Natural History Musuem’s Blue Whale makes Cameo at Phish Earth Day show

Night three of Phish at Madison Square Garden not only brought with it three sets of music, but a whale of a chance to do “New Year’s” all over again. Friday night represented the NYE celebration of the rescheduled end of 2021 shows and revelers took full advantage, dressing up to nines and all but signing “Auld Lang Syne” on the way in.

Photo by Jake Silco

An “Everything’s Right” opener did nothing to curb the pre-show enthusiasm and had the MSG crowd rocking in unison from the get-go. A smooth segue into “Tube” only further enhanced the early show vibes. Another first set pairing of “555” > “Back On The Train” went off without a hitch, with a “Train” jam that slowly increased in both tempo and emotion. The Page McConnell-penned “Army Of One” gave the crowd a chance to catch their breath before Phish welcomed back “Axilla (Part II)” to the live setting after being resurrected last year. A rowdy “Bathtub Gin” was met with open arms before “Say It To Me S.A.N.T.O.S” closed out a raucous first set.

The second set was the “all gas, no brakes” portion of the evening with a string of segues that started with an ebullient “Set Your Soul Free” that made its way seamlessly into the “Light.” This was followed by a simmering “Fuego” before a quick trek into “What’s The Use?” gave the second stanza a chance to breathe. A “Backwards Down The Number Line” that Trey Anastasio dedicated to his daughter for her birthday brought yet another slow build and release jam in closing out the second set.

Prior to Set 3, the stage was cleared off entirely, and new, more compact drum and key rigs were brought to the stage, centered more than usual. The wide area around the stage that now surrounded the band was revealed to be a white sheet just prior to the 11:45pm start time. With the band’s return to the stage for “Free,” the stage lifted up, bringing with it the now-stretched sheet upon which projections would appear during an Earth Day-themed set. Five songs – “Free,” “A Wave of Hope,” “Waves,” “Sand” and “Split Open and Melt” – would play off their lyrics while water and laser projections lit up the stage from underneath.

Anastasio and company found themselves lifting up off the stage, with all found on the same level, so as to avoid a repeat of 2019 where Anastasio found himself stuck on his a platform, 30 feet above the stage. Much like in 2013 and 2015, the band moved the stage within the confines of The Garden, keeping the fans on their toes.

phish whale
photo by Pete Mason

The Earth Day gag as a whole did not give a direct nod to this rescheduled New Year’s Eve show, but there were connections to the past that could be found within the production. The foam blowing during “Split Open and Melt” was a callback to 2002’s “Seven Below” foam party; the ‘rain’ during “Free” and “A Wave of Hope” was similar to 2016’s “Petrichor” production; the overall aquarium feel throwing back to 1993’s New Year’s Eve, and the overall water theme from 2017’s “Soul Planet.”

During “Waves,” drone-operated dolphins made an appearance, floating through the air, gyrating as they flipped and bounded through waves of smoke and fog. The famed Blue Whale from the Natural History Museum arose from Mike-side moments later, coasting through the water and providing a stunning visual effect for all 20,000 fans to behold. For 20-30 minutes, The Garden felt like The Ocean, with a blue hue accenting the stunning set.

As the stage descended at the end of “Split Open and Melt,” the sound of cracking ice could be heard, giving a subtle hint to the single song encore of “It’s Ice” that was yet to come. For the grand finale, a giant donut was raised behind the stage, reminding phans that even on Earth Day, the universe is a donut.

photo by Pete Mason

Setlist via

Set 1: Everything’s Right > Tube, 555 > Back on the Train, Army of One, Axilla (Part II) > Bathtub Gin > Say It To Me S.A.N.T.O.S.

Set 2: Set Your Soul Free > Light > Fuego > What’s the Use? > Backwards Down the Number Line

Set 3: Free, A Wave of Hope, Waves > Sand, Split Open and Melt

Encore: It’s Ice
This was the rescheduled date for the show that had been postponed due to the Omicron variant of COVID-19 surge in New York City in December of 2021. Trey teased Happy Birthday in Set Your Soul Free and wished his daughter Bella a happy birthday in Backwards Down the Number Line. For the third set and encore, the stage was raised with a screen showing moving images in front of and below the band. During Waves, dolphins and a whale flew throughout the venue. Kelp descended from above the band during Split Open and Melt and fell to the stage after the song was over. Prior to It’s Ice, there was a prerecorded freezing sound as the image on the screen “froze.”

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