In a display of musicianship rarely seen these days, Phish annihilated the Mothership proper on Sunday night, gracing the historic venue with the throwdown it’s been begging for since November 22, 1997. This was the real deal folks. This was Phish at Hampton Coliseum in all their fury and wonder. This was the stuff of legend. This was the stuff of dreams. The band hadn’t woven an indoor tale like this in quite some time, and—honestly—it was a sight to behold. Sunday’s show touched upon the very ethos of why we do what we do. The community now has a new date to go along with the many numbers we recite in our sleep—10.20.2013, welcome to our consciousness.
The band toned it down a bit from their audacious start of Saturday night, favoring standard rotation songs to which we’ve all grown accustomed. There were, however, a few talking points beyond the intense energy that the band brought to each and every selection. After the opening three songs, the guys kicked into “Roses Are Free” in what seemed like another ho-hum selection. But Trey had different ideas. Out of the ending of the song, the band moved into a dreamy, mid-tempo passage that pointed to the first “Roses” jam since Worcester last year. As the crowd’s anticipation built, however, the band couldn’t fully lock up, and but a minute or so into the jam, Trey aborted it for “Sample In a Jar.”
The show picked up in earnest with a savage version of “46 Days.” This rousing piece was the first to truly get the audience’s hearts to beat as one—a heartbeat that would pulsate throughout the intimate arena for the rest of the night. A precise “Divided Sky” gave way to an “Bold as Love” closer. The set was solid, if not a bit slow, but big things were on the horizon, and everyone in the building could feel it.
What happened after setbreak is the stuff of instant legend. Phish gave every single song in the second set the absolute full treatment, and as was said in the tale of King Midas, everything that they touched turned to gold. Spending the entire second set in improvisational space, Phish staged a musical drama for which they became famous. This was Phish—raw, unadulterated and without a net.
The set kicked off with a nod to a crew of up-fronters dressed like Waldo from the “Where’s Waldo?” books. Trey asked them before the set if they were dressed like Waldo or people from jail, and then promptly told them the band would play a “song about jail” before busting out “Paul and Silas.” But then, the moment we had all been waiting for unfolded as Trey unleashed the opening lick to “Tweezer.” This “Tweezer” was the filthiest piece of indoor arena Phish we’ve heard in this era. Hands down, bar none. Moving seamlessly from dark to sinister to outright disgusting, this jam provided the yang to the Tahoe version’s yin. A piece of music that incarnated all that is good and holy about fall Phish truly upped the bar of possibilities for the next week and a half. This is sacred ground, people—tread lightly and with no distractions. A textured voyage into groove and far beyond, this jam leapt from the stage directly into the Hall of Fame. This monumental jam ended in an stunning passage of melodic ambience that lifted us, ever so gradually, out of the deep abyss and into an uplifting conclusion. And upon the ending of the jam, Trey dropped into “Golden Age.”
Leaving jaws on the Coliseum floor from the floor up to the rafters, Phish moved into the second movement of a flowing and relentless musical stanza. The band took all of the energy they had put into “Tweezer’s” psychedelia and applied it to the funk paradigm in “Golden Age.” Launching into a groove fiesta, Trey played all sorts of choppy rhythms licks while his band mates churned out dance grooves as if it was 1997. Turning the party out like none other, the band stuck with this vibe for quite some time before bleeding into an spacey outro that highly suggested a move into “2001.” But unlike the handful of times they’ve executed that transition in the past couple years, the guys took a left turn into “Piper.”
Like several applications of “Piper” this summer, this version was utilized as a triumphant exclamation point on the opening half of the set. Trey’s guitar screamed in joy, and all could share in the exultation he expressed. This was group catharsis as it is defined in the dictionary. Energy coursed through the arena like tangible bolts of lightning as the band tore through their victory march. And then came the best moment of the night. Phish moved into a classic rock vamp, and it sounded as if they might segue into “Rock and Roll.” But out of nowhere, the band moved into an impromptu cover of Bachman, Turner, Overdrive’s “Taking Care of Business!” The venue fucking exploded. One of the more clever musical moves we’ve seen Phish pull off in a hot minute, this transition sent the crowd over the top.
The band dissolved into an ambient outro, and it became clear that we would get the “2001” that had been dangled in front of us moments ago. And the band played it like they meant it! Digging into the chunky funk grooves, they spun the Mothership into another galaxy, and just when it seemed like “You Enjoy Myself” was a forgone conclusion, the band ripped into “Sand!” Taking the road less traveled at every juncture this fall, Phish threw yet another curveball to the delight of every person in the building. As if a band possessed, the guys crushed another primary jam vehicle with a purpose. Carving out layers of snarling sound, Trey led the troops in a climactic rendition of “Sand” that saw them keep on cranking where they have so often faltered late in the second set. And then the release.
As the band drifted into “Slave,” the final chapter of our musical fairy tale had been revealed. With one more push, Phish would reach the finish line of a championship race. And what a push it was. Unfurling a delicate jam, the band spent a good amount of time in a mellow, reflective space, allowing the events of the night to catch up to every soul in the house. The entire version felt very refined, ever so gradually building momentum, as the guys wove a graceful finale. They had made it. We had made it. And it was good.
The look Page’s face as he thanked the crowd said it all. Sincerity, humility and pride spilled from his aura as he turned to each side of the arena and thanked them earnestly. It was a special night of Phish and we all knew it. The classic Beatles cover “A Day in a Life”—a track heralded for its groundbreaking nature at the time—felt incredibly appropriate for an encore. While “Tweezer Reprise” stamped the night complete and the chorus of “Step into the Freezer” echoed throughout Hampton Coliseum, I thought back over the last 18 years, and thanked the good Lord that I took that step.
I: Julius, Funky Bitch, Back on the Train, Roses Are Free > Sample in a Jar, Ginseng Sullivan, 46 Days, Divided Sky, Bold As Love
II: Paul and Silas, Tweezer > Golden Age > Piper -> Takin’ Care of Business > Also Sprach Zarathustra > Sand, Slave to the Traffic Light
E: A Day in the Life, Tweezer Reprise