On August 2nd, 2017 I rushed from the Ed Sullivan Theatre (where I had just witnessed a killer eight minutes of Joe Walsh performing on Colbert’s show) to Madison Square Garden for my second taste of Phish’s instantly-legendary Baker’s Dozen run.
I stopped for a quick slice at Pizza Suprema before the show, truly great New York pizza right across the street from the world’s most famous venue.
This was the band’s tenth instalment of their doughnut-themed string of shows at MSG. In keeping with their wacky and hugely-successful concept, on this night Phish handed out peanut-swirl doughnut holes to the first rush of fans entering the arena, leaving us all to guess what peanut or hole-related songs the band might surprise us with.
I had (arguably) the best seats of the five shows I would be seeing on the run, almost straight-on to the band just a few rows up from the floor. I took my spot, said hello to the very nice guy beside me and in no time the lights went down.
They opened with something I didn’t recognize, but boy the rest of the crowd seemed pretty excited. My new friend was whooping it up pretty good so I asked him what we were listening to. “It’s the theme song from The Wire,” he yelled back, smiling from ear-to-ear. “Oh, okay,” I thought, “I don’t feel too bad about not knowing the theme from some television show.”
Turns out Way Down In The Hole is actually a song by one of my favourite artists of all time, Tom Waits. Oops. I wish I had recognized it; I would have been that much more excited.
As the first set went on it was clear that the remarkably loud (and decidedly pointless) talking coming from the two guys directly behind me wasn’t going to stop. This is a situation that is as common as it is annoying, but I never say anything. I always figure it’s karmic payback for my drunken behaviour at my first Bob Dylan concert back in the ’80’s in Montreal and so I always take it on the chin.
Obviously everyone around us had their own karma to deal with because nobody else said a thing either. Except the two guys of course, they kept saying plenty. Most ironic was when they spent the first half of Maze yelling to each other about how excited they were to hear Maze, and remember that time we saw them play Maze together?!?!
“Yeah, that was in Albany!!!”
“No man, it was here at MSG on one of the New Years runs!!!”
“No it wasn’t man, you’re crazy! It was Albany, or maybe Syracuse!!!”
“No man, I’m pretty sure it was here…”
On and on. Karma’s a bitch (as they say).
During the setbreak my nice new friend turned to me.
“Hey, can I ask you a huge favour?”
“We just noticed that two of our good friends are sitting at the end of this aisle,” he explained, pointing to a pair of friendly looking hippies. “Would you and y’lady mind switching seats with them for the next set?”
“No problem buddy,” I said, and promptly moved out of earshot of my drunken karmic deliverymen. We warned the friendly hippies about the talky-talkersons sitting behind their new seats but they waved it off as no problem.
I guess karma figured it had bigger fish to fry. Funny, the couple we switched with seemed nice enough.
The second set was as epic as the first, a Mike’s Groove set-long sandwich with an A Day In The Life encore, which was in keeping with the evening’s theme of course. When the band sang the line “Four thousand holes in Blackburn, Lancashire,” the crowd cheered like mad.
Who knew so many Phish fans were from Lancashire?
(This was the show where I momentarily turned into a glowstick ninja. Flying glowsticks are a constant at Phish concerts, and early in the first set I found myself watching the band when out of the corner of my eye I saw a glowstick heading my way.
I swear, my brain saw that glowstick in ultra-slow motion and it systematically plotted it’s trajectory while I calmly boogied to the music, completely unconcerned. My brain tracked the stick through my peripheral vision and as it approached my face I casually [and without looking] held up my left hand and plucked the thing out of midair, just a few inches from my face. Without taking my eyes off the band I held the glowstick out to the guy beside me, who quickly grabbed it and threw it back into the melee.
Though my brain told me something special had just happened, it was the dozen amazed slaps that rained down on my back immediately afterward that confirmed that I had indeed just crouched like a tiger.)