The conversation about best Phish openers of all-time can go in many different directions. For fans of the jam, it’s hard to top the insane “Bathtub Gin” the foursome began with at Riverport Amphitheater near St. Louis on July 29, 1998 or the fierce 16-minute “Tweezer” from Denver on November 17, 1997 or the exploratory “Mike’s Song” from Hampton on November 22, 1997. In terms of historical sake, both the “Piper” that kicked off the post-hiatus period on New Year’s Eve ’02 – ’03 in New York City and the “Fluffhead” which started the current era in Hampton on March 6, 2009 won’t ever be forgotten by those in attendance. We’d also be remiss if we didn’t mention the roof nearly coming off of Madison Square Garden when Phish lit into Prince’s “1999” on December 31, 1998. But for me, it just doesn’t get better than the sequence the quartet used to mark their return to the Tweeter Center, aka Great Woods, in Mansfield, Massachusetts after a long four-year period on this date in 1999.
Phish kicked off their July 12th, 1999 performance at Great Woods with a blistering and geographically appropriate cover of Boston’s “Foreplay/Longtime” to the delight of the capacity crowd. I’ll never forget the looks of shock and awe on the faces of those around me when keyboardist Page McConnell began the signature organ intro to one of the best songs from Boston’s 1976 self-titled studio debut. The shock soon turned into sheer joy and powerful energy as guitarist Trey Anastasio, drummer Jon Fishman and bassist Mike Gordon played the first chord which signaled that this was no tease and at which point nearly the entire crowd knew what was up.
“Foreplay/Longtime” was an opener that appealed to most factions of the audience: the Phish hardcores that realized we were witnessing history, the casual fans who could appreciate a good classic rock cover and the newcomers, many of whom grew up in the Boston area listening to Boston. Chills went down my spine as I looked around and saw thousands of fists pumping in the air and those who were jumping up and down with glee. The quartet pretty much nailed (yes, there were a handful of flubs) their first and only electrified cover of “Foreplay/Longtime.” All three of Trey’s solos were powerful ones filled with emotion. While they didn’t “jam” the Boston cover, they did make it their own.
Now, for some historical perspective a few notes. While Phish’s performance of “Foreplay/Longtime” was the first and to date only electric cover of the song, they had played the pairing 16 times prior. Each previous “Foreplay/Longtime” took place during Fall Tour 1994 as the band debuted a bluegrass version of the cover featuring Trey on acoustic guitar, Mike on banjo, Page on upright bass and Fish on Madonna washboard as the encore on the first night of tour at Stabler Arena on the campus of Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. It was a staple for that tour and then disappeared until 18 years ago tonight. As mentioned, the show on this date in 1999 was Phish’s first concert at Great Woods since 1995, a span of four years which at that point was a quarter of their career. Some theorize the layoff is why the quartet played “Foreplay/Longtime.”
Phish Acoustic Setup, Fall 1994
I suggested to friends we pull a Constanza and leave as I had already gotten my money’s worth just 10 minutes into the show. Just then Gordon kicked the patch he uses for the “Down With Disease” intro and Phish began a rocking “Down With Disease” that spanned nearly 20 minutes yet never really went “Type II.” Other highlights included a gorgeous “What’s The Use” performed as the sunset over the venue, one of the more melodic “Split Open & Melts” of the era, a “Twist” containing some of Page’s most impressive work of the tour, the always welcome “Makisupa Policeman” with a rare Trey solo and a standout “David Bowie.” The “Bowie” was a master class in patience while jamming as Phish spent over 15 minutes building the improv to a peak. So, boy am I glad I didn’t pull a Constanza.
Check out audio of the entire show taped by Dave Flashner and shared by From The Aquarium which of course starts with “Foreplay/Longtime”: