“I saw you with a ticket stub in your hand” – Phish, “Golgi Apparatus”
A Phish concert is always part party, part celebration of life, so it makes sense that the long-running Vermont jam band have glommed onto New Year’s Eve like a squirming coil. You can watch the ball drop, or you can drop all your worries and stresses and listen to a few hours worth of mind-melting musicianship as all around you, fellow fans lose themselves in the ecstasy of the moment.
After calling it quits in 2004, Phish had a change of heart, and thus they’ve returned to their semi-annual tradition of playing multiple shows at Madison Square Garden to usher in the New Year. While Halloween is their chance to try on musical costumes by covering another band’s album, New Year’s is all about making sure the world doesn’t end without having a good time first.
Which seemed to be the case on 12/30, from my vantage point in the stands. While the big countdown was twenty four hours away, the festivities were in full force in the Garden, where the aisles filled with dancing revelers, and wafts of smoke obscured security guards. While 34th street is no suitable place for a pre-show gathering, Occupy Shakedown Street was in full effect. “Punch You In The Eye” (a strange title for a hippie anthem) kicked off set one, followed by “Prince Caspian” and “Backwards Down The Number Line.” There were classics like “Rift” and “Divided Sky” to reward the faithful, and a reading of Bob Dylan’s “Quinn The Eskimo” that proves the song basically belongs to Phish now. I mean, somebody should be doing something with it, and it makes a great jam band song, with its endearingly goofy lyrics and shout-along chorus.
Ask any Phish-obsessed fan what the highlight of the show was, and they’ll tell you it was “Piper” into “Twist” in the second set. If you don’t know why that’s a big deal, I’m with you (this was only my second show, although I can’t wait to see the next one.) But I do know that that’s when the music started feeling extra drone-y and psychadelic, and the hairs on the back of my neck began to stand up. Later, the funk salute of “David Bowie” gave way to covers of Stevie Wonder’s “Boogie On Reggae Woman” and Led Zeppelin’s “Good Times, Bad Times,” a succinct summation of 2011.
The following night saw the band going for broke, playing well past midnight, and busting out “Auld Lang Syne,” which, if you’re interested, segued out of “Cavern” and “Steam,” and later transformed into “Down With Disease.” Balloons rained from the ceiling, and Trey Anastasio and Mike Gordon levitated above the stage on platforms, and several dancers took to the air on wires — if you were there, you weren’t hallucinating. And if you weren’t there, you can watch the video below. It’s quite spectacular. Happy 2012, everybody, and have a jammy new year.