It was on this weekend six years ago that Phish re-established themselves in the post-hiatus era. As much of the Phish community flocked to Las Vegas for two nights at the beginning of the band’s winter comeback tour, many fans held lingering questions in their mind. The Hampton shows left a bland flavor in mouths of most fans, and aside from those who saw the “Walls > Carini” at the LA Forum on Valentine’s Day, many wondered when, and if, Phish would regain their explosiveness. Any unclarity was wiped away over the course of two demonstrative shows in which Phish musically exclaimed their return.
There was nothing like another spectacular weekend in Vegas for Phish to regain the confidence of their fan base. (Ironically, it would be a weekend in the same room about a year later that signaled the band’s imminent demise.) Returning to the Thomas and Mack Center, the site of so many special nights, the band played with a creative dynamic and that sense of urgency that was so blatantly lacking in their four-night reverse New Years Run. Weaving together lively sets all weekend long, Phish highlighted songs past and present, culminating with the much-loved second set of the 2.16.03 show; no set of the weekend better exemplified the meshing of the old and the new. The opening segment of “Disease > Seven Below > Disease” popped with intensity while the band’s playing remained incredibly intricate. With remarkable improv and seamless segues, this was one of the first big highlights of 2003, a year that would resurrect Phish and bring us all back to those mystery-laden adventures of yesteryear.
Yet, what also emerged from this Vegas weekend was a new direction in the band’s sound and playing. Not as squarely focused on groove as in the late-90’s, the band still anchored their playing in dance rhythms- though with far more texture and effect- creating a “space-like” quality to the music. This new direction would be typified by such legendary Winter ’03 jams as the Cincy Gin (2.22), the Chicago and Nassau Tweezers (2.20 & 2.28), and the Worcester Ghost (2.26). This style of dissonant-space-groove became magnified as the tour and year moved on, taking Phish’s jams to new and different places than ever before.
The colossal “Piper” that came later in 2.16’s second set also foreshadowed a post-hiatus trend; that of huge “Piper” jams. On this night, the song would fly off the handle for 22 minutes, something that became the norm throughout the year as it produced continuous highlights. Including musical references to the set’s “Seven Below” and a full “Disease Reprise,” this “Piper” soared in a new direction for the song- a launch pad for adrenalized, full-on improvisational adventures. Like this Vegas version, every time “Piper” appeared in ’03, jaw-dropping jams materialized. A full-speed canvas that the band collectively shredded to bits, “Piper” became one of the best developments of ’03, fully realizing a transformation that began as the band wound down in 2000.
While the most impressive playing came within the weekend’s final set, the others shone as well. 2.15’s “Waves > Bug,” highlighted the Round Room composition for the first time since the comeback show, and the “Ghost” that followed absolutely smoked. (Potentially in response to a banner that hung from the second level proclaiming it had been 871 days since the previous version.) The first set boasted hot versions of “Reba” and “Antelope,” while 2.16’s first set opened with a ferocious “Bowie > Catapult > Bowie,” and brought some amorphous new-school improv with the second “Round Room” ever.
This Vegas weekend back in ’03 was cause for universal celebration in the Phish scene, as they were finally back. Both inspirational and playful again, the Phishy vibe had returned in a city where it had thrived for years. These nights were the first building block for Phish 2.0, in a year that saw their playing evolve, exploring a plethora of new ideas. This was the first step (well, second and third) down a path that would culminate in Miami’s magnificent New Years’s Run.
All photos from Vegas ’03
GUESS THE HAMPTON OPENER, WIN PHISH TIX!
Over at Jamtopia.com, they are running a Hampton opener contest! If you guess correctly, and we all know we have the right answer, you have a chance to win summer tickets. The top prize is one ticket to The Fox if you are the only person to guess the answer correctly! Give it a shot; why not? Details are on the site.
FYI : HAMPTON AFTER-PARTIES
For those of you who won’t nearly be done with your night when the encore ends, there are Phish after-parties scheduled in the surrounding Hampton area each night. If you are arriving on the 5th, the night before the shows begin, The Disco Biscuits will be passing through Norfolk on their winter tour. After Friday’s Phish show, Bassnectar and Orchard Lounge will take The Norva Theatre’s stage starting at midnight. Following both Saturday and Sunday’s shows, Steve Kimock and Friends will be playing late-night gigs at The Norva as well. In addition, after Sunday’s show, UK psychedelic dub maestro, OTT, will be headlining a down-tempo electronica party at The Omni in Newport News. Click on artists below to buy tickets now!
DOWNLOAD OF THE DAY:
A show that has always been overshadowed by the Halloween hubbub in Atlanta just a few days later, this stop in Charlotte had plenty to offer. With a second set filled with feel-good Phish anthems, the band took the most improvisational liberty with “YEM,” “Simple” and “Antelope.” This night had an upbeat feel from the beginning, and was a solid effort amidst a relatively generic east coast run to begin Fall ’96.
I: Julius, Cars Trucks Buses, Wolfman’s Brother, Reba, Train Song, Character Zero, It’s Ice, Theme From the Bottom, Sample in a Jar
II: Down With Disease, You Enjoy Myself, Sparkle, Simple, McGrupp and the Watchful Hosemasters, Waste, Run Like An Antelope
E: FireTags: 2003, Post-hiatus