Phish, Boardwalk Hall, Atlantic City, NJ- 11/1
Here is David Steinberg’s review of night two in Atlantic City. Click here for his review of Halloween over at Relix.com.
Photo by Artie Raslich
Other than dates on New Years’ Runs, Halloween is the most common date Phish have played. In contrast, All Saint’s Day was only played twice before 2013. The most recent November 1 show was at Festival 8. It had a noon acoustic set, which just seems befitting for a recovery day. After one of the more controversial and intriguing concerts Phish have played, they had to come back the next night and put on a normal show. Would they pick up where they left off with the exciting third set the night before? That seemed like a lot to ask for.
After a quick “Cavern” opener (an unusual spot for the song, “Cavern” usually marks the end of the show, not the start; the last time it was in that role was 1992), things quickly got weird. They’ve been experimenting on this tour with expanding the first music break. This time Mike took a long solo while Trey started singing the lyrics to “Theme From Shaft,” changing them to be about Mike. “Who’s the green private dick who’s the sex machine to all the chicks? Catctus. John Cactus.” Silliness very early into a show is a promising sign.
We are in an era where first sets and second sets have different roles. The opener does tend to be more about getting our dancing legs working than extended jams or psychedelic weirdness. However, that doesn’t mean that they’re interchangeable. While there are few 20-minute jams, there is improvisation going on. When first set songs have extra fills or subtle sections, that’s always a good sign for the show. This show couldn’t stay away from them. The ending of “Halfway to the Moon” had a brief additional section, complete with some bizarre effects. “Tube” might not have appeased those who lament the passing of the era of ridiculously extended arrangements, but it featured some fun game with pitch changers. Foreshadowing!
Every song seemed to have a little extra. Between the extra riffs under the singing of “Halley’s Comet” to Trey dancing around the central riff of “Sugar Shack,” giving extra flourishes to a section that once seemed to frustrate him to Page’s amazing solo in “Jesus Just Left Chicago,” there was a passion behind what Phish were playing. Maybe it was the excitement to playing their new songs the night before, but there was a passion displayed in everything they played. There was a little extra effort in every exchange.
After another short set break – another sign of how excited Phish have been to play is that the breaks all dropped below a half hour. If you have plans for the intermission tonight, you had best execute them quickly – the second set opened with “Twist.” Spoiler alert: it was really good!
The jam started out with quick references to Southern Culture on the Skid’s “Banana Pudding” and the Beatles’ “Get Back,” but then a riff was discovered. Life affirming chord progressions have been a motif on this tour. They take a theme, build on it, and people’s lives are never the same. They can be simple but when a build is done right, they’re impossible to resist. All I could get down in the brief moment when I stopped jumping up and down and punching the air to write something in my notes was, “11:30 Euphoria!”
You can’t stay there forever of course. Eventually the spell will be broken and it will just sound like chords, not the secret to eternal happiness. You have to bring it back down to build it back up. A great show has multiple approaches. Sometimes the peaks are alternated by deep psychedelic patterns or by compositions. On this night the contrast was silliness. As the peak dropped, Trey started playing “Under Pressure.” Unfortunately, no one knew the words, so Fishman scat sung his way through a verse as best he could, and then they went back into the jam.
That’s how the night went. Peaks alternated with silliness. “Gotta Jibboo” hit another peak (“28:26 Euphoria (reprise),” was my new note) only to be followed by a “Makisupa Policeman” that had an extended breakdown on the words “Bush” and “OG Kush,” with various effects placed on the vocals to speed them up and slow them down. When that threatened to be a little too much goofiness, they busted back into “Light” and a high energy dance party. It didn’t quite hit the raptures of the previous two peaks, but it came close enough.
The advantage of hitting peaks early and often is that everything else in the concert is colored by them. A late “Chalk Dust Torture” might be cause for grumblings among some, but it was just an excuse to dance some more. This set wasn’t just fun, it was educational. It turns out that spending most of the night with an ear-to-ear grin is actually dehydrating. I think most of us would be willing to drink the extra water.
After a set where every song had something extra, a perfunctory encore would have been understandable. It seems as though a book worm consumed the “perf” page in Phish’s dictionary because they came out instead and ripped through an extended version of “Sneakin’ Sally.” The themes of the night happened again: peaks and silliness playing off of each other, making both stronger. One final funk jam contrasted with a reprise of the “Shaft” references. This time it was Jon Fishman who was a bad mother….shut your mouth.
It’s always dangerous to assume that your experience is universal, that the show you thought was so amazing worked for others. When you find yourself writing “Euphoria (reprise) (reprise)” as I did during the “Slave to the Traffic Light” peak, there’s a chance that maybe you’re overrating the night. Fortunately, my reaction seemed to be common. There were multiple loud screams leaving Boardwalk Hall. People were high-fiving each other and jumping up and down and doing whatever they could to express their joy. A loudspeaker outside the Trump was broadcasting Rolling Stones songs, and people stopped to dance and sing along.
Maybe the joy won’t hold up on recordings, but that doesn’t matter. In the moment Phish shone, showing again what they demonstrated the night before. They are able to bring rapture to tens of thousands of people, making it possible to return to the more frustrating world outside of tour with an extra spring in our steps. This impressive tour still has one more night, but the best thing about it isn’t that it happened, but that it points to years to come for moments where the Boardwalk Hall or a Tahoe casino parking lot or a river gorge in the middle of the Washington desert is a focal point of bliss.