Guest Writer: Nick Richter
Phish on a three night run in Atlantic City- what could be better? How about adding Halloween into the mix and a highly anticipated musical costume which no one seems to have a real clue as to what it will be? This, along with the fact that the last shows, and all of fall for that matter, have been outstanding. Most notably, the improvement of Trey’s guitar playing. His chops seem to be coming back, and while we haven’t seen the monster jam, shows have been unpredictable and full of energy. This all culminating in a three night run in Atlantic City which both the band and fans seemed fully ready for.
Opening with an acapella version of The Star Spangled Banner seemed appropriate considering the enormous American flag on the back wall of the venue in plain sight of the band — I am sure nobody had that one for their opener pick. They must have been practicing because it sounded pretty good, and the eager fans were delighted about the way things were kicking off tonight. Returning to their respective spots, Trey started up the opening riff to My Soul which I think is a nice set one song that gets the crowd moving and contains a straightforward (don’t forget Miami NYE), rocking blues jam. AC/DC Bag followed, and, while this tune doesn’t deliver like it used to, Trey sounded on point with his playing last night– continuing his impressive improvement this fall. I personally was happy to hear Bag, because it ended rumors of a “Gamehenge” this weekend.
Ocelot has more of a summer feel to me, probably due to its upbeat vocal intervals and the fact it was introduced in summer 2009, when everybody was just a little more excited than usual for Phish. Clocking in at almost ten minutes, this jam is highlighted by some fierce drumming by Fishman, crash cymbals and fast, tight rolls all over the place.
Sample in a Jar, okay it is a classic, catchy song, but this set is ho-hum so far despite Trey having another great solo and a few soaring peaks. He really has been attacking the fretboard this fall; more confident in his playing and even a little bit more patient. I can’t help but attribute this to Trey learning technical guitar parts for the upcoming Halloween album. Also, not only practicing more, but are getting more relaxed on stage as well.
If you listen closely, you can hear Trey play the fist few notes of Light Up or Leave Me Alone, a semi-rare song making a slight comeback and with good reason. The band is perfect for this Traffic cover, and Page belts out the lyrics wonderfully. Every one of these songs, so far, gives Trey the freedom to mindlessly rock out, and he is doing a pretty good job of that. Again, about ten seconds before the six minute mark, Trey has yet another great peak, and Page brings it home after that.
I really like Sugar Shack, it is just too bad Trey can rarely play it correctly. Even still, I’m glad they keep playing it, and it is another good first set song. Now I was hoping for a little jamming and when Trey started the opening guitar chords to Timber, I was thinking, “here we go, time for a mini first set launching pad”. Well I was wrong, and Timber was five minutes of pretty poor playing by Trey before they ended it and Fishman quickly started up Bouncing Around The Room.
The classic bathroom break song due to its “pop” sound and no improvisation, but it is a really good tune, and was the first one of its nature in the set (Minus SSB). I thought placing Axilla near the end of the first set was odd, but I really like this song and they don’t play it very often. This must be a drummers dream tune, and it’s one of the band’s hardest rocking songs ever. If you are ever going to head bang at a Phish show, now is your time to do it. Trey wastes no time in starting up Rift, a song the band has never became sick of playing over the years. Rift is one of those songs that simply relies on tight playing by everyone in the band. This version is fairly solid, and is highlighted by a wonderful solo by Page on the baby grand, and the always tight drum beats by Fish. Why aren’t there more songs with line exchange interplay by Trey and Page?
Busting into Moma Dance always gets the crowd dancing, even if Trey isn’t in the right key off the bat. It’s worth it just to hear him use his dusty ole’ wah pedal which is all but neglected nowadays. I cannot stress how improved Fishman sounds compared to last year, and with Mike’s obvious improvements during the hiatus, Phish has one helluva rhythm section. In that way, Moma always delivers and for those of you who are fans of the ’97 funk (who isn’t?) you get basically as close as you can to it during this song. Some Moma Dance endings feature a ripping solo by Trey, but this one snaps right into Cities which really sounded planned due to the obvious key change out of nowhere, but who knows. Either way, the band seems to love playing this song lately but not so much jamming on it (other than the Greek Cities). Since they spoiled us in years past with long, down and dirty versions of the song, many fans want to hear it go past ten minutes. Although a little under nine total, the jam is pretty interesting. Fishman kicks it off on the ride and the rest of the band rides the groove for a while. A slight tension is building between Trey, Mike and Page, with Fish rolling along, destroying his kit. It drops down into some dark, ambient spooky jamming for a minute or two, Page hopping on the synth, Fishman working the double bass, and I was hoping this would continue for a little while. Out of the darkness, Trey started up 46 Days, a 2.0 fan favorite and a song for cowbell enthusiasts too. One thing it always delivers is some hard rock and a chance for Trey to let loose. Notice a theme here so far?
This ended a pretty standard first set. Nothing special, but contained continuous energy- perfect for the first set of seven in Atlantic City.
Punch You in the Eye is another great Phish song that hasn’t been played too well in 3.0. I love it opening either set, and they played this version fairly well. Trey started a lot of songs in set one, and, so far, the first two did the same when his opening notes of Sand emerged from the ending of PYITE. Excellent. An open ended song to kick off the meat of set II. For the most part the jam is just a Trey noodle-fest until the last couple minutes. The key turns major, and Fishman hops on the hi-hat. Around the final minute, Trey starts soloing again, and I am thinking this will either segue, or if we’re lucky they will continue jamming. [OPT Interjection: It is set up PERFECTLY for segueing into Bathtub Gin. The Carini Segue is forced and awkward.] Unfortunately, the segue into Carini was forced by Trey and really sloppy. Fishman continued drumming the Sand jam for a second before they all jumped on board. Six minutes into the song, it starts to mellow out and around seven Mike is syncing with Fishman’s kick drum while Trey lays some of his new style of loops down. It is a cool three minutes or so before Trey again starts another song, my most hated of all Phish songs, Prince Caspian.
Now don’t get me wrong here, I like some jams that come out of Caspian, and the previous one from 10/23 was nice, with a great segue into Halfway to the Moon, but the actual song annoys the hell out of me. Thankfully it doesn’t last long, and there is nothing to note about this version at all aside from it being unfinished. What happens next is kind of interesting. First of all, Corinna was busted out for the first time since last NYE run, and has only been played about twenty times total, most of them pre 1990. Second, When the Circus Comes was teased right before the start, almost as an intro to the song. While I thought it was another oddly placed song in the second set, it is an excellent song and a rarity. Plus, Trey and Co. sang and played it well, and you cant argue with that.
Like Timber earlier, I was hoping for a jam vehicle to kick this set into high gear, and again I got my wish.. Kind of. I believe Piper was at its best when the band would slowly build up to the lyrics, then use the soaring jam to eventually segue into another tune, leaving full creative room in between to do anything they desire. This Piper jam starts hot, and continues that way for the short duration before, you guessed it, Trey starts another song. Theme From the Bottom is a great indoor song, and I believe is most beneficial when placed after a blazing jam as a way to cool down for a moment before Theme makes its epic crescendo and lights explode out on the crowd. Piper doesn’t count though, and although it is a fine version, Theme was making me impatient. I was a little disappointed in Golgi next too, but was holding on to the late curfew I had heard about, hoping the set would pick up soon.
Slave to the Traffic Light had me wondering if this was the last song of set II, and I was hoping if that was the case, it would soar and end things on a high note. It turned out to be a really beautiful, chill version of Slave with Trey holding back for the most part. The last couple of minutes, though, Trey has some impressive, fast licks building up to the finish of Slave. My question about it ending the set was quickly squashed by Trey starting up possibly the most overplayed song of 3.0- Fluffhead. I guess if they were going to chose a song to play out, we can’t be upset with Fluffhead, and the band has been playing it very well and full of energy since its epic return at Hampton. This was no exception, and the outro delivered a great set-ender to the first show of the long weekend. A simple Loving Cup encore finished things up for the night, and the crowd poured onto the busy boardwalk, excited for tomorrow.
Overall, this show was totally solid with nothing too special, just straightforward rocking. While fans are used to shows being totally unpredictable as far as song placement goes, the second set just didn’t seem to have a flow to it, although there was nothing they played that wasn’t fun to hear. It seems it was definitely a “you had to be there” show because of the energy and how Kuroda’s lights filled the room. One thing for sure- I’m excited to hear tonight!