The Phish jam-rock band is returning to the Hampton Coliseum Oct. 18-20. It's to be the latest in a series of key musical moments in the life of a legendary, 43-year building. I've been around to cover 19 of those years. Here are five memorable shows from my tour of duty.
Garth Brooks, Jan. 23-25, 1996. The defending heavyweight champion of country music landed a powerful honky-tonk punch at Hampton Coliseum at the opening of a three-night stand. His glitzy, high-energy show left many fans seeing stars. "Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful," gushed 47-year-old Peggy Allred of Elizabeth City, N.C. "It couldn't be any better — unless I was on stage." Brooks grabbed the crowd quickly by cranking out "The Old Stuff," "Rodeo," "The Beaches of Cheyenne," and "Two of a Kind." Early in the show, Brooks planted his hands on his hips and surveyed the euphoric, cheering crowd of 10,500. He flashed his trademark boyish grin. "Sounds like you've been saving up for this one," he said.
Kiss, Oct. 4, 1996. The Kiss reunion tour's fiery rock and roll circus roared into Hampton Coliseum on a Friday night, giving some fans, including me, a first chance to see the original four members of the band play together. A near-capacity crowd watched the middle-aged musicians stalk across the stage in giant platform shoes and unleash plenty of hulking guitar riffs and pyrotechnics. The show included all the classic elements of a Kiss rock revival. Bass player Gene Simmons swooped through the air and drooled blood. Ace Frehley shot fireballs from his guitar. Fans, both old and new, shouted along to favorites, including "Strutter" and "Cold Gin."
Grover Washington Jr. at Hampton Jazz Festival June 27, 1999. I've witnessed many memorable Hampton Jazz Festival performances, sets by Little Richard, Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles and Isaac Hayes among them. Grover Washington Jr.'s final appearance at the festival sticks out in my mind, though, as a particularly powerful intersection of musician and audience. I remember walking around the Coliseum as Washington played and marveling at how his saxophone lines were driving the crowd wild. Washington's relationship with his fans was intense and on this particular Sunday afternoon, he seemed to be walking on air. The sax man died less than six months later of a sudden heart attack while taping an appearance for CBS television.
Phish, March 6, 2009. For one weekend in March, the eyes of the rock 'n' roll world were trained on the Hampton Coliseum. After bidding farewell to fans in 2004, Phish chose the Coliseum as the site of its first three reunion shows. A giant smiling robot-like sculpture stood in the Coliseum fountain and greeted fans as they approached. Once inside, jam addicts beamed as they looked up at the ceiling and saw enormous colored globes suspended from the rafters. And what did the band play first after more than four years in oblivion? "Fluffhead," a multifaceted jam that ended with a cathartic solo by guitarist Trey Anastasio.
Lil Wayne with Nicki Minaj and Rick Ross March 23, 2011. This sold-out rap show borrowed from the stagecraft of 1970s rock giants: pyro, smoke and dazzling colored lights from Kiss, elaborate stage design from Pink Floyd, costumes and mini-dramas from Alice Cooper. Like glam rockers of the past, Lil Wayne knows how to create visual spectacle and on-stage character. While Lil Wayne performed some tunes backed by a live rock band, others he handled by himself or with only his DJ behind him. Despite flirtations with rock style and substance, the show's musical style was thoroughly hip-hop. I'll always remember being surrounded by rap fans who could chant along to every raunchy syllable.
Here are a few other key Coliseum dates as suggested by Daily Press readers.
•Lana Puckett, Yorktown: "My favorite show from the Hampton Coliseum was the Elvis Presley show on the late '70s. He worked so hard and sang 24 songs. What a magnetic performer. It was my second time seeing him. I saw him in 1956 at the Paramount Theater in Newport News when he was performing with Scotty Moore and Bill Black on bass. I was in my early teens but I knew then he was magic and soooooo ....... handsome."
•Bob Boester, Hampton: "I have two. When the Rolling Stones came to Hampton in 1981, I was deputy commonwealth's attorney in Hampton. I finished a three-day murder trial with a conviction and ended up backstage with the Stones where they were having a birthday party for Keith Richards. I watched their incredible show from the edge of the stage and Mick rocked the Coliseum. That was one of the best days of my life. Second one: I have seen Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band three times at the Coliseum and in my view they are the best live band ever. During the encore Clarence Clemons came off the stage and played the sax solo to 'Jungleland' while standing on a chair directly in front of me. Just awesome."
•Jim Roberts, Norfolk: "No. 1, Dave Matthews Band with Bela Fleck and the Flecktones, New Year's Eve, 1996. A legendary show! No. 2, U2 with the BoDeans, Dec. 12, 1987. The last show on the 'Joshua Tree' tour before they recorded the 'Rattle and Hum' concert in Arizona."
McDonald can be reached by phone at 757-247-4732.
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