Phish fans were dealt a devastating (though understandable) blow last week when the group announced that its annual New Year’s Eve residency at Madison Square Garden was being pushed back to April because of the Omicron surge.
“While Phish has played shows this year as the pandemic has continued, this variant’s ability for rapid transmission is unprecedented,” they wrote in a group statement. “We are also mindful that a significant number of people travel for these shows and then return to their communities, and we want to avoid accelerating transmission of the virus.”
“Finally,” they continued, “even with the strictest of tour Covid protocols, the prolonged exposure of a four-night indoor run (plus the days of preparation and travel) to critical crew and staff considerably increases the possibility of having to shut the shows down once they’ve started.”
Phish’s first Madison Square Garden concert took place just one day before New Year’s Eve in 1994. They came back the following year for a proper New Year’s Eve show, kicking off a Phish tradition that has included 13 MSG New Year’s bashes. The gigs were somewhat infrequent in the early days, but the band has played there every New Year’s Eve since 2010 with the exception of 2014 when they took their talents down to Miami and instead played MSG earlier in the month.
There’s no firm fan consensus on the single best Phish MSG New Year’s show, but the inaugural one back in 1995 is held in very high regard. The set mixed Phish standards like “Mike’s Song,” “You Enjoy Myself,” and “Runaway Jim” with covers like Edgar Winter’s “Frankenstein” and Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode” along with two selections from the Who’s Quadrophenia, which they played in full at a Halloween show earlier that year. The band officially released the show on CD in 2005, and some fans even snuck in camcorders. Here’s video of set opener “Punch You in the Eye.”
This will be a lonely New Year’s Eve for the Phish faithful who descend on Madison Square Garden every year, but their tickets will be good for a makeup gig on April 22, presuming the Omicron situation has calmed down a bit by then.
The band has promised to play three full sets that night. They may even play “Auld Lang Syne” at midnight. And why not? We’ve changed so many traditions during the past two years due to Covid that celebrating New Year’s Eve with Phish on April 22 probably won’t even seem that weird.