The Phish Report Night 1: Disco Balls, Vacuum Solos and Fluffhead
By Mike Greenhaus
Phish surprised many by returning to the stage for the first time since August, 2004 with an on-point rendition the Junta epic Fluffhead a fan favorite which had not been played since September 29, 2000, despite considerable urging from fans throughout the post-hiatus period. The move sent a direct message to fans that Phish 3.0as many have affectionately dubbed the groupis not the unrehearsed, unresponsive band that toured from 2002-2004. The group also reconnected to its roots by returning to its classic pre-1999 stage configuration, with all four musicians positioned in an equal line near the front of the stage.
Helping restore the groups playful nature, Phish employed three of its best known onstage gags at various points throughout the night: Jon Fishman took a vacuum solo while Trey Anastasio played drums during I Didnt Know partway through set one, Anastasio and Mike Gordon debuted a new pair of trampolines during You Enjoy Myself at the climax of set two and all four musicians offered up a barbershop quartet version of the Undermind ditty Grind during their encore. The short, quirky song, whose only live reading took place on December 30, 1998, is the lone song from a post-hiatus recording the group played during its 28-song performance.
In sharp contrast to Phishs later years of 1997-2004, most of the groups first set was filled with long form epics like The Divided Sky, Oh Kee Pa Ceremony, Squirming Coil and David Bowie, which favor multi-part compositional structures over the loose, funky improvisation that defined most of Phishs arena years. The band did showcase its jamming abilities on a few occasions, however, particularly Stash and the latter portion of the set-closing David Bowie. Other first set highlights included a straight-ahead Chalkdust Torture, some synthesizer work from Page McConnell on Suzy Greenberg, an extended, percussion-heavy Rift and a slowed down take on Water in the Sky reminiscent of the songs pre-_Story of the Ghost_ incarnation.
The Vermont Quartet loosened up musical a bit second set, opening with the new Trey Anastasio/Tom Marshall original Backwards Down The Number Line, perhaps the only song of the night that lacked an arena-size echo. The group then launched into a long, dark Tweezer that placed particular emphasis on Gordons thick, funky bass lines and eventually uncoiled into the Latin-flavored Taste. The rest of the set was filled with crowd-favorites like the sing-a-long Possum, the euphoric Theme from the Bottom (which found longtime lighting director Chris Kuroda washing the room in purples lights that matched the hue of Gordons pants), an extremely groove-heavy First Tube (with Anastasio making use of his signature delay loop from 1999-2000), a short glowstick skirmish during Harry Hood and the Billy Breathes ballad Waste. Though Phish was clearly firing on all cylinders all night, the band flubbed the start of You Enjoy Myself and quickly restarted the trademark number, as they did when they returned to Hampton for the first time post-hiatus. Anastasio also missed the word god in the lyrical segment boy, man, god, shit, but joking changed the last part of the phrase to god shit.
Throughout the night, Kuroda also showed off several new light toys, including a group of large white balls that were released into the crowd during Bouncing Around the Room and a series of small disco balls that lit up partway through Harry Hood.
The night finally came to a close with a cover of the Rolling Stones Loving Cup, a showcase for McConnells work on the baby grand piano. Relix and Jambands.com will be reporting from Hampton, VA once again this evening.
March 6, Hampton Coliseum, Hampton, VA
Set I: Fluffhead*, The Divided Sky, Chalkdust Torture, Sample in a Jar, Stash, I Didn’t Know#, Oh Kee Pa Ceremony > Suzy Greenberg, Farmhouse, NICU, Horn, Rift, Train Song, Water in the Sky, Squirming Coil, David Bowie
II: Backwards Down The Number Line^, Tweezer, Taste, Possum, Theme from the Bottom, First Tube, Harry Hood, Waste, You Enjoy Myself
E: Grind**, Bouncing Around the Room, Loving Cup
* Last played 9/28/2000
# with Trey on drums
** Last played 12/30/98