In the 34th year of their existence as a band, Phish is reaching a pinnacle of their career that proves they are as vibrant and relevant as they have ever been. Tonight they wrap up a run of thirteen shows at Madison Square Garden, and they will do so without repeating a song. That’s right, you heard me, they haven’t repeated a song. They have played 200+ songs over the last twelve shows that have made up twenty four of the most brilliant sets of their career. Each one scattering, new covers, fresh takes on standards, acapella delights, and rarities, along with subtle references to a different donut flavor every night.
The culmination came last night when on “Boston Creme” night, the band performed “Sunshine of You Love”, “More Than a Feeling”, and “Foreplay/Long Time” all connected and featuring teases of “Tales of Brave Ulysses” and “White Room”. They then revealed through onstage banter that the thirteen night “Bakers Dozen” run, came from a twenty year old joke about playing a show of just Boston and Cream covers. This is just the latest example of how musicality and humor have been interconnected throughout the bands entire career.
Phish has always been a band that is evaluated by their loyal but often critical fan base on a show by show basis. This is a natural symptom of a band that performs a different set of songs every show. Even the most cynical of Phish fans, can’t deny that there is absolutely nothing to complain about in any of these shows. The combination of the challenge that the band put before themselves of not repeating a song and each show having a different donut flavored theme, has led to a run of shows unlike any other in the history of the band. Each one an individually unique show that would normally stand out when compared to others within a given tour.
Phish has also always been a band that has been known for it’s use of the latest technology to distribute it’s music to it’s fan base in a way that has always been ahead of the game as far as the rest of music industry goes. As the music industry has searched for ways to reinvent themselves in the 21st century, Phish have been pioneers. From tapers and bootlegs, to free digital downloads, to video streaming. I will never forget the experience of staying up late in front of my parents desktop computer to watch what we used to call “webcasts” of a Phish show from Las Vegas in the year 2000. That first webcast has now evolved into high definition, multi-cam, live streams that have been available for each of these thirteen shows for about 1/3 of the cost of the concert ticket.
Watching the last two live streams from Friday and Saturday night of this closing weekend run of “The Bakers Dozen”, has reminded me of why Phish is indeed “The Greatest Band”. A band is a “group of instrumentalists playing music of a specialized type” by definition. I would also call a band a bond, a musical bond. This run of shows feels like the epitome of the musical bond formed by these four people. I believe these shows are a body of work that when viewed as a whole represent something that is singular not only in the bands career but in the history of popular music. Never has a band that consists of the same group of people over it’s entire career performed such a large group of songs that showcases everything that truly makes the musical bond of a band special. These shows are only possible because of every second that these four people have spent playing music together. This music can only be performed by these four people at this point in time because of the last thirty four years. This is what allows them to deliver twenty six sets of music that represent the creativity, spontaneity, musicianship, and humor that encapsulates what it means to makes music with your friends. The very thing that has started every band in history.
As Phans from all over the country either make their way to the Garden this evening or prepare to enjoy this final show of “The Bakers Dozen” run from the comfort of their own living rooms, I think we all can’t help but to ask ourselves is where does this journey of the musical bond of these four individuals go from here. The answer to that question is an easy one. No one knows, and they only way for us to find out will be for them to keep making music with their friends. This is what makes me grateful that my favorite band is indeed the greatest band.
You can watch the first and second set openers of each show of the run on Phish’s Youtube page.