Phish Fall Tour 2018 (Hampton Stays Alive)
Phish can be elusive, evasive and, even hard to catch but when they come anywhere in Virginia, you know the Phish Purist will be there. While I have only witnessed the Mothership take off for three nights in 2013, it was high time the boys returned to keep Hampton alive!
Phish began another Hampton run with “Strawberry Letter 23”, with very little stopping between “Blaze On”; Trey finally letting the guitar take a solo. “Blaze On” is always a welcome song from an album that I don’t find many songs that I truly like but live, they bring something new to each track. Phish would go far out into space after “Blaze On” they transitioned smoothly into, “Divided Sky” which was one for the ages and the crowd would light up the arena with lighters and more phone lights than I expected; technology in the smoking department evident. “Divided Sky” would continue full force with no holding back on this ending; Page bringing it on the keys. “Roggae” while slow, is still filled with improvisation, great transitions, build-ups, twist and, turns. “Sparkle” and “Undermind” were straightforward until the jamming out of “Undermind” into something new; Kurodo somehow using the lights to eat the band. “Meat“ seamlessly fits into this set list and “Rift” was off the charts with energy and exuberance. “Walk Away” ended one of the best first sets, I have heard from this band in quite sometime.
Opening the second set with my favorite Phish song, “Carini” I was too in rapture to comment on much of it. Let’s just say, it’s always my pleasure to witness this insane musical rollercoaster. “Carini” is truly a jam vehicle, trippy and psychedelic. “Sand” seemed to sift, in and out of melodic and dynamic statements. “Sand” was immaculate and “Golden Age” went far out into a nether jam. The Mothership exploded into the sky after “Golden Age” with one of the most impressive and eerie jams I have ever seen Phish perform. They would smoothly transition into “Twist” and “Mountains In The Mist” was one I was unfamiliar with. All of Hampton Coliseum rejoiced during “Meatstick.” “Split Open And Melt” became chaotic yet formulated, diving and distorting into the encore “The Lizards.” The trick was to surrender to the flow, always and forever. Looking ahead to night two, I could see some real jamming the likes of which will only be mentioned about in the Good Book! Trey would point over to my friend and me after the show and had someone deliver us personalized picks. Thanks Trey!
I was excited to get back into the venue and score a poster before finding a solid seat front and center. The sound up front on the rail is always great but the energy can sometimes be negative and very powerful. One woman, during the first nights performance, kept pushing and physically assaulting people who were, “in her face.” I personally prefer to have a great view of the light show and seat for my tuckus. During the pre-show, the crowd would do the wave all across the stadium, excited for the night to began, like a Major League Baseball game but with much less structure.
I had only hoped to hear a, “Funky Llama” one day, as Phish opened with this rare song to begin the evening. I’ve seen “Fuego” about 20 times and while it isn’t my favorite, there is always something to find appealing about it during a live performance. Phish would jam, “Fuego”, quietly transitioning into “Run Away Jim.” After this, the band would huddle up before beginning, “Bug.” This song is a bit slower but has some powerful lyrics. “Mound” picked things up significantly, I have only heard this song a few times live but this song should be played more often; it seems to allow for a lot of fluid and solid transition work. “Tela” is an intricate song but doesn’t get my blood pumping. “46 days” is always solid but this one immediately went into a jam, which was probably my favorite of the night. I could feel a “Fluffhead” coming on and the technical ability of that song alone is outstanding. The energy was through the roof, setting the Mothership off for a nice take off during the second set.
I sat wondering during set break if the Fab Four had blown their wad during the first set until, “First Tube” came out strong with an amazing build-up and crescendo into the much expected “Tweezer” which featured a long effervescent jam that was teetering on the edge of a heavy breakdown but instead slowly moved into “Dirt.” “Backwards Down The Number Line” was straightforward and “No Men In No Mans Land” had legs and was running for it. Two classics come next “Cavern” and “Gotta Jibbo.” “Oh Kee Pa Ceremony” transitioned straight into “Suzy Greenberg”, Page showing off during his solo. Lights flashing reminding me of the old boxing matches; flickering like tiny electric fireworks. Ending with a real tease and a groan heard round the Coliseum, the band would completely skip “Tweezer” and played some weak sauce ending. Oh well… onto night three.
“Stealing Time From The Faulty Plan” leads the third and final night of another Phish Hampton run. The Mothership invites us all in early, as the weather was a bit chilly. The Coliseum was packed to the gills and patrons really had to vie for seats this night. Not leaving us wanting more, “Stealing Time From The Faulty Plan” was on point and had great beginning energy. “Skin It Back” was next and this has been the year of Little Feat for me. “Skin It Back” featured very few mistakes and a rousing climax. “Brian and Robert” was just slow, even if it had my name in it. Thank goodness it was short and totally redeemed by “Timber.” The lights again enveloping the band and rising up like the mast of a ship. “Simple” was wild, with a great transition into a short, “Mexican Cousin.” “Camel Walk” was funky and well done; Trey using hand motions to lead the band into an extensive jam. The funky “Camel Walk” was absolutely the best I’ve ever heard; tight and edgy. “Back On The Train” moved up and down into “Saw It Again” which was hard and dark. Phish really perfecting themselves and letting it all hang out like 90s jam but with more technique and experience.
“Waves” was an appropriate second set opener for being so close to the water. The song would go immediately into jam territory and encapsulated many of the darker moments of the evening. I don’t think I have ever heard “Rise/Come Together”, is it a sexual reference? “Light” was pretty straightforward, slow and methodical but it wasn’t about the song but the improv in between. Coming to a grinding halt they transferred into an alternative jam but then flopped into “The Line” which actually had some ass behind it; I still just don’t like the song. This is where the show seems to take a nosedive. “Wingsuit” was another slow tune that could be good but is this another sexually referenced song? Very theatrical and sounds a lot like Pink Floyd but with more notes. What really threw me for a loop was the “My Pet Cat” when we all thought it would be, “Martian Monster.” “My Pet Cat” was funky but not long enough. “What’s The Use?” What the use in this song? “Possum” was a great closer for the first set but Phish would return for some other song and then take a bow. Many of the patrons were on their way out when the band returned for “YEM” bringing out the trampolines and doing a vocal instrumental at the end.
There is just something about Hampton Coliseum and the history behind the venue itself. Not only has Phish made some historic runs but the Grateful Dead made it famous for changing their name back to The Warlocks after being banned, just to perform here. The sound in Hampton isn’t the best buts it’s loud and the entire venue shakes with intensity. Having an entire GA arena is much different and has its complications but for the most part, if you are nice, you can get anywhere in the venue. This run will be one for the ages and while it’s no, ‘Hampton Comes Alive’ the Coliseum certainly felt vibrant and full of life to me. Friday was by far the best day of the weekend although; Sundays first set was close on its heels. I am always impressed with what Phish can do when they are on and wonder why they can’t capture that every performance? There were times when it felt as though, they were ripping at the seams of time itself; using each other’s sound to tear a hole in our universe. There is something to say about a band that can melt time. Phish can be highly accessible as well, I saw many of the ushers and security people dancing and having a good time; I even witnessed the Hampton PD enjoying themselves and even though the Police aren’t my people, it was cool to witness all walks of life enjoying good music. It felt good to be back in saddle, back on the train and doing it all again with my great friends and Phamily. All my friends go backwards down the number line!
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Editor: Robert (R.A.) Fadley
Freelance Writer, Musicologist, Music Journalist, Music Critic, Music Writer, Author, Musician, Singer-songwriter, Composer, Guitarist.