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Trey Anastasio Talks Planning, Playing Baker’s Dozen Shows

August 08, 2017

Phish wrapped up their historic 13-night Baker’s Dozen run at New York’s Madison Square Garden this past weekend, closing the residency with a towering, emotional Sunday finale that left fans buzzing about how the band pulled off the no-repeat, nearly 240-song feat while playing some of the best music they’ve performed in their 3.0 era. Frontman and guitarist Trey Anastasio took some time post-Baker’s to talk with The New York Times about the run and how it all came together.

First of all, Anastasio notes that while there was planning involved, there were not setlists for each night of the run. “I sort of live and breathe Phish 24 hours a day and have since I was 18,” he says. “Months ago, I would get up and start sketching [song lists]. But this is the key part: I try to always keep it in sort of an improv head space. So that the overriding rule, is when you cross the line at the top of the stairs up to the stage — there’s actually physically a line — if I have a paper in my hand, I throw it on the ground. And if I have stuff in my mind, I let go.”

There were practices, however. Anastasio details how he first met up with drummer Jon Fishman in Maine to practice some rarer side-project tunes before the full-band rehearsals at keyboardist Page McConnell’s place in Burlington, VT. “Practiced them, recorded them, forgot them,” Anastasio says of the 15 songs the band went through in those sessions. Once they got to The Garden, it was up in the air which, if any, of the songs would be played. He mentions one in particular, “Frost,” which he decided on the spot would be a good follow up to the band’s Boston/Cream mashup on the penultimate night of the run.

“When we’re up there just playing, it’s something that feels like I know what they’re thinking,” Anastasio says. “It’s crazy, and it’s so intimate. The whole thing became such a blur. I remember getting in the car on the way home one night and somebody said, ‘Oh, great version of ‘Possum,’‘ and I didn’t even remember playing ‘Possum.’”

After mentioning that there were “two different people” keeping track of which songs were played and which weren’t in order to keep the no-repeat run going, Anastasio delves into the covers portion of Baker’s Dozen, noting that he and the band didn’t want to be too obvious (e.g. no “Lemon Song” on lemon night).

To close out, the conversation approached the topic of another Garden legend, Billy Joel, who’s 12-show run banner was eclipsed by Phish’s own 13-show one in the MSG rafters. The band nodded to the Piano Man by playing his “New York State of Mind” as the walkout music for their final show this past Sunday. “We always laugh about that; we wonder if people notice what’s playing on the way out,” Anastasio says. “Absolutely no hostility at all. We love Billy.”

Read the full interview excerpt here.