I'm pretty stoked to be writing a few words about this venue and equally stoked for the upcoming shows. Sometime by the end of the year, or if the cards don't fall right, perhaps the first part of 2014 Tour, I'll hit my 300th show. Tons of special memories of course. I've seen Phish perform in every place from dorms, college quads, fraternity houses, gin soaked college bars with 15 people attending and deserted clubs to hallowed halls to the country's biggest, grandest and most cherished venues. Yet, of all the special places I've seen this band- the Centrum ranks right up there among my favorite venues. Perhaps I'm one of only a handful of people that would make that seemingly bizarre claim and hold the venue in such high regard. What is it about the Centrum? Who knows. A cocktail of great memories with friends, remembering the band beginning to "hit it big", great musical moments, omnipresent electricity in the air, historical shows, and a large dose of home-town homerism has elevated this venue for me. Regardless of what regard you hold this venue, there's no doubting the importance it has had in Phish history or the many great musical moments that it has hosted.
Who knows: You may not even recognize the Centrum in Worcester, MA when you visit on October 25th and October 26th for the bands fifteenth and sixteenth appearances here. These shows keep this hallowed venue square in the top few of most played venues by Phish (and likewise the second most performed artist here). Let's get a few things straight before we roll up our sleeves. First off, it is, phonetically, "Woo-ster" not "Worchester". And like Deer Creek, The Boston Garden or Great Woods, it doesn't quite matter which corporate behemoth shelled out enough money to rename the joint. It will always be "The Centrum" but feel free to call it the DCU Center if you want. The venue has actually had a few different names over the years. We need to do a bit of house-cleaning here on Phish.net as we actually have the names incorrect. In 1993 when Phish first played here on New Year's Eve and in 1995 the venue was named "Centrum in Worcester". In 1997, it was re-christened "Worcester's Centrum Center" and in the 3.0 era, starting with their performances in 2010, it has been known as "DCU Center".
The venue, with a capacity of 14,500 and situated in New England's second biggest city, has an embarrassingly rich history for not only epic Phish shows, but also for scores of other bands. We'll look at 'Ten Great Moments' in Centrum Phish history after we look to the future. Despite some real high moments musically and historically for the band, the venue has also been marred with complaints. Most notably have been the lack of restrooms, the lack of concessions and the miniscule concourse space to accommodate the always sold-out crowds. So what's changed? Read on for the best of what's to come and the best of what's already been!
Fans should rejoice in knowing that the DCU Center has just wrapped up a near $32 Million renovation. I had the opportunity to ask Sandy Dunn, General Manager and Amy Peterson, Director of Marketing a few questions about what we can expect and some general Phish questions.
When did the renovations start and when will be complete? The Arena closed on May 1 and will reopen in the first week of October. Initial construction began in 2009 as a multi-phase capital improvement project. $8.5M was invested into the facility in 2009 while this 5-month period of construction will culminate in an additional $23M in improvements and additions for a total of $31.5M. Additional phases are planned for the future.
Will Phish be the first event in the newly opened venue? No, the first concert is Pearl Jam; however, Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus is the first formal event- playing Columbus Day weekend.
Has capacity increased? No, the interior seating bowl, known for its great acoustics and intimate configuration, will remain mostly untouched with the exception of suites. With the addition of 4 new concourse-level luxury suites and a new concourse-level bar/club area, the capacity for the Arena has changed from 14,500 to 13,840.
How about concessions and restrooms? Yes, cue the applause! Two new large restrooms are being added- which will increase the number of restroom facilities from 77 to 103, over a 60% increase. All of the concession stands are receiving a facelift; however, there is also a brand new sandwich shop opening on the southwest corner of the building which will be able to service both the exterior and interior of the facility. A new, locally sourced menu will be featured with products complimenting the current arena options.
What can fans expect as far as a concert experience? Elements of the new design incorporate upgrades to both the interior and exterior of the facility. Plans include a new glass façade, digital marquee, a landscaped grand promenade entrance, a redesigned box office pavilion, an expanded concourse, indoor/outdoor restaurant space and a new concourse-level bar area. Most of the improvements are fan amenities and are geared toward enhancing the overall fan experience. More restrooms, more concession options. More, more, more…
Any changes with acoustics/audio? No changes there. We have solid acoustics and an incredible operations team that keep up with trends in the touring industry. Most tours travel with their own equipment and we continue to have a professional staff to assist with any needs they may have while here in Worcester.
Phish has played many shows there over the years, what comes to mind when thinking about Phish? Phish has played the DCU Center 14 times since 1993. The October 25th and 26th shows will make it 16 and it also bumps the band into the #2 spot for the most played artist in the building (Neil Diamond comes in at #1 with 21 appearances). We love everything about Phish- the band members, the crew, the tour manager, the agent and the fans. The atmosphere is what really stands out to us. Though the band is only playing two-nights, the whole environment around the building is electric beginning days before the band arrives and lasting long after they leave.
Do you have statistics on attendance over the previous 14 shows there? We’ve seen approximately 167,933 fans come through for the last 14 shows, all of which have been sellouts.
How do Phish events compare with other typical concerts there as far as concession revenue or anything else you track? Over the years, the Phish fan has matured. Though there continues to be a broad age range of devotees, it was rare to see 40+ year old fans in the early 1990s. As this has shifted, so has their spending habits which increase the facility revenues from things like merchandise and concessions. The fan base continues to include a younger audience spending precious dollars on a ticket to their favorite band and little else. But it also now includes limos, overnight hotel rooms, pre-concert dinners at Worcester’s burgeoning restaurant scene, as well as higher expenditures while at the concert itself.
There you have it! Not only do we as fans feel the electricity in this great venue, but so does the staff. I recall speaking with one of the marketing people prior to taking pictures for Hidden Track in 2012. I always like to shoot the breeze with venue management and see what they think of Phish. I usually ask if the venue enjoys hosting Phish and if there are typically any problems. With a wide grin and a totally genuine smile, she cheerfully exclaimed, "We love Phish- always have!" And she added that they see less problems than with just about any other event that they host. She then asked me if I was a Phish fan myself (most photographers are there because their editor mandated it and not too thrilled with the assignment.) I told her that I was and that I had seen ten of the previous shows there. She told me that she had heard fans love the venue and asked me what I liked about it. I wasn't able to articulate much- it was minutes before the opening notes of "Buried Alive" and my heart was already pumping rendering my speech and thought process slightly skewed. Nevertheless, I suppose if I bump into her later this month, I can point to this blog post and just tell her to check out the "Ten Great Moments". Because at the end of the day, it really is about the music of course.
[Trey in Worcester, 2012, Photo: Parker Harrington]
So in no particular order, here are "Ten Great Moments" from Phish and Centrum history. Note- this is by no means an exhaustive "Top Ten". It is simply 10. The first ten that came to mind, purposefully without looking at setlists. I probably missed 10 better moments. It just goes to show the rich history here.
Entirety of 1993-12-31 This was a special show. It really felt like Phish was beginning to explode in popularity and reminded me of catching U2 at the Centrum for a three-night run on the Unforgettable Fire Tour and then becoming one of the world's best known bands not long after. 1994 of course marked sell-out shows at the Boston Garden and MSG and 1992 still had the band performing smaller venues and many sparsely sold venues. It just felt right that night. Tom Marshall belting away on Set 1's closing Antelope, the aquarium set from their (hilarious?) MTV video, a simulcast on Boston's and one of the nation's most important rock stations at the time, WBCN, and great versions of plenty of songs like Reba, Tweezer, and scores of others. Not only a great New Year's show, but one of Phish's best pre-1995 efforts and a complete milestone in their career.
Runaway Jim 1997-11-29 Still the longest Phish song ever performed, it was a stellar Set II opener. Scorched earth policy? You bet. Phish left nothing behind and wove together a thrilling hour of music the was a virtual smorgasbord of different types of music and jamming, Like the also legendary "Fleeezer", I'm sure this performance has it's detractors- but for me. it is everything I love about Phish. Quirky, unexpected, fun, scorching and just down-right jamming. The incendiary "Weekapaug Jam" contained within this piece is but icing on the cake.
Wilson -> Buried Alive -> Tweezer 1995-12-28 In the heart of the second set, in the heart of one of Phish's finest years, is this classic triumvirate of songs. Bombastic. Quintessential Phish.
Bass Jam 1995-12-29 Fantastic Bass Jam with Mike and his bass instructor, Jim Stinnet, that Mike had noodled and practiced the preceding evening during Tweezer. Just fantastic seeing masters performing with THEIR masters.
Bathtub Gin -> Real Me -> Bathtub Gin 1995-12-29 Gin is one of my all-time favorite Phish songs and one that instantly puts me in a happy place regardless of set placement or anything that came before it. Having only performed "The Real Me" once prior, the transition in and out of it was just flawless. Perfect 10 and still to this day, one of the best examples of the difference between " >" and " ->" on Phish.net. Great segue. Must hear.
Ghost 1997-11-28 It's a shame this Ghost doesn't get more accolades. Sure, some occasionally mention it, but this is truly one of the best I've ever seen. The funk is thick, the band is loose, the vibe is just right and the Centrum's acoustics perfect for capturing this marvelous performance in the height of one of Phish's grandest years. Pinpoint guitar work by Trey with tons of energy.
Them Changes 1997-11-30 This is probably the best show of this three-show Worcester run and one of the finest Phish show's I've seen. And while I could pick a score of songs to highlight (Funky Bitch, Wolfman's Brother, Stash), the most memorable thing for me that night was the smoking, Page led, encore in Buddy Mile's classic "Them Changes". Not only did Page absolutely shine, but Trey's guitar offered a seemingly perfect compliment and a completely "Phishy" take on this great song. Fingers crossed. Would love to see it return.
Harry Hood 2010-12-28 Sadly, I missed this show. I was crushed when I heard the Hood as it quickly vaulted into one of my Top Ever versions. Like "Bathtub Gin", "Harry Hood" is one of my all time favorites. This version hit all the right things for me: the pace, rhythm, hypnotic groove, and blissful happiness. While this Hood may not have the largest jamming peak, it is nonetheless a timeless and beautiful version of one of most venerable pieces from Phish's catalog.
Sand -> Nellie Kane 2012-06-08 I just loved this segue and previously wrote about it for LawnMemo's Blog: "A patient groove develops with a confidant Anastasio precisely and methodically building up the funky dance beat in earnest leading into the 5:00 mark. By 6:00 min the forceful power of Sand was on full display complemented by Gordon’s bass and the full-on band staccato jamming that wasn’t overwrought or forced and just seemed to gracefully bounce off the walls and ceilings rather than get lost in the lawns of most outdoor venues. An infectious dance vibe that had the Centrum enthralled, the urgency of Sand’s jam was palpable by 8:00 min mark and the crowd wondering what was next. A “Worcester Jam”? A monster second set staple like Rock and Roll? No. Another Phishy curveball (perhaps not a curveball for the astute listeners the picked up Trey’s teases earlier) in the bluegrass, fan-favorite “Nellie Kane”. The transition being so seamless and butter smooth, fans dancing in the aisles to the ferocious Sand jam were confused"
Debuts from 2003-02-26 This was a fun show that saw four songs debut by Phish that had all previously been played side projects of various band members. I was most excited to hear one of my favorite TAB songs in "Drifting" with "Final Flight", "Clone" and "Blue Skies" almost making their debuts. However, if you weren't at the Centrum that night, you haven't seen any of them again performed by Phish as they were all shelved ever since. While the first set saw this relatively unique set, there's quite a bit of meat in the second ("Ghost", "Ya Mar", "Waves", and "Golgi Apparatus" are all particularly exemplary).
These are definitely many great moments from Centrum history and these are but a few- an arbitrary ten. You make have a different list of ten. But one things is almost certain. After Phish hits the stage for the next couple shows in the sparkling, newly renovated Centrum, there will likely be a handful of candidates to add to the lists in the future. See you in Worcester!