By Natalya Jones
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By Liz Tracy
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By Jesse Scheckner
By Michael E. Miller
Phish's triumphant return after a five-year hiatus culminated this past week with a four-night run at American Airlines Arena, ending on New Year's Eve. This set of gigs also marked the ten-year anniversary of Phish's Y2K Big Cypress party that brought roughly 80,000 fans to the local Seminole reservation, an event Phish guitarist Trey Anastasio has called the peak of the band's career. The arena proved once again to be a great venue, allowing many from around the country to celebrate the end of another decade in shorts and flip-flops.
The energy and attendance grew for each show, with the first two nights consisting of classic-heavy sets played to a smaller but enthusiastic fan contingent. But the real spectacle, of course, came during the New Year's Eve show. It started at the venue's entrance, where a car was parked on the sidewalk with a sign reading, "This car was driven down from Vermont fueled by maple syrup."
And sticking to tradition, this show was a three-set, 30-song throwdown. "Auld Lang Syne" was the night's recurring musical motif, being teased during "AC/DC Bag" and again in "Ghost" during the second set. But for the first set, Phish delivered strong versions of "Punch You in the Eye" and "Guyute" and the ultra-rare "Demand," the band's first performance of the song since 1996. The second set opened with the Velvet Underground's "Rock and Roll," and those in attendance were totally feeling that their "lives were saved by rock and roll!"
The third set hit with the mood-setting "Party Time" at 11:45 p.m., which led into the countdown to midnight, with the band finally playing "Auld Lang Syne" in full as a sea of balloons fell from the rafters. They immediately went right into the powerful "Down With Disease," and this is where things got confusing.
A giant disco ball was lowered from the rafters, and drummer/prankster Jon Fishman, donning an old-school leather pilot helmet and goggles, hopped in before being loaded into an equally giant cannon aimed toward an ominous X on the ceiling. Keyboardist Page McConnell "fired" the cannon via an Acme-style dynamite plunger, but alas, he missed, shooting Fishman through the roof. An unsuccessful helicopter search ensued, and the band continued on without the drummer, settling instead on seemingly random crowd member "Sarah from Pittsburgh." Sarah requested "Fluffhead," her favorite song, and the band obliged while she sat in finishing the set. Although these theatrics were reportedly aided by crew members from the Broadway production of The Lion King, most of this seemed lost on the audience. (The full video is on Phish's website.)
After all this, the band wrapped up the evening with a two-song encore. It began with the classic ballad "Blue Moon," in which the musicians acknowledged the night's significance, thanked their staff, and closed giving fans "just one sip" of their popular take of the Rolling Stones' obscure "Loving Cup." And if this night hadn't been Phishy enough, upon leaving the venue, that aforementioned car was now smashed and smoking with the gigantic disco ball that had shot through the roof.