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Everyone remembers their ph-irst time

Steve Lynch | Wednesday, December 3, 2003

“The band is back for good.”

These words, proclaimed by Phish front man Trey Anastasio at the end of the band’s summer tour, became abundantly clear this past weekend as Phish rocked the sold-out Nassau Coliseum on Long Island and the Wachovia Spectrum in Philadelphia. After taking a two-year hiatus, from October 2000 through New Year’s 2002, Phish fans from all over the world have been questioning the future of the band. Those questions were finally put to rest following two amazing shows to start off their four-show 20th anniversary tour.

Arriving at the parking lot at the Coliseum a few hours before the show, I instantly knew that I was in for a good show. Despite the cold weather and rain the energy in the lot was still unlike that of any other show in the world. Walking through Shakedown Street, I could not help but be overwhelmed by the good vibes that were running through every person in the lot. After a few hours of tailgating, if you can call it that, my friends and I made our way into the venue. Waiting in line at the ticket booth, the crowd was chanting and cheering in anticipation. Once inside, all we could do was wait for what was sure to be a rocking show.

Around 7:45 p.m., the lights went out, and the craziness was about to begin. They opened with the popular “Bouncin Around the Room” to get the crowd into a good mood. This was followed by an awesome version of the oldie “Runaway Jim.” This was the start of a great set, which continued with a spacey 13-minute “Story of the Ghost” and a dark “What’s the Use” to get the crowd prepared for a personal favorite that I have been waiting to hear, “AC/DC Bag.” This song did not disappoint. As I looked out around the crowd, it looked like a sea of movement. Every person in the Coliseum was on his or her feet, dancing and yelling out every word. A solid “First Tube” and “Frankie Says” ensued. Just as I began to feel that the set was over, the band came back in with another personal favorite, “Bathtub Gin,” which segued into a rocking ten-minute version of “Free.” It was a great way to end an excellent set.

At set break, my friends and I moved down to closer seats to get a better view of the stage and the light show, which is unmatched by any other light show I have ever seen. The second set started off a bit slow with “Waves” but picked up immediately with the crowd pleasers “Sample in a Jar” and “Down with Disease.” This is where bassist Mike Gordon really shined. The bass riffs of “Disease” are what got me hooked on Phish years ago. Another newer song, “Walls of the Cave,” was next, followed by “Two Versions of Me” and “Crowd Control,” which was played for the first time ever. This gave the crowd a chance to cool off before “Mike’s Groove,” which ended the set in perfect fashion. For the encore, Phish brought out special guest The Dude of Life to sing “Crimes of the Mind,” which was a good but not great encore.

After the show, my friend Bryan Forero, who had just attended his first Phish show, told me that he was hooked. Having not listened to Phish much in the past, he was blown away by the musicianship and improvisational skills of the band. All four members of the band, Trey, Mike, keyboardist Page McConnell and drummer Jon Fishman were on top of their game. You cannot help but be drawn into the jams that Phish throws at you every time you see them. My friend Matt and I drove home exhausted after the show, but the fact that we were seeing the band the next night kept us awake.

The second show in Philly blew the first night away. “Wilson” started things off as only it can, and a funky “Cars Trucks Buses” kept the crowd grooving. They got right back into it with “Limb by Limb.” We could tell that we were in for another awesome first set. “Dirt” followed, along with a great “Seven Below,” which was a highlight of the show. The fun continued with a 16-minute “Divided Sky,” a melodic yet rocking favorite that completely absorbed the crowd. “Fast Enough for You” came next, and finally “Julius,” which left everyone very pleased at the end of the set.

The second set, to put it simply, was insane. A sick segue from a 17-minute “Twist,” into “Simple,” followed by a solid “Taste,” had the Spectrum rocking hard. An incomplete version of Phish’s first song ever, “Makisupa Policeman,” led into a rare tune, “Buffalo Bill,” which was sung by special guest, Phish lyricist Tom Marshall. After this came what was possibly the highlight of both nights, “David Bowie.” This song had the crowd dancing harder than you can even imagine. When at a show, you find yourself dancing without even realizing it. There was not a single point during the three-hour show that I did not have a smile on my face. A short “Strange Design” followed Bowie, and the set ended with “Character Zero,” which is always a great song. The encore was a bit of a let down with “Friday,” although they played it well.

All in all, both nights were amazing. Mike and Page are much improved since the hiatus, and every time I see them, they continue to blow me away. Trey’s guitar still grabs ahold of you and won’t let go, and Fishman’s drums are right on every time. If you have never seen a show, it should be at the top of your list for future concerts. Every show is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and after seeing one, you cannot help but want to see every single one. The lights, the energy and, more than anything else, the music just takes you over. After these two shows, I am only looking forward to my next, and I am relieved to know that the band is back for real, and for good.