While the era formerly known as post-hiatus Phish (now known as Phish 2.0) has come and gone, a lot of resentment, bitter feelings, and even hatred exists as a result of what occurred in the period from New Year’s Eve 2002 through the last notes of Coventry on 6/15/04. While I have never been one to run off on tour with the band, I have seen and listened to enough shows to know that this period wasn’t the wasteland that many people make it out to be.
I went to 4 shows during the hiatus. The first show was February 28, 2003 at the Nassau Coliseum on Long Island. This show was solid from start to finish. The audience seemed to just move the band and kept them going. They busted out “Destiny Unbound” (first time since 1991, 788 shows), completely unexpectedly during the first set. When they did that, the crowd went so crazy I couldn’t hear the beginning of the song. There was some great jamming in “Bathtub Gin” and “Back on the Train”. The second set had another bust out with “Soul Shakedown Party” along with solid jamming in “Tweezer”, “David Bowie”, and “Harry Hood”.
My second Phish 2.0 show was actually see from the comforts of the Regal Cinema in Branford, CT. Sometime after the band announced their Summer 2004 tour, they decided to call it quits. I had already been planning to see them at Great Woods (at the time, aka Tweeter Center). They then announced that the tour opener on June 17 from Coney Island would be simulcast to theatres across the country. So my 2 cousins and I decided to check it out. You know what? We had such a blast that we consider it as seeing the show. The vibe in the theatre was the same as we would have gotten at the actual show without the rain. People were dancing, bouncing beach balls around, and even tailgating in the parking lot and playing frisbee out there prior to going in. The show was solid, opening with a great “A Song I Heard the Ocean Sing”. It had a perfect “The Curtain With” (unlike Coventry where they totally butchered it). The “Kung” was hilarious, dedicated to the US Open, which was being played elsewhere on the island. They closed the first set with a sick “Frankenstein”. The “Divided Sky” encore was a great end to the show.
As the tour went on, time passed by and we ended up in Mansfield, MA for the August 10 and 11 shows at Great Woods. We arrived late to the first show and got in during the “AC/DC Bag” jam. The show was solid start to finish with a great “Mike’s Groove”, which included an explanation of when they wrote “Weekapaug Groove” on the beach in Rhode Island (!!!!) and about the guy for whom they wrote several songs, including “A Song I Heard the Ocean Sing”. While the “Dog Face Boy” and “Friday” were really mellow, I really enjoyed the break in the set. It offered a nice respite for the great “Harry Hood” that followed.
We made it to the second show early and tailgated. I should explain that I went to these 2 shows with a guy I met through PCP who had moved to RI and bought my extras (I was planning on going alone). It was fun meeting someone new and hanging out with them for the 2 shows. The second show is a must-listen show, pretty much start to finish. They opened with a very solid “Divided Sky” and the first set was solid straight through. During “Scent of a Mule” in the jam, they broke into “Tears of a Clown”. No one in the band knew the lyrics. So they did what any sane band would do and pulled someone up from the audience to sing it. She did a great job, as nervous as she was. The biggest downer to the show was the “Mexican Cousin” that closed the first set. The second set opened with a jammin’ “Run Like an Antelope” that they played for about 15 minutes without finishing and segued into “2001” which then segued into a great “Golgi Aparatus”. The slowed things down for just a bit and started “Waves”, which had a great jam and segue to a very dark “Tweezer” that had a sick segue to “Hold Your Head Up” with Trey playing the actual song on guitar before the band broke out into their fun ditty with Fishman coming out to play the vacuum and do Syd Barrett’s “Terrapin”. Following the final HYHU, Trey asks Page and Mike to hold off. He then tells a story about how he and Fishman would do double drum solos together in the practice rooms at Goddard College and asks Fishman to do one with him then and have Page and Mike start the next song. The double drum solo was awesome and the ensuing “Timber (Jerry the Mule)” was dark and solid. They closed the set with a great “Sample in a Jar”. The encore brought us back to earth with “Bouncin’ Around the Room” and a great “Tweezer Reprise” to end the show.
While that may end the description of the shows I actually saw during this time, that’s not the end of the list for great shows from the post-hiatus, Phish 2.0 era. The show from July 29, 2003 at Star Lake in Burgettstown, PA was supposed to be a sleeper show, but was most definitely not. One only needs to check out the setlist (you may have to scroll for it, the anchor tags aren’t working) from that show to realize just how much of a gem it really is. Best of all, you can buy it on CD from Dry Goods. There’s also the highlight of post-hiatus Phish that is IT, the third festival they held in Limestone, ME on August 2 and 3 of 2003.
That’s all I can come up with off the top of my head in writing this piece. I remember hearing that the Miami NYE run in 2003 was also solid, but I have yet to listen to those.
Now, all this being said, there was more poor playing on the part of the band than there was good playing. This was especially true for Trey. The band had very obviously cut down on rehearsal time. They didn’t practice as often between tours. They were generally less refined than they had been previously, and it showed. Trey’s drug problems became obvious at times as he often looked like a mess on stage. He did an interview with Charlie Rose to explain the reasons behind the breakup, and while he tried to sound fine, he didn’t look all that great. It was obvious that his heart just wasn’t in it. The announcement of the breakup, while surprising many of us who had been following them since before the hiatus, wasn’t completely heartbreaking. They released one of their worst received studio albums with Undermind, though it does have its gems. I’m one to actually enjoy their studio stuff, especially the well-produced albums. This one just doesn’t do a whole lot for me with the exception of several songs. With every other album, I was able to get into most of it and stay into it. This one, for some reason, did not have that effect. Trey’s poppy song-writing had pushed into Phish and it wasn’t good.
On the message boards from the time they mentioned the breakup and even after Coventry, the fans were unsure of how to react. Many were downright pissed at the band for just getting up and leaving. Many were putting all the blame on Trey and his drug problems. Many were sad. And then there were those of us who kind of understood. We had been through the hiatus and seen their sloppy return. We understood when Trey said that he didn’t want the band to become a caricature of themselves. He was right. That’s what had been happening throughout the post-hiatus period. There was a commonality in those who hated the band for breaking up. They seemed to be younger fans who either had just gotten into Phish right before they went on hiatus or didn’t get into them until the hiatus or even after they had come back. They hadn’t had the chance to experience Phish in their prime. They hadn’t seen the whole downfall of America’s greatest jamband. Now, I apologize for the generalizing, but that’s how it was. There were, of course, older fans who placed the blame on Trey. And he did have a problem and was a big reason for the breakup. However, Page tried to put out some of the flames. He explained that Trey wasn’t the only one feeling that way about the band. It turned out that Mike was the only one who wanted to continue on. It all came down to something that the band had always agreed on. If one of them wasn’t into it anymore, the band would stop. That’s exactly what happened. I have no resentment or illwill towards the band. They did what they had to do at the time. It was time to enjoy what little we had left of them.
I already described my experiences with the regular shows during the summer tour. My Coventry (mis)adventure deserves its own post. That will be the next part of this series.