On July 14th, Phish open their 2017 summer tour with the first of three nights in Chicago. There are 21 shows on the itinerary – but only five cities. That is because a week after Chicago, singer-guitarist Trey Anastasio, bassist Mike Gordon, keyboard player Page McConnell and drummer Jon Fishman settle into New York’s Madison Square Garden for “The Baker’s Dozen”: 13 concerts from July 21st to August 6th, the most nights Phish have played in a single room, in a row, since they graduated from clubs. For a band constantly reborn in performance, testing their repertoire and improvising nerve from city to city, “The Baker’s Dozen” will be like going on the road – without going anywhere.
“Hopefully we’ll go somewhere – somewhere spiritual,” Anastasio counters cheerfully. “We think of it as a residency. We’ve been talking about it for a number of years. When we started the band, for all intents and purposes, we had a residency. We used to play at the same place.”
The guitarist is referring to Nectar’s – the club in Burlington, Vermont, Phish’s hometown, where the group established and advanced its unique blend of jamming, knotty composition, conceptual adventure and audience-participation jest. “We played long, multiple nights there” in the Eighties, a workload made easier because “we lived about 600 yards from Nectar’s,” Anastasio recalls. “So it was very comfortable and homegrown.
“We kind of always looked for that,” he goes on, “even when we started our own festivals. We’d set up in the middle of nowhere for three days. It was the possibility of a certain kind of looseness. That was the idea.”
Actually, Anastasio expects “The Baker’s Dozen” to be like those nights at Nectar’s in one vital respect – the crowd. “I know people that will be at ‘The Baker’s Dozen’ who were at Nectar’s, a lot of them,” he says. “We’ll be up on stage, but everybody will be in it together.”
Why did you go with 13 shows at the Garden, right off the bat? You didn’t put some dates on sale, then add more. It was like you were setting up for two weeks in the largest club in the world.
The idea was always “The Baker’s Dozen” – buy 12, get one free [laughs]. Traditionally, a residency is something that really works for people who improvise. You get used to the room; you get comfortable and loose.
There is definitely an energy, definitely a sound at the Garden. It actually vibrates. [The arena sits over the Penn Station railroad terminal.] The whole room goes up and down – so much so that the mic will swing back and forth and bump you in the nose. When people start dancing, the mic stand will sway, depending on the tempo.
The other thing, man – New York, what are you going to say? It’s been the center of things since the 1600s. It feels like you’re blocks away from where our nation was born, where the financial center of the world is. When you walk to the venue, you hear 10 different languages in 20 blocks. My…