IT has been twenty-five years, but Phish’s performance on 12/31/95 at Madison Square Garden continues to be among Phish’s most legendary shows. A favorite of countless fans of improvisational rock music, the magnificently unplacid performance will be streamed by Phish as a “Dinner And A [Chess] Rematch” this New Year’s Eve in support of The Waterwheel Foundation, the band’s charitable organization founded in 1997.
I reviewed the concert on Rec.Music.Phish in January 1996, only days after it blew thousands of minds including my own, and changed the course of many lives. Those remarks---as well as the version revised for publication in “The Phish Companion”---are available to read here, along with other reviews by fans of 12/31/95 on this site. After witnessing a wonderful NYE run, highlighted in particular by “The Real Me Gin” on 12/29, I saw 12/31/95 with two guys who were much, much smarter than me. One was a graduate engineering student who attended Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering, and the other was a philosophy professor who obtained a graduate philosophy degree from BC when I was there in the late 1980s. While I fell out of touch with the engineer (Jim), and the philosophy professor (DK)---who became a highly regarded environmental ethics expert---died in 2013 from a recurrence of cancers originally caused by radiation he had received in the early 1980s (!), I have often thought of them while re-listening to the show. It was one of the most musically important nights of our lives, during a time when we were still mourning the loss of Jerry Garcia earlier that year (DK had seen 183 Dead shows, and Jim and I combined had seen over 100, iirc).
If you’ve never listened to 12/31/95 and will be watching and listening to it on Thursday night, I hope after it’s finished you add your own review of it to this site, or at least Comment on it below. I’m particularly interested in what fans who only came to love Phish’s music within the last decade think about the show. And frankly, even if you were at the show, I hope you Comment below as well about your thoughts about 12/31/95’s music in the context of Phish history. Why? Because if you’re taking the time to read this, your “take” on its music is likely informed by what’s now been nearly eleven years of “Phish 3.0,” an era whose improvisational highlights have been as musically and improvisationally impressive as those of previous eras.
And why do I say that? Because how does one rank a transcendent musical experience over another transcendent experience? When many experience “the Hose” and IT from witnessing, or even simply hearing, a performance, who’s to say one of the performances is “better” than another? And I assure you, thousands of fans experienced IT and “the Hose” throughout 12/31/95, including those who didn’t hear the “Fire on the Mountain” tease out of “Drowned” before “Lizards” or who could not have cared less whether it was teased in honor of Jerry or not, now available here for easy listening (this has been my main iphone ringtone for more than ten years, fwiw and btw and ftr).
And the quality of the many improvisational highlights of 12/31/95 “hold up on tape” even today, decades later, after 1.0, after 2.0, and, soon, after 3.0, which hopefully will end in 2021 with the band’s return to the stage, after an extraordinary gap in the their tours instigated by the still-ongoing, global COVID-19 pandemic.
The best things in life usually don’t come without risk. It’s a testament to Phish’s greatness that, at least until the pandemic struck and stalled their touring, they continued to take significant musical risks in recent years, whether in the form of a live performance of a fake album by a fake band, another 30+ minute “Tweezer,” or a “type II” you-name-it. Indeed, for most of the last 37 or so years, Phish has been exceedingly generous with their fans. They did not have to tour like they did over the decades; touring entails health and other risks. Yet we got Cypress and the festivals, and dozens of Halloween and NYE-run and Baker’s Dozen shows.
And then, earlier this year, despite the pandemic---during a time when the band had every right to, and could have, cocooned themselves with their families and park Phish in a second hiatus---the “Dinner And A Movie” nights began, announced two-hundred-and-eighty-three days ago on March 23, 2020. (Fwiw, I was honored to discuss Episode 12, the 6/19/95 Deer Creek DAAM, with the HFPod folks back in June; if you haven’t heard, the Helping Friendly Podcast merged earlier this month with Beyond the Pond and Tom Marshall’s Under the Scales to form the world’s first triune-Phish-podcast, Undermine, which launches on February 3, 2021, the 28th anniversary of the must-hear “Water-Your-Team-In-A-Beehive-I’m-A-Sent You YEM”).
Thursday night’s 12/31/95 stream will be THE TWENTY-NINTH (29th) DAAM. The DAAMs have raised approximately $750,000 this year for many different charities, including The Mockingbird Foundation, whose volunteers manage this site, and which with the help of the Phish fan community raised and donated $105,000 to numerous music education programs impacted by COVID-19 earlier this year. And how inspiring have Trey’s “Beacon Jams” and their fundraising for Waterwheel’s Divided Sky Fund been, raising over $1 million for the fund, while bringing inestimable joy to fans worldwide.
And, most recently, Trey and Page’s “December,” released only one week ago: A live performance at The Barn, it is a soulful and tranquil gem, offering warmth and light in a cold and dark month in an unforgettably anxious time.
Back in 1995, I used to offer to dub tapes for people for blanks and postage if they read or skimmed an RMP post of mine this far, and sent me a thoughtful request for the tapes they wanted to obtain. It’s nearly 2021, and even though I mailed two (2) analog cassette tapes to Charlie Miller only last week for digital transfer of a ZERO show (that he somehow didn’t have) (!), tapes are uh not in high demand these days. But I’m informed and believe that “compact discs” are still listened to by some people. So, inspired by the Phish, I am giving away hundreds of Phish CDs (and will ship them at my own expense), including LivePhish official releases, boxed set(s), and discs I was sent by dozens of generous fans 15+ years ago that have only a date and set number scribbled on them. Just email me a polite request and include suggested shows or releases or time periods etc. etc., particularly if you were born in or after 1995 (or if you would like to get CDs for a new/newish fan who will really listen to them). This is also an experiment to see if there in fact are people who still listen to CDs, given that in this day and age one can stream everything Phishy that circulates online, whether via LivePhish or Relisten or phish.in.
We are immensely fortunate to be Phish fans, and I am proud of our community for raising over $1.85 million this year for charitable causes nationwide. Thank you Phish for continuing to inspire us, continuing to “be there” for us, and continuing to care about our welfare during this demoralizing year. We love you! See you at a show in 4.0. -two cents
p.s. Since this is a thing one can easily do now, listen here for Page teasing the heck out of "Dave's Energy Guide" during 12/31/95's Mike's Song for several measures. And if you never knew when the "second jam in Mike's Song" started within the song's structure, you know now.
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