Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Phish at Madison Square Garden

Trey Anastasio
Since forming at the University of Vermont in 1983, Phish has attracted an ever-multiplying cult following of Phish-heads. Originally known as Blackwood Convention, the band began by playing Grateful Dead songs on campus. By the time the band line-up solidified in 1986, vocalist/guitarist Trey Anastasio, keyboardist Page McConnell, bassist Mike Gordon and drummer Jon Fishman had transferred that sound well onto original compositions. Tours and albums followed, and Phish went on hiatus in 2004, but was greeted by an even larger following upon its return in 2009. Phish released its 13th and most recent studio album, Fuego, on June 24, 2014.

Phish headlined four sold out concerts at Madison Square Garden to close out 2015 and welcome 2016. Tonight, opening night, the band performed for close to three hours as one song melted into another amid extended jams. Opening with "Sample in a Jar," Anastasio sang well and played dizzying leads on his guitar that were as spellbinding to hear as to watch. For nearly three hours, the interplay between his guitar and McConnell's keyboards was masterful, as if they were playing with one mind, whether it was a bass-triggered funky number or a dreamy interlude. Early in the set, as the band played "Simple," McConnell teased a bit of "Magilla," his piano-based jazz instrumental that was his first original song contribution to the band's repertoire. Phish surprised even the most die-hard Phish fans in the second set by suddenly dropping a bouncy new Dead-sounding honky-tonk boogie, "Can't Always Listen," in the middle of the funky "Ghost." Phish ended the second set with "Weekapaug Groove," which inserted an "What's the Use?" and into which Anastasio teased a bit of "Auld Lang Syne." By the end of the encore, a comparatively brief "Character Zero," Phish had proved that there has been no better jam band in the 21st century.

Phish's concert series at Madison Square Garden continues until January 2.

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