Expectations are always very high for Phish’s New Year’s run of shows, especially when it comes to the final show on New Year’s Eve itself. Phish are in the interesting position of having a gigantic following while remaining almost entirely off of mainstream radio, so it therefore might come as a surprised to the uninitiated that they had no problem selling out all four shows at Madison Square Garden. Droves of people dressed in costume—some wearing dresses styled after the one drummer Jon Fishman famously wears on stage—entered the Garden in hopes of seeing a show that would put the three before it to shame.
Phish typically play two sets of music and one encore that averages out to around two and a half hours of music, but on NYE they added a third set that brought the total to four hours of jamming bliss. There are fans who miss the Phish of the 90’s; you’re no longer likely to hear a thirty minute jam on “Tweezer” or “You Enjoy Myself,” but the jams are undeniably tighter then they perhaps ever were. The band opened up with fan-favorite “AC/DC Bag” which was a sure-fire way to get the crowd going. From there they went into the laid-back funk of “Wolfman’s Brother” and lounge-singer number “Lawn Boy.” The fantastic jamming on “Scent of a Mule,” a song which I don’t normally enjoy, is worth mentioning for pianist Page McConell’s fantastic piano solo—on a grand piano, no less—which completely transformed the song. The highlight of the first set, however, came in the form of “Fluffhead,” which saw the interplay between the band members skyrocket; there was not one second of the fifteen-minute jam that was wasted.
The second set started with “Party Time,” a song made for jamming with the only lyrics being the title. This set also featured a great cover of the TV on the Radio tune, “Golden Age,” and a gorgeous “Theme From the Bottom.” It was also a treat to here the creeping-funk of “Ghost,” but it was one-two-punch of “46 Days” into “Suzy Greenberg” that practically stole the entire show.
Phish came back a little before 11:45 for the third set which began with a powerful version of “Cavern.” The band chose “Steam” to help bring in the new year, which featured smoke machines, floating instruments and suspended dancers equipped with powerful lanterns and, as a nice touch, jet packs. Right on schedule the countdown started and balloons and confetti were dropped at the appropriate moment as the band immediately segued into “Auld Lang Syne.” They team-rolled ahead into an eleven-minute “Down with Disease,” in which they could barely be seen through all of the balloons that had fallen on stage. The band popped some themselves and others came on stage to help. The set ended with a roaring “First Tube,” and then “Slave to the Traffic Light” ended the night on a high note.
Not a word was said the entire night except for the New Year’s wishes at the end, but there is nothing wrong with that; the band needed every spare second they could get to pull it all off.