Friday, October 11, 2013

My Five Favorite Phish Shows (Among the ones I’ve seen)

I’ve been a fan of Phish for 20 good solid years.  Without bothering to figure out the exact total, I’d estimate that I’ve seen Phish about 45 times since 1994, maybe more, but not since 2011.  In honor of the fact that I’ll be seeing Phish again for the first time in more than 2 years when they return to Hampton next weekend, I’ve compiled this list of my five favorite Phish shows, of the ones I’ve seen.

This is a highly subjective list with much more emphasis on my recollection of how I felt about the show at the time, rather than based on an analysis of how it might have held up since then or in comparison to other performances.

12/31/95 – Madison Square Garden, New York City
This was the first and only time I saw Phish at MSG.  12/31/95 is well-documented by fans as being one of the best shows Phish has ever played, possibly the best show they had played up to that point.  I would agree with that, as I felt like I was witnessing Rock N’ Roll history at the time.  I distinctly remember there being a dog inside the venue and its owner saying something like “yeah, this is like my dog’s seventh show”, which took me aback because the dog had seen more shows than me.  At the end of the 3rd set I turned to the normal looking woman on my left and exclaimed “you might think it’s over but it ain’t over!”.  Not sure what I meant by that because the house lights were on and the show was definitely over.

11/22/97 – Hampton Coliseum, Hampton, VA
I went to both nights at Hampton that November, 11/21 and 11/22/97, and either one could have legitimately made my all-time top 5.  I chose the 2nd night because I remember thinking it was slightly better than the night before.  The way they really take things out there, like on Mike’s Song, Weekapaug, and especially during Halley’s Comet, is the stuff that made Fall 1997 such a legendary tour.  If this isn’t the pinnacle of their playing, it’s pretty darn close.  When they broke into Bouncin’ for the encore, instead of being cynical about it, I was truly loving that song as much as anything I had ever heard before.  I walked out of that show saying “if you didn’t like that (meaning the whole show) then you don’t like Phish!”

9/25/00 – Sandstone Amphitheater, Bonner Springs, KS
This show is memorable because my wife and I saw it during our honeymoon, although it was kind of a bizarro honeymoon because we hadn’t gotten married yet.  We did elope a few days later at the Vegas shows, but were celebrating our honeymoon in advance while in Kansas City.  Imagine trying to explain that around the morning table at the bed and breakfast we stayed at.  I recall going to a winery before the show, then later drinking that fancy wine directly out of the bottle in the parking lot and sharing it with some Phishy wooks we were hanging out with that day.  The show opened with the Beatles song Everybody’s Got Something to Hide Except for Me and My Monkey, which I believe is the only time it has ever been played outside of the White Album Halloween ’94 set.  It was pretty cold that night, but we claimed some “seats” near the front of the stage, so it was warm up there.  Not sure how others regard this show, but I liked it a lot.

3/1/03 – Greensboro Coliseum, Greensboro, NC
This was one of those magical nights where every note from start to finish seemed spotless.  You can blame it on a wicked combination of glowsticks and milk stout.  Perfect song selection and song order, nice mixture of tempos, moods and structure.  I recall, even as early as 2003, going into the show with doubts as to whether Phish was still capable of playing great shows like those of yore (you know - the 90’s), as well as wondering if they did play one of those golden shows would I even be able to recognize it as such?  Those concerns were allayed by this masterful performance.  Looking back now at the setlist, it belies the force within.

3/6/09 – Hampton Coliseum, Hampton, VA
The “comeback” show.  There was a distracting nervous energy surrounding this event which almost prevented me from including it in the top 5.  I can still feel the overwhelming adrenaline rush that everyone in Hampton Coliseum seemed to simultaneously exude, as Phish began playing the opening notes of Fluffhead to start the show.  It was an instant statement of confidence and reassurance that can’t really be expressed in words, but that we all intuitively absorbed.  My memories of this show are a little spotty, too much pre-show drinking away the butterflies, but Phish came out with something to prove and prove it they did.  Phish was back…maybe not better than ever, but still better than anybody else.

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