Friday, September 30, 2011

The best two-set Phish show – Hampton 11/22/97

Hampton Coliseum, November 22, 1997 - widely considered to the best two-set Phish show. Focused, exploratory, creative, nuanced.

Starting with an out of left field Mike’s Song that departs from its normal structure into a monstrous jam you can lose yourself in, transitioning to the tranquil I am Hydrogen, and finally merging into a precise stop/start version of Weekapaug.  I don't know of a show with a better opening segment.  Mike's>H>'Paug takes well over thirty minutes and when the band finally pauses briefly to decide on the next song, the crowd takes an opportunity to respond with deafening applause.  The next choice – Harry Hood – was a surprise for many.  Its placement in the middle of the 1st set was an indication that the band meant business on this night, as if that wasn't already apparent from the jaw dropping playing that preceded it.  Hood builds to peaks that don’t seem possible.  Close to an hour into the set, the bar is now so high that it’s downhill from here – in a good way – as the band glides into two of its mellower original numbers (Train Song and Billy Breathes) before finishing the set with two classic rock covers:  Edgar Winter’s Frankenstein and Jimi Hendrix’s Izabella.
The 2nd set began with the crowd trying to organize a group request for the rarely played Destiny Unbound.  Trey seemed to not understand what was being said and jokingly likened it to a cannibalistic chant, questioning whether human sacrifice had now become a part of the show.  Instead of Destiny Unbound the band kicked off the 2nd set with Halley’s Comet, starting off a run of songs that topped even the energy and direction of the first set.  If Mike’s>Hydrogen>Weekapaug, Hood to start the show was the appetizer, then Halley’s>Tweezer>Black Eyed Katy, Piper, Antelope is the main course.  When Trey finally says the lyrics “Set the gearshift for the highgear of your soul” at the end of Antelope, the audience echoes this command with a resounding affirmation that runs deeper than this review can transmit.

To try and convey the brainy throwdown that went at this show, imagine W.B. Yeats, C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien and James Joyce sitting in a cozy pub around a peat fire, strong drink in hand, conversing about the existence of God (while James Brown crashes the party), and you'll begin to understand the equivalent in musical conversation that went on between the four members of Phish on this night in Hampton.  While we are dwelling on that…the band comes back out for the encore.  With lights perfectly cued, Phish plays Bouncin' Around the Room, one of their most catchy and accessible songs, and follows it with Tweezer Reprise, putting some closure on this night that doesn't want to end.

Set I: Mike's Song > I am Hydrogen >  Weekapaug Groove, Harry Hood, Train Song, Billy Breathes, Frankenstein, Izabella
Set II: Halley's Comet > Tweezer > Black-Eyed Katy, Piper, Run Like An Antelope
Encore: Bouncing Around the Room, Tweezer Reprise


Stream from Sugar Megs

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