Phish: 2 December 2009 - Madison Square Garden, New York / Words and Pictures by Thomas Hauner
Returning to the Garden for the first time in seven years, and on the band’s 26th birthday no less, Phish played an epic opening night concert for their first of three shows at the hallowed venue. It was a night marked equally by what did and did not transpire; the audience never managed to sing “Happy Birthday,” and no cake and few balloons were present, but the band did reclaim Zappa’s “Peaches en Regalia” after a decade long hiatus from their shows.
If one has never been to a Phish show, go now. To sum all the clichés, it’s a life experience: transcendent at best, mildly embarrassing at worst (mostly for others.) It’s a nebulous feat where non-stop dancing, stranger-hugging, weed tolerating masses go to listen to a raw music marathon spanning all genres and eschewing all gimmicks.
So while Phish’s, and more so its fans’, reputation precedes it tremendously, what remains steadfast is the band’s commitment to performing an old-fashioned concert. There were no video screens, texting hotlines, pyrotechnics, or costume changes—simply four hours of non-stop music and motion. Though the night still featured many of the group’s idiosyncrasies (e.g. glowsticks raining down like funfetti, synchronized dance moves,) jamming is their lingua franca. Smoke and lights vividly danced around the quartet as Trey Anastasio’s guitar spewed solo after jam-fueled solo, Mike Gordon countered with punchy bass lines, Jon Fishman pummeled his massive drum kit, and Page McConnell embellished with an arsenal of keyboards. The band’s dynamics provided stark contrasts in mood and tone, helping shape their two sets. Favorite “Sample in a Jar” became a swelling rock number after “Poor Heart,” a light country stomper and “Tweezer Reprise,” which closed the unofficial birthday party, became an unhinged rock opus after McConnel’s delicate vocals on “A Day in the Life.” Other staples like “AC/DC Bag,” “Harry Hood,” and “The Divided Sky” were sprinkled throughout the set to great effect.
Though no birthday surprises manifested last night, there was a collective enthusiasm amongst Phish heads (including New York Ranger Sean Avery, in attendance) that the evening’s setlist was especially good. Regardless, Phish is resolutely back—as their fans will be Thursday and Friday to see hear what’s next.