The Daily Ghost

21 in 21 of 2017: #8 07/23/2017 Madison Square Garden, New York, NY – Baker’s Dozen N3 “Red Velvet” (Felicia D’Ambrosio, @feliciafied)




7.23.2017, Madison Square Garden, NY, NY

By Felicia D’Ambrosio, for LawnMemo 21 in 21

By the time I got to my seat on July 23, 2017, I had already been in the Garden for several hours, checking on the Donut Distribution Department’s inventory of Federal Donuts treats for the evening. Three teams of superstar Waterwheel and HeadCount volunteers had handily completed the task of bagging and tagging thousands of cream cheese-iced, ruby-dusted Red Velvet donuts for early-arriving showgoers, and I traded my daily donut distro anxiety for anticipation of the first Sunday show of the Baker’s Dozen.

It was easy money to bet on the Velvet Underground figuring into tonight’s theme, and the band continued the trend of delivering an on-flavor debut cover song as the opener. With Trey parked on the drums, Fishman took the stage in tall bishop’s mitre and red velvet cape to the tinkling piano notes of “Sunday Morning.”   Fish strolled the stage with mic in hand, praising the dawning.

As Mike dropped to his knees downstage to offer his first bass solo of the night  – complete with impressive backbend, someone’s going to yoga – Bishop Fish blessed the crowd with holy water, swinging incense.   

A cynic might remind us that incense was employed by the Medieval church to combat the collective funk of an unwashed congregation, thought the official line is the smoke symbolizes the prayers of the faithful rising up to heaven. Either way, when the heavy sweet scent reached us, I was catapulted back through time to Mass with my grandmother, hundreds of Sundays ago.  Watch out, the world’s behind you…  which transformed into the rituals, songs, special garments, and dearly beloved gathered together in the church of our heart’s own choosing. Praise. 

Blessing complete, Fish returned to the drums and Trey to the ‘Doc for “Axilla.”  The quickest cure for nostalgia is a stomping headbanger, jolting the audience out of dreamy reverie and kicking up the energy in the round room.  More screaming, this time feline, from “Your Pet Cat” before we “Get Back on the Train.” The tempo is up, the energy is flowing, and the whole band finds a beautiful motion before landing perfectly on the chugging “GBOTT” groove.

Page is uniquely suited to the frantic pace of the keyboard part originated by Robert Walter in Mike Gordon Band’s “How Many People Are You,” the first of several songs with a theme of self-reflection.  The rarity “Glide” has only appeared six times since ‘09, with four of those plays happening at Madison Square Garden. Whatever the reason for this New York favoritism, “Glide” always feels like a special thank-you to the audience, especially when Trey nails the multiple tricky composed sections, as on this blessed night. 

Written by Trey and Tom Marshall on a scuba diving trip, “Theme from the Bottom” floats the perspective of looking at life from the depths, as well as offering a few key pieces of advice.  Fishman’s melodic drumming supports swelling waves of sound that use dynamics to great effect, creating quiet pools to reflect on the question, don’t you see anything that you’d like to try?

Shifting into a more sinister view of grappling with oneself, “It’s Ice” is the first song of the night to feature some angular, minor key jamming that takes us to a much darker place than this elevated first set had yet ventured. Skating over the dangerous thin ice territory inside each of us, Mike takes the lead and plunges us far below the surface where the lowest vibrations live.  At over fifteen minutes, the longest “It’s Ice” ever performed is a journey into our own hidden red depths before being dissolved into space on Page’s synth vectors and wavelengths. Trey throws in a “Superbad” tease; Fish provides glittering stars of cymbal-sparkle to support the ambient expansion before everything resolves magically into the theme. What did you find in your lifetime under the ice?  He meets my eyes, to my surprise…    

“More” has appeared exclusively as a set closer since its debut in October, 2014. Though I’ve seen a few eye-rolls over the lyrics,  the song acknowledges that though the world has gone mad, we can –and must– channel and amplify every drop of love and light we have inside.  This was an soaring first set that appeals to our highest nature, and invites us to explore our own inner landscape behind the mask of personae and half-truths.


{SETBREAK, everybody drink some water and eat a banana}  

“AC/DC Bag” leads off in the second set, a bouncy number about a robot executioner.  The first notable jam of the second set achieves lift off about seven minutes into “Wolfman’s Brother,” hitting an early driving peak and inspired funky breakdown that dissipates gracefully into soft dreamy ambience around 11 minutes.  Peace is upon us. This standout, cosmically charged “Wolfman’s” is never meant to paw dry earth again, and remains unfinished, giving way to “Twist.”

The upbeat “Twist” jam brings the dedicated dancers, flailers, noodle arms-wavers, spinners, floaters and head nodders into their fullest expression of the evening.  We’re in the glowing heart of the second set, and ecstatic religious experiences can’t last forever. Like Janis said, get it while you can. 

As the pace softens, there is a beautiful moment to take in the rippling lights flowing over the crowd’s swirling movements and smiling faces, washed in “Waves” as the jam cools into sonic space. Trey gives one of his most personal, vulnerable vocal performances in “Miss You,” a tune that speaks to navigating the ocean of grief. But because every guitar-picker, drum-banger and booty-shaker knows, the fastest way to move pain through the body is to move those vibrations — even better with a Stevie Wonder classic like “Boogie On Reggae Woman.”

Having sufficiently reenergized the Sunday congregation, Phish returns to the theme of the night with the heartrending “Wading in the Velvet Sea.”  Trey soars on the solos, the band takes a bow, and the second set, unbelievably, is over.

The band takes the stage of the city’s most famous arena with the Garden soaked in red beams, courtesy of Chris Kuroda’s new lighting of the domed ceiling. A rocking, deliriously-received “Sweet Jane” encore bookends the Red Velvet show with Velvet Underground bustouts, a fitting homage to the most New York band that ever lived, in the most legendary New York venue that ever was.