Eight Things You'll See and Hear At Phish's MSG Run

Categories: Phish
Popular Vermont improv-rock quartet Phish turned 30 on December 2, ending their strongest year together since, oh, 1998 or so. Is it coincidence that the group's subsequent bad juju -- first a hiatus, then a breakup -- occurred during the horrific Bush administration? Or that the group reemerged with Obama in 2008? Affordable care indeed! On Saturday, Phish kicks off yet another multi-night stand at Madison Square Garden, a venue they've played more often than any other - excepting their earliest gigs at the Front and Nectar's during their late-'80s Burlington, Vermont, club days. Here are some things you may notice at the Garden should you choose to partake.

1. History The place simply reeks of it, and Phish and fans have added plenty of their own dank flavors to the mixture. Dig the venue's famously suspended superstructure sway sinuously under the sold-out crowds. The shows on the 28th through the 31st mark the band's own 28th through 31st appearances at the venue, so there's that. The group has played some of its best shows ever -- e.g., 12/31/95 and 12/29/97 -- in the Thunderdome, and it's become something of a hometown room. Plus: Thirty damn years together, yo! Who woulda thunk?

2. Ancient Aztec hieroglyphs When my friend Dan and I took mescaline on New Year's Eve '98, the crowd on the floor linked their infernal glow sticks together into arena-long ideograms, paragraphs of pain and pleasure that spelled out my future in colorful alien curlicues as the band ruptured the space-time continuum onstage. Your mileage may vary.

3. Old People Thirty years, bro! Early adopters who were in their early twenties when the band kicked off are themselves in their early fifties. Even the backward-baseball-capped contingent has grown up to become doctors, teachers, salespeople, lawyers, programmers, househusbands, financial predators, and recessionary roadkill. One of the world's most intriguingly self-referential bands, Phish mixes old and new material into an ever-expanding and -evolving totality, and tunes like "Simple" or "Wolfman's Brother," which reflect Phish's commitment to both its audience and their own special project, continue to confirm the pact. Imagine if your favorite team still retained its original lineup.

4. Schematic tattoos Last year, a talented former musicologist named Michael Hamad began sketching detailed, informative, and graphically elegant real-time "song maps" diagramming Phish jams, sets, and even entire shows. Fans have started commissioning Hamad to create these so-called Setlist Schematics of their favorite shows, and some especially devoted lunatics are requesting tattoo-ready art. A married couple received an image for matching tats, while another guy has asked Hamad to transcribe guitar licks from a favorite "Story of the Ghost" jam. Hamad looks forward to the photos.

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