Picks and Pans
The Idea for Phish’s Hypothetical Thirteen-Night Residency at Madison Square Garden Might Go Back Further Than You Think
by Rob Slater on January 05, 2017
Yesterday, footage surfaced of a security guard at Madison Square Garden mentioning that Phish was in fact returning to the venue for thirteen shows beginning this July. Now, while this is a far cry from a confirmation, this rumor has certainly taken another turn around the mill, evolving slightly from just a message board pipe dream into something tangible and, as a little digging will uncover, an idea that's been potentially lingering for a while.
In a 2007 Relix cover story with Page McConnell during the dark days of Phish, two years before they'd reunite at the Hampton Coliseum, the keyboardist looked back on the (then) end of the band, citing a lack of creativity in their final years.
“We were going back to the same places tour after tour – the same routing, the same faces, the same sheds, the same arenas,” McConnell said. "It was cookie-cutter. And if you keep doing the same thing over and over again, there's going to be a certain amount of boredom that's going to accompany that. Then, how that manifests itself could be in any number of different ways."
The piece goes on to say the following:
If McConnell has a core regret, it’s that Phish did something they had publicly vowed to avoid – going down the same path as the Grateful Dead by supporting a huge in-house organization (over 50 employees at its peak), and being forced to tour just to support the enormous overhead that came with it.Well, that is certainly an oddly specific idea cultivated over a decade ago that seems to be rearing its head in 2017. Maybe this is all coincidence, but just examining Phish's tour routing since 2013, it'd be easy to say that something out of the box is probably needed. While the band certainly doesn't play like they are lacking creativity, it's not farfetched to say they've become accustomed to the same rooms over the last few years. Since 2009, there have been 15 stops at SPAC, 11 at Merriweather Post Pavilion, 9 at the beautiful Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre in Alpharetta and of course six years in a row at Dick's Sporting Goods Park to close out the summer (not to mention four three-night runs at Bill Graham in San Francisco).
“I’m not pointing the finger necessarily, but there wasn’t very much effort put into giving us the space to create,” he says. “We had to carve it out ourselves. In a certain way, the cart did begin to push the horse.” One casualty: creative touring concepts were rejected because they weren’t economically feasible. The band considered doing one tour to just play the seven U.S. states they’d never played. Another idea had them playing a “baker’s dozen” of shows – 13 nights in Madison Square Garden, say, or, adding another layer of classic Phish humor to it all, the Providence Civic Center, rebranded by corporate interests as the Dunkin Donuts Center. Riffing on that absurdity, the band imagined giving away free donuts and even basing the theme for each show around that night’s variety. For “Boston Crème,” a setlist might have included covers of songs by Boston and Cream.
The "Groundhog Day" feeling seems to be one that plagues Phish, if McConnell's words stand up today, and if they choose to deviate from their typical plan with the rumored Baker's Dozen run at Madison Square Garden in the name of creativity, that's certainly their prerogative. This isn't about records. Nobody is catching Billy Joel and Phish's 13 added to their current number at 39 wouldn't even eclipse Elton John, so there is no title-chasing here. This is about breathing even more life into a band seemingly full of it, and for the future of Phish, that isn't a bad thing at all.
Will it happen? Time will tell, but every quasi-confirmation seems to throw another log on the fire.