Words by: Kevin Schwartzbach | Images by: Josh Miller
Phish :: 03.07.09 :: Hampton Coliseum :: Hampton, VA
A tinge of electricity always seems to permeate the air before historical occasions such as these. This electricity, I would imagine, would have been present before such events as Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech or the tearing down of the Berlin wall. Okay, so maybe Phish's reunion isn't quite as momentous as the civil rights movement or the end of the Cold War, but hey, for those of us that have endured a nearly five-year Phishless hiatus laden with an incessant onslaught of reunion rumors, it's pretty damn close. And one only needed a taste of the precipitous amounts of electricity collecting in the air surrounding the Hampton Coliseum before Saturday night's show to gauge just how historic this reunion really was.
Phish :: 03.07 :: Hampton, VA|
In an instant all that electricity in the air was immediately discharged promptly when Phish took the stage – lightning had struck. With an obsequious grin spread across his face, Trey Anastasio started the opening riff from "Back on the Train." From the moment the rest of the band joined him it was clear that the boys were on top of their game, quelling any skepticism of their triumphant return that the sub-par Coventry shows all those years ago may have created (read the Coventry review here).
With an abundance of heavy hitters played on the previous night, Phish had no qualms with busting a few of their shorter, "poppier" songs such as "Brian and Robert" and "Heavy Things" early in the first set. It was clear from the crowd's reaction to these songs that this was not the reason thousands of desperately dedicated fans traveled from the farthest reaches of the country (or in my case another country entirely) to Hampton's hallowed ground. They were fun nonetheless. Finally the heat turned up as Mike Gordon brought us into the crazed "Split Open and Melt." The astonishingly tight jam over a chorus of "Melt, split open and melt" slowly dissolved into loosely structured atonal acid jazz, something that can be a bit of an acquired taste. But, those who appreciate the disorderly genre know that few groups do a better job of it.
Perhaps the greatest test of Phish's return came during "Reba." If they could nail the thoroughly composed and thoroughly complicated instrumental portion contained within the heart of the Lawnboy classic, they could nail just about anything. Surely enough, this was indeed the case as the band members' individual chops stayed true to their respective virtuosic reputations. While it's easy to focus on each musician separately, one has to appreciate the cohesiveness that Phish displays, something that can only be achieved after decades of playing together. The tightly knit section of "Reba" abruptly let loose into sublime, modal ecstasy. Trey let note after note eternally hang in the air, as each one conducted the ever-present electricity. The band chose to forgo the chorus of whistling in favor of "Mexican Cousin."
Gordo :: 03.07 :: Hampton, VA|
The uncharacteristically sinister "It's Ice" proved that the cohesiveness of "Reba" was no fluke – Phish is back and perhaps better than ever. "It's Ice" moved into an otherworldly ambiance that made one thing clear: The Mothership was about to take off.
Giving themselves a chance to dust the cobwebs off their pipes, The Ship eventually landed on "Halley's Comet," a rarity both in the night sky and Phish shows.
The first set contained several of their more obscure songs, such as "Lawnboy," that only true Phish connoisseurs would likely appreciate, and it was evident from the lips moving in tandem with Page McConnell's smooth serenading that it was just that caliber of fan that had made the pilgrimage. Lightning struck continuously during the straight up electrical storm that was "Run Like An Antelope." The set closer harnessed so much energy that every person present couldn't help but feel the charge run through their body.
The band left the stage without addressing the audience, giving us a chance to recharge our batteries after having just gotten boisterously "out of control." Maybe it was merely the familiar smile on Jon Fishman's face, but despite failing to address the audience all night and the sheer size of the coliseum, the band curiously managed to establish a tender feeling of intimacy.
During set break, one of the most heartwarming of all Phish related phenomena could be witnessed. Phish fans of all ages and creeds began conversing with one another as if they were lifetime friends despite being complete strangers from different backgrounds, all sharing their previous Phish experiences. After years away from the scene, it's easy to forget just what kind of camaraderie Phish's music is capable of spawning. Whether it was their first show or 114th, every person in there had something in common.
The second set kicked off with a strong rendition of The Velvet Underground's "Rock and Roll." Coming early in the second set, "Story of the Ghost" finally gave Page a chance to shine, something he hardly seemed to do during the first set. After a downright funky keyboard solo, Page and Trey combined forces to create polyphonic textures ranging from glorious explosions to silly sounding hocket-like rhythms.
Trey Anastasio :: 03.07 :: Hampton, VA|
Gordo, as per usual, held down the low end of the spectrum. With his shaggy hair fully intact, Mike delivered on everything from a wah-smothered bass solo in "Wolfman's Brother" to skillfully blending into the background during the ever-ascending "Piper." To resolutely affirm their exultant rebirth, the second set closed off with a resilient trio of "Mike's Song > I Am Hydrogen > Weekapaug Groove" followed by an explosive "Character Zero." Looking around at the frantically moving bodies in the upper levels of the coliseum during these last songs gave the illusion that the venue was breathing, lending a whole new meaning to the phrase "Hampton comes alive." An encore of "A Day in the Life" seemed an appropriate close to the evening, as several thousand voices synchronized to the timeless Beatles hit, four of which seemed to put a smile on everyone's face.
Walking into the musky Hampton air outside, still shaking, I gradually began to shed the electricity that had surged through my body over the course of the night. This kind of electricity is unmistakable – the kind that results from something utterly momentous. There is no doubt in my mind that this show was an event of such nature. A new era in the Phish saga has begun – and a bright era it shall be. The worst part of the show was the fact that it had to end. This summer just simply can't come fast enough.
Read the review of Hampton Night One here.
Back On The Train 03.07.09 from Jesse Borrell on Vimeo.
Rock and Roll, Limb By Limb 03.07.09 from Jesse Borrell on Vimeo.
Character Zero 03.07.09 from Jesse Borrell on Vimeo.
03.07.09 :: Hampton Coliseum :: Hampton, VA
Set I: Back On The Train, Runaway Jim, Brian and Robert, Split Open and Melt, Heavy Things, Punch You in the Eye, Gumbo, Reba, Mexican Cousin, It's Ice, Halley's Comet, Beauty of a Broken Heart*, Guelah Papyrus*, Lawn Boy, Run Like An Antelope
Set II: Rock and Roll, Limb By Limb, Ghost, Piper, Birds of a Feather, Wolfman's Brother, Prince Caspian, Mike's Song > I Am Hydrogen > Weekapaug Groove, Character Zero
E: A Day in the Life
*First time played
Click here for coverage of Hampton Night Three...
Continue reading for more pics of Phish in Hampton, Night Two...