Fans familiar with the innermost details of Phish's storied live career can all point to what they see as high points. And while dozens of gigs might pop up on best-of lists, there's virtual unanimity about the stature of this celebratory show, captured at last in its entirety on an official release. New Year's Eve 1995: Live at Madison Square Garden
presents nearly four hours of music that reveals exactly how Phish separated itself from the jam-band pack. There's plenty of intricate improvisation on display -- over the course of 25 minutes, "Maze" drifts from altered-state rave-up to rustic hoedown and back again -- but also a goodly sample of the band's oft-ignored ability to crank out an undeniably catchy tune. That capacity is best displayed on songs like "Runaway Jim," a tune that lets Trey Anastasio
flex his muscles as a soloist and simultaneously showcases a wry storytelling ability reminiscent of the Dead's heyday. And while the disc is peppered with moments -- like the in-joke narration of "Fly Famous Mockingbird" and the mind-game call-and-response of "Audience Chess Match" -- that make non-devotees wish for subtitles, just as often the band kick out the jams in the most universal language of all, regaling listeners with riff-heavy versions of staples like "Frankenstein" and "Johnny B. Goode" (the latter of which might even have Chuck Berry himself bopping along with pleasure). This is easily the most significant -- and most enjoyable -- nugget to emerge from the vast Phish archive.