One of the most sought after tickets amongst fans and most lauded nights of the Phish year on the calendar is certainly one of celebration. As the band caps off a monumental, peak year, leading into the New Year, I break down the New Year’s Eve gags of 3.0, and what the band might have in store for 2016.
From Phish.net: During DWD, as the clock turned midnight, hundreds of balloons were released upon the crowd, fireworks went off on each side of the stage, and a disco ball was lowered onto the pedestal. After DWD, Trey opened the ball and Fish climbed inside. Trey and Mike, with some help from stagehands, proceeded to put the ball in a giant cannon aimed towards a giant net hanging from the rafters with an illuminated “X” on it. Page hit the trigger and purportedly “blasted” the ball through, not only the net, but also the roof of the arena. A searchlight appeared to come through the roof and was accompanied by helicopter sounds. With Fish apparently shot out of the venue, Trey asked if anybody knew how to play the drums and ended up finding Sarah, a girl from Pittsburgh. Trey asked how long she had played the drums and what her favorite song was and she responded with six months and Fluffhead respectively. Sarah was surreptitiously replaced by Fish, now wearing a dress identical to Sarah’s and a black wig, who played the entire third set and encore, but Sarah came out at the end of the third set and bowed with the band instead of him. Blue Moon was a Phish debut and was performed as an instrumental while Trey thanked the entire crew. After the show, the disco ball was revealed to have “crashed” into a white car that had been parked in front of the American Airlines Arena with a sign on the windshield stating “This car was driven down from Vermont” and “fueled by maple syrup.” After being “struck” by the “human cannonball,” the car was emitting smoke and leaking maple syrup and the entire area was cordoned off with police tape.
Post Auld Lang Syne/Midnight Song: “Down with Disease”
My Take: The first New Year’s Eve run of the current era of Phish returned to the American Airlines Arena in Miami. Having played this venue once before in 2003, it was a much welcomed change from the cold, Northeast New Year’s runs that the band played for their home fans seemingly every year throughout their history. Coming off their first, full year back together, Phish seemingly did it all in 2009: comeback shows in March, a full summer tour, a festival, and a fall tour. Needless to say, they were probably a bit tired by this New Year’s run, or at least didn’t leave much time or creativity for the gag, and one that’s rather forgettable, at least in my mind. The Miami run did see some fantastic bust outs and a super show on 12/30, and capped a great return to glory for the band.
From Phish.net: 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.
Post Auld Lang Syne/Midnight Song: “After Midnight”
My Take: The return to THE venue for New Year’s Eve shows in my opinion, Madison Square Garden, saw Phish and friends perform “Meatstick, the Musical.” Not only was this one the most enjoyable and creative New Year’s gags of 3.0, but it ranks up there for me with the all-time ones. The band put some serious thought into this one. Certainly drawing upon Trey Anastasio’s recent foray into the world of Broadway musicals, having been tapped to co-write the score for Hands on a Hardbody (which would open in the spring of 2012, and eventually 2013 on Broadway), the band enlisted some trained dancers for this awesome rendition of an old, Phish favorite. There was also no mistake that this New Year’s Eve show featured some of the band’s best playing, highlighted by an all-time version of “Ghost” in the second set.
From Phish.net: Prior to Steam, a steam kettle and hot plate went off on stage, with Trey acting like he was attempting to put out the steam. Shortly after the song began, steam also came from the floor near the soundboard area. An amp (with the steam kettle on it), a keytar, a bass, a vacuum, and a few lights were then lifted off the stage. A woman in the front of the stage tossed a “Steam” sign into the front row, then rose with a barricade and security guard before eventually being lifted up over the band. Several other aerialists (clothed in various casual attire, equipped with black backpacks emitting smoke and lights on their backs) subsequently rose up from the crowd and ascended and descended several times. The first aerialist counted down to midnight, at which point balloons were released from the ceiling. The aerialists later returned with lights in their hands for Down with Disease, which also featured Trey and Mike being raised up and back down a few times before finally rising several feet on hydraulic lifts.
Post Auld Lang Syne/Midnight Song: “Down with Disease”
My Take: The second straight New Year’s back at MSG (and the second of four consecutive) saw Phish again take their gag to a higher level. In my opinion, the 3.0 stunts have been better when the band has not played a fall tour, allowing them more time to put energy and effort into their finale for the previous year.
A newer song “Steam” saw the band levitate both musically – and figuratively. A true sight to behold, the band capitalized on a great, new groove before tearing into the seemingly every-other-year, post-midnight, “Down with Disease.” I’ve said multiple times on the record that “DWD” has the single, most celebratory riff in the band’s catalogue, so there’s no accident that it often ends up being the first song of the New Year. Always welcome in my eyes!
From Phish.net: Trey, Page and Mike came out for the third set in golf carts and began hitting golf balls into the crowd. Fish then arrived on a golf cart wearing donut pants and shirt, an argyle vest, and a golf hat. Golf carts were brought back on stage during Kung, then began racing past the stage periodically during Chalk Dust. During the Chalk Dust jam, golfers began getting out of the carts, hitting balls into the crowd and dancing on stage. One of the golfers did the New Year’s countdown from on top of a cart. Auld Lang Syne was accompanied by balloons dropping from the ceiling and ping pong balls fired from cannons. Tweezer Reprise featured Carrie Manolakos on vocals and a number of backup singers. The remainder of the third set and encore featured song titles focusing on a golf theme. Wilson was preceded by an animated Wilson golf ball on the venue’s jumbotrons. Iron Man was preceded by Page coming to the front of the stage to wish the crowd Happy New Year and reference the start of the 30th year of Phish. In an apparent reference to Bob Hope, Page wore a blazer, USS Nimitz ball cap and carried a golf club. Driver was stopped and restarted. This show featured the Phish debuts of Garden Party and Fly Like an Eagle, the first full Phish performance of Iron Man (which was last played December 31, 2003, or 192 shows), and the first ever a cappella Lawn Boy.
Post Auld Lang Syne/Midnight Song: “Tweezer Reprise”
My Take: 2012 saw Phish try something different yet again. Deciding to focus more on a theme than a specific gag, I was impartial to the Golf stunt, mostly because I am a golfer. (My handicap is currently 9 and falling fast!) Featuring racing golf carts around the stage, and the debut of beloved classic rock tune, “Fly Like an Eagle,” this was again a New Year’s stunt that benefited from no fall tour, extra time to prepare and meticulous planning. If they ever do anything golf related again, the band should definitely take some lessons beforehand though. I’ll be waiting for my phone to ring, fellas. Fore!
From Phish.net: After the conclusion of the first set, Trey and Page carried a keyboard-shaped cake out to the front of the stage (with a giant two-dimensional mountain behind it, this created a tableau of the cover of Phish’s Colorado ’88 release), and proceeded to slice and serve cake in honor of their 30th anniversary to fans near the front of the stage. After the cake was served, a video was played showing Fish collecting various props from the band’s previous New Year’s Eve concerts and driving a replica of the band’s “JEMP” truck down to New York City. The truck from the video appeared in Madison Square Garden and was moved to the center of the floor. All of the songs played during both setbreaks were from the year 1983. The band performed the second set standing on top of the truck, using a stripped-down stage setup including hockey sticks for mic stands. Melt contained a DEG tease from Trey. During Grind, the “days lived” stated by the band referenced how old they would be when they returned for their 60th anniversary. During the encore break, a video montage of photographs and film from throughout Phish’s history and previous New Year’s Eve concerts was shown. After the encore, a video image was shown of a “Save the Date” card for Phish’s 60th anniversary show (on December 31, 2043) with each band member digitally aged.
Post Auld Lang Syne/Midnight Song: “Fuego”
My Take: 2013, and the fourth consecutive New Year’s Eve at Madison Square Garden, concluded the band’s 30th year together – a true milestone. It’s for this reason that they broke from convention and re-wrote the script to make this NYE extra-special, as only they could. Instead of a traditional gag or stunt where they were isolated at one end of the arena for the third set, the band treated fans to a subtle “thank you” of old school tunes for the second-set, in the middle of the World’s Most Famous Arena. I still get chills thinking about this show, as if offered time to reflect about the past 30 years of Phish –past, present and future – all at the same time. Truly magical.
From Phish.net: The Phish debut of Dem Bones began a cappella, then Fish moved to vacuum. The song was then stopped because, Trey said, the vacuum had become stuck to Fish’s face. Brian Brown and Lee Scott (Trey’s guitar tech and Fish’s drum tech respectively) came out to assist in trying to remove the vacuum and then went behind the stage with Fish to fix the problem, with Mike suggesting they switch it “from suck to blow.” There was the sound of a small explosion and the lights went out. A giant inflatable Fishman then emerged from behind the stage and took off over the crowd, while the balloon drop, including Henrietta donut balloons, occurred and the band played Auld Lang Syne. Trey quoted Martian Monster during his speech at the end of Julius.
Post Auld Lang Syne/Midnight Song: “The Dogs”
My Take: 2014 saw a return to Miami, and the first New Year’s not held at Madison Square Garden since 2009. A notable let down in the gag department again, and holds true with my theory of sort of rushing it when they play a fall tour. Add in a super, mega, spectacular Halloween where the band tapped every creative bone in their body for an all-original crop of tunes based on the 1964 Disneyland album Chilling, Thrilling Sounds of the Haunted House, and it’s easy to forgive the band for having a holiday hangover. It was nice though to see some lasers and “The Dogs,” one of those creative Halloween debuts, ring in the New Year.
So, what does New Year’s Eve 2015 have in store for Phish fans? The band returns to the Mecca of Madison Square Garden, where let’s face it – there’s just something extra special about Phish, New Year’s and New York. There’s more energy when you are in the center of the universe of one of the rowdiest nights of the year.
As for the stunt, there could be a Star Wars theme, as some fans are calling. I highly doubt that. There may be a nod to the upcoming shows in Mexico, with possibly a “Mexican Cousin” tie-in. Still seems unlikely, though. Maybe the theme of flowers enveloping the city has something to do with the gag, as it sometimes has in year’s past. Who knows? There could be an “Auld Lang Syne” > “Fluffhead” combo which would most-certainly invoke deafening screams post-midnight in MSG, especially during the “Fluff came to New York!” line. That’s the most plausible of the theories I, and friends have kicked around.
But, my guess is something entirely different. It’s something no one is expecting, and will be super-creative. (Remember, we didn’t get a fall tour this year). Exactly what will it be? I’m not sure, and that’s half the fun – being surprised and living in the moment.
So fellow fans, what do you think this year’s gag will be?
Whatever, the gag, remember to celebrate another year of Phish, friends and fun! Happy New Year!