, attached to 2003-07-25

Review by Anonymous

(Published in the second edition of The Phish Companion...)

We drove into Charlotte from Tampa, Florida the day before the show, with five of us crammed in a Toyota. Despite the close quarters, everyone was pretty excited. This would be my first show since Greensboro in March, and my first amphitheater show since the "Crosseyed Antelope" West Palm Beach show from the fall of 1996. My anticipation pulsed from within. I love the build-up to a show.
Upon waking up in the hotel on the day of the show, the television was flipped on and there were the dead bodies of Uday and Qusay Hussein. I silently raged at the idea that pictures of the dead bodies of people that the US Army had hunted down and killed would be provided by the government to the media for ceremonial display over the national airwaves. Is this a sick country or what? All of my excitement drained from me for a moment, and I had to remind myself where I was. A decision was quickly reached to turn off the TV, get some lunch and scout out the venue. Why focus on all the negativity? I saw no reason to, and off we went.
After killing the day around Charlotte and trying to avoid television, we finally parked at the Verizon Wireless Amphitheater at around 5:00 PM. Gates were still closed so my group found some shade, munched a snack and listened to a crisp "My Soul" sound check from under some trees. It sounded great, and my excitement returned. I get a little impatient, and I could not wait for the show to start.
I was inside pretty quickly once the gates finally opened. On the inside, the amphitheater looked exactly like the West Palm Beach venue from `96. I had an idea that my seat was good, but no online seating chart could prepare me for the reality of fifteen row, center. Dead center. These were not only the best seats I had ever had at a Phish show; these were the best seats I had ever had for any show, period. As the sun beat down on my back, an agonizing wait ensued.
The section in front of the stage was slow to fill, and when the band took the stage I was shocked to see them. I thought the place was empty, until I turned around and realized that it was only the rows in front of me that were empty. Behind me was the typical Phish madhouse.
The band kicked into the "Funky Bitch" opener and we were off and dancing. At fifteen rows back dead center with no one standing in front of you for several rows, it really looks like Trey is starring right at you. My companions all felt that Trey was looking at them as well. Although I understand that Trey was looking at everyone in the arena and no one in particular, it does help illustrate one of the "secrets" of Phish's success: they seem to be playing to all of us all of the time.
Another oft-discussed "secret" of Phish's success is the unpredictable nature of each show. I had a "Chalk Dust" opener at my first show, as had two people I was with. This was one friend's first show, so naturally we were all calling a "Chalk Dust" opener. When "Funky Bitch" started, I laughed and forgot all about "Chalk Dust""...until they went into it next! A double opener. This was followed by "Two Versions of Me", a new ballad that sucked the life out of the venue. Not a bad song, but after the explosive release of the first two songs, I wasn't ready for a breather.
A really good "Bathtub Gin" and a solid "Limb By Limb" provided the jammy meat of the set. The set closer of "Golgi"  "Character Zero" had me smiling. What better way to close a set that began with a double opener? During "Zero", I couldn't hear Trey sing the chorus because the crowd had drowned him out. All in all, a very good Set I.
During set break, while on a non-moving line for water I met a hysterical guy from Atlanta who rolled through ten minutes of stand up comedy while clutching a balloon he had caught. His standard refrain: "This is my first Phish show! I just can't handle it!" After finally getting some water I got back to my seat just as set two began.
Ah, set two. The triple double. Set two in Charlotte is the reason I go to Phish shows. How do you open a set that has it all? A rocking "Drowned"  "Kung", that's how. I must admit, "Kung" had me pretty confused until my brother, perhaps seeing the confusion on my face, leaned over and clued me in. After the intense drama of the set openers, the band kept up the energy with a tight "Twist"  "Heavy Things". At this point I didn't think the band could top what had already occurred during the show, but I was excited to see what they would try next.
At some point during Set II, Trey started talking to Mike. After a minute of this, Trey burst into hysterical laughter. Someone had a good idea. That idea: a set closing segue of "Harry Hood"  "David Bowie". The "Hood" in particular was a monster. Thirty minutes of complete insanity. At times during the "Hood" I felt the universe open up a little bit, the sound of the music tearing through the thin veil of reality. This built to an out of control, tear the shed down ending, with Fishman's "Bowie" intro emerging from the Chaos. At the moment that "Bowie" kicked in, I thought of the guy from set break. I was about to explode, so I really hoped he was okay. The "Bowie" was a suitably rocking version, although nowhere near as devastating as the "Hood". As the song reached its peak and the band began the start/stop part at the end, I was amazed to see the effect the music was having on the audience. From complete stillness to absolute bedlam in the time it takes Fishman to hit a snare drum. A great end to a great set.
In between the end of the set and the encore someone brought out the a cappella mics and I was pissed. I knew that "Carolina" would emerge, and I feared it was going to become standard issue at all Carolina shows. Of course, I can be an idiot sometimes, and when the band came out and started an a cappella "Star Spangled Banner" I felt like a dope. "Bug" followed, and as the song progressed I couldn't help but make a connection between the encore and the news of the morning. The national anthem followed by a song with lines like "it doesn't matter". Phish managed to remind me that if you focus on the negative, you never see the positive. There is a lot right going on all around us, even if the TV news can't see it.
On the slow walk out of the amphitheater I looked around and wondered what it would be like to leave a show in a crowd three times the size of the group in Charlotte and then all go camp together. My next show would be IT, and IT was only a week away. If the "Harry Hood" was any indication, traveling to Maine would be well worth it.


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