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Phish’s many flavors on display on ‘The Baker’s Dozen: Live at Madison Square Garden’ Featured

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It was a bold move that exceeded expectations when Phish booked a summer residency at Madison Square Garden in July and August 2017. More than 32 years after playing their first show as a foursome, Trey Anastasio, Jon Fishman, Mike Gordon and Page McConnell settled in for 13 shows spread over 17 nights.

Honoring a loose long-term association with “The Simpsons,” Phish concocted a donut-themed run, dubbed “The Baker’s Dozen,” in which they performed 237 titles (176 originals and 61 covers) over 26 sets of music with no repeats. A limited edition 36-CD box set containing all of those shows freshly remixed by Elliot Scheiner sold out on Phish’s website more than a month before its scheduled release last week. It’s also available as a 6-disc set on vinyl. A condensed version containing 13 tracks selected by the band is available now as a 3-CD set and on all digital and streaming platforms.

The idea was the realization of one of the band’s long-term goals of being allowed to settle into a favored venue for an extended series of shows. Unimpeded from the rigors and stress of travel, “The Baker’s Dozen” allowed them to focus on the music while creating an overall experience of excellence for their audience - one whose expectations are possibly the highest for any currently functioning rock and roll band.

Each night of “The Baker’s Dozen” was based on a different donut flavor represented in part by the songs the band chose to perform. For example, on “Boston Cream” night (August 5), Phish pulled off “Sunshine of Your Feeling” - an astonishing first set live mashup of Boston’s “More Than a Feeling” and “Foreplay/Long Time” mixed with Cream’s “Sunshine of your Love,” “Tales of Brave Ulysses” and “White Room.” On “Jam-Filled” night, Phish blew minds by jamming out a 30-minute version of “Lawn Boy” – an original Sinatra-styled jazz-pop tune crooned by Page McConnell that had only ever been performed in its barely three-minute written form. Those tracks are not part of the pared-down version of “The Baker’s Dozen,” but what is included are among the finest live Phish performances ever released.

The jam-vehicles represented on “The Baker’s Dozen: Live at Madison Square Garden” find Phish taking songs in exciting and previously uncharted directions, including the opening “Blaze On” (from “Cinnamon” night) with more than 23 minutes of intense interplay. A breathtaking version of “Roggae” (from “Strawberry” night) is followed by Mike Gordon’s “Simple” (from “Glazed” night) which completely breaks from form over 25 minutes of dynamic interaction. “Chalk Dust Torture” (from “Double Chocolate” night) is the oldest song featured on the new set. First performed in Montreal in 1991, Phish takes the classic original on a 24-minute ride full of tension-and-release peaks as Trey Anastasio puts his guitar rig to the test by employing a series of effects that serve the jam without ever sounding forced. “Waves” (from “Red Velvet” night – represented by four songs on the new set) could serve as the soundtrack to the first astronaut setting foot on the surface of Mars in a version that rivals the one Phish performed in Limestone in August 2003.

Among the newer songs in the new set, the affirming “Everything’s Right” (from “Coconut” night) shifts tempo and form as the band members carefully listen and respond to each other through the music. “Lemon” night is represented in two highlights on disc three – “No Men in No Man’s Land,” where all four members appear to take the lead at various times, and an exploratory “Scents and Subtle Sounds” that launches a 13-minute jam that rages, soothes and even calls back the previous song.

For the faithful, all 13 shows of “The Baker’s Dozen” will be necessary for your collection (each show is available for download in its original mix at www.LivePhish.com), but for those who just want a taste of the many flavors available during that unprecedented run, the easily obtainable sampler set out now will more than satisfy.

Phish are set to close out the year at Madison Square Garden beginning with four shows on December 28 (bringing their MSG show count up to 60) followed by the band’s third trip to Mexico’s Barceló Maya Beach in February.

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