NEW YORK, NY—Back in 2004 Phish did the unthinkable and broke up leaving thousands of fans inconsolable and unsure. Five years passed, and in 2009, Phish did the unthinkable again and reunited, released a new album, and toured the country. They stopped in NYC on Dec. 2, covering Madison Square Garden in a cloud of reefer smoke and glow sticks.
The idea of the Phish is probably more widely known than the band’s music. Even if you never listened to a single song by the band, you’re still probably more than familiar with their reputation for extended jams and their fans’ reputation as beardos, new age hippies and music geeks. And their concert at MSG, if anything, just proved the stereotype, though in the most positive way possible. The music was fun and loose, as was the crowd, the slinking, psychedelic dance grooves of the song slithering off the stage and onto the dance floor, turning the audience into a giant blob of unfettered emotion and excitement.
For their first set of the night, Phish ran through a collection of fan favorites, including “Cavern” and “Chalkdust Torture,” focusing less on jams than just playing fun songs for the audience to dance to. Their cover of Frank Zappa’s “Peaches En Regalia” left more than a few music nerds scratching their heads as to how a quartet pulled off this highly complex piece, but, hey, it’s Phish. Expect anything.
Their second set, though, was what really set the high watermark. While the first set was reserved and composed, the second set was a no holds barred, let-the-notes-fall-where-they-please onslaught of jamming, including Phish’s seminal jam-masterpiece, “Light.” Lighting designer Chris Kudoro improvised complex, psychedelic light arrangements with as much ease and fluidity as the sound of Phish plucking notes from thin air and letting them dissolve around us, washing the audience with feedback of both an audio and visual nature.
For their encore, Phish pulled out the Beatles classic, “A Day In The Life,” re-imagining the original orchestral crescendo as a free for all of feedback and crashing cymbals. Then Phish sent off the audience with an almost celebratory rendition of “Tweezer (Reprise)” leaving them chanting, “Please her with a tweezer!” You have give the group credit for their sense of humor.
What I feel like I really can’t stress enough is just how much fun and exciting a Phish concert really is. Being surrounded by tens of thousands of open, loving (and pretty fuckin’ stoned) fans with no intention other than getting lost in a few hours of music could never suck, but there is something even more personal about this collective experience since much of this music will never be heard again. Every Phish show is its own unique experience, devoid of the excessive posing and pre-planned stage theatrics that mark much of the modern music world. It’s fresh. It’s real. And it’s fucking fun.
I strongly advise anyone with even a passing interest in music to go see a Phish concert. Seriously, throw away your prejudices, have a beer, light up a joint, and let yourself go. Trust me, you won’t regret it.