[We would like to thank Cotter Smart (@cotter_smart) for providing last night's NYE recap. -Ed.]
"Call me Ishmael." The famous first words of Moby Dick, a story focused on achieving the unachievable. Tonight was Phish’s unachievable, the White Whale. I could not have been more blessed to be in attendance and witness what unfolded. I was born in 2001, 7 years after the last Gamehendge. Never in my wildest dreams did I think tonight would happen. Trying to encapsulate the absolute madness Phish just unleashed on MSG is impossible, so forgive me in advance. I want to give a shoutout to my cousin who saw his first 4! shows consecutively. I was lucky enough to have my dad and little brother there as well. To the guy behind me who gave me tickets for the 31st, thank you (feel better). I got to dance with my family at the best Phish show I have ever seen. I have written two reviews before. One in 2018, when Trey got stuck. I figured I would be ok, no biggie they’ll have some dancers, maybe people flying and confetti would go off at midnight. Hahahaha boy was I wrong.
Over the last couple of days rumors began to swirl. At first there was Richard Glasglows talk at ASU, then the gondola story, and a few nods to Gamehendge in the 3 show posters. I brushed it off just like the majority of you did. The 28th was a great show, but no Gamehendge songs, the 29th was more of the same. Good shows but nothing that got there. I, and most others probably, thought it was coming on the 30th. Do not get me wrong, I thought it was a great, high energy show, but it felt like the other shoe had to drop. There was no way the band would go 4 nights at MSG without an IT show. When my cousin and I were walking out of the venue people began talking: what if this is really it, what if after 40 years of existence, 83 shows at MSG, and 29 years without a Gamehendge, they finally did it. The incessant guessing and hope reached a fever pitch before tonight's show. It happens every run—people fantasize about what the 20 some odd thousand people just witnessed. Every run before this year, they were let down. My family got settled in, beads, glasses and all. I thought we had 2 more sets of music before the pandemonium started. It turns out we only had 1.
The band opened with a short but strong “Everything’s Right”, nothing out of the ordinary but a good peak nonetheless. I really enjoy ER, it usually jams pretty hard. I figured it was a good omen of things to come, especially in the 1 slot. “Tube” was next, one of my favorite songs and assuredly one that gets you grooving. Did they jam it? I’m biased and glowing in the post show haze but I’ll say yes. It was as funky as you could hope. Again nothing crazy but a very good rendition. The energy was palpable and the crowd seemed ready for the roof to be blown off MSG. Trey decided otherwise and we got “Ether Edge”, a new song that debuted this year. It reminds me of a lullaby, which can be great, but did not fit the moment. “Reba”!! A grand slam, can't miss, Phish staple; and they delivered. Trey did not miss a note, the ensuing solo was awesome. A good "Reba" is one of the fastest ways to tears—- I saw and felt plenty.
A short but oh-so-sweet "Taste" followed, very technically proficient and high energy. That seemed to be the trend for the first 7 sets of this run. Nothing absurd like we’ve been led to expect but all very good Phish. “Ruby Waves” was a surprise. I feel like the late first set is an odd place for it but who am I to judge. I really thought this jam had legs. It was nice, I guess, but they were running out of time to get there. “A Life Beyond the Dream” some people love this song, they were not in MSG last night. There was an audible groan when Trey started singing. It does rock though, the last two minutes are worth a listen. I guess “Character Zero” is divisive as well? I’ve never gotten the hate that song gets. Every time I’ve heard it the place has rocked. Last night's show was no exception. Trey brought the house down, it was a great end to what will be the most forgotten set in Phish history. I forgot it happened and I was there. It was a short set but we all knew that was coming, they had to make time for the gag.
The guy behind me somehow knew it was going down in the second set, sorry for doubting you during “DWD” and thanks for the heads up. I explained to my cousin the customary three-set NYE show and what to expect. I learned my lesson about expecting anything with this band. At this point, I really hope anyone reading has listened to the show. If you have not, I implore you to find a way and listen to the last 2 sets of 2023. In no hyperbolic terms, they were two of the most consequential sets of music in Phish history. Phish did not just play Gamehendge, they played Gamehendge with the technical proficiency and improvisation we could only dream of on a great night. I would put the two sets of music Phish played last night against any from this century. Now let me tell you why.
I told a couple of people I was writing the review hoping to get some pointers, all I got was “good luck” and “the music wrote itself”. I’m going to tell you the experience of one person out of tens of thousands in that crowd. The second set opened with “Down with Disease”. A standard opener that could go anywhere. Then they finished it, eight minutes in, and there were now chains hanging from the rafters down onto the stage. Either they couldn't find a jam for the life of them or the guy behind me was right. The most coveted sounds in Phandom came next. The garden exploded as they began “Harpua”, it seemed like everyone around me already knew. I wish I could bottle that energy up and keep it forever. For my money, it was the best "Harpua" this century, and also my first! Jimmy and his grandmother emerged from underneath the stage to a visceral MSG crowd. The band began conversing with Jimmy’s grandma until Mike mentioned Forbin. We waited on bated breath as Trey began “The Man Who Stepped Into Yesterday”. Jimmy’s Grandma, Annie Golden, told Trey she would not let him get through another New Year without doing Gamehendge. I have never in my life heard a crowd as loud as the Garden was when they collectively realized what was happening. People were crying, hugging, screaming, and who knows what else. The band had clearly practiced, I cannot remember one missed note during the entire gag. “The Lizards” was first up, accompanied by reptilian dressed dancers in front of Trey. Interpretive dancing on skateboards was not on my bingo card this year, but it absolutely rocked. The most amazing part was the band did not feel rushed at all, if you closed your eyes you could be led to believe it was a “Lizards” from any night. A great one at that which further cemented the smile plastered on my face. I loved the new string effects Page was using. “Punch You in the Eye” is next in the canonical journey of our beloved Colonel Forbin. Another A1 version with enormous bass bombs and visuals taboot.
I want to give a good reason why I believe this is the best show since I was born. Phish played “AC/DC Bag” for nearly 20 minutes INSIDE A GAMEHENDGE SET. I mean jaw on the floor, tears in eyes, jamming while playing the most coveted set ever. Oh yeah and I’d put this “Bag” up with any and right next to the legendary Boise rendition. It enters type 2 territory around 4:10 in and does not look back. It feels like all those moments they did not quite get there. The previous 3 nights walked so this jam could run. Trey burns the Garden to the ground as a multibeast emerges from the back of the venue. The band is creating one of the most legendary jams in recent memory with a 3 headed dragon making its way around the crowd. My dad wants me to shout out the puppeteers here so I will. They held the multibeast and Tela up for a long time while they slowly meandered their way to the stage. The jam devolves into a machine-like cacophony of sound which is an absolute delight to my ears. It was a new, innovative jam inside their oldest album. Truly mind-blowing things only Phish could dream of doing. “Tela” climbed off her multibeast, harnessed in and began performing one of the most beautiful dance routines I have ever seen. Oh and they also flawlessly worked their way through every part of the 40 year old song. The rhombus overhead lowered halfway and began to bounce with the crowd during the absolutely FIRE version of “Llama”. If you have the right angle in MSG you can often see the stage moving, like this summer. This was not just a microphone, this was the whole damn light rig. It was bouncing so much my little brother was worried it would fall on Trey. What’s the natural thing to do in that situation? Dance harder, and we did.
“Wilson” complete with Errand Wolfe(!) was next. I loved the singing she added, I imagine that will be divisive in our community. Honestly if it went off with nothing for people to complain about it would not be Phish. I have never danced harder in my entire life than during the end of this set and into the beginning of the next one. “The Sloth” is a good song, performed very well in this version. But watching a sloth slowly make his way across stage trying to catch a yawning "Wilson" was hilarious. Trey gives some narration then we get the chants of the woodland people, “Divided Sky”. Another must-listen version with a soaring solo from Trey without a missed note. The feeling I felt during “Divided Sky” while Trey really took off is something I hope every person on earth gets to experience at least once in their life. The immense joy of knowing you would not change where you are for anything. They played with conviction, bravado, confidence, and flawlessness I could never have dreamt of. Watching my 16 year old brother buy in and boogie on next to my cousin and dad brought the waterworks. The set ended and we got our break. There were hugs exchanged, lots of excited profanities and the understanding this was something beyond special.
“Mcgrupp And The Watchful Hosemasters” opened the third set and brought back our favorite grandma alongside Forbin. “Mcgrupp” is a beautiful song and this was no different. Perfectly played once again with a large stuffed dog dancing on stage. We got our second harness of the night with “Colonel Forbin’s Ascent”. Our hero climbed up the mountain which was still bouncing like a buoy in rough water. The crowd continued to eat it up as Trey led us into “Fly Famous Mockingbird”. A droned version of the mockingbird took flight through MSG holding The Helping Friendly Book. It was the perfect sight in the perfect moment at the perfect place. I truly do not think they could have done it any way better. The symphonic backing made it all the more obvious we were watching a true moment in history. The man behind me, who seemed very connected in the Phish world told me “other bands have their hay-day, but Phish’s is their entire career”. Nothing could be more true, we were led into 2024 in the most beautiful fashion imaginable. “Auld Lang Syne” came a few minutes before midnight, maybe it was just how well every other song was played but even “ALS” seemed like perfection.
How could they possibly continue their unstoppable rampage through MSG? With lizards dancing to “Split Open and Melt” as the mountain turned into an active volcano of course. One of the better, more danceable versions of the song in recent memory brought the roof down over MSG. The sprawling 14 minute version saw the usual divulgence from anything any other band would ever do. They brought us back and landed the jam perfectly back into “SOAM”. Once again it’s impossible to sit there and not wonder how they can keep this going, they do so by playing my and many others favorite song “You Enjoy Myself”. My voice was just about gone, but I had more than enough to utter the 4 necessary words that make “YEM” so special. The loudness during the build up and ensuing “Boy!” rivaled most other show’s peaks. Oh yeah they played this one perfectly too. A beautiful version which saw Mike shaking the rafters and Trey turning the clock back 30 years put the cherry on top of 2 hours of the best music you will ever hear. With the world's most famous arena primed to explode they did just that, a beautiful version of “Loving Cup”, the badass Rolling Stones song was our penultimate 3rd set song. The 8 minute white light version was amazing. Trey, again, soloing like there is no tomorrow. There are no words to describe the feeling inside the Garden as Phish continued to lay down heater after heater after heater. “Possum” , the final Gamehendge song, ended the third set in phenomenal fashion. We got yet another dance party during “Cavern”, a pretty standard version but given the circumstances it was perfect. They continued to lament the show in the annals of history with a rock god, earth shaking “First Tube”. They closed the run with the greatest 3 minute rock song ever written. I was upset when they did not play “Tweezer Reprise” on the 30th, I think we can all agree the 31st was a deserving show.
Shows such as this one are few and far between, this show will be talked about for as long as those who were there are living. It is up there with Big Cypress, The Island Tour, and a few others that make Phish the band we adoringly love. You see Phish to experience moments like we were given yesterday. If you’re lucky you may catch a little bit at any given show. This show contained enough for a lifetime. I am beyond proud to be able to write the review for this legendary show, thank you to everyone who treated me and my family so well over this wonderful weekend. I hope you had as fantastic of a time as I did. To 2024!
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