So on Saturday (January 2nd) I attended my first Phish show. By no means am I a die hard Phish fan or dare I say a member of the Phans. Although I’ve always enjoyed their music, I’ve never been motivated enough to attend a show.
That all changed in 2016, as I was given a “miracle” by a friend (to the unindoctrinated this means getting a free ticket to a Phish show). Technically for a “miracle” you need to receive a free ticket outside the show, but I’m calling my ticket a miracle anyway.
As I said before, I had been a fan of Phish in my teens but they had not been on my radar for quite sometime. If anything, I had been thinking about Phish recently due to Trey Anastasio playing with the Grateful Dead this past summer. Like most 30 somethings, I had the mid 90’s live album “A Live One” in my CD collection.
In the mid 90’s it seemed like everyone had this CD, whether they liked Phish or not. It was one of those discs that seemed required by law to own in 1995. Around the same time as “A Live One” was released, I would sneak out to a local restaurant/bar to hear some local kids play mostly Phish tunes. It was there I became familiar with Golgi Apparatus, Suzy Greenberg, Fee, and Sample In a Jar. I ended up buying the album “Junta” from the Wiz and from time to time would revisit Phish, listening to these two albums.
Right around the time I was introduced to Phish, I really only had just started my love affair with rock music. Phish were part of my continued rock exploration at the time. Prior to 1994/95 I had been listening to Rap, much to my parents delight.
But I digress….
Fast forward 20 years and I’m heading to Madison Square Garden with no idea of what to expect and a little skeptical of the Phish experience. The crowd awaiting entry to the world’s most famous arena, exchanged hypothesis on what Phish might play and reminisced about former shows. I asked a couple of guys chatting about former shows “Do you think they will play Fee?” Instantly, another guy not in our conversation chimed in that Phish had not played that in around 60 shows. A quick confirmation off of Phish.net and it was decided by the group that it was unlikely they would play Fee, much to my disappointment. I was taken back at the amount of passion and loyalty this fan base has, I wish every concert I went to had fans like this that were so committed.
New security measures make getting in to any arena now extremely annoying. We continued waiting in a monster line/crowd and as showtime approached everyone remained extremely polite and did their best to just get in the show. I could sense a vibe in the crowd that was different from other shows I’ve attended in the past at MSG. I was welcomed numerous times to my first Phish show by people from all over the country. One guy had traveled from Nashville because….why not. I guess since I’ve seen so many shows at Madison Square Garden, you can forget that playing MSG is still a really big deal, and an even bigger deal when you sell out four nights. A couple of “whoos” from the crowd, a final security scan, and we were in.
Luckily I was attending the show with a Phish veteran, 35 or so shows under his belt. He would be able to guide me through all the inside jokes, jargon, and rituals that comprise attending a Phish show. After scanning the crowd for sometime, I was glad that I didn’t shave my 5 day old beard, as it seemed beards were mandatory.
We finally got to our seats in the 100 section of MSG just as Phish were about to take the stage, perfect timing. Scanning our section I realized this would be a very different show. Our section was bursting at the seams. The whole aisle was filled and people were standing 2 or 3 in a seat. It seemed as if the Garden had been sold out 10 times over. As the night went on I realized people were exchanging tickets to guarantee they could get back in to this section, to dance and sing with their friends. Pretty cool move if you ask me.
To say security were looking the other way for the night, might be the greatest understatement of all time. After 3 shows, I assumed security was tired of shooing peaceful 30 somethings from the aisle, only to see them reform in the aisle seconds later. As the lights dimmed, the amount of smoke that wafted from the crowd was a sight I’ve never seen at an MSG show. Former Mayor Bloomberg’s decree of no smoking indoors did not apply tonight. The crowd exploded as Trey and the boys hit the first note of the night and off we went.
Phish opened with “Your Pet Cat” that went straight over my head. Quickly, or as quickly as Phish can, it was on to “AC/DC Bag”. Really good tune, and brought the first of what seemed a never ending flow of glow sticks flying from the upper deck. Being my first show, I was not aware of the Phish fan tradition of throwing glow sticks throughout the show. It was awesome, and between the smoke and the glow sticks, it created a beautiful canvas of light and shadows that would have made Bob Ross proud.
Since I only knew 5-8 songs I was at a huge disadvantage throughout the night. While prepping for the show I did my best to get acquainted with Phish post 1995. The thing is that recorded Phish does not do the band justice, they are the ultimate live band. The interplay between the band is exquisite and the songs take on a whole different meaning in a live setting. “The Divided Sky” and “Axilla” sold me on the night. I was now hopping and bopping with the rest of the crowd and fully engaged. It’s an unbelievable feeling to be part of a crowd that is “all in” on a show. There were no cell phones up taping songs, everyone was immersed in the spectacle of light and sound.
Throughout the night I was coached on what to look and listen for. Luckily my personal guide was there to steer me through the “never ending choral maze” that is a Phish show. Towards the end of the night it became my time to join the rest of the crowd since Phish finally played something I knew, “Suzy Greenberg”. I could now finally fully participate in singing along with the rest of the crowd.
After Suzy, Phish continued to jam out propelling themselves and the crowd towards their triumphant end of their four night stint at MSG. The crowd, which never sat, or stopped dancing or singing, gave Phish a great send off after playing Tweezer for the 2nd time of the night. My friend and I grabbed our coats, high-fived a few concert neighbors, and headed out.
As a first time attendee, I was completely blown away by Phish and what is the Phish experience. For those that think Phish is not for them, I would highly encourage you to second guess that belief. Between the welcoming fun crowd, amazing light show, and first class musicianship, Phish is the real deal. Too be honest I was slightly skeptical if I would really enjoy the show. I envisioned myself losing interest in ten minute jam sessions and checking my watch to see how much more time was left in the show. I couldn’t have been more wrong, not only did I not lose interest once, even though I only knew one song from the set, I was so caught up in the night I didn’t even film any part of the show or check my watch. If you are on the fence about seeing Phish live, do yourself a favor and go, you won’t be disappointed. Make sure to bring some glow sticks though.
Your Pet Cat
The Divided Sky
(with ‘Stash’ tease by Trey)
Limb By Limb
You Enjoy Myself
(Trey briefly joined Fishman on the drums)