Nothing beats a hometown show. Although Camden is in New Jersey, its still a “Philly show” in my mind. And as the old saying goes, you never miss a Philly show (or at least I think that’s what they say). The pre-show setup was going to be a combination of timing and execution…cook for the tailgate, meet up with SR, get picked up by CS, head to the show, meet up with Brother Nutbag #2, and get our Camden on. Despite leaving a little later than optimal for the venue, most objectives were achieved.
Building on the wild boar stew in Bethel, I wanted to make the tailgate for Camden worthy of the quality of shows that are typically played in the venue. I had all day to prepare and Female Nutbag (the girlfriend) was here to help so we decided on a perfect summertime menu: BBQ chicken, orzo salad, and, of course, Pimm’s Cup. The BBQ chicken was already down an ingredient as Brother Nutbag #1 failed in his mission to bring my Johnny Harris BBQ Sauce back from Savannah with him (if you are looking for an excellent BBQ sauce, I cannot recommend Johnny Harris enough. Perfect combo of vinegar and tomato and not too sweet), so I had to go with Stubb’s, which was not horrible, just not the flavor profile I prefer (a little too tomato-y and slightly sweet). To compliment the chicken I made a rub of Kosher salt, pepper, paprika, garlic powder, coriander, and mustard powder. The orzo recipe we used was a tried and true recipe that has been circling my group of friends for years and never fails to disappoint. And the Pimm’s, well, we’ve talked about Pimm’s before around these parts. NOTE: if anyone is interested in my recipes, let me know in the comments and I will post them along with my newly discovered sure-fire spot-on method for grilling chicken that will leave you with juicy, perfectly done chicken every time.
CS showed up just a little after 4 and we were on our way. I had wanted to leave at 4 for the show because the roads in Philly were going to be a mess with Phish in Camden, a Phillies game at CBP, and all of the jabronis leaving for the shore at the same time. But, this being a hometown show, we knew the best route to circumnavigate the traffic. I also live about 3 miles (as the crow flies) from the venue, so we really didn’t have far to go.
As anyone knows who has ever been to Camden, the lots in between the Ben Franklin Bridge and the aquarium are the lots to be in. They are the lots that give Camden its well earned reputation as the nitrous capital of the world. I’ve been parking in that lot since the Susquehanna Bank Center was the E Center (then the Sony Blockbuster E Center. Then the Tweeter Center. You get the picture). Well, this time we did not park in the Bridge Lot, but rather the lot immediately in front of the entrance to the venue because our driver CS is a quadriplegic (yes, despite being a quadriplegic she can still drive. She has a modified Honda Element that she uses) and that is where the accessible lots are located. The front lot, Lot 2, was a totally different animal. Lets call it the “family friendly” lot. Things not seen in Lot 2: not once was I offered any psychoactive substance or molly, no gooballs, no nitrous. Certainly a first at a show for me unless you count VA Beach ’99 when I felt like I was in a police state and was too afraid to even appear to be thinking naughty thoughts. But no matter. We were prepared so we settled in with our Pimm’s and did some old-fashioned, laid back chillin’.
I could bore you with the details of our incredibly uneventful experience in the lot, but I won’t. Suffice it to say I met up with Brother Nutbag #2 and gave him his MPP tickets, we crushed the chicken, orzo, and Pimm’s, SR met up with the rest of his crew and at 7:30 we headed into the venue. Our group was split into two groups: SR had scored 4 PTBM tickets dead center in section 102 and CS had tickets in the accessible section. One of the reasons that makes Female Nutbag so awesome is that she was OK with me going with SR to the bulls-eye seats while she chilled with CS in the accessible section. I told her I would meet up with them at some point in the first set, betting that they would play at least one piss break song. How wrong I was.
I’ve been reading around the interwebs different people’s reaction to the show including OPT, Mr. Miner, and Charlie Dirksen. I would have to say my assessment of the show is more in line with Dirksen’s than either OPT or Miner. I think there is a disconnect between people who were at the show, like myself and Charlie and people who weren’t like OPT and Miner (I don’t think he was there, but I don’t know for sure). Ask anyone who was in the building if they weren’t totally blown away by the first set. Ask Guy Forget…he just happened to be sitting two rows behind me. I don’ t think this is hyperbole, but I may place that set in my top 5 first sets seen. Seriously. Just take a look at the set list. Where are you supposed to catch your breath? You’d think after the Weekapaug, but no, its Stash (side note: loved watching the older dude and his wife next to me try and figure out the clapping in Stash. A few false starts and fakeouts, but they almost got it by the end). Would they ease off after Stash? Not this time. How about Tube>Guyute. Now perhaps? Ehhh, we will give you a little Guelah, Mule (oh, and I got my Mule after the fakeout in Bethel), Sloth, Curtain With.
Reading OPT it seems like he takes issue with the shortness of Tube. I agree that Tube was short, but Tube has almost always been short. Tubes from ’97 are the exception, not the rule. Not enough Trey in the Mule duel? Well, Page crushed his part, and at the time whatever Trey was doing was working on the crowd. Was Sloth butchered? It wasn’t clean, but they stuck with it and recovered. I didn’t let it get into my head. And Curtain With…my god! I fell in love with Curtain With from a tape I got back in the day of 5/24/88 at Nectar’s, and for the most part the song has been quite elusive for me. I was especially disappointed in Albany ’00 when we got a regular old Curtain Without, considering it came right after the rebirth of With at Deer Creek. Well, this Curtain With was why we see Phish time after time. It was almost Slave-like in its placement and effect. Just outstanding. For all the faults Phish had in setlist construction in the second set, this one was perfect.
A little more on Curtain With. High on the first set I went to go meet up with Female Nutbag and CS to see how they liked the set. Both of them really liked it except for “that last song”. Interesting, I thought, as Curtain With was clearly the highlight of the set. But the more I thought about it the more it made sense. To a more casual fan like Female Nutbag and CS, Curtain With could be a little too much especially coming at the end of such an intense set. I think the “Rift” section of Curtain With was what did them in. To someone who doesn’t know the tune that well I can see how that part might take you out of the flow a little, make the song seem disjointed, and prevent you from getting into the climax. Its always interesting to hear the perspective of a n00b. I took Sister Nutbag to 11/25/09 for her first show. She doesn’t know a lick of Phish, but had a blast until TTE came out to close the second set. After the show we were talking about what she thought and her first comment was that she noticed a steep decline in the energy of the building when TTE started. Sometimes n00bs know more than we give them credit for.
I made it back to my seat for the second set after meeting with Female Nutbag & CS, visiting the men’s room, refilling 2 water bottles, and getting a beer. The second set was a bit more of a mixed bag than the first. Disease was good, but I was slightly disappointed in Free. I’m not normally in the “if they aren’t going to play the shit out of this song they shouldn’t play it” camp, but in the case of Free, I’m there. It needs to find its place again. Every time Free pops up at a show these days I think to myself about listening to a great Free from ’97 or ’98 to remind me of what the song could be, but I never do. I think I’d rather not remember. Its too upsetting. When BBFCFM started I thought to myself “I hope this is where things get nuts. Lets have some wacky Phish with BBFCFM starting us off into some craziness”. BBFCFM was cool and the stage antics were funny, but in the end it was just BBFCFM. My stats tell me that this was my second Swept Away>Steep, but I couldn’t recall my first, so I enjoyed hearing the pairing on the heels of BBFCFM as a nice contrast. The outtro of Steep was cool and as the drumbeat to Bowie started I really thought Fishman was playing the drum intro to Pink Floyd’s “Time” (or is it Breathe? I’ve never been good on naming the individual tracks from DSOTM). When they launched into Bowie, I was hoping that Fishman’s tease would lead into a Bowie>Time>Bowie or something crazy like that, but all we got was a standard Bowie. After Bowie, I thought Julius might close the set leaving the door open for an extended encore, but instead we got Golgi to follow, which naturally would be the set closer. But as sure as I was, we got Fluffhead to close it out, right?. For those keeping score at home that is 4 set closers in a row. All great songs, but in a row each loses a little bit of their oomph. Well, the surprise of the night was the Joy closer. I always find it tough to hate on Joy. Trey wrote it for his dead sister so I feel like an ass for hating on it. Its a nice tune, but the entire crowd was suffering from a combo of the heat, end of show fatigue, and 4 set closers in a row fatigue, so Joy ended the show kind of on a down note. Axis closed things out on what I thought would either be a) Shine a Light, b) Bouncin’, Sample, or c) Bug.
Overall, I had a blast in Camden. Hometown shows are always special, and this one was no different. The Curtain With made my night 100%. Was this the best show in Camden? Probably not. The second set had some problems, but for my money it will be hard to beat that first set. It hit everything just right for me with energy and song choice. And if you are looking for a nitrous-free night in Camden, try Lot 2.