Live At Madison Square Garden
New Year's Eve 1995

Phish

Once upon a time there was a band called Phish. Like the Grateful Dead before them, Phish was somewhat of a cultural oddity, attracting legions of lazy-eyed, rabid admirers to their unique, never-the-same-twice concerts. During their 20 years together, they built a huge and happy phollowing, especially on the East Coast. And when it came to New Year’s Eve, Phish and their phans partied like it was...well, whatever year they just happened to be ringing in. With a phlood of live Phish CDs to wrangle with, Rhino’s three-CD Live At Madison Square Garden New Year’s Eve 1995 has a lot to live up to. By all accounts, this set phinds the phishy phoursome at the pinnacle of their powers, offering up three sets of mind-tingling meanderings without precedent. Well, at least that’s what those who were there and in-the-know say.

Indeed, the 12/31/95 performance has been hailed phar and wide as the topper most of the popper most. The Pharmer’s Almanac, the unofficial guide to Phish, places it at the head of the heap. Likewise, on yet another one of their ponderous “best-of” lists, Rolling Stone called it one of the top ten concerts of the 90s. On contact, Live At Madison Square Garden New Year’s Eve 1995 may not have all the zeal and trimmings of greatness. But upon a more thorough investigation, it’s easy to see why Phishheads are phlopping over each other and panting breathlessly for this one. After a remedial roll-out of such favorites as “Punch You In The Eye,” “The Sloth,” “The Squirming Coil” and “Colonel Forbin’s Ascent,” guitarist Trey Anastasio phreezes the passing hours in his “Gamehendge Time Phactory” and the band, led by lyricist Tom Marshall, phall into a rousing, albeit abbreviated version of Collective Soul’s “Shine.” No one but Phish could get away with something like this, and still carry on without emptying the room.

But that’s only a slice of the pie. From a stirring rendition of the Who’s “Drowned” to a life-altering “Runaway Jim” back to “Gamehendge Time Phactory” where Anastasio, keyboardist Page McConnell and bassist Mike Gordon, dressed in lab coats, essentially conjure up drummer Jon Fishman wearing a diaper and floating down from the Garden's rafters at the stroke of midnight. It all makes for some strange and intriguing theater before the band settles down to business and plows through with caustic conviction. Along with their own “Weekapaug Groove” and “You Enjoy Myself,” they revisit the Who’s Quadrophenia album with a somber reading of “Sea And Sand.” They phinish up the set with Edgar Winter’s “Frankenstein” (not to be confused with “Phrankenstein”) and bounce back for a quick encore of Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode.” Ten years later, phans circulate petitions to bring Phish back while pondering that magical night in New York City. Maybe next year, huh?

~ Shawn Perry

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