Revisiting the Return of Phish (and Fluffhead) at Hampton Coliseum

March 6, 2018

Maybe you were there. Maybe you regretted not being there. Maybe you have a friend that literally won’t shut up about how you weren’t there. Today is that friend’s time to shine—the anniversary of Phish’s triumphant return from hiatus at Hampton Coliseum on March 6, 2009.

Nine years ago today, the Vermont Quartet reminded their fans what they’d been missing since 2004, along with proving they were far from done. “We wanted to come back and be able to say, ‘We’re really aiming to deliver here. We’re going to give you a lot, we’re not going to skimp,'” Mike Gordon told Relix in an article published in our June 2009 issue, in which the Phish bassist recalled the band’s hiatus, return and more. What follows is a short excerpt from that piece, which will be published in full later this week. 

Can you take us through that initial rehearsal when the four of you finally performed together again? What was the first song you played?

MG: First, we went through a list of 700 songs we had covered, including little teases, in order to pick what we wanted to play at Hampton, going around in a circle. And we wanted to play long sets, so we put together a list of 75 songs. With Trey thinking and working on setlist ideas, it ended up very different from how we first sketched it. [Ed. note: 84 songs were played over the three days]

But after we sat there for what seemed like hours doing that, we ended up jamming a little bit. We didn’t have our own gear and it was difficult to dial in the sound, even just in the practice studio with the four of us. But then we played “Back On the Train” and all of a sudden we were all playing in that way where we’re just subconsciously weaving in and out of each others’ lines, leaving holes in the rhythm for the other people to fill. And that was an incredible feeling. I was like, “Ohhh yeah, this band has a real subconscious chemistry, and it’s good to be back.” 

I had to get used to the dynamic again, because with my own band I get to do a lot of the writing and a lot of the decision-making. So, going back to the quiet mode I get in with Phish was a little bit of culture shock. But other than that, the chemistry and the relating and jamming was comfortable from the get-go. 

Was there any precipitating factor or moment that led to the band’s reunion?

MG: There’s no one moment, but there were landmark moments. A couple of these moments might have been when we had dinners together. Trey’s a good cook, and one time he made us a midnight dinner in Vermont. That was the first time we had gotten together since the breakup, maybe a year and a half after it. Then, we had another dinner, and the dinners felt good and the conversation was like jamming onstage. One night at this little restaurant, Trey was talking about how when we sat there, Fish might have been the talkative one, while I was the one who didn’t say much and then had a funny comment every once in a while—everyone had their roles and we were sort of riffing off each other. So maybe that was the moment. 

There were a lot of good reasons to try, and it was more a question of why weren’t we doing it. We broke up because we needed a break after [playing] since we were 18 years old, and people needed to get healthy. There were other reasons too, having to do with ironing out some business stuff and some personality stuff—although we’ve always gotten along, so it was very subtle. More than anything, it was people’s schedules. I knew that with me, I really needed to do my solo album and put together a band and start touring and really jump-start my solo career, so it can be an ongoing thing. That was really important to me. And there were some people who might have wanted to [reunite] sooner, but I just said, “I can’t.” So it was timing. Timing is everything. 

Stay tuned for the full article later this week. Below, watch full video of Phish’s comeback show on 3/6/09 (thanks to YouTube user wakeup2findout)—the first of three at Hampton Coliseum celebrating their glorious return—starting with the equally glorous return of “Fluffhead,” which hadn’t been played since 2000.