HAMPTON, Virginia — If, in 20 year's time, you're ever asked, the answer is "Fluffhead." That's the name of the first song Phish played on Friday at the Hampton Coliseum, officially bringing their near five-year hiatus to a close. You might want to remember that, for posterity's sake.
It was just the beginning of a 29-song set, the opening salvo in a triumphant, 90-something-tune weekend, played before squirming masses of Phanatics at Hampton, the band's so-called "mothership" (where they recorded the six-disc live album, Hampton Comes Alive). But it was certainly significant, because it meant that [artist id="1117"]Phish[/artist] are back. And it didn't sound like they had ever really gone away.
Working their way through a de facto "greatest hits" list, Phish showed little rust (except during a trance-y take on "You Enjoy Myself," when guitarist/frontman Trey Anastasio restarted the tune because it sounded a little wonky), cutting down on the extended jams to focus instead on the sheer volume of their catalog, and working through a set that acknowledged their past, present — and perhaps also their future.
Highlights from Friday's first set (of course, there were two, plus an encore) included new spins on older tunes, including a raucous "Chalkdust Torture" and a revelatory version of "The Squirming Coil." Anastasio wrung solos out of his guitar, and the rhythm section of Jon Fishman and Mike Gordon was air-tight, but keyboardist Page McConnell shone brightest, his playing given extra volume in the mix. Then, in the second half, during "Harry Hood," lighting director (and unofficial fifth member Chris Kuroda), shut off the stage lights and illuminated a series of disco balls hanging from the roof of the coliseum, showering the crowd with light and giving a knowing wink to a 1997 show at Washington's Gorge Amphitheatre, where they played beneath the starlight.
"Tweezer," "Possum" and "First Tube" were all ridiculously tight, and Phish wound down the second set with the stop-started "You Enjoy Myself." They left to thunderous applause and returned for a triumphant encore, highlighted by an a cappella take on "Grind" and a version of "Bounding Round the Room," in which they dropped massive balloons onto the audience, who batted them about with glee (one ended up on stage, where Anastasio mercifully put it out of its misery with his guitar). Then they departed once again, and the masses filed out of the Hampton, wide-eyed and speechless.
Of course, some would be back the following night (and probably Sunday night, too), but there was no denying that Friday's set was historic. It was Phish, back and as good as ever. They've already committed to tour throughout the summer, but come on, guys, let's make a new record too.