Phish Unwrap Their New Year’s Surprise: Mini Cheerleaders

Four-night stand had earlier shocked crowd with P-Funk cameo.

MIAMI — While millions were glued to TV screens, waiting for a ball to drop, 18,000 Phish fans milled about the American Airlines Arena on Wednesday, waiting instead for the other sandal, so to speak, to drop.

It was time for the beginning of 2004 and time for the end of a four-night stand that Phish had packed with tried-and-true crowd-pleasers, covers and songs that hadn’t been performed for years, like the oddly lyrical “Weigh” and the groovy “Shafty.” And, in a particularly historic 20 minutes, Phish had shared the stage with George Clinton, Gary Shider and Bernie Worrell when several members of P-Funk joined them the day before.

“I feel like I let you all down saying that [drummer Jonathan Fishman] would sing ’Touch Me’ and that he can’t because we can’t remember it and we don’t have a horn section with us,” explained guitarist Trey Anastasio. “So instead of singing ’Touch Me,’ if you can just wait for second we’d like to bring Parliament Funkadelic onstage with us. And that’s even better than ’Touch Me.’ ”

Suddenly the stage was crowded with funk masters, and Clinton positioned himself front and center. Bookended by Phish’s own reggae-based “Makisupa Policeman,” the collective engaged in a lengthy medley wherein Clinton commanded, “Make my funk the Phish funk, I wants to get funked up.”

It was a highlight that would not only keep fans talking, but one that compelled many to attend P-Funk’s late-night warehouse show, where bassist Mike Gordon returned the favor with a guest appearance.

With all these elements in play, by Wednesday the run was being touted as an unqualified success. The set lists read like those of the ’90s, for the most part ignoring the band’s less popular new songs. The buildup, some feared, might be leading toward a bigger letdown than the one Anastasio had joked about.

But on Wednesday when Phish launched immediately into the ending of “Wilson,” a song they’d opened with the night before, it was clear that even the most cynical fans were in for some surprises this New Year’s Eve.

The group segued from the 30-second finale to the familiar, bass-friendly triple shot “Mike’s Song,” “I am Hydrogen” and “Weekapaug Groove.” The set seemed to be finished an hour later with the epic trampoline extravaganza “You Enjoy Myself,” but they jumped instead into the danceable instrumental “First Tube” and closed the set with the end of “Tube.”

With midnight less than two hours away, Phish returned from intermission to warm up the crowd with a solid but uneventful hour-long middle set. Then they exited again, giving fans time to collect their champagne, hit the bathroom and anticipate what antics might lie in store. After all, Phish’s New Year’s shows are the stuff of legend — featuring everything from time machines (1995) and huge flying hot dogs (1994) to dance troupes (1998) and Tom Hanks impersonators (2002).

The last time Phish visited Florida was 1999’s three-day New Year’s festival on the Big Cypress Seminole Indian Reservation. This year the climate was completely different. Late night hotel swimming pool parties and after-show concerts replaced campground gatherings. South Beach cafes stood in for festival vending. Where in ’99 one red balloon had floated through the swampy air as the sun came up, this year thousands sat waiting in nets hanging from the rafters, ready to drop when the clock wound down.

The band returned only 12 minutes before the countdown was to commence, easing into “Jungle Boogie,” a first-time cover. Crew members scrambled to move Fishman’s drums as a light blue ’68 Mini Cooper detailed with pink flames was lowered in their place. The door swung open and one by one by one, like circus clowns from a magic car, sprung the members of the Palmetto High School marching band and cheerleaders wearing freaky bunny masks. Here was the horn section Anastasio had pined for the night before, and much more.

Phish deferred to the marching band’s drum section through the countdown, but as the balloons fell Anastasio wailed his traditional “Auld Lang Syne” guitar interpretation, leading the whole ensemble into an instrumental rendition of Black Sabbath’s “Iron Man.” Then, with the stage covered in giant balloons, the marching band marched through the audience toward the back of the arena while an invisible Anastasio started “Runaway Jim.”

The set seemed to return to relative normalcy (by Phish standards), but then the a cappella “I Didn’t Know” brought Fishman (a.k.a. Henrietta) out from behind the kit to “play” a vacuum cleaner solo.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” Anastasio announced, “in his first song of 2004, Henrietta is now going to play for you a version of one of his favorite songs, and this is in honor of the Miami Heat. He would now like to do a vacuum rendition of ’Feel Feel Feel Feel Feel Feel Feel Feel My Heat’ from the ’Boogie Nights’ soundtrack.”

Fans went wild as Fishman ran laps around the stage, stopping to take exaggerated bows at the microphone and climbing onto Page McConnell’s piano.

“You’re feeling something,” Anastasio noted. “It’s tingling in your body. It’s moving up your spine. You feel it in your hips. Ladies and gentlemen, that’s Henrietta’s heat.

“Can you,” he asked, laughing, “feel it? Feel his heat!”

To close the set, the band settled down for the slow, 15-minute snowball effect of “Run Like an Antelope” and returned for a “Frankenstein” encore, ending the show, the run, and the year at 1:10 a.m.

Dec. 31, 2003, set list:

Set 1


  • “Wilson”
  • “Mike’s Song”
  • “I Am Hydrogen”
  • “Weekapaug Groove”
  • “Moma Dance”
  • “Guyute”
  • “You Enjoy Myself”
  • “First Tube”
  • “Tube”

Set 2


  • “Stash”
  • “Seven Below”
  • “Lawn Boy”
  • “Chalk Dust Torture”
  • “Slave to the Traffic Light”
  • “Chalk Dust Torture”

Set 3


  • “Jungle Boogie”
  • “Auld Lang Syne”
  • “Iron Man”
  • “Runaway Jim”
  • “Simple”
  • “Reba”
  • “I Didn’t Know”
  • “Feel the Heat”
  • “Run Like an Antelope”

Encore


  • “Frankenstein”

For more sights and stories from concerts around the country, check out MTV News Tour Reports.

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