Today Jambands.com concludes its two-part look at Phish’s New Year’s Run past with David Steinberg, the original unofficial Phish statistician (aka Timer). The quartet opens its five-night New Year’s Run tonight at Worcester’s Centrum, now known as the DCU Center. The itinerary includes three nights at Madison Square Garden, featuring their first New Year’s Eve at the venue since their return from their first hiatus on December 31, 2002. The Mockingbird Foundation board member (a charitable organization setup by fans to distribute funds generated from the Phish community) was at the first Phish New Year’s Eve event (12/31/89), and has been back ever since.
Part I of our discussion featured Steinberg’s introduction into the world of Phish, and concludes with a look at the Vermont Quartet’s first gig at Madison Square Garden on December 30, 1994. Now, in Part II, we offer Steinberg’s commentary about the next night of that 1994 NYE run, while tracking the rest of the legendary dates along the New Year’s Eve trail and beyond through the years as we venture back with a celebratory nod towards the history of Phish from a legendary longtime fan’s perspective.
RR: Do you feel Phish was getting used to Madison Square Garden at their first gig at that venue on December 30, 1994? What were your impressions of that show?
DS: What I remember is that I think every single song on that New Year’s Run had one jam that went the 20-minute length, which was new, obviously, as you know. That would happen once in a blue moon, not something that would happen every night. The other thing that struck me is that they were starting to open up their songs quite a bit. At Madison Square Garden, it was “Tweezer.”
RR: And we’ve got the Hot Dog Show on December 31, 1994 at Boston Garden. It seemed like everything came together at that show. It was a special gig, planned in advance, and the fan base had exploded. Describe the vibe on that night.
DS: Oh, yes, the Hot Dog Show. Well, no one had any clue that was going to happen. That’s the whole thing, it’s like the Hot Dog Show now: “Oh, yeah, that was a New Year’s stunt,” but at that time…yeah, they did the aquarium, the giant clam thing the year before…I guess that was, in retrospect, a fairly big thing; it was more like goofy, though. The giant hot dog—when you actually have a hot dog flying around the stadium with the band inside it—was definitely…I was up near the top, so I did not know they were throwing ping pong balls down on the crowd until after the show. That is a perfect example of the New Year’s shows—something could happen, and people could be unaware of it. The venue had gotten big enough to the point where you wouldn’t know if there was anything else happening anymore.
RR: It’s funny you should say that because these days people can get tipped off by certain things due to easy access to information while expectations are also so high. Back then, one might have been expecting the unexpected from Phish, but the band would still throw something different into the mix.
DS: Well, two things. One is that before that tour, I mentioned earlier that the band would just hang out after the show. If you wanted to talk to a band member, you just hung out by the buses, and there they were, so it’s hard to have the same level of expectations when it felt more like “oh, yeah, these are these cool people playing this music,” and not “here are these unapproachable rock stars on stage that are there to be our puppets and dance for us.” That was part of the expectations being lower; the band was much more approachable.
And it felt like every single year was getting bigger like something new was going to happen like ’93 was so much better than ’92, and ’94 was so much better than ’93. No one knew when it was going to stop. It was like “My God, where does this thing end?” And, obviously, ’95 was much better than ’94.
RR: Right. Let’s talk about December 31, 1995. It pretty much took on a sort of interdimensional status, at certain points, depending upon whom you speak to, and their feelings about that year, in comparison to other landmark New Year’s gigs. Jerry Garcia passed away in August 1995, and by the fall, Phish had really kicked it up into a higher gear. So, it’s New Year’s, and Phish is back at the Garden.
DS: Yeah, that was actually a year where I saw very few shows because I just left grad school and moved to Seattle, and someone had hit my car right before summer tour, so I couldn’t afford to do anything. I missed out on all of the summer of 1995. The difference between ’95 and now is that you couldn’t just go to archive.org or etree or whatever, and download the show the next day. I was reading the setlists, and it was obvious from the setlists that something was up. It was still a long time between the show and when you actually could get a tape, so I didn’t quite realize just how far they had evolved because I had missed the whole tour, and I even missed the first few nights of the New Year’s Run.
I get to Madison Square Garden, and the 30th, the 30th is a very underrated show. Obviously, it is going to be because the next night is so incredible. What I can tell you about the 31st—I thought the stunt was a step down from the year before; the Van de Graff generator and the Baby New Year were more like “O.K., I get this one this year.”— is musically (the “Weekapaug,” the “Mike’s,” the “Drowned,” and the “Johnny B. Goode” was the best version of that song I had ever heard any band do), I walked out of that show not thinking I’d seen the best New Year’s show, but thinking I’d seen the best show Phish had ever played. Charlie Dirksen still argues about whether or not there’s a “Fire in the Mountain” tease in that [in the post-“Drowned” jam]. He and I were in an e-mail argument about that yesterday, so that show is one of the all-time great shows.
RR: Let’s do the unexpected and skip over 1996 for now, and move forward to their return to Madison Square Garden with their longest run at that time in that venue during the 1997 New Year’s Run. Phish’s sound changed quite a bit in 1997. How did that impact the scene and the New Year ’s Eve run in general?
DS: First thing that I always think about ’97 is that no one ever talks about that first night.
DS: 12/28. See—I rest my case! (laughter)
RR: There you go. You got me and I’m Super Fan Deluxe.
DS: No one ever talks about the first night at the Capital Centre. There’s a reason. The Maryland show is a sloppy show; it definitely is. But the jams in that show were actually very interesting. That entire run—the 29th with all those “Can Turn You Loose” teases, and there is a definite rift in the Phish community between 12/29 and 12/30 that year. There are people that swear by 12/29 [Author’s Note: yours truly], and there are other people that swear by 12/30. I’m a 12/30 kind of guy. I’m a “Harpua” person, you know. And that, I believe, is the best “Harpua” Phish have ever done.
RR: Tom Marshall came out and it was the “Pentagram Harpua.”
DS: Yeah, the Pentagram.
RR: Lost in Space and all of that sort of thing.
DS: The cheese sandwich.
RR: Yeah. Why was that significant? All the different elements?
DS: It was a really interesting story. It was like the one time where Trey’s story—actually he told this bizarre story—that all kind of made sense. It was the first time where they foreshadowed the New Year’s prank. All of these same elements in Trey’s story in “Harpua” were the balloons and the movies on the next night. They were actually premeditating the entire thing, and taking the New Year’s stunt and extending it over two days. That show also had the first “Sneakin’ Sally” since the 80s [5/28/89], and, of course, they played it twice. I always had a theory that they did that because some people got in late. “Oh, you missed the big bust out, so here you go—now, you can hear it.”
It was also the first U.S. “Carini” [which included a stage appearance by Pete Carini, Jon Fishman’s drum tech]. “Carini” was one of those songs…again, I didn’t do the Europe tour, and tapes, especially from the Europe tour didn’t tour that well, and I just heard the legend of this song where the band officially said, “This is not a song,” and it just seemed like one of those things that was just going to stay in Europe. I was doing that show in particular [12/31/97] with a bunch of Mockingbird people. The Mockingbird Foundation was just starting out then, and someone went nuts when they started “Carini.” And I had never heard the song, so I was thinking, “What’s going on? Oh, yeah, I’ve heard of this song…vaguely.” The 30th just went on forever—that whole thing about how they played so late, and, what the hell, two New Year’s shows.
RR: They were going to get fined anyway for playing too late.
DS: Might as well keep on going.