After taking most of the fall off the road after the IT festival, The Phish from Vermont got together for four shows before the 2003 New Year’s run in Miami to celebrate their 20th anniversary as a band. Most people thought the band was conceived on Halloween in 1983, though the announcement of the 20th Anniversary Run made it clear that Phish’s first show did indeed take place on December 2, 1983 at Harris/Millis Cafeteria on the campus of UVM. So it came to be, a four-night run through their stomping grounds of the Northeast culminating with the 20th Anniversary Show at The Fleet Center in Boston, Phish’s first show there since New Year’s ’96.
2003 was a “festive” time for Phish, with members having their own party agendas most nights. Even with their propensity to get loose, 2003 saw many of the band’s best post-hiatus shows. This run, while celebratory in vibe, did not showcase the best the group had to offer this year in any consistent manner. There was flashes of utter brilliance at times but they came in disjointed shows. My tour mates and I had an unbelievable time this run celebrating what Phish had given to our lives, so we really couldn’t be pissy about the band reveling in much of the same merriment.
So let’s have a look at these flashes of brilliance in chronological order.
NIGHT ONE: NASSAU
11/28/2003 – Nassau Coliseum, Uniondale NY
Encore: Crimes of the Mind
Notes: This show included the debut of Crowd Control. Trey introduced Mike to sing “his song.” Crimes of the Mind (first since July 10, 1994, or 504 shows) featured the Dude of Life on vocals. During the song, the Dude congratulated Phish on their 20 years together, and wished them success for 20 more.
[All setlists via Phish.net]
The first night of the run took place at the Nassau Coliseum. Fans were psyched to get back into the room that saw Destiny Unbound dusted off earlier that year, and of course the first two nights of The Island Tour in ’98. The highlights from this show all come from the first set. Oddly enough, this set opened with Bouncin’, the first Bouncin’ opener since Nov. 10, 1995.
READ ON for more of Wade’s take on the 20th Anniversary Run…
Ghost slinks out between song banter and escalates to a rocking jam that winds up in psychedelic cacophony. The blitzkrieg of noise ends up floating into one of the most sought after instrumentals in Phish’s live touring repertoire: What’s The Use? from the Siket Disc. It was nice to see the band open up like this in the first set and they would close the set in the same fashion. The Bathtub > Free combo was ferocious and delivered with the energy we would have liked to see in set two. Alas, this is the extent of the raging the band would do this evening and it was time to head to Philly.
NIGHT TWO: PHILADELPHIA
11/29/2003 – The Spectrum, Philadelphia PA
Notes: The lyrics to Makisupa referenced waking up “in Hempstead.” Later in Makisupa, Trey commented on the upcoming 20th anniversary of the band, and noted Makisupa as the first original Phish song ever played. Trey also commented on his long-standing friendship with Tom Marshall and said that Tom had written Makisupa when he was a child. Trey brought Tom out on stage and noted that he thought Makisupa was written in 1969, leading Tom to note that we “have a 60’s song.” As Tom prepared to handle vocals on Buffalo Bill, Trey noted: “Tom is now going to sing you a song about a boss, a log, and a piece of rope.”
The first set in Philly was hastily thrown together and didn’t give the band much room to shine. Perhaps they felt this going into the green room and decided to put their best foot forward for the second set. The Twist that opens the set is one of my favorites and a glowing example of just what “Type II” is all about. Around the 10 minute mark, this jam goes into the nether regions of Twist and a dark psych-rock ballad ensues with Trey emerging from the shadows with heroic guitar lines as if he is slaying a path towards the light.
- Audience MP3 Download: Twist
Our second highlight from Philadelphia comes from the comedy department. Tom and Trey had discovered that Makisupa Policeman had been written in the ’60s by Tom Marshall long before he and Trey became friends, giving Phish their one and only ’60s penned tune. This little anecdote segued into Tom’s appearance and a Phish/TM version of Buffalo Bill.
NIGHT THREE: ALBANY
12/01/2003 – Pepsi Arena, Albany NY
Notes: Tweezer was preceded by a Dixie tease. Camel Walk through Fire featured Jeff Holdsworth on guitar. This was Jeff’s first known performance with his former Phish brethren since May 17, 1986. Camel Walk, Possum and Long Cool Woman (first since October 30, 1998, or 180 shows) also featured Jeff on lead vocals. Antelope featured Tom Marshall on vocals.
After a much needed day off by both fans and band, Albany started off quite electric. The Chalkdust opener was a great jump start to the evening and the Stash that followed was a highlight of the night. Not the longest or even the weirdest, this solid version of Stash excelled with patience and the age old tension and release formula.
- Audience MP3 Download: Stash
Thunderhead was also a highlight, with this version getting my official “best evar” claim. The loose ethereal jamming reminded me of the Grateful Dead so much at the show and even more so now that I listen back to it. The four members meander around the theme while giving it a foundation at the same time. Magnificent.
- Audience MP3 Download: Thunderhead
The end-all be-all highlight of the show comes from the mighty Wolfman’s Brother. Chunky funk leads the jam into a tinkering mood that suggests anything can happen. As you’re in the playful purgatory the band slowly builds to an arena rock “bring it home” jam that must be heard by Phish fans young and old alike. This, my friends, is a glimpse inside The Rage Cage. Enjoy.
- Audience MP3 Download: Wolfman’s
Even though Jeff Holdsworth showing up is worth mentioning, the sit in is NOT. However, the three tunes before he came out were extremely fun so here they are. Note to any guitar players who leave would-be arena rock bands, DON’T COME BACK. This show would have the most highlights out of the four, which once again showcases Phish’s penchant for opening up on the night before the big night.
NIGHT FOUR: BOSTON
12/02/2003 – FleetCenter, Boston MA
Notes: This gig commemorated the 20th anniversary of the first Phish show. In the audience, a section of seats were roped off to make way for a music stand. The music stand held a three-ring binder that contained lyrics from the Phish canon, but it did not play an active role in the performance. At the end of Disease, a video screen descended behind the stage. As the house lights remained down, a 25+ minute video was played featuring retrospective highlights from throughout Phish’s career. Before the second set, Mike brought out a tray of desserts and shared them with fans in front of the stage. Weekapaug was unfinished. Tweezer Reprise included lyrics (sung by Trey) from Mike’s Song. Appropriately, the post-show house music was the Beatles’ song Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band (which begins with the lyric, “It was twenty years ago today…”).
So here we are, the 20th Anniversary show in Beantown. The opening notes of Hood got us all thinking this would be a set for the ages. How wrong we were. However, watching a champagne-swilling band at the side of the stage checking out the video roll of highlights from the last 20 years gave us hope for set two.
A high energy Rock and Roll got things going but what happened next was Phish GOLD….FRANKENKUNG! Trey signaled Frankenstein to Fishman by doing his impersination of a re-animated corpse (hilar) . Frankenstein mowed through its parts until near the end when Kuroda went into a hauntingly dissorienting strobe light chase that gave the band a very surreal look. Out of weird came the anthem of weird – Kung. Runaway Golf Cart Marathons soon wound down and the band finished off Frankenstein. The place went WILD.
Our last, and perhaps most significant highlight comes from the Maze near the end of the set. Certainly one of the best versions ever and perhaps the greatest post-hiatus Maze there is. This version shows the band’s ability to listen to each other and play off of each other, even inside other member’s solo sections. Both Page’s organ solo and Trey’s guitar solo have great improvised playing from all the band members with the guitar solo being one of the most patient builds I have heard in this song. Quirky and well-timed interplay get help from a TON of energy in the room from the crowd to make this Maze one for the books.
There is the 20th Anniversary highlight reel. Feel free to tear me to pieces or share some of your own experiences in the comment section. I look forward to getting back in the trenches – missed all of the fall tour due to my own touring -this NYE run at the glorious Worcester Centrum. Don’t forget to follow @yemblog all tour long for live tweets and of course @originalwyllys for daily banter on all of life’s important subjects.
NOTE: You can purchase and download official audio of all four shows through LivePhish.com. Phish donates a portion of the proceeds from LivePhish.com purchases to The Mockingbird Foundation.