Phish New Year’s Run: Eternal Joy & Never-Ending Splendor

From their humble beginnings at their first-ever New Year’s show at Exhibition Hall in Boston’s World Trade Center in 1989 to their career high point for the biggest millennium concert in the world at Big Cypress in 1999, Phish has always pulled out all the stops for their New Year’s celebrations.

[Photo by Kenny Pusey]

Interestingly, the proud Vermonters have never once played New Year’s in their home state, opting instead for three of their most notable homes away from home – the greater Boston area, New York City and the climate-friendly settings of South Florida. This year, Phish returns to perhaps their ultimate home away from home – for both the band and fans – Madison Square Garden.

Nobody ever really knows what to expect when it comes to Phish, especially come New Year’s, but today we’ll take a look at history to highlight some of the great moments in years past and assess how similar elements could play out during this year’s festivities.

The Best Show of the Run is a Toss Up – A lot of fans will have you believe that overall, the best night of a holiday run tends to fall on December 30th.  However, I’m not so sure that’s a fair distinction. If you look back though history, December 30th certainly took home top honors on a number of occasions – most notably in 1997 and 2009. But alternatively, New Years Eve has its fair share of wins as well, including 1994, 1995, 1998 and of course 1999. Meanwhile, December 29th even notched itself a win in 1996, while years like 1993 (the 30th and 31st are still duking it out to this day) and 2010 made it a tough call across the board. Thus, it’s a fool’s game to try to game the system; you gotta see ‘em all.

[Photo by Joel Berk]

Look for Big Jams on December 30th – While New Year’s Eve gets remembered for the theatrics of a big production, fans revere the best December 30th shows for memorable extended improvisations like the 1993 Mike’s Song, the 40+ minute AC/DC Bag -> McGrupp second set opener in 1997 or the Big Cypress Antelope. More recently, the trend has held up as well with an impressive Get Back on the Train in 2009 and the monster Tweezer of 2010.

No Repeats – Phish New Year’s Runs have always had an unwritten rule of no repeats. The band may have made an exception or two in recent years, but for the most part there’s doubtful to be many. Thus, you’re likely to hear approximately one hundred different songs over four nights.

PAGE TWO = There’s Something About The Blues, Gamehendge & Big Mike’s Groove’s

There‘s Something about the Blues – Over the course of Phish’s New Years run history, something in the holiday air makes Phish gravitate toward the blues. Classic blues rock tunes like Johnny B. Goode, La Grange and After Midnight have all played major roles in various shows and now have a close association to the New Year’s festivities. In both of the past two outings, we’ve seen fans with strategically placed La Grange signs, so who knows, maybe this is the year?  Then again, I’d personally rather see the return of Johnny B. Goode.

Phish – After Midnight Jam (Big Cypress)

Gamehendge – It’s clear that the band gets in the giving spirit as Gamehendge songs get far more generous treatment during the holidays. Looking back through the hourglass at the aggregate appearances of the most desirable Gamehendge songs reveals some interesting trends. The first is that there is no real trend: a big Gamehendge song can come on any night. Next, it’s interesting to see that Lizards is by far the most common New Year’s run song, making an appearance at ten different outings. Finally, Tela is actually the rarest, making only two holiday visits compared to Harpua’s three.

12/28 – 2 Lizards, 2 Sloth, 1 Mockingbird, 1 Forbins, 1 TMWSIY
12/29 – 4 Lizards, 1 McGrupp, 1 Harpua, 1 Tela
12/30 – 1 Tela, 1 Mockingbird, 1 Harpua, 2 McGrupp, 2 TMWSIY, 1 Forbins
12/31 – 1 Harpua, 2 Forbins, 2 Mockingbird, 2 Sloth,  4 Lizards, 1 McGrupp

Big Mike’s Grooves – Of all the New Year’s Eve shows, Phish has played a Mike’s Groove  on nine out of 15, which makes it the second most popular NYE song behind only Auld Lang Syne. Furthermore, they’ve played it four times on 12/28, and once on 12/29 (never at a 30th show). Given that last year, they didn’t play it at Madison Square Garden – although it did open the holiday run in Worcester on 12/27 – we might well see a big return to grace for Mike’s.

Of the most monumental New Year’s Mike’s Grooves, the 12/30/93 version (Mikes -> Horse -> Silent -> Punch You in the Eye-> McGrupp-> Weekpaug), the 12/31/95 version (Mike’s Song as the second set closer and the third set opens with “Mad Science Experiment” -> Auld Lang Syne – > Weekapaug) and the 12/31/98 version (1999-> Mike’s -> Hydrogen – > Weekapaug) make up the crème de la crème.

Phish – Mike’s Song > I Am Hydrogen (12/31/98)

PAGE THREE = The Updated MSG, Inclement Weather & NYE Gags

Fans Aren’t Going to Like the Updated MSG – On a slightly more sour note, some of us at HT visited the “new and improved” Madison Square Garden for the first time at Furthur last month, and unfortunately it doesn’t bode particularly well for the Phish run. One of the longtime great compliments of MSG from the Phish fan’s perspective – the ability to move from section to section within the arena – is essentially gone. Also, the updating of the boxes seems to have eaten into a lot of the regular seats. The 200 and 300 sections directly facing the stage as well as behind it have been revamped entirely and are isolated by a wall. Overall, it feels like there are just a lot less seats in the arena and mobility is more restricted. On the positive side, the actual space per seat seems much better and the bathrooms have been upgraded ten-fold.

Inclement Weather – I’m no Bill Steffen, but if history tells us anything it’s that a little flexibility in planning for the New Year’s run never hurts. Last year, we had people struggling to get to town as a big storm hit just before the run started. In 1998, a massive snow storm drilled the Midwest during the run, so getting home proved an adventurous trek for many folks. And, for the epic December 30th, 1993 show, fans navigated a freezing cold blizzard conditions on their way up Portland, Maine only to be rewarded with a nice warm barn-burner once they got inside.

New Year’s Gags – It’d be hard to put Phish’s New Years gags in rank order, but I think few would disagree that the original Flying Hot Dog gag from Boston Garden on December 31, 1994 would come out on top of the list. Beyond that, the ‘93 Phishtank with the band in scuba gear, the ’95 Mad Science Experiment, the ’09  Fishman Cannonball and last year’s Meatstick antics would probably round out the top five.

Phish – Meatstick Musical

What would you like to see from Phish this New Year’s Run? 

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4 thoughts on “Phish New Year’s Run: Eternal Joy & Never-Ending Splendor

  1. esther Reply

    Nice piece!

    IMO, December 30th certainly took home top honors on a number of occasions – most notably in 1997 and 2009??

    I don’t think either of these were the shows of those runs. In both cases, it’s all about the 29th :)

  2. jeremy McWatty Reply

    hoping for a stream this go round!!!

  3. Billy Maycraw Reply

    Well written.

    I still think the Dec 31, 1993 show is incredible. The Auld Lang Syne teases in the DWD jam and in Hood… sick.

  4. josh Reply

    Good stuff here but to ignore 12/30/95 in the 12/30 discussions is just criminal.

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