PHOTOS BY JAKE SILCO
Rolling into the finale of Phish’s four-night NYE run, the famed Vermont foursome built off the momentum of the preceding three nights and the notably strong run of shows in Vegas over Halloween two months prior. 2016’s New Year’s festivities marked a return yet again back to Madison Square Garden where the band is rumored to be staging an unprecedented (for Phish at least) twelve or thirteen night residency. On Saturday night, with a little help from some very talented friends and nearly a year of planning, Phish once again delivered a triumphant New Year’s Eve performance filled with theatrics that was truly a feast for the senses.
For the fourth consecutive night, the quartet kicked off the show with an acapella tune, covering Little Feat’s “Don’t Bogart That Joint” in the round. It was apparent early on that both Trey and Page McConnell were on their respective games, as highlighted by some very colorful and clean tones guitar and synth tones during a beautifully executed “Back on the Train” that features some must-listen psychedelic hose action towards the latter half of the tune. Fans looking for quintessentials got theirs early as the first set “Divided Sky” anchored a strong opening frame that also included Page having his always-enjoyable Sinatra moment while serenading us with “Lawn Boy”.
Set two was the strongest and most exploratory of the three and the great majority of it is must-listen material, straight from the “2001” opener (Floydish undertones galore) through a massive, sometimes sinister and groove-laden “Carini” that was arguably the highlight of a night filled with them. Page McConnell’s effects-laden work took things pretty far off the grid towards the end of “Piper” before melting into the “Sand” grooves. Set two flowed consecutive for nearly the entire set until a brief respite between the well-placed “Slave to the Traffic Light” and the set closing “More” that sought to bring one last bit of positivity to 2016.
Vibrating with love and light
Pulsating with love and light
In a world gone bad, a world gone bad,
There must be something more
– Phish “More”
For many, the cat was out of the bag on “Petrichor” (umbrellas above and on the stage) being the centerpiece of this year’s NYE gag (although the umbrellas and rain led some to believe a Prince Purple Rain tribute was in order). The band was joined by guest musicians James Casey, Natalie Cressman and Jen Hartswick on horns and Hamilton drummer Andres Forero adding percussive muscle to a twenty minute version of “Petrichor” fit for Broadway that included rain, tons of umbrellas, juggling and no shortage of theatrics before the big countdown and balloon drop that released cat and dog balloons from the rafters of the world famous Garden.
Notably, on a stage filled with cats and dog balloons and dancers, the “Suzy Greenberg” with horns that came after “Auld Lang Syne” offered up one of the highest energy versions of the tune (ever?) before an oddly placed “No Men In No Man’s Land” popped up fairly close to where it was featured one year prior on New Years Eve. “Suzy” was one of the more euphoric live music moments I can ever recall experiencing; the place was just straight electric and the added horns added considerable amount of gusto on the musical front, in addition to the sensory overload fans were immersed in after the countdown.
If there was any slow point in the entire night, it came midway through set two with a segment of Joy and Big Boat before ending strong with “First Tube”. Seeing a full set with special guests was a rare treat that enhanced a lot of the tunes and offered a different listening experience than your garden variety Phish show (pun very much intended).
Ending on a high note on a New Years Eve Saturday night, Phish signed off 2016 with nothing short of eight solid or better shows through Vegas and NYC, showing no signs of slowing down in their 34th year of operation. Another year of Phish is in the books and, although 2017 is supposedly going to be a slow touring year (keep in mind Mexico is still on the horizon), I really look forward to seeing what comes out of the MSG residency if that in fact goes down and am already planning to make another Manhattan trek to catch one of the weekends and get back on that MSG floor, it’s like no place on earth.
2016 was a bummer year for a lot of people so I guess I could say I got lucky, I’ll always remember this past year as one of my favorite trips around the sun and ending it on the floor of Madison Square Garden was perfection. Consider my sometimes wishy-washy Phish fanship fully restoked. Warts and all, there’s nothing like this band and they once again delivered to fans both new and old who came far and wide for a night to remember.
Setlist via Phish.net:
Set 1: Don’t Bogart That Joint, Your Pet Cat, Kill Devil Falls > Back on the Train > My Soul, Lawn Boy, Divided Sky, Ya Mar, Character Zero, Walls of the Cave
Set 2: Also Sprach Zarathustra > Carini -> Twist > Piper -> Ass Handed > Piper > Sand > Slave to the Traffic Light, More
Set 3: Petrichor > Auld Lang Syne > Suzy Greenberg, No Men In No Man’s Land, Breath and Burning, Tide Turns, 555, Ocelot, First Tube Encore: Loving Cup  Trey on Marimba Lumina. Mike on keys.
 James Casey on saxophone, Natalie Cressman on trombone and vocals, Jennifer Hartswick on trumpet and vocals, Jeff Tanski on keys, and Andres Forero on percussion.
 James Casey on saxophone, Natalie Cressman on trombone, Jennifer Hartswick on trumpet, Jeff Tanski on keys, and Andres Forero on percussion. With recorded cat and dog noises as cat and dog balloons fell from the ceiling.