Phish rings in 2020 with Clones and the Rescue Squad at Madison Square Garden

Jam rockers Phish executed their annual New Years Eve show and gag, albeit with unexpected turns. The show took place at Madison Square Garden to a sold-out crowd. The gag is an annual tradition where the band attempts to fool the audience during the third set. Over the years, the gags have become more theatrical, but this one included an unplanned element of surprise.

The first set included a notably-funky jam “Halley’s Comet,” and the setlist delight, “Fluffhead.” Additionally, after “Axilla,” the band continued a story that was started on 12/30, and eventually referenced a pan flute player named Zamfir. Fishman was able to conjure up Zamfir, played by Richard Glasgow their tour manager, by saying his name.

The second set was a non-stop jam that prepared the fans for the gag to come. Notable songs included “Punch You In the Eye” and “Mercury.” As the set ended, the crew removed all instruments from the stage, and left eight large covered cubes.

Set three began with the band talking behind stage without realizing the audience was listening. Guitarist Trey Anastasio mentions that the band will finally give the people what they want, and play an entire set of jazz ballads, a cappella, for new years eve. That is of course, until Zamfir made another appearance, unleashed his pan on the band, and effectively started the annual gag.

The band appeared wearing wacky colorful jumpsuits during a piano solo for “Send in the Clowns.” Fishman wore a pink inverted version of his usual donut muumuu. The band then changed the lyrics from “Clowns” to “Clones,” and by the end of the song, Anastasio proclaimed “Send in the clones,” and with that, an entire dance troupe dressed in the same outfits as the band, complete with wigs, paraded onto the stage. The band members blended in and were soon cast into the air above the stage, with color-coded platforms suspended above the stage with their respective instruments.

To end 2019, Phish launched into a rocking “First Tube” from the air, with their clones performing choreographed dance sequences on the ground and on color coordinated risers. At midnight, the band played the traditional “Auld Lang Syne,” followed by “Sand,” reminiscent of the incredible “Sand” played twenty years ago at Big Cypress Seminole Indian Reservation in Florida. The band members were toggled up and down in the air on their platforms, as the clones dance beneath them.

At the end of “Sand,” Anastasio was noticeably still suspended in the air, while the other three band members were on the stage. Anastasio tried to ease the audience with quipps like “Well, I guess if I’m about to fall to my death, I might as well tell you guys all how much I love you.” A long pause followed, where he found out that the crew was unable to move his broken platform to the ground. The show must go on, and Anastasio played from his hobbled platform for the rest of the set. The audience stood in near silence watching Anastasio’s platform swaying ever so slightly, as the pops of thousands of balloons echoed in Madison Square Garden, with the clones laying down on the platforms, waiting patiently for the next song to begin.

Trey Anastasio is lowered to safety via the Rescue Squad

Despite being stuck, the show continued with Page, Jon and Mike moving up and down on their platforms, with Anastasio’s static, 30 feet above the stage. During the quintessential “You Enjoy Myself,” the clones participated in an exceptional vocal jam. At the end, Anastasio awkwardly declared that the encore was starting, because there was no way for him to exit his platform, and asked the audience to pretend that they had gone off stage and come back on. The band gave the fans one final song of the night, “Tweezer Reprise,” and all left the stage, except Anastasio, who remained on his hobbled platform, and sang an impromptu ode to the “Rescue Squad” of crew who safely brought the Bad Lieutenant down. Using Fishman’s platform to safely bridge Anastasio to safety, Anastasio continued the “Rescue Squad” jam on his way down, utilizing Fishman’s drumkit for a final thank you to the Rescue Squad.

Trey Anastasio

Was it all part of the gag? Was this part of the plan? Fans continue to debate this days later, all the while reveling in one of Phish’s most impressive New Year’s Eve stunts to date.

Setlist courtesy of Phish.net

Set One: Martian Monster, Buried Alive, AC/DC Bag, Halley’s Comet > Prince Caspian > Sparkle > Axilla, Maze, Fluffhead > Rise/Come Together

Set Two: Punch You in the Eye, Wolfman’s Brother > Light > Twist > Soul Planet > Mercury > Possum

Set Three: Send in the Clowns[1], First Tube, Auld Lang Syne, Sand, Drift While You’re Sleeping, What’s the Use?, You Enjoy Myself

Encore: Tweezer Reprise, Rescue Squad[2]

[1] Phish debut, with lyrics changed to Send in the Clones; a cappella
[2] Debut; only Trey.