21 in 21 of 2017: #15 08/02/2017 Madison Square Garden, New York, NY – Baker’s Dozen N10 “Holes” (Michael Shields, @mikeshza)
In my touring heyday, the mid and late ‘90s, it felt as if I was always chasing the “Mike’s” around. I was entirely into Phish and their live experiences for a bevy of reasons, and I was wholly addicted to the mesmerizing high that I was left with post-show, but as I journeyed across the country time and again, I was always on the hunt for my next “Mike’s Song” fix. I remember my exuberance in ‘96 upon hearing those first intoxicating bass thwack’s from Gordo that ushered in a Mike’s Groove at Phish’s second night at Madison Square Garden on October 22, one that contained within it the spectral and engaging middle center of “Swept Away” > “Steep” (this two night stand marked the first non-New Year’s Eve run shows of Phish’s storied MSG career). I think back to the summer of ‘97 in Raleigh, NC, when Phish wasted no time dropping a “Mike’s Song” on the second night of tour, igniting the crowd into a frenzy with a “classic” Mike’s Groove (with the “Hydrogen” center) following a fiery “Down With Disease.” And I have a unique fondness for the first few Mike’s Grooves of Summer ‘98 (“The Summer of Covers”). The first took place at the Gorge (the first Gorge “Mike’s” ever, Phish having abstained upon their first visit in ‘97), which was part of a captivating four-pack and featured an uncommon transition from “Mike’s Song” directly into “Weekapaug Groove.” The second arrived a few days later in the sun-scorched state of Arizona at the Desert Sky Pavilion. In that particular blazing succession of songs, the smattering of diehard fans in attendance were treated to a Mike’s Groove that featured a “Simple” and the debut of “Bittersweet Hotel.” It also didn’t hurt that the second set held within it the return of “She Caught The Katy” (after a gap of 1,036 shows!), but still — the takeaway, the foundation the night was built on, was the banging “Mike’s.”
Although I highlighted just a few “Mike’s” that I romanticize and often recollect, it seems that every time fans have been blasted with a Mike’s Groove (“Mike’s Song” has been played a whopping 513 times in Phishtory), the night immediately fashioned itself epic. And so, in the Summer of 2017, when Phish could be found — remarkably — still in peak form in the midst of the now legendary Baker’s Dozen, I found myself on the hunt for that Mike’s Groove once again. As the Dozen set sail, everyone in tune with the phenomenon knew the score: no repeats. With this in mind, almost every song in Phish’s catalog was to be given its just due, given their “Baker’s” treatment. On the tenth night of this thirteen show run, an O’ Holy Night as it turned out, it was finally time for the “Baker’s Mike’s”…
It was on a Wednesday evening when Phish opened the tenth installment of the Baker’s Dozen, and they wasted no time at all addressing the “Hole” theme in place that particular evening. Opening the first set with Tom Waits’ “Way Down In The Hole,” whose lyrics aptly commence with “When you walk through the garden,” the celebrated theme song to HBO’s The Wire set the stage for what would once again be an unforgettable evening. Through the night there were delights abounding, such as the first ever “Buried Alive” played at MSG, the first employment of the Electrolux vacuum by John Fishman during the run, the Baker’s “Antelope” and “Maze” (both as dizzying and electrifyingly crescendoing as one would expect!), a dazzling and hypnotic “Taste,” and the highly anticipated arrival of “Mike’s Song” into the Dozen (its first time played all summer).
Opening the second set with a roar, The Baker’s “Mike Song” — while glorious on its own accord — promptly conjured up a question to fans: Would there be a second jam? On August 4th, 2015 in Nashville, Phish — thanks to the persuasive powers of fan Drew Hitz — brought back the second jam in “Mike’s Song,” which then re-appeared five nights later at Alpine Valley, and fortuitously once again for the Dozen. While it cannot be glanced over that the Baker’s “Mike’s Song” was fiery and impassioned from the onset, it truly took off as the second jam burrowed into the experimental. At eight and a half minutes in, a thick groove was laid down that Trey and Page began slicing away at, playing off each other and patiently building. Their light and blistery meandering slowly and methodically swelled as the intensity of the jam began to take hold, and in time the “Mike’s Song” (the first 20-minute “Mike’s Song” since December 2, 1997!) climaxed in spirited and moving peaks. While the “Mike’s Song” was coming to its conclusion with a funky little cooldown, an eerie aura caught hold of the Garden. Something was about to go down. As smoke filled the stage and Kuroda’s lights faded, apart from white beams radiating off the massive cloud that had amassed, a choral medley begin to fill the air — one that was familiar and entirely enchanting. What was born out of the conclusion of a truly outstanding “Mike’s Song” was an acapella rendition of “O Holy Night,” the well-known Christmas carol composed by Adolphe Adam which fashioned itself a fitting yet fantastically surprising nod to the night’s theme, and a brilliant and glorious moment amid The Baker’s Dozen that was moody, dark, and altogether beautiful.
Phish’s August 2nd, 2017 show was a wholly impressive event with a plethora of stunning moments, but my thoughts of the evening continually return to the “Mike’s” > “O Holy Night.” It is fun to recollect on all the amazing “Mike’s Song’s” that have been performed throughout the years, from Hershey ‘95 and New Year’s ‘95, to Hampton ‘97 and Philadelphia ‘97, and unto Big Cypress’s smoke-suffused barnburner of a version (to name but a few) — and there is no doubt in my mind that the “Mike’s Song” played amongst the Dozen stands neck and neck with all the greatest versions ever birthed, the one brought to life on the evening Phish fell way down in the Hole.
Michael Shields is a writer and the Editor in Chief of the Arts & Culture magazine Across The Margin. He is also the host of Across The Margin: The Podcast (An Osiris podcast), and producer of the podcast God Ween Evan.