Tour Stop: Hampton Coliseum

Though we formed intimate relationships with countless venues throughout Phish’s twenty year stint, none felt more at home then Hampton Coliseum.  As if the room were made for Phish, and Phish only, whenever you walked inside and down those few steps, you felt like you were returning back to where you belonged.  Over the course of eleven shows, Phish made Hampton their unofficial home turf, and routinely produced incredible show after incredible show in the spaceship-shaped building.  Holding just under 14,000 people, the room was considerably smaller then most venues of Phish’s arena phase, and provided an certain intimacy long gone from shows of yesteryear.  With every seat in the house seemingly on top of the stage, and a floor that more people could not have squeezed onto, a Hampton show felt different- more cozy, more crazy- than other shows.  With a total GA policy, the freedom to navigate the venue as your heart desired increased this free-for-all feeling that encapsulated Hampton.  Knowing every nook and cranny of the building from the countless visits, you didn’t need to ask to find your way around Hampton.  With security guards present as a formality, the coliseum turned into an all out raging Phish party for three hours every night.  Afterward, instead of having to crunch into a car and figure out your next step, you simply strolled off into the coastal evening to find your desired hotel party a few hundred yards from the venue.

The Hampton experience became a Phish institution between 1995 and 2004, housing so many classic shows and moments.  The surrounding hotels finally caught on.  Hampton’s Holday Inn, the hotel “in” the parking lot, created an all-night commissary and hangout in the lobby for elevated fans, with Phish DVDs playing on a large screen and drinks for sale by the time 2004 rolled around!  To be honest, Its surprising it took so long for hotels to capitalize on the of thousands of blissed-out nighttime revelers.  While Phish enjoyed playing in many special rooms, and we enjoyed receiving the music in many venues- none were more special than an evening in Phish’s own space portal, right off the highway in southeastern Virginia.

1.2.03: photo: takashi37

In 1995, Phish made their first appearance at the former Grateful Dead venue.  Kicking off their Hampton career with a bang, this show encapsulated the ferocity of Fall 1995- all contained by the rounded walls of the circular Phish den.  While the first set had its moments, this show focused on the far-away journey taken with the onset of set two.  A 45 minute Timber Ho > Mike’s > Kung > Mike’s is what this night will be eternally remembered for.  Featuring a dark half-hour Mike’s excursion, with the first ever Rotation Jam, in which all band members switched instruments, this exercize in sinister groove punctuated Phish’s debut at Hampton. This one would be immortalized as a gem from Fall ’95.

Phish’s second Hampton show in 1996’s didn’t feature nearly as much heavy improvisation, but offered up some rarities with a show opening Ha Ha Ha, and a second set opener of the then-scarce, Tube.  On this night, Trey cemented the venue’s legend when amidst some stage banter, told the crowd that Hampton was his favorite room to play.  A solid Hood > Cavern ended the show on a high note, but even compared to the shows surrounding it in the tour, this year’s Hampton show seemed a little thin.

1997 would be a different story all together.  In the most epic Hampton installment ever, Phish gave a nod to the celestial portal by gracing it with it’s first two-night stand.  It would be over the 21st and 22nd of November that Hampton Coliseum would officially become Phish’s personal playground.  With two shows that were as good as any, on a tour that is sometimes overwhelming with all of its magnificent music, Phish threw down four sets for the ages that still live in legend today.  The first night, the deeper more truly psychedelic performance, gave way to one of the best Phish shows in history on the second night.  With the debut of the Stone’s “Emotional Rescue” to start the stand and jamming into an dark and nasty Split as the second song of the stand- Phish wasted no time in getting to business.  The three-song sequence of Ghost > AC/DC Bag > Slave comprised  the entire second set, less a Loving Cup closer.  This hour plus of straight Phish imrov is some of the most magical to come out of Fall ’97.  Delving into various styles and textures, this jam sequence was a trek through Phish’s imagination and was brought to fruition by a poignant Slave.  Moving through funk, rock, and straight madness, this set was an archetypal “night one” of a two night stand- going deep with no regard for time or space, playing what comes.  A four song masterpiece, this second set left fans wondering what could possibly come out of the next night.

11.22.97.  The date needs no introduction.  The best Phish dance party ever thrown, a night with more grooves than a 33 rpm record, it is up there with the the band’s elite performances ever.  Starting with a supremely thick Fall ’97  Mike’s Song, containing full band hints at Black-Eyed Katy, this show was off and running in no time.  Just after the massive Mike’s Groove ended with the last hits of Weekapaug, the rolling reggae intro of Harry Hood began.  Really!?  Now?!  Yes.  Really.  A phenomenal version of Hood left the crowd stunned and speechless for Train Song and Billy Breathes, before the set closed with the rocking combo of Frankenstein, Izabella.  After such an ludicrous first set, the crowd was left aglow, without words to describe what was unfolding.  One of the quietest set breaks ever gave way to one of the loudest sets of the band’s career.

Halley’s > Tweezer > Black Eyed Katy, Piper, Antelope.  The rest is history.  With utter command over the room, the band brought the audience through a clinic of Phish improvisation.  The most delicate and spiritually inspiring moments of the set came toward the end of the “best ever” Halley’s, while the band soon had the entire spaceship bouncing through the quintessential fall swamp funk of ’97- Tweezer> Katy.  Pure Phish crack.  Not letting up for a second, the blistering combo of Piper, Antelope provided the musical balance to the molasses that had preceded.  Universally regarded as one of the best nights in the twenty years of Phish, you have all heard this one as much as I have.  From that night on, every trip back to Hampton would be significant, and marked on everyone’s calendar.

photo: Aaron de Groot

1998 brought another two-night stand to Hampton.  Subsequently released as “Hampton Comes Alive,” these shows were highly anticipated by all in the Fall of 1998; they again peaked with the last set of the shows.  The first night of 1998 delivered a first set of crowd favorites, as the opening debut of “Rock and Roll Pt.2” > Tube shot 100 cc’s of adrenaline into everyone’s brains to start the stand.  Followed by Quinn the Eskimo, for the first time since 1987, Funky Bitch and Guelah, this show got everyone engaged immediately.  Notable appearances were also made by the Beatle’s “Cry, Baby, Cry,” and the bluegrass cover “Nellie Kane,” both after 275+ show absences.  A Stash and a Split added flairs of darkness to this extended first set before the lights came on and everyone came back to their collective reality for set break.  The second set opened with a beautiful Bathtub Gin > Piper, and then trailed off a bit, somehow finding its way to a Fishman cover of WIll Smith’s “Getting Jiggy WIt it.”  A late set Hood brought some dignity back to the set, but the musical theatrics would again be left for night two.

Set two of November 21st, would stand out among the rest of the weekend.  Leading off with a crushing right hook in the form a heavy hitting Mike’s, the band soon transitioned into Simple. Adopting their Fall ’98 ambient style to the jam, they created one of the more beautiful and transcendent pieces of music from the entire tour.  Phish sandwiched a Wedge, Mango, Free > Ha Ha Ha > Free into the Mike’s Groove before capping it with a run through the upbeat fields of Weekapaug.  This set was non-stop action from beginning to end, and followed in the tradition of the previous year’s offering.

The next time Phish would appear in Hampton Coliseum would be for the final two-shows of December ’99- the last shows before Big Cypress.  Upon the culmination of two fall tours, and on the brink of the millennium, the band again honored the venue with shows to be remembered.  The first night opened with a Piper to get things underway quickly, and soon followed up by the upbeat first set selections of Jibboo and Punch You in the Eye.  This set, while having some great moments, lacked flow, and ended oddly with a fairly standard Twist.  The second set, would open with a Birds, Moma> ambient jam > Bug, with some Birds licks prominently ingrained in the Moma funk.  Just about everyone was sure the gears were set for an intergalactic 2001 as the band finally veered into Bug, saving the song as a centerpiece for the following evening. A dark-horse Split Open highlights the end of the set- a very complex and layered version that is all too often overlooked by the 12.4.99 Cincy version.  This is a diamond in the rough that not many seem to discuss, so check it out on the compilation below.  Yet, after this night, it seemed as though the real bombast would be reserved exclusively for night two.

8.9.04- photo: Chris Clark

A Hood opener of night two communicated that the band was ready for action.  Also including the sought after Dog Log and Tube, the first set ended with a YEM that got the building loosened up and sweating in earnest in preparation for the last set before The Everglades.  This last set, like the previous two years’ last sets, blew the cozy confines to smithereens.  The 36 minute fiery dance-a-thon of 2001 > Sand showcased the band’s 1999 style, and once again, Phish had the Coliseum’s audience in the palm of their hand.  The rest of the set didn’t slow down with Horse > Silent, Possum, before the band dropped into a heavy Mike’s Groove.  A set featuring three of their danciest songs at the time, this set brought back echos of 1997.  The set ending Weekapaug stopped off in a well executed segue into Buffalo Bill before capping the set, and a long fall of touring for the band.  Only Cypress remained.

The legacy of Hampton Coliseum was cemented long before Phish decided to go on hiatus, and come back for a year and a half between 2003 and 2004. However, during that short time, Phish managed to play four more Hampton shows- three of these coming directly after the MSG comeback in the opening days of 2003.  With little to write home about in these three shows, it was nice to have Phish back and to be in Hampton again, but the explosive psychedelia just wasn’t there- not yet.  Come the winter tour, and especially the summer tour, the powers bestowed upon Phish would be restored, and all would be well again- until that announcement.

8.9.04- photo: Chris Clark

Coming in a perfunctory, and distant way, a message from Trey was posted on Phish’s website before the summer of ’04 that this would finally be it.  Left with tears running, staring at a computer screen, nobody really knew how to process this news.  As the days of the end crept near, Phish kicked off their final mini-run with one last visit to “The Mothership.”  Added later than the other shows, Phish had to come back one more time.  In what is a constantly underrated show, with an amazing first set, Phish would say good-bye to Hampton in bittersweet fashion.  An incredibly inspiring Chalkdust opened, which blew out the confines of its structure for twenty minutes into some very special places before the band turned to an equally inspired Bathtub Gin > Runaway Jim.  Using these melodic, emotional jams, Phish bid farewell to one of its most beloved haunts.

With the context surrounding Phish’s imminent departure, it was hard to feel completely positive about this last run, but Phish, indeed, dug in one more time at Hampton.  The first set full of improvisation overshadowed the second, whose highlight was an intense Seven Below > Stash.  Played on the anniversary of Jerry’s death, in a building he once oversaw, this sets’ ballads of All of These Dreams and Lifeboy, took on an even greater significance.  Only the fifth Bowie encore in history, and the first since Denver ’97, closed out Phish’s chapter at one of their favorite portals to the divine.  It was an amazing journey, and we can only hope that Hampton 2009 is around the corner.

In honor of all of these magical evenings, I put together Miner’s Picks: Hampton.  Again, without repeating tracks from other compilations, I chose some of the best The Mothership had to offer.  Enjoy this batch of memories.  Unfortunately I had to skip ’98 because all I have are the official releases without starting to convert my old DATs.  The track listing and links are below.


1,2,3. Timber Ho! > Kung > Mike’s 11.25.95

4. Harry Hood 11.25.95

5,6. Trey talk > Stash 10.25.1996

7. Harry Hood 10.25.1996

8,9. Emotional Rescue >Split Open And Melt 11.21.97

10,11,12. Ghost > AC/DC Bag > Slave 11.21.97

13,14,15. Halley’s Comet > Tweezer > Black-Eyed Katy 11.22.97

16,17,18. Moma Dance > Jam > Bug 12.17.99

19. Spilt Open and Melt 12.17.99

20. Harry Hood 12.18.99

21. Tube 12.18.99

22,23. 2001 > Sand 12.18.99

24,25,26. Chalkdust, Bathtub Gin > Runaway Jim 8.9.04

27,28. Seven Below > Stash 8.9.04


In other news: Trey’s 10/16 Port Chester show got moved to Roseland, NYC!  Tickets from brokers are going for $200 pre-sale.  I happen to have two extras if some one can hook me a Higher Ground!


DOWNLOAD OF THE DAY: 10.29.96 Leon Co. Civic Center, Tallahassee, FL

As Phish geared up for their Halloween show in Atlanta, they threw down a great show, and an amazing second set of music, two nights before in Florida.  Using the Mike’s jam as a live-rehearsal for “Remain In Light,” the band distinctly moves through a “Houses in Motion” jam in this standout version.  With guest percussionist, Karl Perazzo, already on board, his textures add to the entire show, which features a Bowie and a Stash and closes with a regal Slave.  Enjoy this set II as today’s download of the day!

I: Chalk Dust Torture, Guelah Papyrus, Cars, Trucks, & Buses, Taste, Bouncing Around the Room, Stash, Train Song, Billy Breathes, Poor Heart, David Bowie

II: Rift, Mike’s Song > I Am Hydrogen > The Horse > Silent in the Morning, Weekapaug Groove, The Wedge, Character Zero, Suspicious Minds, Slave to the Traffic Light, Hello My Baby

E: Good Times Bad Times

Karl Perazzo (percussionist from Santana) played the entire show.

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