21 in 21 of 2017: #18 08/06/2017 Madison Square Garden, New York, NY – Baker’s Dozen N13 “Glazed” (Dave Calarco, @MrMiner)
The end was nigh—twenty-five sets down, one to go. The Baker’s Dozen—Phish’s two-plus week opus—had but 90 minutes left. The experience had melted both minds and hearts, as the band had crafted their ultimate event in a career filled with musical spectacles. The Dozen was a wonderland for Phish fans—one venue, thirteen themed shows, no repeats, and jams galore. The entire run contained an undeniably celebratory vibe, as the Phish community—the band and its fan base, together—reveled in a special place in time that produced memories that would last a lifetime. But even the most magical moment ends, and we were on the cusp of this reality.
When the dust settled on the final set, the band had crafted one of their most indelible statements of the Dozen, and at it’s center was “Simple.” It was the perfect song for the end of this run, and one that just may have been planned from the start. The Dozen was a celebration of Phish and all they have accomplished in their unparalleled career, and what better statement to bring it to a close than “We’ve got it simple, ‘cause we’ve got a band.” That’s where it begins and ends. The band members’ purpose on earth has been to invoke illumination and reverie in their fans, and this song sums up their raison d’etre with fun and simplicity. Ever since college, Phish is what they’ve poured their hearts into. Even though there have been bumps in the road, in the end they had no other choice. Phish is who they are. Phish is a force more powerful than any of their individual selves, yet could not exist without any one of them. Together, they have created one of the most dynamic musical movements of their generation and beyond.
The first half of this “Simple,” once veering from the composed jam, was characterized by infectious rhythmic interplay from the four band members. Fishman’s swinging beat, Page’s ever-shifting synth backdrops, Mike’s chunky, melodic bass lines and Trey’s carving licks—first repetitive, then slowly progressing—were the hallmarks of this groove. This lockstep exercise eventually gave way to a river of blissful guitar licks as Trey moved into one of his most prolific solos of the thirteen nights. Expressing himself in carefully built stages of melody, his introspective playing carried a musical motion that drove the second part of this jam with an intimate, soul-bearing narrative. His unbridled passion echoed through the World’s Most Famous Arena in obvious catharsis following a meticulously planned and diligently executed residency. This final, jaw-dropping peak of the Baker’s Dozen—a frozen moment of musical-emotional splendor—encapsulated the feeling of the entire run.
“I think the main thing a musician would like to do is give a picture to the listener of the many wonderful things that he knows of and senses in the universe. . .That’s what I would like to do.”
This quote from John Coltrane, discussing his oft-misunderstood experimentation of his career’s final stage, explains how he saw his music an expression of his deepest self—of who and what he was. When examined through this prism, the Baker’s “Simple” holds even more power. One could hear the band’s elation dripping from their musical conversation. The sound of this jam was a culmination of blissful improvisational spaces that became a theme of the Baker’s Dozen—music that reflects the state of the band members’ inner and outer worlds. Phish has not been shy about expressing the joy and happiness they have found in this era of the band, both as musicians and as people. This sentiment has come through in interviews, newly scribed songs, and their ebullient stage presence. Their inner peace and delight have translated into much uplifting music in recent years, a reflection of their worldview. Phish sees the universe as divine beauty, and they express their awe and wonder through their music, serving as a reminder of existential truths larger than the current, everyday happenings that have bombarded societal stability. And through their musical message, we are reminded of what we collectively are—one eternal soul of unfathomable elegance.
Phish primed themselves for 2017, ensuring they would be on point as they stepped into Madison Square Garden for the unprecedented event of The Baker’s Dozen. Focused and firing from the first night of Summer Tour, they proceeded on to tackle the year with intense musicianship and childlike enjoyment. The result was one of the most acclaimed years of music of their career. This “Simple’s” jubilant crescendo echoed the euphoria that defined the Baker’s Dozen, the calendar year as a whole, and the band’s modern era. Devoid of any pause or hesitation, this jam was the ultimate victory lap for thirteen nights that were immediately enshrined in the annals of Phish lore.