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Published: 2003/03/06
by Aaron Hawley

Phish, Greensboro Coliseum, Greensboro, NC- 3/1

Fresh off of my return to Phish the weekend before in Cincinnati, I was extra pumped as I left town on Friday after work and headed south. Thankful to have missed the inclement weather the day before, the ride wasn't too treacherous. My party arrived in Greensboro to find my friend Jessie's neighborhood covered with downed tree limbs and without power. Jessie's dad had a generator and good vibes were flowing as many people who hadn't seen each other in years met back up, and new friends were made, the family home overflowing with kids in town to see the show.

Saturday morning came to drizzly skies, but everyone in our party, now swollen to fifteen-plus, didn’t mind a bit, and hit a bristling lot scene in the drizzling rain. The expansive parking lot surrounding the coliseum was filling quickly after the lots opened and everyone was excited, this many southern phans first show since the hiatus. A pack of five of us decided to get on line an hour early for the six o’clock doors opening, on account of this being a general admission show. It turned out to be a great idea, since according to my sister, once the doors opened so did the skies and those in the lots spent some time getting wet. It turned out to be a key effort, we found some great seats about twenty rows up, Page side, and proceeded to spend the next two hours saving fourteen seats and watching the rest of the teal coliseum seats fill with excited and happy show goers.

Just as all of our friends, Jessie’s mom and dad included, as well as reportedly twenty three thousand other happy fans had piled into the arena, the houselights dropped, the band emerged, and tore into "Chalkdust Torture". The coliseum exploded in jubilance, glowsticks and smoke filling the air in the arena as Kuroda shone blue and purple lights off of the packed house. Trey was in full on arena rock mode and there was no space in the "Chalkdust" jam that lilted or offered more than crunching in your face rock and roll. The crowd cheered at the end of the tune, as the band quickly stepped into a high paced "Moma Dance". The audience bobbed en masse and fed off of the band’s every move. An up tempo and intense take at the song the band had shifted the mood into wank mode for a minute, but then held back. After a pause, Fishman started up "Foam" much to the delight of the kid sitting behind me who had stressed before the show that he wanted to hear Junta material. The band raced through the songs intricate composed parts with relative ease, a testament to the work the band has put in re-learning the complicated material from the early days.

Page took the mic next, for his crooner tune, "Lawn Boy", though he did stay seated for most of the song, until one turn at Trey’s mic at the end of the number. Mike delivered a sublime and inspired solo to compliment the songs lounge act feel much to the delight of the North Carolina faithful. Not to let things get too slow for more than a minute, Trey dropped back into arena rock mode for "Character Zero". The crowd matched the bands intensity, roaring as Kuroda shown lights off of the upper tier, completely full around the entire arena, pulsating with dancers. Seeming to switch with ease between the direct and the intricate Trey quickly began chording the intro to "Divided Sky". The hundreds of glowsticks, which had been bouncing around the arena since the get go, got started back up again. I will admit, it looked amazing, astounding, and beautiful, light bouncing to and fro many kids on tour bringing all unsold glow items into the show in order to create that special energy that can only be created at a Phish concert. However, it’s going too far, the band seems to be the target of most glowstick hurlers these days, which needs to stop. That aside, "Divided Sky" was intense, and on target. I thought of my sister, who had since left the lower deck area in search of the perfect vantage point, who had mentioned over and over that this was the song she wanted to hear the most. The kid behind me just kept on smiling as the band dashed through the songs opening segments, building and building, until Trey drops in with possibly his sweetest solo. As the song quieted as it approached the pause, the audience roared, as they continued to do throughout the nearly two minutes of silence as the band stood motionless. Trey and Mike each broke pose to catch flying glowsticks, which only egged the audience’s barrage on. The note which brings the song back in was shortened by a flying glowstick, as the band proceeded to tear back into the tune with newfound abandon roaring through each change on the way to a blistering end.

"Mountains in the Mist" was up next, a breather for both the band and audience. "Waves", which proved to be the only Round Room material we would hear all night, followed. It started slow, but took off on an inspired jam that was reminiscent of textures the band explored during the 1999 summer tour. The end of "Waves" slowed into a rumble until Trey stepped up with the chords that open up "Sample in a Jar". I wheeled around and looked at my friend Raj and pumped both of my hands in the air, bouncing with overzealous excitement, and a big smile. Raj and I had debated the merits of the song in the car on the way to Carolina, he asking to skip the set closing "Sample" on the Cincinnatti Live Phish download from the weekend before. I insisted we hear it, and we went back and forth. My opinion is that it’s a catchy arena rock anthem, which is fine, because face it, these days Phish is an arena rock band. I think it’s a fun song, and most people who come to a show and only know one or two songs know that one, and they’re happy to hear it and so am I.

Set break came and folks milled about. I intercepted my sister in the concourse and got a big hug and some gushing remarks about the first set "Divided Sky" before she bounced back off into the mob in search of other friends. All in all, I thought the first set was a rocker, with lots of energy with some great chunky old material thrown in taboot. I was all for it, and was extra excited to see what the second set held as the arena grew ever hotter and smokier. The band reemerged and Trey slid into "Rock n Roll" and the train was off, and the audience was in for a high paced ride. The band twisted, turned, and chugged along, the crowd undulating back and forth, singing along with Page. I pumped my fists in the air. I believe a life can be saved by rock and roll. Trey dropped into an electric tone and the set was on its way with a bang. The jam bobbed along building steam through the song’s climactic refrain. Trey dropped the telltale notes of "Wilson" next and the crowd screamed its part. The jam was dark and mesmerizing but terribly short, Trey laid down some liquid lava guitar lines before working the crowd with the intense "can you still have any fun" line, screaming like a man warped with bloodlust and rage.

The wall of noise at the end of the song gave way to the band easing gently into the opening progression of "Piper". The crowd slowly gained momentum matching the quickening pace of Fishman’s drumbeat. The band kicked in, and so did the audience as the jam dipped it’s toe in to check the temperature before taking off on the most exploratory jam of the night, the band changing pace, but always staying one step ahead of the audience. Page seemed to take a lead in the direction of the jam, and layered it with spacey keyboard sounds. After a raging fifteen minute plus rendition of "Piper" the band brought the jam down and Fishman kicked into the tell tale opening drumbeat to "2001". My roommate turned to me and said, "now THIS is what I wanted to hear!," and remarked how he had kept it to himself, as not to jinx anything in regards to my telling him that at his first show back, what ever song you really want Phish to play, they’ll play. At the time I assumed his favorite song was "Wolfman’s, because I’d heard him mention it a few times, so it was apt that they followed with that also. Phish was back for a lot of people, and they howled with joy. These songs, as well as the "Boogie On Reggae Woman" that followed, were fairly concise run-throughs aimed more at delivering impact and keeping the tempo rocking, as opposed going "out there" with heavy exploration. The Carolina crowd ate it up and danced harder each second, as the arena grew hotter and hotter. Phish was back, and they were burning the place down.

Not having slowed things once all set, the band cooled the room with "Wading in the Velvet Sea". They crowd enjoyed it, though a lot of folks took a seat so they could rest up for what was next. The intro to "Run Like an Antelope" bounced out of the applause at the end of "Velvet Sea" and lilted back and forth each and every audience member waiting for the crashing guitar chord to come and the song take off. Crash the chord did, and the audience responded loudly as Trey took off on a jam that never once slowed or hesitated, not even for a second. As it approached the stop for the lyrics part, it accelerated with one last furious burst of momentum before giving way to Fishman’s rock solid beat and Trey spoke the song’s only lyrics. With that Kuroda threw the lights up and the band ripped through the song’s closing. The band then put down their instruments and moved to the side of the stage for an acappella "Carolina" much to the delight of the locals. The lot before the show had been covered with signs that read, "Nothing could be phiner than to be in Carolina", and at that moment everyone in the Greensboro Coliseum, from the top row the front row heartily agreed.

The band left for the encore, and audience filled the arena with lighters creating a lush and surreal glow as the crowd prepared for what would be the last song or songs of the tour. Trey flubbed the first lick to "First Tube" but quickly found his footing and the band tour through the first performance of the song since the last show before the hiatus. This song, with its driving drumbeat and thumping baseline is a straight rocker with Trey’s searing tones leading the way. The crowd roared with intensity, fearful that this was it for the evening. Then, the band, without warning, and nary a pause between songs, dropped into "You Enjoy Myself". It was just gravy. It was too much to ask for. I saw the Worcester setlist and figured that’d be the last one for the tour. I’m so happy I was wrong. The band tore through the composed sections of the song, though Trey flubbed the lyrics, repeating "shit" and really meaning it the second time. The band rolled along anchored by Gordon’s thunderous playing. Trey and Mike locked into a heavy tease of "Another One Bites the Dust" just to accent the arena rock feel of playing "YEM" to a packed house of 23,500 in the largest event ever at the coliseum. As Mike’s wicked solo led the band back into the lyrics segment and the vocal jam. As the boys made their psychedelic sounds and Kuroda whipped white light around a darkened room, the band began repeating the word "Rollin’" over and over until they segued into an acapella "Proud Mary". It was a strange way to be left, but indicative that the fire is still there, and that the band is having as much fun as ever. There are still a lot of nights left in this band. There will be many more where they throttle your body and mind, and then shuffle you back into the cold night air with a smile on your face.

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