It may be odd to begin this final part with the epilogue of the essay, but it feels like the right way to approach an introduction to the final installment of this saga. First, I want to give my appreciation and a big thankful shout-out to @OrangeSox for his assistance and contributions to this essay. He’s been pushing me to keep plugging away for the past couple of years every time the topic has come up, and it’s unlikely it would have ever been completed without his help. The four parts of this essay will next be combined into one and move to a new permanent home within phish.net, just one part of a large push for new content for the site to celebrate the band’s coming Ruby Anniversary year.
There have been many endings to this essay as a result of the uncertainty accompanying the ongoing public health emergency. The first ending came with the postponement of the Summer 2020 tour, following the excitement of Sigma Oasis and the first few Dinner and a Movie episodes. The next ending followed the Beacon Jams when we could almost taste the eventual return to live concerts. Again, I attempted to end it just before the Summer tour of 2021, but the Delta variant, rising cases, and more uncertainty made me decide to wait and see. When I returned to the office, my computer still had the web page showing the news from March 2020, discussing what may happen “if it hit America.” I got chills going back in time. Then, after the end of the Fall Tour, Omicron emerged, and even though we had vaccines and the new variant seemed less dangerous, it was clear the essay would not end yet.
Here we are now, finally making a conclusion to the work, even while we are still getting ill, variants give way to subvariants, long COVID continues for people that got the virus in the months past, many countries still lack access to a vaccine, and it seems masks may be here to stay. The pandemic is over inasmuch as it seems to have become endemic, but it’s clear our world has finally been functioning “normally” again. So, following the second post-pandemic Summer Phish tour and the recent announcement for another run of shows for New Year’s at MSG, we feel like the April Earth Day run is the right place to mark the end of the era.
When me and my “best Phish friend” Aaron saw Phish again after the postponement, in Atlantic City 2021, I was amazed that we were all back together. It had been a few weeks before when Phish finally hit the road again. I personally always said COVID will be over when Phish hits the stage. Boy, man, god, shit was I wrong. I have come full circle in making this all evolve around Phish. Today, It doesn’t really feel “over” exactly. For me, the quarantine days will always be linked to the Black Lives Matter protest, the public health crisis posed by the novel virus, and a general new shift for America and the world, in what direction I can’t specifically say. Clearly, there is and will likely always be much more to be done on all these fronts.
Despite all that is wrong, we still have art, the beauty of music, and the hilarity of life. Idealistic lyrics and protest songs may not change anything, but the vibration of music, the heartbeat of the drum, and the community of a live show do. We write our own songs woven into our lives together with our friends and families. Despite all the tragedies and difficulties of the last two years we remain, together on a great big boat in this one big ocean...and the ocean is Love.
TAB Gets COVID
After the triumphant Summer of Phish, Trey took TAB back out on the road in the early Fall for the first time since the Winter of 2020. Before the dates were announced, Trey introduced the new bass player for the band, Dezron Douglas. “A longtime friend and collaborator of virtually every member of the band, Dezron is a master of reggae, funk, and jazz bass,” said Trey in the announcement. Actually, Dezron was another artist to provide high-quality music during the quarantine days of 2020. Dezron & harpist Brandee Younger performed live streams from their home in Harlem, New York, and later put out an incredible album with these performances.
Sadly, a week before the tour started, saxophone player James Casey announced that he would not be on tour, due to a stage three malignant colon cancer diagnosis. Thankfully, the surgery proved successful, and Casey has made it a point to share his experience with others to get tested. He also announced that Cochemea Gastelum would be stepping in for him during the tour.
However, the lineup changes would continue. Natalie's father and old TAB member Jeff Cressman came in to provide sax in Boston, and Cochemea would return after that. In Charlotte, Trey announced: “Despite thorough safety protocols, Jennifer Hartswick has tested positive for Covid-19.” The following night in Asheville, the band proceeded to play without the horn section. These sets included fewer songs and longer jams, highlighting the new rhythm section, and allowing for deep experimentation like Trey had done with Phish in the summer. Although this lineup was supposed to remain for the rest of the tour, Russ then tested positive, resulting in an all-acoustic show from Trey in Columbus.
By the time of the Columbus show, my appreciation for the show I had been lucky enough to see at the start of this tour in New Haven, grabbing a last-minute ticket off of CashorTrade in the early afternoon of show day, had grown, as I had seen a band that was now a memory of the same tour they had begun. My cat Charlie had just passed away and I needed music and dancing more than I realized. I was thrilled when Trey played Lonely Trip’s “...And Flew Away” bringing me back to the year before’s quarantine.
Now, the shows I had planned on seeing for months were coming up: two nights at Radio City Music Hall. So, would they be canceled? Would they be solo acoustic shows? No and no! Because the next day, Trey announced the electric band would continue on but now with Jon Fishman on drums, playing in Pittsburg, Washington DC, and the two final shows at Radio City Music Hall in New York. Despite the circumstances, I was thrilled to know I’d be seeing a special version of TAB (JFATAB 2.0?).
The band did not disappoint, continuing the long jams from before Ohio with a four-song set in Pittsburg. The tour was a whirlwind with so many lineup changes, yet they prevailed and sounded really great. The jams remind me of earlier TAB days of 99-02, where Trey would allow songs to stretch way out while set on a bed of a groove. Having seen Tony all of these years, it was thrilling to hear Dezron fit so well into his new band and know this was a beginning of a new journey for TAB after losing such an important force in the band the year before.
By this point, we were prepared for adversity and knew we could get through anything. There was however one last surprise and lineup change for the encore of the final night at Radio City. After two acoustic numbers by Trey, he announced a special guest: James Casey returned for “Evolve,” “Rise/Come Together,” and “A Life Beyond The Dream.” I never thought the word “special” in “special guest” meant so much until this moment. During “A Life Beyond The Dream,” James sang and played his heart out, having to pause at times to take it all in. It was a beautiful way to end the night and the tour.
As Summer had made crystal clear, Phish in 2021 was not afraid to go deep. Not only was the band jamming, but they were also doing so in both sets and regularly with songs they don’t usually jam. This was another aspect that made 2021 fun. The Summer and Fall tours of 2021 were marked by many renditions of songs that didn’t usually have jams, such as the first-ever jammed-out “Camel Walk,” in the summer’s show at the Gorge. By the Fall, this continued with the longest-ever “Frankie Says” in San Francisco, the first jammed-out “Axilla (Part II)” in Vegas night two, and the first jammed-out “Your Pet Cat” in Vegas night three. We were all feeling the same weight of uncertainty, and we all wanted to just finally let loose. As great as the Summer was for Phish, the Fall was still better!
Beginning strongly in Sacramento, the band then crushed it both nights for their first visit to the Chase Center in San Francisco. Unfortunately, tragedy struck the Phish world at the Sunday night show when a man fatally jumped off the balcony and injured two other fans. It was unsettling news, adding darkness to a tour that was constantly trying and succeeding to find the light.
At the next show in Eugene, Oregon, after “Stash,” Trey made a statement to a silent room, expressing the band’s sympathy to the family of those affected while also making a point to highlight those who were close to or witnessed the event. The band expressed their love for the fans and the perspective of how they are just “four more people in this group” of this Phish community.
Between SF and Eugene there was a lot of great music to be heard including a four-song second set with two long jams in “Set Your Soul Free” and “Chalkdust Torture” on Sunday’s SF show, a 25-minute “Down With Disease” opener at Eugene night one, the second ever live “End of Session” sandwiched within “Split Open and Melt” during the first set of the second night of Eugene, and another must-hear thirty-minute “Ruby Waves” in set two.
The next four shows were all single nights in four different venues, kind of a rare schedule for Phish at this point. The band’s first stop was at an outdoor venue in Phoenix, a city Phish had not played since 2003 after two great shows in 1997 and 1998. Highlights include a first set “Soul Planet” and a great “Everything’s Right” in set two. One of the best shows of the tour was the next night in Chula Vista, where the band opened with a well-played “Fluffhead” segueing into the longest-ever seventeen-minute “NICU” and then into a rare “Bye Bye Foot.” Set two continued the jams in “No Men In No Man's Land,” “Free” and a raging “Piper” for the books.
The fun continued in Los Angeles. where they played an uptempo second set. During the start of the jam section of “Tweezer,” they dropped directly into an “L.A. Woman” bust out, last played on December 30, 2003, the title song from the last album of the city’s most famous opening band. After the longest to that date “S.A.N.T.O.S” and “What’s the Use?,” the “Tweezer” sandwich concluded where the regular jam usually starts. The next show in Santa Barbara opened with the longest ever nineteen-minute “Pebbles and Marbles,” the debut of “The Silver Light,” and a beautiful “Beneath a Sea of Stars Part 1.” The West Coast run leading up to Halloween solidly delivered every night, an embarrassment of riches that set the stage for one of the most highly anticipated Vegas runs yet.
By the time they returned to the MGM Grand Garden Arena, the exploration would continue and now match equally with creatively designed shows. Night one started with the band playing the usual feeling of a jam, as the long intro of “Also Sprach Zarathustra” slowly revealed itself on the smoke-filled stage and continued to be great – and lengthy. “(2001)” was followed by Prince’s “1999” (one among many bust-outs that night) starting off a number-themed show with songs played in descending order down to the set two closer “Character Zero.” The night closed with “Backwards Down the Number Line” and “Grind” where they noted the songs added up to “4,680 digits.” This “Numbers” show would go down in the books, going far beyond boding well for the three remaining nights. 2021 was now a classic year before they even got a chance to play their annual New Year’s shows.
To begin another great show on night two, Trey and Mike quoted a rare never-before-played track from the Bivouac Juan tape, “Little Squirrel,” throughout the first set, as it turned out a nod to tomorrow. The band continued to play some great jams such as “Axilla (Part II)” and “Ass Handed” > “Tweezer.” Everyone was indeed having a great time.
Night three turned out to be another classic-themed setlist, this time with all animal songs. There were more bust-outs such as “Shaggy Dog” and more “Little Squirrel” quotes and a “Harpua” that is too complicated to explain here (but did give hints of how the next night would go down). The plethora of songs about animals in the repertoire may have led to the night being a little more watered down than the first night’s numbers set. Nevertheless, it was a theme many had hoped the band would explore, and it did deliver.
The final three-set night on Halloween started off with the “traditional” Phishbill being replaced by a comic book called Sci-Fi Soldier, foreshadowing the night’s “covers” middle frame. As the lights went down for the second set, beams of light shined downwards from the ceiling, showing the four members of the Sci-Fi Soldiers being transported down to the stage all the way from the year 4680, the number mentioned in the previous night’s “Grind” and “Harpua.” They were in costume as vintage comic space-themed heroes and would continue to play the set in character and with new instruments. The band proceeded to play the fourth Halloween all-new original set, following Wingsuit in 2013, Chilling, Thrilling Sounds of the Haunted House in 2014, and Kasvot Växt’s i Rokk in 2018, which these soldiers may somehow have based their whole lives upon.
There were projections of donuts and turtles on cubes hanging in the sky during “The 9th Cube,” pyrotechnics in “Egg in a Hole,” and a new choreography routine in “Knuckle Bone Broth Avenue.” It was weird, fun, and special, as the band didn’t need to write twelve more songs for our enjoyment. Naturally, we look forward to seeing how these songs may progress through performances on following tours.
Perhaps, the break had been good because the band was certainly rejuvenated. Fans were excited and looking forward to the return to New York for December’s New Year’s Eve shows coming up in two months. Meanwhile, the confines of the venue in Vegas spun a whole new slew of COVID infection stories, and it would become clear soon enough that our new viral companion could possibly derail large social gatherings yet again.
NYE was announced in September 2021 before the upcoming Fall 2021 tour had begun. We enjoyed two full tours completed without any further cancellations. But, by the end of the year, another variant was upon us. As holiday parties and Broadway shows were getting canceled in New York, fans debated online whether or not the shows should go on and wondered if they needed to cancel their hotel reservations and plane tickets.
As days went on, events were being canceled left and right, but when Billy Joel decided not to cancel his own holiday residency right before and MSG Entertainment released a statement saying the shows would still be on, we assumed we were going to have to make our own decision whether or not we felt safe attending the shows. Although it was hard to accept, I was relieved when the announcement was made that the shows would be postponed until April 19 - 22 of 2022.
It turned out that a funny twist was that if the New York Knicks made the NBA 2022 playoffs, the shows may need to be postponed again… Naturally, a fan created a Twitter account dedicated to tracking the stats of the team’s season, but it didn’t take too long to see we’d all be back at MSG in April… unless another variant shut us down again. Four months after the postponement of New Year’s Eve, cases would be going up yet again after declines the previous two months following all the New Year’s cancellations. It seemed the variants were unleashed before every Phish tour and then the shows just kept the viruses circulating. Would Earth Day substitute for New Year’s Eve?
Although we may have thought the COVID quarantine era of our lives was over, we found ourselves on New Year’s Eve without a Phish show again. Thankfully, the band gave us a reason to stay indoors on December 28th when they announced another episode of Dinner and a Movie, but this time with an actual live concert streamed on Phish’s YouTube channel and SiriusXM’s Phish Radio from an “unknown location” dubbed the “The Ninth Cube.”
Although there was no stunt, gag, or anything that had to do with the Halloween show as we pondered, it was still a special night with lots of fashionable outfit changes and the band bantering with the online audience in a similar way to the Beacon Jams. On the floor, there were LED lights that were installed all over, giving a presence of a symbol of the fans at home. But, it was maybe even stranger to see Phish with no audience and hear no cheering and clapping mid-jam.
Musically the highlight of the three-set show was “You Enjoy Myself,” which ventured into a second segment of improvisation after the shortened vocal jam before eventually segueing into “Frankie Says.” The gag-less lead-up to the New Year’s countdown came out of “Everything’s Right,” when the band found their way into “Auld Lang Syne” before going right back into “Everything’s Right.”
Another highlight of the show was a bust-out of “Baby Lemonade,” the first time the band played this Fishman tune since March 11, 1992. Fish proceeded to walk through the lights on the floor, which ended up being the closest thing to a gag that we would get. The song was a reference to their dinner suggestion of the night: Trey’s own recipe for Lemonade, a Whole Roasted Chicken with Lemon, a Lemon Pasta vegetarian entrée, and for dessert: Lemon Bars.
As with the previous Dinner and a Movie series, all proceeds were donated to the Waterwheel Foundation. As their announcement said, “SiriusXM have generously underwritten production costs to make this webcast free, and we are hoping to come together once again as a community to support those in need. The WaterWheel Foundation will be raising money for a handful of non-profits close to the Phish community.” At the time of the show, there had been $900,000 dollars raised from contributions during the previous 37 archival live streams. Phish had figured out to make more than a year’s worth of lemons into lemonade, and we are all grateful.
As we all now know, things change quickly with an ever-evolving virus. Phish may have postponed their New Year’s shows, but their scheduled, annual four-day Mexico shows were still moving forward as planned. A month earlier, Dead and Company chose to cancel their scheduled Mexico shows in early January. Nevertheless, with COVID hospitalizations falling, by late February everyone was back for more Phish, with fresh air in the sea and sand. On the first night, the boys opened the show with “The Lizards,” a first in the band’s history, and proceeded to play with sustained energy through the next four shows. Like last Summer’s tour opener, the band came out with built-up energy after postponed shows.
For the encore of Phish’s Thursday’s opener, special guest and musical collaborator Dave Matthews came out to perform Phish’s debut of “So Damn Lucky,” a 998 show gap bust-out of Daniel Lanois’ “The Maker,” and Phish’s own “Tweezer Reprise.” Dave was returning the favor, as Trey was a special guest for a Dave Matthews and Tim Reynolds Sunday set the Sunday before Phish’s run in the same venue, Moon Palace in Cancun, Quintana Roo.
The following night provided more fun with Phish possibly unplanned debut of the Stones’ “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” coming out of “Say It To Me S.A.N.T.O.S.” in the first set. Set two provided three stellar jams of “Down With Disease,” “Carini,” and set closer “A Song I Heard The Ocean Sing.” Night three continued the long jam theme with a classic twenty-two minute “Wolfman’s Brother” in set one, and a killer four-song segue of “Set Your Soul Free” > “Simple” > “Scents and Subtle Sounds” > “Crosseyed and Painless.” The final show opened with a bust out of Little Feat’s “Fat Man In the Bathtub” and more great jams in “Split Open and Melt,” “Golden Age” and “Harry Hood.” After this solid run, we were spoiled, knowing we had some rare April shows coming round the bend.
Naturally, between the cancellation of NYE and the shows, Trey released yet another solo album on March 7. This time, a first for Trey, an all-acoustic solo album of nine originals called Mercy. These songs were written during the Omicron days of Winter 2020-21 but the stripped-down instrumentation sounds much different than the Lonely Trip album with full instrumentation. Trey said in Rolling Stone, “It’s two years since we went into hiding. This is still going on, and it’s an even lonelier trip… Here I was, still at home, playing acoustic guitar. I thought, ‘These songs just want to be one guy with a guitar, singing.’”
Speaking of hiding inside with a guitar, in January Trey started giving guitar lessons on his Instagram page in January. These nine lengthy videos covered a wide range of subjects about music and guitar playing, breaking down complex musical knowledge into its simplest ideas. Trey’s love of music is on full display while he listens to some of his favorite compositions. These videos should always prove useful for novice and more experienced guitar players alike and for free no less.
By the time of the Phish shows in mid-April, the cases were thankfully not high enough to cancel, and Phish graced the stage again beginning with a long and ripping “Carini.” Everyone immediately loved Phish’s version of Christmas in July, as New Year’s in April was just awesome: the spring weather, the playoff Garden, and a rare time of year to see Phish these days.
Musically, the four-night run was spectacular. I am spoiled to live near Madison Square Garden, where Phish seems to play so comfortably that you can consider it one step away from their soundchecks or practices. Jams were plentiful, and the shows seemed to have more structure than the 2021 Summer and Fall tours, which featured more exploration in long, mind-bending jams. As carried through into the Summer 2022 tour, Phish was solid, almost as if to say, “Goodbye uncertainty, goodbye fear, goodbye COVID. We hope!”
The first night’s “4/20 Show” had a twenty-plus “Down With Disease” > “The Howling” which continued the first set’s highlights of “Carini,” “The Moma Dance,” and “Stash.” The only reference to the holiday was “Blaze On,” which was more than enough. Night two opened with a special dedication from Trey that one of their song’s inspirations was sitting in the audience at her first Phish show; the one and only “Suzy Greenburg” the “hero of the song.” The fun set contained treats like “The Man Who Stepped Into Yesterday” > “Avenu Malkenu” > “The Man Who Stepped Into Yesterday,” “Esther” and a killer “Ghost” to close the set and light up smiles in the room. This show brought the heat that the first night may have lacked. The fire raged on during set two with a solid “Chalkdust Torture” > “Tweezer” pairing and ending with a “Character Zero” > “Tweezer” > “Character Zero” set closer.
We were pretty positive Phish would be doing something special for the third show on April 22, which also happened to be Earth Day. Arguably once a significant holiday for the band in the early years, it had been announced this night would be three sets, as it was technically the original ticket for 12/31/21. The second set continued a run of MSG jam highlights with a three-song, fifty-three-minute pairing of “Set Your Soul Free” > “Light” > “Fuego.”
Although they did not play “Auld Lang Syne” at midnight in the third set, they did do a “gag,” which is one of the most visually immersive and elaborate they’ve ever presented. At first, the stage started lifting to reveal a mountain with screens displaying lyrics to the set three opener “Free.” During “Waves,” drone dolphins appeared in the air and flew throughout the Garden while Chris Kuroda made the lights feel like we were underwater in an ocean. The dolphins looked real and the illusion was beautiful.
It only became more magical as all of a sudden a giant whale hovered out of the side of the stage right in front of us and started swimming with the dolphins. This is another reason Phish is special; art can help you transcend a typical moment in your life, allowing you to have child-like joy again, at least for me. The rest of the set included rain-like beads falling from the sky in abstract shapes during a great “Sand,” bubbles filling up the venue from the center scoreboard high on the top of The Garden, and seaweed dangling from the light rig turning the stage into an aquarium during “Split Open and Melt.” The nature-themed set concluded with “It’s Ice” as the mountain turned to ice and a giant donut appeared behind the band. The whole incredible production was designed by Moment Factory, a longtime collaborator with Phish. Trey wished everyone a “Happy Earth Day” as we departed, amazed at what we just experienced and with still one more night to enjoy.
The final show was one of those special shows that never let up from start until finish. Opening with “Fluffhead” and a classic “Mike’s Groove,” Phish launched into a 20-minute steller “Simple” with the first post-Halloween “Egg In a Hole” stuck inside. There were no breathers here, as the band launched into “Divided Sky” and “First Tube” to close the set. Set two opened with one of the run’s “best Jam” contenders in “No Men In No Man’s Land” and a great “Piper” as well.
On a personal note, I finally took off my mask during this show, halfway through the Earth Day run. I didn’t feel great about it, especially when days after the shows I heard from many non-Phish-related friends that I had just participated in a super-spreader event and some friends who tested positive during and after the run. Even Howard Stern labeled this run as this. We all have different opinions and experiences and timelines for going back into the world while COVID-19 continues to evolve. For me, it was when maybe I was not only tired of wearing the mask, as I had done for the 4/19 and 4/20 shows, but also weighing the risks against the three vaccine shots I’d gotten and wondering when this would finally be over, if ever. At least it felt good to make a decision, even if still felt conflicted, after a couple of years of bewilderment.
Following the encore on the 22nd, my wife and I quickly left through the back exit, joyous about what we had just experienced. New Year’s in April on Earth Day, two years after the lockdown began, was a nice way to celebrate our days on this planet and reflect on what we still have in this life, despite so much change. It was a great show and everyone was beaming. We walked onto the sidewalk of Eighth Avenue, right in line with the band’s departing vehicles, a few of us clapping and cheering the band as they drove home.
I saw Mike’s seated silhouette in one car as if he was still locked in a groove, while all of a sudden a window rolled down in the car behind him. It was Trey and his wife Sue, revealing themselves and cracking up laughing knowing we wouldn’t have expected it, our time together not over yet. On the edge of the sidewalk, feet from the car, I instinctively gave a prayer sign, bowing and thanking him and the band, the most peaceful respect I could give after what I just experienced.
Looking back, it wasn't just that night I was bowing for, but the previous two years and all of the music that the band gave us during this hard time. Here was my favorite musician, my old Manhattan neighbor, who during quarantine made dozens of new songs for us from his Rubber Jungle, released both new recorded and archival music with his bandmates, shared dinner recipes with fans, and performed live from an empty theater close by, raising money for a future facility for recovery from addiction. Here we were, so close, our smiles showing one another that it was all going to be ok, because we have the music and all of the positive things that come along with it, in spite of what other plans life had for us. It was yet another chapter for the band to begin in their 39th year…
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