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Live Review: Phish at Madison Square Garden in New York City (1/1)

Starting the new year with the third of four sold-out nights

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    Following a blistering three-set performance on New Year’s Eve (that included twenty minutes of improvisational wizardry behind the veil of an hourglass-shaped curtain just before midnight), Phish returned to Madison Square Garden for the third of four sold out shows in the midtown New York City arena on Friday night. The Vermont quartet, now in their fourth decade of existence, had a remarkable 2015 and the night’s selections featured a number of tunes that only began appearing on setlists in more recent years.

    Never one to miss a chance to provide some nerd bait for one of the most hardcore, critical and well-versed fanbases in the music world, Phish plugged several title tracks (“Undermind”, “Rift”, “Lawn Boy”, “Farmhouse”, and “Wingsuit”, the working title for 2014’s Fuego) into the setlist, putting a unique signature on the night.

    Guitarist Trey Anastasio steered a playful and energetic affair on Friday night, especially during set one, teasing backwards with a medley of riffs from the opening “Stealing Time From the Faulty Plan” and “How Many People Are You” during a labyrinthine mid-set performance of “Undermind”, which may have provided the overall musical highlight of the show (along with the “Light” from set two).

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    Following keyboardist Page McConnell’s always-charming “Lawn Boy” croon, the opening segment’s peak energy from the crowd came during the set-closing “Run Like an Antelope” while ace lighting director Chris Kuroda lit up the bouncing floor. As to be expected at a New Year’s Day show, the crowd energy was a tad subdued in comparison to the previous night, but signature Phish moments of unrelenting tension-and-release build-ups towards cacophonous explosion (such as during the relentlessly exhilarating “Phish “Run Like an Antelope” – 1/1/2016“) were interspersed throughout the night.

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    Set two featured a number of extensive jams, including the opening “Down with Disease”, a boundary-crashing “Light” (that included numerous teases of Dizzy Gillespie’s jazz bop standard “Manteca”) that bled into “Fuego” before the serviceable and glistening “Slave to the Traffic Light” closed down set two. The standalone “Farmhouse” encore was a downturn from the prior two night’s encores, yet it capped off yet another overall successful, albeit comparably subdued night at MSG.

    Expectations for this 32-year-old touring machine can sometimes border on unrealistic and the fact that last night’s show will likely be the ‘weakest’ of the run is telling. In a vacuum, it was a fantastic night and an indication that 2016 should only continue adding exciting pages to the band’s wildly fascinating legacy.

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    Setlist:
    Set 1:
    Stealing Time From the Faulty Plan
    Heavy Things
    How Many People Are You
    Stash
    Undermind > Rift
    Wingsuit
    Ocelot
    Lawn Boy
    Run Like an Antelope
    Set 2:
    Down with Disease > Dirt
    Halfway to the Moon > Theme From the Bottom > Light > Fuego > Slave to the Traffic Light
    Encore:
    Farmhouse

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