Revisiting Phish’s Baker’s Dozen

Raffaela Kenny-Cincotta on December 28, 2017

Photo by Dino Perrucci

Phish’s Baker Dozen stand at New York’s Madison Square Garden was a historic event across the board—for the band, for their fans and for the venue, who enshrined The Vermont Quartet with a banner on the run’s final night. As Jon Fishman pointed out during the residency’s penultimate show, they’d been toying with the Baker’s Dozen idea for two decades and, though once deemed economically and musically unfeasible, Phish pulled off a stunt that managed to reenergize their always analytical fanbase: 13 shows, 26 sets, 237 songs, no repeats.

Whereas some bands slow down with age, with the Baker’s Dozen Phish found a new way to excite and ignite their audience. They busted out long-forgotten cover tunes, introduced new, wild song interpretations that fit most night’s donut themes, and even worked a number of side-project selections and once-forgotten studio experiments into the live Phish catalog.

Throughout, Phish also reminded fans new and old that, 34 years into their career, they are still capable of crafting classic, open-ended jams and, when given the time and space to get comfortable, they are the most creative touring act of their day. While only time will tell how the Baker’s Dozen impacts Phish’s next phase, here’s a look at what went down during their celebrated 13-night run.


“Coconuts and chloroform…”

NOTABLE JAMS: “Tweezer”> “Seven Below” and “Everything’s Right”> “Slave to the Traffic Light”> “Suzy Greenberg”

DEBUTS: Junior Senior’s “Shake Your Coconuts;” Harry Nilsson’s “Coconut”

BUSTOUTS: “Pigtail,” last performed on July 9, 2016 (39 shows); David Bowie’s “Moonage Daydream,” last performed on Oct. 31, 2016 (13 shows, second performance ever)

RECAP: The energy in Madison Square Garden was palpable as the lights went down on night one of the Baker’s Dozen. A “Shake Your Coconuts” debut fit the show’s theme, but it was the back-to-back performances of “Reba,” “Moonage Daydream” and “Walls of the Cave” that put the eager audience into a frenzied state. Clearly, Phish had a game plan when they rolled into MSG; a just-as-strong set two opened with an amped-up “Tweezer”> ”Seven Below” jam. Later, they wrapped things up neatly with an a cappella debut of Harry Nilsson’s “Coconut” and a final encore of Led Zeppelin’s “Good Times Bad Times.”


“Strawberry fields forever…”

NOTABLE JAMS: “Split Open and Melt”> “Down With Disease (Reprise)”> “Shine a Light”

DEBUTS: The Beatles’ “Strawberry Fields Forever” (a cappella); Shuggie Otis’ “Strawberry Letter 23”

BUSTOUTS: “All of These Dreams,” last played on Oct. 26, 2010 (251 shows)

RECAP: Night two’s theme was strawberry, but “Down With Disease” was the real star. The Phish mainstay opened the second set, and then segued into a debut of “Strawberry Number 23.” Fans thought “Disease” would go unfinished but it was eventually completed after a rocking “Split Open and Melt.” This initial rehashing of the Hoist staple would foreshadow a slew of reprises throughout the Baker’s Dozen. Later, Phish served up a helping of Frank Zappa and Talking Heads (“Peaches En Regalia”> “Cities”) before ending the night with a joyous “My Sweet One.” “Peaches” tied up a loose end, too, as Otis actually played bass on the classic Zappa track.


“I’ve been wading in the velvet sea…”

NOTABLE JAMS: “Theme From the Bottom”> “It’s Ice”> “More” and “Wolfman’s Brother”> “Twist”

DEBUTS: The Velvet Underground’s “Sunday Morning”

BUSTOUTS: The Velvet Underground’s “Sweet Jane,” last played on June 29, 2012 (193 shows)

RECAP: For Red Velvet night, lighting designer Chris Kuroda bathed Madison Square Garden in red light and the group dotted the setlist with Velvet Underground songs. The evening’s best gag arrived early. As Trey Anastasio slid behind the drum kit, Fishman emerged in full Catholic regalia—complete with holy water—to bless his crowd while singing The Velvet Underground’s “Sunday Morning.”


“We’re jammin’… I want to jam it with you…”

NOTABLE JAMS: “Lawn Boy” and “Crosseyed and Painless”

DEBUTS: “End of Session” (recorded for 1998’s Story of the Ghost and never performed live)

RECAP: It was clear from the first few notes of “Sample in a Jar,” traditionally one of Phish’s most tightly woven songs, that they were going to fully embrace the evening’s jam theme. And, in turn, the group pulled off many fans’ dreams, offering a five-song first set and a seven-song second set that showed their ability to stretch seemingly every song into the ether. Their 30-minute “Lawn Boy” (including a show-ending reprise) will potentially go down as one of Phish’s greatest improvisational moments. If some jaded fans were on the fence about Phish’s ability to make it through
13 shows without repeats, then the psychedelic “Crosseyed and Painless” and an appearance of the deep cut “End of Session” immediately proved naysayers wrong and set things into overdrive.


“Shelter me from the powder and the finger…”

NOTABLE JAMS: “Tube” and “Carini”> “Mr. Completely”> “1999” DEBUTS: Fleet Foxes’ “White Winter Hymnal” (a cappella); Neil Young’s “Powderfinger”

BUSTOUTS: Prince’s “1999,” last played on Dec. 31, 1998 (524 shows); “Pebbles and Marbles,” last played on Aug. 3, 2014 (106 shows)

RECAP: While the unexpected a cappella Fleet Foxes cover scored Phish some credibility in indie-rock circles that often overlook the band, it was their decision to revive Prince’s “1999” as a funk-jam vehicle after nearly 20 years that really excited the crowd. The now seldom-played, tender composition “Pebbles and Marbles” and a debut cover of Neil Young’s grungy “Powderfinger” also displayed the band’s sonic dexterity.


“Have a chocolate donut and catch your breath…”

NOTABLE JAMS: “Chalk Dust Torture” and “You Sexy Thing”> “Mercury”> “You Sexy Thing”

DEBUTS: Tay Zonday’s “Chocolate Rain” (a cappella); Hot Chocolate’s “You Sexy Thing”

BUSTOUTS: “Weigh,” last played on Aug. 9, 2015 (74 shows); “The Oh Kee Pah Ceremony,” previously never played at MSG; “Destiny Unbound,” previously never played at MSG

RECAP: Phish turned up the disco vibes on Double Chocolate Night by debuting Hot Chocolate’s “You Sexy Thing” and then tossing in a mid-song “Mercury” for good measure. Earlier, the band showed off their bathroom humor with an a cappella version of the viral hit “Chocolate Rain” as well as a rocking “Ass Handed.” They closed the night with a lyrically adapted “Fee”—many longtime fans’ introduction to Phish—and their a cappella version of “Space Oddity.”


“Chasing the moonlight, my cinnamon girl…”

NOTABLE JAMS: “Blaze On” and “Alumni Blues”> “Letter to Jimmy Page”> “Alumni Blues”

BUSTOUTS: Neil Young’s “Cinnamon Girl,” last played on July 31, 1997 (629 shows)

RECAP: Saturday shows are always a party, and this night was no different. A raucous set one led into a stretched out “Blaze On” that lasted upward of 23 minutes. It also had adapted lyrics to fit the ongoing donut theme. (“You got one life, glaze on!”) A cover of “I Am the Walrus” and a jammed out “Alumni Blues”— once the holy grail of bustouts—gave the second set extra heft. Phish’s first take on “Cinnamon Girl” since 1997 proved that no song was off limits and that their thematic tunes didn’t necessarily have to arrive at the start of the show.


“The universe is a donut…”

NOTABLE JAMS: “Drowned”> “A Song I Heard the Ocean Sing” and “Harpua”

DEBUTS: Jimi Hendrix’s “The Wind Cries Mary”

BUSTOUTS: “Esther,” “Colonel Forbin’s Ascent,” “Fly Famous Mockingbird,” all last played on Aug. 9, 2015 (76 shows)

RECAP: For fans of Phish’s storysong narratives and compositional epics, this night proved the “never miss a Sunday show” adage to be true, thanks to appearances by seldom played, but beloved early numbers like “The Curtain With,” “Esther,” “Colonel Forbin’s Ascent” and “Fly Famous Mockingbird” in the first set alone. Set two contrasted a beautiful, extended “A Song I Heard the Ocean Sing,” a contender for the weekend’s best jam, with a skit involving the donut-like topography of the universe during the band’s most surefire special-night signifier, “Harpua.”


“O Canada…”

NOTABLE JAMS: “Swept Away”> “Steep,” and “Possum”

DEBUTS: “O Canada” and Scott Joplin’s “Maple Leaf Rag”

BUSTOUTS: “Swept Away”> “Steep,” last played on July 8, 2012 (192 shows); David Bowie’s “Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide,” last played on Oct. 31, 2016 (21 shows, second performance ever)

RECAP: Maple night kicked off with an impromptu ode to the “Great White North,” an instrumental version of the country’s national anthem “O Canada.” Kuroda also illuminated the Canadian flag in Madison Square’s rafters, and the crowd responded with cheers that filled the arena. As the show moved on, the theme popped up now and again within the lyrics of “Sugar Shack” and “Leaves” as well as a “Maple Leaf Rag” piano interlude in the middle of “Guelah Papyrus.” This night may have featured one of the run’s silliest themes, but the music was serious on Jerry Garcia’s birthday, with an elongated “Swept Away”> “Steep” and a surprisingly improvised “Possum” to end the second set. The show wrapped up with the band’s second-ever performance of David Bowie’s “Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide.”


“You gotta keep the devil way down in the hole…”

NOTABLE JAMS: “Meat”> “Maze”

DEBUTS: Tom Waits’ “Way Down in the Hole;” “O Holy Night”

BUSTOUTS: Norman Blake’s “Ginseng Sullivan,” last played on Aug. 7, 2015 (80 shows); “Meat,” last played on July 9, 2016 (48 shows)

RECAP: Phish have an old-school original called “In A Hole,” yet they stacked their Donut Hole setlist with left-field covers. The quartet opened the night with Tom Wait’s bluesy “Way Down in the Hole” and followed it with a bunch of less obvious repertoire material (“Ginseng Sullivan,” “Meat”), unexpected surprises (“O Holy Night”) and prolonged, spacey jams that included the longest “Taste” in history (over 18 minutes). A second set arc starting with “Mike’s Song” and ending with “Weekapaug Groove” rounded out another solid performance.


“Sucking on a lemon…”

NOTABLE JAMS: “Punch You in the Eye”> “Party Time,” “Everything in Its Right Place” and “Fluffhead”

DEBUTS: Blind Lemon Jefferson’s “See That My Grave Is Kept Clean;” Radiohead’s “Everything in Its Right Place”

BUSTOUTS: “Big Black Furry Creature From Mars,” last played on July 20, 2016 (43 shows); “Dinner and a Movie,” last played on July 21, 2013 (164 shows); “Dem Bones,” last played on June 29, 2016 (55 shows, third performance ever)

RECAP: In a run that was punctuated by unexpected nods to other artists, Phish’s version of Radiohead’s “Everything in Its Right Place” may have been the most staggering debut of The Baker’s Dozen. The Kid A track came halfway through the band’s second set, and its “sucking on a lemon” lyric was quoted throughout the ensuing space jam that ebbed and flowed through “What’s the Use?” and “Scents and Subtle Sounds.” A triumphant “Prince Caspian” and a set-ending, hair-raising “Fluffhead” brought the set to a climax.


“Tomorrow’s donut will be Kansas-Metallica flavored…”

NOTABLE JAMS: “Sunshine of Your Feeling” and “Ghost”

DEBUTS: “Sunshine of Your Feeling”

BUSTOUTS: “Frost,” last played on July 17, 2013 (168 shows, second performance ever); Bob Marley and The Wailers’ “Soul Shakedown Party,” last played on July 3, 2016 (53 shows); “Uncle Pen,” last played on July 16, 2016 (47 shows)

RECAP: Originally, many fans thought Boston Cream would be the most predictable night of the Baker’s Dozen. After all, it was the flavor that Page McConnell referenced in a 2007 Relix interview, stating, in theory, that it would include covers of Boston and Cream. However, what fans did not expect was a Boston/ Cream mash-up featuring portions of “Sunshine of Your Love,” “More Than a Feeling,” “Foreplay/Longtime” and “White Room” swirled together and executed with stunning precision. With the addition of a second-set “The Lizards” and “Quinn the Eskimo,” Boston Cream night became one of the high watermarks for the entire Baker’s Dozen.


“The life I love is making music with my friends…”

NOTABLE JAMS: “Simple”> “Rise/ Come Together”> “Starman” and “On the Road Again”> “Lawn Boy Reprise”> “Tweezer Reprise”

DEBUTS: Vida Blue’s “Most Events Aren’t Planned”

BUSTOUTS: “I Been Around,” last played on July 27, 2014 (119 shows); Jimi Hendrix’s “Izabella,” last played on July 31, 1998 (574 shows); Willie Nelson’s “On the Road Again,” last played on Aug. 31, 2013 (155 shows)

RECAP: Dozens of hopeful, ticketless fans lingered outside of Madison Square Garden in the hours leading up to Phish’s 13th and final performance. The sold-out show was emotional to say the least, and while the first set had a number of great peaks, including “Saw It Again,” “Bug” and some animated guitar from Anastasio during “Izabella,” the fivesong second set was where Phish reached new heights. A 25-minute “Simple” was a sign of good things to come, and the reappearance of David Bowie’s “Starman” as well as the run’s long-awaited “You Enjoy Myself” kept the energy soaring ever upward. After a venue-wide sing-along of “Loving Cup,” Phish was honored with their own banner, which swayed above the band during their encore of “On the Road Again” and will permanently live in the rafters of Madison Square Garden. All four members were visibly emotional during the song, aware of the significance of the moment. Finally, Phish brought things full circle with a “Lawn Boy” reprise, before a celebratory, all-consuming performance of “Tweezer Reprise” drew the Baker’s Dozen to a close.