Lookingdown from the tenth floor of the Hotel Pennsylvania on New Year’s Eve, one wasfaced with thousands of neo-hippies cheering and yelling with excitement as thedoors to Madison Square Garden opened to see the back-from-hiatus bandPhish.
After a two-year wait, fans swarmed the block, some even offering$1,000 for a ticket to see this band that has amassed a following like that oftheir predecessors, The Grateful Dead. For the lucky 25,000 with a ticket, it wascertainly a night to cherish.
Thousands walked in the arena with smilesand anxious dancing feet as the pre-show music included “Welcome BackKotter,” “Feels Like the First Time,” “Back in the SaddleAgain” and “The Boys are Back in Town.”
The arena lightswent down on a crowd of elated “phans.” Trey Anastasio (guitar), MikeGordon (bass), Page McConnell (piano) and Jon Fishman (drums) walked onstage andtook their places like it was just any other show on one of their many tourssince 1983 when the band formed.
Fans hugged and cried while Phish kickedoff its show with a quick, tight version of an old favorite, “Piper,”that played over constant cheers and positive energy vibrating from theconcert-goers.
The first set, an hour and ten minutes long, included eightold-school Phish numbers with little jamming, which disappointed some whoappreciate Phish’s ability to jam songs out past ten minutes. To others thisproved just as good, getting a greatest hits collection.
To prelude one ofthe most energetic songs, “Wilson,” a scene from “Castaway”was shown on the jumbotron. As Tom Hanks searched frantically for his belovedvolleyball, Anastasio began the familiar E-chord that started the crowd’s”Wilson” chant. Anastasio even introduced “Tom Hanks” (reallyMcConnell’s brother Steve), who ran onstage to sing the lyric “Blatboom,” leading to the conclusion of the song.
The second set includedmany old Phish songs, including “phan” favorites “DividedSky” and “Harry Hood,” with the third set adding a new song”Seven Below” off their latest release. One of the few songs they didjam on, “Seven Below,” began approximately seven minutes beforemidnight. It provided an interesting collection of new musical sections jammedout nicely with the same Phish sound. Several dancers in white costumes encircledthe band on stage and “stick figure skeletons” with blinking lightswalked among the audience with swaying flashlights.
A winter fantasy motifwas created just before the New Year, and as the clock struck midnight,”Happy New Year!” rang throughout the Garden as fireworks lit up thestage. Gigantic balloons painted with snowflakes floated down covering everyoneand everything.
The band played “Auld Lang Syne” to a renditionof “Runaway Jim,” the same way they played into the new year at MSG in1995. The third set lasted an hour and included the contemporary rock”Sample in a Jar,” a surprising choice with its simplistic,conventional rock nature.
For some, it felt like the familiar Phish showthey had awaited anxiously for years. For others, it was their first taste of aband that has gained popularity for their live shows and legal bootleg tapeexchanges. But there was something comfortable, reassuring and right that nightat Madison Square Garden. It was a reunion of Phriends and Phamily, good vibesand friendly smiles, and most important, the warm feelings and assorted emotionsembedded in a home that Phish created.