I arrived in Winston-Salem with my friend, Tom, about three hours before show time. We got lost on our way to the Coliseum and wound up taking some back roads into the parking lot.
The lot scene was a lot different than most that I have experienced. I didn't see a single nitrous tank (thank goodness!). There was a great amount of fun going on, though. I bought a grilled cheese sandwich from some guys from Auburn and stopped for a minute to check out the newlywed couple that was taking in their first show as husband and wife; the groom was still wearing his tuxedo! We checked out the drum circles and a few other musicians, as well as some bootleg T-shirts. I finally saw and met Antelope Greg, which was fun.
We didn't even try for the floor; I had a feeling that it would be way too chaotic. We settled into the section where the Greenpeace table was on Fishman's side and got ready for the show. As with most Phish concerts, I ran into some friends that I haven't seen in a while. The atmosphere was electric and the crowd was pumped. No doubt, those in attendance who weren't at Hampton had been briefed on how awesome the shows were, so everyone's expectations were high.
On to the show"..."My Soul" opened up and was fun. Long solos and a good warm-up. Theme was next, and I will never get sick of this song. Typically great "Theme" jam, which built nicely. At the end of "Theme", during the "wall of noise," Trey walked around the stage and signaled something to Mike and Fish. Out of the dissonance they broke into this fat, groovy jam that I figured had to be "Black-Eyed Katy".
Wow! I can't say anything else about this song. I'd like to say that it has "great potential" but it is already starting to realize it! "Sparkle" followed. Even though it wasn't my first choice of a song, it kept the crowd in a frenzy. A strong, solid "Twist Around" (my first) came next. I like this song a lot; anyone else get the feeling that it would sound awesome with horns?
Here is where the set took a huge left turn. The boys broke into "Stash", but it was more like the "`Stash of Death'," or the "Great Black `Stash'." The jam was more evil and dark and brooding than anything I have ever heard this band play. They played a bit with tempos and textures but always managed to maintain a strong, evil, dark theme. At one point, they were all locked into a group-groove jam and Chris turned off all of the lights except for a real thick purple. Slowly, he threw on some bright yellow darts behind them, which pierced through the purple veil. It was at this moment that I stopped dancing, shook my head, and realized once again that this band will never cease to amaze me, musically or visually.
After a while, Trey started strumming some familiar chords. I screamed out "NICU!" but Trey didn't seem to hear me! He hit the chords a few more times and I started to give up, figuring it was merely a tease. The band locked in, though, and segued beautifully into an outstandingly tight "NICU". "Fluffhead" followed. I hate to say it, but this was a pretty bad "Fluffhead". The entire composed section between "Clod" and "Bundle of Joy" was flubbed awfully. They made up for it with an awfully strong "Arrival," though, which Trey majestically tore through. At this point, I figured the set was over, but they treated us to a nice "Character Zero" to close.
The second set, though, was the absolute meat. I was hoping for a "2001" opener for my friend Tom, but I was more than glad to hear "Bathtub Gin". The jam will knock those liquor bottles off of your shelves! The jam started out like a normal "Gin" jam for several minutes until Fishman challenged the band and kicked in the tempo. The jam rose into a frenzy and went on for a long time. I wish I could describe it, but I probably couldn't do it justice. Rather than feature a lot of individual soloing, it featured band-based chordal jamming that played with tempo and a bit of syncopation. At one point, the style and situation were perfect for a segue into "Crosseyed and Painless", but it didn't happen.
The jam started to dissolve and Trey cued up Mike. Out of the fuzz came the "Disease" bass line. This "Disease" smoked as well! Again, the jam was very band-based as opposed to individually dominated. Out of the jam came the "Low Rider" theme in a different key than the original version. I figured it was just a nice tease and it made me smile, but Trey started singing! Then he stopped and cued up Fishman, who swung his mic around and picked up the vocals. After the "take a little trip" lyrics, the band launched into a "Low Rider" jam. From there, Trey started picking up the tempo, and we were suddenly back into the swirling "Disease" ending jam! They stretched it out for another few minutes and then told us they were on their way.
How could they top this? "Bold as Love"! Good-gawd! Chris's lights didn't disappoint, matching the lyrics of the song with bright, punchy colors. I'll never forget the smile that came over my face when those yellow lights came up during the second verse, and then the bright rainbow appeared over the stage. Beautiful vocals from Page and some searing guitar work from Trey closed out the second set.
The "Julius" encore was rocking. I think this song is the perfect encore; it keeps everyone dancing and sends everyone home with a smile. As usual, Trey kicked ass and slowly brought the jam up to infinite levels of happy soloing, and I left with a huge smile on my face. There was a group of fans on the floor and in the bottom seats off Page's side, and Trey looked like he was playing directly to them.
On the way out, we were stuck in a huge traffic jam. Suddenly, we saw the street that we had taken on the way in"...the "wrong" way! It turned out to be a great find, because there was no one else on it. We zipped out of the traffic and started on our way home, quite fulfilled after another stellar show.