When Phish walked off stage after the encore on December 31, I had to take a few moments to begin to digest what I just witnessed. I found myself posing the same question I ask myself after monumental Phish experiences: “Are Phish fans insatiable?” Perhaps there’s never a light at the end of the tunnel and as fans, we’re generated by the fear of missing out on moments of pure musical bliss. We make huge sacrifices; we miss weddings, funerals, take time off work and spend every hard earned dollar on Phish chasing those irreplaceable moments. There’s a reason even the most seasoned veteran feels the exact same fear of missing out as a new fan – because Phish is really fucking good at what they do and after closing out 2015, their most successful year as a unit since they reunited in 2009, the band still found a new creative space to step into and out of as they pushed the envelope further than they ever have at the Garden.
The band took a new approach to how fans see and experience a show in Madison Square Garden by utilizing an innovative space in the room for the first time during their New Year’s gag. As the third set started, all four members rose up on a small stage at the back of the house. Once the band was positioned under a funnel shaped screen a curtain suspended fully encapsulating the quartet in a full cone shaped hourglass complete with a full light show. This new, visually aesthetic treat was something that shed a light on why Phish fans come back time and time again. The deeper undertone of the hourglass is open to interpretation, but it looked like that band was literally lost in time and in full control of their musical destiny.
New Year’s Eve is one of the most anticipated nights for live music all year and along with Halloween is one of the toughest tickets to get. Phish delivered three sets and an encore full of musical highlights, stretching many of their songs well beyond their traditional norms and as the band broke into a new stratosphere there was no looking back. The first set saw some serious heat in a nice extended, delay-based jam from Trey in “Wolfman’s Brother,” the sold out crowd singing the outro to “I Didn’t Know” and a smoking “Reba” > “Walls of the Cave” to cap off the first set was just a warm up, though packed full of heat. The second set was where Phish took standard songs and stretched them into something great through some stellar improvisation. The “Kill Devil Falls” -> “Piper” -> “Twist” was some of the most beautiful pieces of improvisation and the most fluid transitions of the entire run. With two sets under their belt, the band was flexing their range and evidently having so much fun on stage.
As the band completed their appearing gag and jammed “No Men in No Man’s Land” under the cone, the band returned to the main stage for “Blaze On,” which they jammed out for over 15 minutes. Phish debuted “No Men” and “Blaze On” when they kicked off their summer tour on the west coast and both songs have quickly become crowd favorites. It was promising to see the band bookend their last notes of 2015 and their first notes of 2016 with new music wrapped around the traditional New Year’s number “Auld Lang Syne.” In my mind, I had a similar feeling to the Wingsuit set on Halloween of 2013. It felt like a promise to the fans, a promise that spoke vividly about how that the best was yet to come. In 2015, Phish hit a stride that was unmistakable and a lot of that had to do with Trey coming off five extremely successful shows with the reunited Grateful Dead. Phish has been on the road longer than they were on hiatus and a rumor of a new album is picking up traction with these new songs fully embedded in the band’s history from last year.
Being a fan of improvisational jam band music means that you’re open to trying new things and after your ticket gets scanned and you walk into the venue, you’re taking a musical leap of faith and a risk to explore parts unknown. As Phish closed the chapter of 2015 they proved that they’re firing from all cylinders with their foot firmly pressing down on the gas pedal looking into 2016. It seems as if the band is unstoppable of even being slowed down and no matter what they do next, they’ll do it with grace and conviction. There’s simply no better way to ring in the new year than with a garden party and whether the band is flying in on a hot dog, being raised on hydraulic lifts, literally staging a runaway golf cart marathon, playing on top of an equipment truck or fully encapsulating themselves under a psychedelic hourglass, for that brief moment perhaps you can quench that insatiable thirst for more Phish.
Setlist via phish.net