March 8, 2009
Up from the bottom, indeed.
Five years after going belly up, Phish resurfaced with a vengeance Friday night, playing the first of three sold-out reunion concerts in Hampton, Va., in a bid to reclaim their position at the top of the jam-band heap.
Sharing in the groove at Hampton Coliseum, otherwise known as "the Mothership," were 13,000 Phishheads nearly brought the house down with a collective roar as Trey Anastasio, keyboardist Page McConnell, bassist Mike Gordon and drummer Jon Fishman hit the stage.
It was an emotional homecoming, though not everyone was a Phish veteran.
"We flew in from Seattle to see this," 21-year-old Lauren Siegel told E! News. "I was in high school when my older brother turned me onto Phish, but by then, they had broken up so I never got to see them until now."
Meanwhile, Andrew and Jenny Price, both 27 and a married couple from Cherry Hill, N.J., had seen the band over 50 times, were soaking up the atmosphere.
"If they open with 'Fluffhead,' I think I'll just die. They never play that," said Andrew.
And much to Andrew's delight, the quartet did kick things off with "Fluffhead," a rarely played though heavily requested tune featuring a 10-minute-long series of instrumental passages called "Fluff's Travels" that showcased Phish's technical virtuosity.
The foursome segued into another showpiece instrumental, "The Divided Sky," revealing them to be in perhaps their finest form since the 1990s heyday.
The reunion pulled out all the stops. There was Fishman in his mu-mu doing the requisite vacuum solo on "I Didn't Know;" Anastasio and Gordon on trampolines during "You Enjoy Myself;" and of course, the hundreds of ticketless patchouli-soaked followers stranded outside hoping for a "miracle" (as in tickets) and selling their wares-from "fatty" veggie burritos and grilled cheese to various glass pipes and bootlegged merchandise.
No word on exactly how many the rockers' reps busted for hawking unauthorized merchadise. Two days before the show, Phish sought an injunction to prohibit the sale of such items to protect the copyright on their name and logo.
Newly sober since his 2006 drug arrest, Anastasio grinned ear to ear as he guided the Phish nation through two extra-long sets that each lasted over an hour and 45 minutes each, and included selections ranging from "Chalkdust Torture" and "David Bowie" and a funkified "Tweezer" to a scorching "Possum" and a transcendant "You Enjoy Myself."
The latter actually provided one of the few missteps for the band, which began playing in the wrong the key.
"Stop. We're gonna do that one again," said Anastasio.
During an extended encore, the band morphed into a Barbershop quartet with an a cappella performance of "Grind," which they followed with "Bouncing Round the Room" (complete with massive balloons dropping onto the crowd) and then ending shortly after midnight with a ferocious cover of the Rolling Stones' "Lovin' Cup."
For those who couldn't score the much-coveted ticket, Phish is, for a limited time, making all three weekend shows available as free downloads at livephish.com.