March 8th, 2009 was the third and final night of Phish’s comeback run at The Mothership in Hampton, Virginia, and while this show was really great on it’s own merits* (they played a bunch of my goto Phish favourites like Maze, My Friend, Slave To The Traffic Light and perhaps especially Contact, not to mention a couple of really great covers: While My Guitar Gently Weeps and George Jones’ She Thinks I Still Care) their first post-hiatus show from two days previously had so much going on I’m going to use this space to add a couple of stories about that night instead.
First of all, on that first night m’lady succeeded in one of the greatest sneak-it-ins I’ve ever seen up close. As she was getting patted down and having her purse inspected by security she had a jean jacket slung over her arm. She had tied up the end of one of the jacket sleeves and inserted into the arm of said sleeve an enormous magnum of champagne. With gritted teeth and subtle movements she slung that jacket around like it didn’t weigh ten pounds and scooted right through security with me right on her heels.
We ended up sitting in a corner section with a bunch of her friends and just before the lights went down she popped that bottle of champagne with a loud, unmistakable champagne pow! that sent the cork soaring towards the roof of the coliseum until it almost hit one of the twenty or so hugely oversized balloons that were hung from the ceiling.
I’m really glad the cork didn’t pierce one of those big balloons because they almost stole the show. Phish’s lightguy Chris Kuroda (CK5) had bright multicoloured lights pointed at each of the giant dangling orbs and he incorporated them into his light show brilliantly, creating an utterly unique visual experience that suited the short venue perfectly.
Early in the first set I went for a quick bathroom run. On my way back up to my seat I spotted a lonely merch table that sold only posters. It was a really cool poster that showed the Hampton Coliseum being pulled underwater by some multi-tentacled beast and they had it in three colours, one for each night of the run.
Hmm. I have always been a sucker for merch (t-shirts mostly) that has a specific date on it so I was intrigued. I had heard a bit about this Pollock guy who did posters for Phish and that they often sold for a heady profit. I assumed (wrongly) that these posters were by Pollock and bought my two favourite colour variations.
I ended up framing the blue one (it’s on my wall to this day) and selling the other to the couple that was travelling with us (at cost), but most importantly this purchase is what started me into being a bit of a poster-geek. Sure, I don’t usually line up for posters, but I generally buy them whenever one is available (often whether I like them or not, so obsessive am I. Gosh, I have one Mike Gordon poster from Higher Ground that is so horrendously ugly; so inhumanly amateur…it astounds me to this day that I bought it. But it seemed such a great deal for only $20US…).
I recall with retrospective horror being in someones hotel room after the show when they asked if they could see the poster. “Sure,” I said, and I happily went about pulling and tugging and wrenching on the poster inflicting untold creases and nicks trying to get it out of the tube. I was going at it with such wanton ferocity that the friend was telling me – begging me – to please stop. “I don’t really need to see it that bad.” But I did get it out.
Back at the show, (again, the first night, not the one that this ticket is actually for) Phish played their epic You Enjoy Myself (after a false start) to close out the second set, a song that tends to really throw the spotlight on the spotlights. During the vocal jam at the end of the song CK5’s lights combined with the eerie vocal improv and became downright frightening. I recall the stage being lit with only darkness and blinding white lights that flashed in a way that made them seem to move in directions that they couldn’t possibly have been moving.
In fact, the next night I happened to be near the light board and just before the setbreak ended I saw CK5 come out to man his station and I strolled over. Standing at the metal barrier I called out, “Hey Chris! Chris!” until he looked over with a questioning nod.
“Hey man, last night when you landed that one airplane on top of that other airplane during You Enjoy Myself, well, that really freaked me out,” I yelled.
That made him laugh. He smiled at me and nodded, and held up his index finger as if to say “watch this”. At exactly that moment the house lights went down to start the second set and he went back to work. To date it’s the only time I’ve ever spoken to him.
Which is too bad because (I’ll say it again) CK5 is one of the main reasons I keep coming back to see this band. The guy is just so darn creative. Take for example those huge balloons hanging from the ceiling. Midway through the encore the band started playing Bouncing Around The Room and didn’t that CK5 guy press a button that released those massive balloons from the roof and had them fall droopingly onto the crowd. Gosh, it was so beautiful.
Of course the intention was that the balloons would proceed to bounce around the room during the song but can you believe people were purposely popping them?!? With mine own eyes I saw people grab at the balloons and intentionally rip holes in them, ruining the whole gag. I think the problem was they were obstructing the view of the patrons on the floor, who were either unaware of or unconcerned with how cool the whole thing looked to the rest of us up in the bowl.
It was still pretty supercool though, but it sure could have been supercooler.
And finally, I can tell you I was overall very impressed with the small beloved coliseum itself. It felt like I was seeing a concert inside a UFO.
*As a matter of fact, I gotta call the first set of this third night the second-best pile of music of the weekend, second only to the first night’s second set, which comes first. Overall the weekend was a great show sandwiched between two unbelievable shows, though I would accept many arguments to the contrary. Bottom line is Phish worked hard to meet some very high expectations, and they easily surpassed them.
All in all the band delivered a spectacular triduum of music and (with the help of we, their fans) sponsored a helluva good time over three nights in Hampton, and they proved that they can be at least the band they once were, perhaps even more. But most importantly Trey, Mike, Page, and Fishman (and CK5) left little doubt that we may just have Phish as a permanent distraction again again. And the fans seemed willing to keep up their end of the bargain.
Welcome back everyone!