“It was many years ago now.”
When the band announced they would play the Hampton Coliseum, excitement rippled through the Phish community. The venue's small capacity of 13,500, plus general-admission seating and a standing-room floor, help foster an indescribable energy between the band and the crowd. Then there is the scene itself: the venue borders on ten hotels, a grocery store, a mall, and restaurants. Throw in stories from some of the most memorable Grateful Dead shows of the ’80s, and not even Thanksgiving weekend could keep me from attending this much-anticipated, historic Phish concert.
The band had played in Pittsburgh the night before, so we drove all night long (over four hundred miles and seven hours) to reach Hampton, VA, early in the morning. It was cold outside, and the scene was at an early calm. It appeared that many people had arrived the previous night, and probably had only gotten to bed a few hours earlier. Although there was a small vending scene during Fall ‘95, the weather did not help the situation. We spent little time in the lot because of the cold and opted to get good seats inside instead.
The show opened with the traditional version of “Poor Heart”, somewhat of a surprise since the previous two times on the tour they played a new, slower version of the song. “Poor Heart” segued into the always-trippy cover of the Beatles' “A Day In The Life”. I enjoyed “Billy Breathes”, as well as my first hybrid “Taste” and “Fog that Surrounds”. I really enjoy the vocal layers of these mixed versions. “Wolfman’s Brother” is short but fun. The set closes on a high note with a raging “Runaway Jim”.
Things continued to heat up in the second set with the recently revived “Timber Ho!”. Teases of the controversial “Mind Left Body Jam” can be heard in the opening minutes of the first jam. After the reprise lyrics, the song collapsed into a rare Gamehendge narration of “Kung”. This version is especially interesting because the band sing the lyrics slowly and without the usual cadence. The familiar closing lines, “Stand up on your feet and call ‘From the hills,’” really intensified the energy level between the crowd and the band.
The band then charged into “Mike’s Song”. Instead of bringing out the tramps, the band jammed an unusually long ten minutes on this section of the song. As Mike and Fish locked in and accentuated the beat, Page and Trey shared the spotlight with quick leads and creative interplay. Eventually, Page took a spotlight solo while Trey entertained himself playing his stand-up drum kit, a frequent situation in ’95. He then returned to the guitar and led the band into the short, composed reprise of the song. As soon as the band entered this second section of the song, a “Simple” sound appeared.
To everyone’s delight, Trey set down his guitar and walked over to the drums. The place erupted in cheers of the anticipation that Fishman would be coming to the front of the stage. What happened next was bizarre! Instead of stepping up to the microphone, Fishman walked over to Mike and took the bass from him. Mike then proceeded to pick up Trey’s guitar. The band jams out for a few minutes but have no success in developing anything concrete. The rotation continues and Fish is moved over to guitar. It appears that the object is to rotate Fishman straight across the stage. Another rotation lands Fish on piano, where the rest of the band eventually joins him. We would later learn this was Fishman’s concert debut on piano.
This is one of the best renditions of “Keyboard Cavalry”, an instrumental improvisation piece where all four members play keyboards. It was only played a handful of times in ’95, and this version is fast, extended, and focused. Astonishingly, the band is not satisfied ending things this way and return to their own instruments for another solid ten-minute jam closing out this one-of-a-kind “Mike’s Song”.
In a moment of confusion, the band came to the front of stage and performed two acoustic songs, “Two Dollar Bill” and “Blue and Lonesome”. They then returned to the keyboard theme with the lovely piano styling of “Strange Design”. The sandwich is finally topped with “Weekapaug Groove”, highlighted by the trademark rhythm style of Page.
A vibrant version of “Harry Hood” nearly closes out the set. Behind Trey’s chord progressions, the other three members methodically developed a complex conversation. The song reaches epic proportions when they explode over Trey, as he holds one note for multiple runs through the main musical sentence.
A perfectly harmonized “Ragtime Gal” follows, in what again appears to be the set closer. However, the band returned to their instruments again, this time to play a joke on the audience. The band proceeded to play the slower country-blues version “Poor Heart”. After the show opener, it was really fun hearing this version to close the show.
When the band returned for the encore, so did the joke. They began playing “Poor Heart” again, this one even slower. They abandon the song, but after about ten seconds they started another version even slower! While my friends and I understood the joke, more than a few people looked confused. After a brief pause, Page starts laughing and said, “Get it?” Trey then remarks, “Do you get it?” A smoking Fire closes out this historic night. The tapes can not describe the energy, excitement, and pure pleasure of being at this show.