For me‚ the most surreal part of Phish's return run at Hampton Coliseum was during "Twist." I was relaxed and swaying and seriously drifting into the bliss of improvisation when I interrupted my own moment with the thought: "…I'm losing myself at a Phish show. I'm listening to these four guys improvise again!" Like everything else over the weekend‚ it was a reminder of how deep the communal and personal relationship is with this band.
The experience was ambiguous‚ caught between old-time nostalgia and the notes of a new beginning. The band's statement for the weekend was safe‚ but done boldly: play the tried and true material‚ and play it really fucking well. Yes‚ they were well rehearsed‚ nailing the complexities of so many of their songs -- 80-plus played during the run. But it wasn't about that. It was about having a lightning bolt running through the stage‚ that wave of electricity we've all experienced -- the kind that people who've never experienced it will never get. And it wasn't about nailing every section. It was about playing it with fire and inspiration. There was one reminder after another of the quality of the material‚ right from the start with "Fluffhead" and "Divided Sky‚" and then during "Rift‚" "My Friend‚ My Friend‚" "Guelah Papyrus‚" "Free‚" "Taste" and so on. They'd blaze through composed sections that would bring the crowd to a roar. It was also a reminder of the diversity of the material and how it has it all: the dark‚ the light‚ the humor‚ and the seriousness. And stylistically‚ it's just as vast. The rockers ("Chalkdust Torture" and "Character Zero") come when they should‚ while the slower‚ more introspective songs ("Waste‚" "Train Song‚" "Bug") seem perfectly placed to shift the momentum before the epic tales ("Harry Hood‚" "David Bowie" "You Enjoy Myself") and the ridiculously fun songs ("2001‚" "Moma Dance‚" "Ghost"). And the improvisation generally fills in the gaps and completes the flow of the story. Right on par with the sound is the spectacle of lights by Chris Kuroda. Yes‚ another reminder that no detail goes left unnoticed with Phish. Despite the fact that they didn't stretch out a ton over the weekend‚ it's clear they're never going to lose their sense of adventure or their weird. And finally‚ the weekend was a solid reminder that this band's past is pure magic.
It was inevitable that they would return‚ right? One of the most incredible careers in rock music ended with a train wreck in Vermont in 2004. How could it end on that note‚ and why should it end anyway? In retrospect‚ it was the first step in figuring some shit out‚ to go away for a while‚ clean up and get a fresh perspective. I've found that the best explanations have come through in the music. The most poignant example came when Trey played the entire show with Phil Lesh and Friends at Glens Fall Civic Center in October 2007‚ one of his first appearances following his 2006 arrest. He was clean‚ fired up and inspired. It was a heartfelt moment seeing this genius in action with all the years of accumulated bullshit finally tossed to the side. It was eerily and joyously too appropriate that the Grateful Dead songbook was explaining it all. "Test me‚ test me/ Why don't you arrest me?" he sang in "Bertha." The crowd went nuts. Later that night he sang "Wharf Rat" with dire sincerity. And when they closed with "Franklin's Tower" and he sang‚ "If you get confused‚ listen to the music play‚" it couldn't have been more fitting. Phil‚ the older master‚ was glowing after the show‚ and he hugged Trey before walking offstage. It seemed really simple: these three hours onstage was what it's all about.
It felt similar at Hampton‚ but obviously it was the Phish songbook and ethos telling the story this time. With that said‚ it had more irony and a lot more humor. I still get chills thinking about the "Fluffhead" opener and the crowd's reaction. Phish always live in the moment‚ and when Trey reached way down from the gut and belted out‚ "…But I sure have some powerful pills! Oh yeah!!!" the place exploded again. That happened all weekend long in different forms‚ reminding of us of where we've been: "Back on those days when my life was a haze" in "NICU" got a chuckle from Trey‚ and when he sang "I didn't know I was that far gone" in "I Didn't Know‚" it felt as if nobody could say it any better. "Let's get this show on the road" during "AC/DC Bag" explained the urgency of the weekend. In Friday's encore‚ the first cover song of the run‚ the Rolling Stones' "Loving Cup‚" the line "And you know I play a bad guitar" got the roar it deserved. They let the crowd completely take the humorous line that comes in "Bathtub Gin": "'Cause we're all in this together/ and we love to take a bath!" And maybe the most anthemic toast came with Sunday's second-set opener‚ "Down With Disease": "Waiting for the time when I can finally say/ This has all been wonderful but now I'm on my way/ But when I think it's time to leave it all behind/ I try to find a way but there's nothing I can say to make it stop."

Phish understands the magic of live music probably more than any other band out there. They've given it out for years‚ and hopefully will for years to come. The weekend was some really fantastic make-up sex‚ the audience and band expressing their love for each other. It felt like the good old days: the bizarreness of '93 one moment‚ as psychedelic as '94 and '95 the next‚ the space phunk from '97 here‚ some groovin' happy major key jamming from '00 there‚ with a touch of the dark‚ improvisational maturity that came in '03 and '04. Pick your favorite Phish show from the past‚ and they sprinkled a little bit of it in throughout the weekend.
When I think about the experience and what's to come‚ a Bob Dylan line rings through my head: "You can always come back‚ but you can't come back all the way." It's been close to five years and we've already had this amazing experience with this band and we've -- naturally or forced -- moved on. It's going to be really interesting to see the progression when the excitement and hype over the band's return dies down. My hope is the younger generation comes in and has similar experiences to what we've had. It's going to be fun to see them make sense of it and help define what it will become. For the people who have grown up having incredible adventures with Phish‚ it's going to be interesting to see what it becomes for us. It will never be the same‚ and that's the way it should be. Wasn't that always the point?
The thing I think we always loved about Phish is their refusal to stagnate. When it did‚ they quit. It's always been about evolving. I can't say that Hampton showed me any insight into what Phish 3.0 will actually be like‚ but I can say this: from train wrecks to spiritual revelations‚ it's always interesting with this band. And chances are with the new material and the way they decide to explore‚ we'll get a lot of both.