So two weekends ago I drove down to NYC to catch a weekend of Phish play at Madison Square Garden with some friends. I know what most of you are thinking, you either A) hate phish and everything them and their fan base enjoy and thus will probably click away from this right……….now (I urge you to not do that, your patience will be rewarded 🙂 or B) enjoy the music and are still psyched about their most recent run. Either way, this was the weekend through my eyes, and there’s a little something for both people described above.
A Few Things…
Let me formally begin by saying that I am a self admitted phish fan of a couple years. Show count is at 7 right now, but before you judge just know that that number is lower than the stick in the final round of a limbo competition of double jointed people compared to other fans.
I do understand the hesitancy (or downright hatred) surrounding this band. I don’t necessarily agree with it, but this is America so I respect your opinions.
I understand how one can find the bands 20-30 minute jams long, arduous, and confusing. I myself get lost in the jams occasionally, and even a phish fan hears songs he hasn’t before at certain shows, that’s the point for some attendees. But the difference is that I embrace it. I embrace the noodling, the feeling of being a little lost. Sometimes I feel like they play songs or sections of compositions completely wrong just to show you that they can bring it back to a great groove without any problems.
I understand how one can not get down with their impish, often nonsensical, and borderline childish lyrics. But if you give me this reason for not liking them, then turn around and start blasting mumble rap in your car, than I simply don’t get it. Regardless of your feelings on Americas most polarizing band, I think it’s high time they earned more respect outside of their fan base.
Like them or not, phish just did something historic.
Credit Where Credit is Due
For fucks sake, the quartet just played 13 shows in 17 days (7/21 to 8/6), ending what was essentially a residence at the largest and most famous club in the world without repeating a single song. What else do they need to do?
The showmanship was something else. Dubbed “The Bakers Dozen”, each of the 13 nights had a different theme, which were donut flavors. So night one was coconut, there was a “jam filled” night, and your classic glazed. My nights themes were chocolate, cinnamon, and jimmies. Some of the highlights on theme included a very sexy cover of Hot Chocolate’s “You Sexy Thing”, a rockin version of the Phish original “Chalkdust Torture” (Chalk is a homophone of choc, in case you missed that), a first time bust out of “The Wind Cries Mary” on jimmie night that sent MSG ablaze, and an encore cover of Neil Young’s “Cinnamon Girl”. Other high points of my weekend included a rousing rousing rendition of their Vermont-days classic song sandwich “Alumni Blues” and “Letter to Jimmy Page”, a whole lot of frontman Trey Anastasio’s senior thesis suite known as “Gamehendge”, the odd bust out “Weigh” the very danceable funk rock original “Sand”, the creepy carnival-setting composition “Esther”, the reggae infused jam vehicle “Harry Hood”, and a funky take on Richard Strauss’ tone poem “Also Sprach Zarathustra” (A Space Odyssey theme).
Of course there will still be fans complaining about “oh they didn’t play this” or “they repeated songs that they played earlier in the summer tour” and to them I say, with all due respect, shut your greedy fucking mouths and appreciate what this band just gave you.
You can not like them, their music, or their fan base (I identify with those who agree with the later) but it’s time to give it up-these guys can play and they just proved it yet again. Regardless of whether or not you like any aspect of the band, you have to admit they are doing something right. 52 total shows played at MSG, 13 of them constituted one run. Not only does this in theory beat Billy Joel’s record(more on this later) but it also puts the Vermont quartet in such company as Joel, Elton John, The Grateful Dead, and Bruce Springsteen as acts that have played the garden over 50 times.
Now technically Joel has played 43 consecutive shows at the Garden, but that depends on your definition of consecutive . The man has played 43 shows since January of 2014, playing about one per month since then. While still incredibly impressive, let me strongly state that I am not trying to take anything away from or slander Joel, but that’s not consecutive imo (not that my opinion matters). That’s not a run, that’s just being a savage and basically being the house band for the largest club in the world, which is arguably more impressive.
But what I also find impressive is what Phish just did. Again, please don’t take this as me slamming Joel because you’d be wrong to assume that I am, but Joel doesn’t take many risks. What I mean by this is that he gets on stage, has a firm setlist, and adheres strictly to said setlist, not really deviated too much from the standard studio versions of his songs (which are great, I must reiterate). Whereas Phish gets on stage and through improv makes leaps and bounds, take risks musically that may not pay off or sound as amazing as a standard pop song or ballad, and oh yea they just did it 13/17 nights at the Garden. If you don’t like phish that’s perfectly fine, but you have to at least give credit where credit is due.
Not only is it tough to simply do a stunt like this, but believe it or not they actually played well. They played 26 sets of music, didn’t have a traditional set list for any of them, didn’t repeat a song regardless of contentions (they finished and then reprised lawn boy, it’s different), were playing consistently and historically well the whole time, and had a palpable energy flowing through the room unlike anything I’ve ever felt before. Yea, sure, you can make fun of me for just saying that previous sentence all you want, but I will stand by it. I’ve never experienced anything like that. Four men captured the attention of the entirety of MSG and beyond for 13 nights. 13 nights they had well over 20,000 people in the palm of their hand, and they didn’t disappoint. Rather they gave something back to the people whom they were captivating-a serious groove. If you are new to this band/world, then click here for a website that will give you every live show they’ve played since like 1988, and be sure to check out their more accessible studio albums.
I didn’t come here to berate you if Phish isn’t your thing, or to make you enjoy them-musical preference is entirely individualistic and subjective, that’s what makes it great. You like who you want to like and that is awesome. All I’m saying is I think these men have done enough to warrant some respect from those who have given them the exact opposite over the years, and this latest run is just another prime example. This band has been playing together for the better part of 30 years, and have been selling out large amphitheater a for about 20. Keeping this in mind, one of the shows they just played-jam filled night (night 4), was just ranked the second best show they’ve ever played on their fan website. What band do you know that hit their stride after 30 years?
Ps I genuinely want to know your answers to that question, please hit me up on twitter via the link below and let me know if I’ve forgotten anyone.