[Recap courtesy of Jon Zinter, user @Zimmerman.]
The final weekend of Phish’s historic 13-show residency at Madison Square Garden is upon us, and it all feels like a blur. It doesn’t help that the band has been playing monster shows with a level of consistency that’s downright unprecedented for this era of the band’s history. “3.0” usually made it pretty easy to separate the best from the rest, but this residency has made choosing your favorite show more akin to choosing your favorite donut variety. Even the “weakest” show of the Baker’s Dozen (whichever one THAT is) would have been considered a top show of last summer’s tour. Having a room to themselves to work with for so many consecutive shows has been great for the band, and seemingly has only deepened their well of creativity. They know just how this building’s bones quiver.
As a result, tickets for this weekend’s shows have been some of the toughest to find pre-show in years. After ten straight bouts with no repeats (it’s fair to say by now that Phish will not be repeating any songs during the Baker’s Dozen) and chock-full of original improvisation, everyone wants their share of the box. I was without a ticket for yesterday’s show myself before reaching out to my former professor of philosophy and Phish, Dr. Stephanie Jenkins, whose crew proved generous and found me an extra on just a day’s notice. I wouldn’t be writing this without them.
I’m usually the sort of fan who scuttles his way into (not) his seat during the show opener, but since I had to be onsite early to pick up my ticket anyway, I decided to walk in and finally try one of the complimentary donuts. This offering was of the lemon-poppy seed variety; a classic fried donut with lemon glaze and covered with poppy seeds. Just what do poppy seeds add to lemon flavor? Please inform me in the comments. The lemon glaze was surprisingly tart; its flavor closely reminiscent of Lemonhead candy. It made the bottom of my mouth tingle. I rate last night’s donut five stars; no fluff.
In continuation of the donut-themed openers, Phish started Friday night with a debut cover of Blind Lemon Jefferson’s "See that my Grave is Kept Clean". Next up was a standard version of "Punch You in the Eye", followed by "Party Time", which both set the thematic tone for the final weekend here at MSG, and featured the night’s first burst of type-I energy. Trey is particularly on point here, as he would be during firey type-I passages and peaks throughout the show. More classic Phish was up next, with an unusual but apt pairing of two loud, fast, and abrasive songs in "BBFCFM" and "Dinner and a Movie", to my ecstatic delight. “Dinner” was last played on 7/21/2013, and has been played only eight times since the return in 2009. I nearly fell right over upon hearing the opening riffs. That song was my white whale. I had no idea how to react.
"Ocelot" is a song that has really come into its own over the past two years or so, and this version features Gilmour-esque whining from Trey before the type-I peak that might as well be part of the song now. Next came "Poor Heart", the typically majestic Winterqueen, and a song normally relegated to the set-closer or encore slot, "Bold as Love". The first set ended with "First Tube", which stayed in-bounds as expected but had a little hot sauce on top to keep the crowd raging. All-in-all, a pretty average first set with some welcome novelties and a few moments of type-I fire that indicated a band both well-practiced and rearing to go.
Set II opened with barbershop classic "Dem Bones" before the meat of the set began with "NMINML." Trey brought the jam to an early bliss peak, accompanied by guitar screams, before departing for smoother, warmer waters. After a few more minutes of quiet, ambient rhythm, accompanied by tropical-sounding runs from Trey, the jam faded into deep space. Phish has been allowing jams to simmer off before moving on recently with these deep-space fadeouts, when previously in this era we would have gotten the ‘ol “ripcord.” Out of the ambience came a debut cover of Radiohead’s "Everything in its Right Place", which features the repeated lyric, “yesterday I woke up sucking on a lemon,” and which I will also leave to this community’s Radiohead aficionados to judge. All I know is I enjoyed the fluff out of those deep pulses of bass and Fishman’s shoegaze-like echoed vocal performance. "What's the Use?" was up next, with an abrupt start and samples of Fishman’s vocals during the previous track laced throughout.
The highlight of Lemon Night came with the next cut; a 16-and-a-half minute long type-II version of "Scents", which offers a relaxed exploration of the deepest caves Phish dive into with their music. Through the first seven minutes or so, the jam was a straight-up rocker in the vein of the first set’s type I, peak and all. The band then found a groove perfect for dropping “NMINML” quotes on, but shortly after it seemed like the well was about to run dry. Mike said “no,” however, and revived the jam by driving the band into a new groove that was, well, really, really groovy. Trey accompanied this groove with high-pitch echoes before it slowed down at around 13 minutes in. The slowed groove added a degree of swamp to the band’s sound and gave Trey space to play some heavy riffs before Mike found the master bass line that propelled the jam through its closure. This jam may not have exceeded 20 minutes like so many this year thankfully have, but it gets right to the point, and then takes that point for a meandering walk. It’s quintessential 2017 Phish.
"Caspian" was well-executed with a little extra Trey sauce on top, and then the band once again drifted back into ambient, spooky cavespace instead of just finishing the song and starting another. Out of this space crawled "Fluffhead," to the immediate delight of the entire room. “Fluff” is a fan favorite and its place in the Phish catalogue has gone without saying for a long time. It’s one of Trey’s most ambitious compositions but still exemplifies the silly charm that makes Phish Phish. It’s a special song, and it Belongs in this slot. It’s not a consistent jam vehicle [see here], but it’s a piece of music that’s riveting from start to finish and shows us the talent of Phish from a less commonly viewed angle. The "Clod" section had a few sour notes, but "Arrival" makes me feel like everything that ever went wrong anywhere is A-okay. That triumphant, orgiastic peak draws tears every time. It’s like running home after a long, hard journey.
To seal the deal on the classic feel of this show, Phish encored with "Frankenstein," which featured an evil and chaotic breakdown before the finale. I’ve already seen massive amounts of love for this show. I don’t know that it’s on the level of Jam Filled or Jimmies, as it lacks jamming in comparison, but Phish gave me little to complain about at this show, and I’m about as “persnickety” as they come.
Lemon Night. Come for the classic Phish songs and stay for an all-time, year-defining “Scents” jam. And then go back tomorrow for one more Saturday night!
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December 18, 1999
18 years ago
 Trey on acoustic guitar.
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