There was nothing outlandish about Phish’s show last night at the Hampton Coliseum in Hampton, Virginia — except for the fact that it was the jam-band kings’ first show in almost five years. Over a massive, four-hour set, guitarist Trey Anastasio, bassist Mike Gordon, drummer Jon Fishman and keyboardist Page McConnell ripped through dozens of crowd-favorites like “Harry Hood,” “You Enjoy Myself,” and “David Bowie” to a psyched, totally-sold-out audience of 13,000 fans. (Read a report from night two and grab photos of Phish’s Hampton run.)
Over their storied three-decade career, Phish have become known for performing some one-of-a-kind shows filled with surprise covers and transcendent improvisation. (You can witness this on their new, seven-disc box set Live at the Roxy, from a 1993 Atlanta show). But for the newly-reunited Phish, last night was all about getting reacquainted with their catalog — and with the audience. It was like hanging out with friends you haven’t seen in years: things are awkward at first, but after a few minutes, it’s just like old times. (Check out photos of the Vermont jam legends’ long career.)
When the band hit the stage at close to 8 pm, they kicked things off with some of their most compositionally complex tunes, from the knotted prog-funk of “Fluffhead” to “Divided Sky,” where the group’s quiet, mellifluous interplay of guitar, drums, bass and keys suggests they’re as well-oiled of a machine as they’ve ever been. Only about 50 minutes into the set did the guys really seem to relax. Before launching into the ominous groove of “Stash,” Gordon took a moment to adjust his onstage fan while McConnell stepped up from the keys to stretch out.
From there, the show became a total party with highlights including gut-punching jams like “Possum,” the Stevie Wonder-esque funk on “Tweezer” and “Harry Hood,” during which lighting designer Chris Kuroda turned the room into a giant disco. (One intrepid fan snuck in an inflatable alien, which danced in the air as fans tossed it around the floor.)
Of course, it would not be a Phish show without some hi-jinks from the band. “You Enjoy Myself,” which the group aborted and started again after flubbing its complex arrangement, closed with a seriously spooky a cappella jam. And when Phish launched into “Bouncing Around the Room” during their encore, the crew let loose a bunch of giant, inflatable balloons, one of which exploded on McConnell’s piano rig.
After the show, fans spilled out into the lots and what would have normally turned into a raucous outdoor party was quietly shut down by police. But who could argue? Nothing topped the excellent, four-hour bash Phish had just delivered inside.
“Chalk Dust Torture”
“Sample In A Jar”
“I Didn’t Know”
“Oh Kee Pah Ceremony”
“Water In The Sky”
“Backwards Down The Number Line”
“Theme From The Bottom”
“You Enjoy Myself”
“Bouncing Around The Room”