This ticket marks a significant blip on my life trajectory. Basically, there is life before March 6th, 2009 and life after March 6th, 2009. I’m not saying that life began on this date for me, not by a longshot, but the return of Phish has certainly had a measurable effect on my life, and I guess I have m’lady to thank for that.
Before we met I considered myself a Phish fan. I had seen the band about twenty times starting in ’94, and some of the shows I saw were pretty legendary. Heck, despite the fact that I knew m’lady had about a hundred Phish shows under her belt including tours of Europe and Japan I figured we were both fans, just to varying degrees. Phish broke up a year before m’lady and I met and this concert marked their reunion; before this show I had never known her and the band to co-exist.
And I was about to find out that we were not fans “to varying degrees”. This show, this weekend, and over the course of the band’s first year back I would come to learn that as far as Phish fandom was concerned m’lady and I weren’t even the same species.
When we arrived in Hampton, Virginia it was like a whirlwind. While I started to unwind after the long drive from Ottawa m’lady started punching numbers into the phone in our room at the Hampton Inn (yes, we stayed at the Hampton Inn in Hampton) and before you knew it we were back in the car and on the prowl.
Amazingly enough it was me who spotted Jess and Frank on the side of the road from just a verbal description – I had never met either of them before. The four of us went for drinks at an Applebees or some such place and I made new friends while m’lady caught up with old ones.
Soon enough we whisked off to someone’s hotel room for more handshakes, hugs and introductions before heading off to another for more of the same. I must have met thirty of m’lady’s American Phish friends before the show, many of which I am good friends with today.
Standing in line to get into the show seemed like the first time I actually got to relax since getting to town. Someone was pushing a cooler down the row of people so I bought a couple of beers. So did the kids behind us in line. Noticing the beers weren’t twist-offs they asked me if I had a bottle opener. I handed them a lighter.
“Um, no, we don’t need a lighter, we need a bottle opener,” the guy said, eyeing me suspiciously. Of course I grabbed the guy’s beer and quickly opened it with the lighter and handed it back. The guy looked at me like I had just done magic.
“Holy cow! Hey guys…guys…check this out!” the guy yelped. “”Here, can you do it again?” he asked me, handing another bottle towards me. “Watch this!” he said excitedly, poking his friends.
And to a man, every one of them were flabbergasted by my beer-popping wizardry skills. I couldn’t believe they had never seen the open-a-beer-with-a-lighter thing before. I’ve been watching my dad open beers with everything from lighters to a seatbelt buckles as far back as I can remember.
Inside the Mothership (as Phish fans lovingly refer to the Hampton Coliseum) the anticipation was mounting. To say the show was sold out was an understatement. Thousands upon thousands of serious concert fans had been waiting five years for this night and those of us that made it in knew we were in for something epic.
And when the lights went down, the epic began.
The roar of the crowd was really quite incredible; it was a sustained thrust of thankful joy screamed at the band from every seat and it sounded glorious. I couldn’t believe that 9,500 people making that much noise could get any louder but when Phish played the first notes of their opener Fluffhead the fans went momentarily nuts.
Y’see, when the band called it quits at their Coventry festival the weekend of concerts had been one musical trainwreck after another. The fact is Trey was too messed up (both at the festival and in general) to play any of his intricate composed guitar parts with any accuracy whatsoever (though I remember his improvised jamming from Coventry having some definite highlights). In short, the weekend was a musical disaster. And now here it was a half-decade later and the band confidently launched their return with Fluffhead – one of their most beloved composed masterpieces – an epic journey of a song with more than it’s fair share of intricacies and hairpin turns.
This was the band’s way of telling us, “We’re back, we’ve practiced, we’re confident, and everything’s gonna be okay.” And if that wasn’t enough they played Divided Sky for the next number, another conglomerate of deftly played snippets wrapped up in a joyous one-line singalong.
When Phish followed up with their straight-up rocker Chalkdust Torture the crowd seemed to calm down and settle into the groove. I did too, and it’s a groove I’ve found myself in ever since.
Since then I would see the band about a hundred more times. Every tour announcement since this Hampton run has been pored over and scrutinized and applied to our own lives and vacation plans whenever possible. Show rumours invariably precede a flurry of online hotel bookings “just in case” while flights are sourced. So yeah, things are quite a bit different since this concert. Sure, life before the return of Phish was simpler and much cheaper but it involved a lot less Phish concerts, and Phish concerts are fun.
And they’ve only gotten more fun since I started going to them with my in-house superfan.
And while I still find myself flailing along far behind m’lady in the Phish fan category I have to admit I’m really starting to get into these guys.