I often over analyze things. I continually ask myself, “Why is Phish so different than everything else in my life?” Over one magical run covering 13 days at Madison Square Garden, every answer to that question I have ever come up with was on display.
Reason #1: The Variety of Phish
What drew me to Phish all those years ago was that I had never heard anything like them. Their sound was so unique that I devoured everything I could get my hands on. At the Baker’s Dozen, all of those sounds, all of those genres: they were everywhere. In 13 shows, Phish covered more territory than most bands cover in their entire careers. Song selection from “Chocolate Rain” to “Izabella.” Tom Waits to Radiohead. David Bowie to Bob Marley. From “O Holy Night” to “Maple Leaf Rag.” From “Strawberry Letter 23” to “Coconut.” And yet, the spectrum of jams is even more far-reaching!
You have ripping peaks in “Gotta Jibboo,” “Down With Disease,” “Tweezer” and countless others. There are full funk throwdowns in “1999,” “Twist,” “Chalk Dust Torture”, and “Tube.” Insane full voyage escapades from “Crosseyed and Painless,” “Wolfman’s Brother > Twist > Waves,” “Golden Age,” “Simple,” “Ghost,” and “Scents and Subtle Sounds.” Unexpected jams with “Lawn Boy” (and almost everything from Jam Night), “Breath and Burning,” “Taste,” and “Steep.” Finally you have “Drowned > A Song I Heard The Ocean Sing” which is so deep and brilliant, I still can’t even wrap my head around it. And we all know that is just scratching the surface.
When Phish is on their game like they were at MSG, it is like seeing an entirely different band each night but with all the familiarity of Phish. It’s like meeting a group of new people while all your best friends are right beside you. So when people ask you how can you go see the same band hundreds of times, Exhibit A is the Baker’s Dozen. Every night was a completely different experience.
Reason #2: Phish’s music makes me feel things no other band does
This is probably the biggest reason for me. I see tons of incredibly talented musicians that blow me away with their technical ability and skills. However, when Phish is really on their game, I feel emotions so strongly, they often bring me to tears.
As I wrote here, I have a history with Phish that affects the way I feel about each show I go to now. All those different types of jams, all the old school favorites, the bustouts, the Gamehendge… it all matters. The old stuff takes me back to my youth. A show like the Jimmies show which is littered with the oldest of old, takes all the problems of adulthood and replaces them with all the wonderment of my formative years. Every song Phish plays and every Phish jam makes me feel something, and all of it is great. We are looking for an escape when Phish is on stage and through multiple sets of the Baker’s Dozen, we were taken on journeys where, for 75 minutes, nothing else on this planet existed.
I love the big memorable jams as much as anyone but it’s the full set throwdowns with all the right calls that is the REAL DEAL. Whereas these sets are usually few and far between in this era, the Baker’s had them in droves.
The second sets of Powdered, Jimmies, Maple, Holes, and Lemon are incredible pieces of setlist composition. There are themes that run through all of those sets. Stories were told. These were emotional rollercoasters where, when the last note ended, you could feel the collective of the arena. There is nothing I have ever experienced like a cohesive set of Phish.
Reason #3: Phish is hilarious and always a step ahead
When Phish announced they were going to do a 13-show residency, I thought it was going to be great. It seems to me that a lot of the weaker shows of this era have come after long bouts of touring, when it seemed that the band was tired. Hell, I am 20 years younger than they are and I get exhausted. As excited as I was for this residency at a venue which Trey thinks is an amazing sounding room, any and all expectations I had were blown away. If you bought all 13 tickets at once, you only paid for 12 & got one for free… A true Baker’s Dozen! That is hilarious. They basically created season tickets at MSG. My friends made such good friends with another guy who was in their section all 13 nights, he made them handmade necklaces!
The donut theme was on another level. It pumped up excitement before each show, infused energy into the show (without forcing the band’s hand), and hell… They were delicious! The implications the donut theme brough each show were so much fun. Whenever the theme hit, the crowd went nuts. Pure brilliance. How many shows have you been to where there has been anything as exciting as finding out what the next donut would be? Phish is really good at Phish.
Reason #4: The Lights and Chris Kuroda
I liked the LED screens more than a lot of people. That being said, this rig is the most awesome rig I have ever seen. Zero distraction, exponential enhancement. Paired with the MSG house lights, I found myself blown away in wonderment throughout each show. Kuroda was so ridiculously on point. I will never forget the way he lit “Ghost.” It was a full on experience. I’ve seen a lot of bands with incredible light displays however, nobody makes you a part of the experience like Kuroda.
Reason #5: The Community
There is no community on Earth like the Phish community. Especially now as we have become an aging group. Most of us have decent jobs (as so graciously pointed out to me by @feliciafied) and this was a full blown vacation. We buy what we want, we eat what we want, and we party the way we want. We get crazy but we’ve been around the block. It’s not the full blown shit show that you see at other jam band shows. We are a breed of classy wooks. Hell, I am drinking a Italian Montecucco Rosso while writing this (that is red wine).
The abundance of fans on social media has only helped furthur the community for me. Where back in the day I would rock with my crew and meet a few cool people, now I am flooded by the amount of people I meet at shows. I’ve talked with thousands of people on Twitter. We, of course, will always have Phish in common, but meeting people who you’ve already had contact with just strips another barrier down. I literally met hundreds of people for the first time over this run (thanks, in large part, to @Dianna_2Ns) and the hugs were flowing. It’s amazing. We come from all over the country but Phish makes the world feel small.
There might be a part 2 to this essay someday down the road, but for now, it’s time for me to start looking forward to the spectacle that is Dick’s… I’m going to spin this Scents jam about 10 more times before bed and then start to work on all my previous years “Big Dick’s Highlights.”
What are the reasons you Phish?