The Sloth opened up the first set. After not opening a show from 11/24/91 in New Hampshire until 3/22/03 in Cincinnati, the Phish from Vermont decided to come out of the gate slicing nipples for the second time in the past 10 shows. Well played version, jumped straight into My Sweet One and immediately we've assuaged fears of this being a typical show.
46 Days was flirting with leaving it's structure by 3 minutes into the song but stayed relatively snug within it's languid confines. I'm always a big fan of the joygasm that follows the brief reprise of the chorus and this version didn't disappoint.
Camel Walk leads off a very well played funk suite, something tells me that Camel Walk will be the next song to receive one of the unexpected dashes of extra mustard that seem to be popping up lately, from the SuperMound to the West Coast Roggae amongst others.
The Tube that we all missed made it's grand return in Atlantic City. Page's clavinet work and Fish's "Nude Descending The Staircase" beat seemed to invigorate Phish and lead Tube somewhat outside of the box for the first time in quite awhile. Some classic start-stop jamming allowed the fans to show our appreciation. When that first break launched into some funky bass instead of the end of Tube, ecstatic might not encompass the feeling from the fans. God, I'm so happy with this show I almost typed "Phans"!
The little spacey interlude following Tube undoubtedly had the entire audience in the palm of Phish's collective hands anticipating the long awaited return of the Tube Reprise. It wasn't to be. This Tube didn't reach the heights of Dayton 97 or Hershey 00 but I don't think it would be a stretch to say that people appreciated it more.
The funk continued in the form of Cities. Any time you get a chance to get 10,000 hippies to scream the question "Do I smell?" You gotta take it. While Cities stayed as standard as it gets, I really enjoyed the quick and smooth segue into It's Ice. Fit like a glove on a gearshift as Phish pushed it into 3rd and left the funk behind.
The intricate innards of It's Ice were a nice reminder of how much tighter Phish is these days. Not a perfect version by any stretch of the imagination but played quite nicely. I'm still waiting to hear the crazy leadup before the drop to go straight into "Bundle of Joy" but I probably overthink these things.
After Sand-> Nellie Kane and the warpspeed Rocky Top from Bonnaroo, Ginseng Sullivan was a return to the halcyon days where you could just say "Bluegrass song was bluegrass song"
I really dug the Stash that came next. On second listen it was a lot more atypical than I initially thought. Mike was playing very forcefully and anchoring an excellent melodic take on the Stash jam. Ignoring screaming tension and release this Stash peaked almost romantically, with all 4 guys adding equal pieces to the puzzle. Perhaps some people won't like this version, but this unique take on Stash fits right in with the best things Phish is doing lately.
No matter how many times I hear Simple, I'll never tire of the reverse crescendo nature of it's improv segment. Great psychedelic melodic interplay in this version. Smooth slide into the Wedge, very cohesive 1-2-3 punch.
Stealing Time! Where have you been all my life? Fairly reminiscent of the 46 Days jam (As well as an Ocelot or Alaska jam, for good measure) Stealing Time finally fulfilled it's destiny as a song more akin to a Character Zero than a Sample In A Jar. There is no way that they have played a better version than this before. Real breakthrough with Stealing Time.
Holy crap, a Coil closer! I feel like the requests for a walk-off Page Home Run had been piling up and Phish delivered. Trey's current tone lends itself really well to Coil. As great as the Page solo is, the longer the band stays out the more I tend to enjoy Coil and we got a solid minute of all 4 members blissing out before Page cleared the bases and knocked us into setbreak.
My Soul wasn't the most unpredictable opener but something seemed different about it. Perhaps I'm just that much further away from being sick of the song, or maybe the rest of the band was more engaged than usual.
Birds Of A Feather in the 2nd slot seems like another easy call, but Birds decided to rejoin the big kids table. Why not? It's Atlantic City and the big kids table has gambling! If you wanted a 6 minute raging Birds jam, you got it. If you wanted them to push pass the peak and bet on 17 you got that too. Phish hit me. Fishman drops some utterly amazing beats in this jam, rolling toms and cymbals all over the place while Trey plays in a more 'millennial' fashion than he has usually. This jam has the feel of one of those krautrock influenced 99 Pipers but with a much more intricate touch. Spacey jams are at their best when Fishman is still kicking ass on the kit and Page is tinkling the ivories and this Birds fulfilled both of those qualifications while Trey & Mike conducted a counterpoint love affair within the margins. Mike once again showed he is the Admiral of the 3.0 ship while repeatedly whipping out basslines that subtly nudged the jam in different directions.
Trey might have been thinking NICU but Fishman kicks in Back On The Train and suddenly I've realized that Phish developed a better understanding of segues (Or perhaps just stopped fucking with us) at some point since New Years run.
I had a feeling this Train was going to go deep like the seminal version from Miami on 12/30/09. It wasn't to be, but we still got a fairly jammed out version of the song which got some excellent staccato interplay in on top of some huge round basslines from Mike. Trey seemed to cue up a segue into Heavy Things using the delay pedal (ala 6/29/00 Birds->Catapult->Heavy Things) but Fishman decided to make a clean break and let Trey's loop ring out by itself for a moment.
This version of Heavy Things had such an emotive solo from Trey and reached some truly glorious heights in it's slight 7 minute run time. Immediately jumped into my 'Favorite Heavy Things Ever' slot, and that is most definitely not an attempt to damn it with faint praise. Ecstatic.
The first 4 songs of this set seemed like a personal message from the band. A story of dejection and disillusion leading to redemption and joy. The Heavy Things solo perfectly encompasses the vibe of Phish these days: Passionate.
Twist captured that smoky Monaco speakeasy vibe that it's aimed for lately. The band allowed it a lot more room to breathe and it turned into a great showcase for how well they're listening to each other lately. It's constantly amazing how fast they can flip the pages during a jam without ever sounding jarring or disjointed. All of a sudden Twist is just raging! The first big WOO is a great moment. What a way to cut directly into our skulls and implant some unadulterated joy directly into the bony carapace of our lizard brains.
The WOOing continues into a fantastic 3.0 Piper that charges back up the motorik, and hits 100 on the Autobahn before melting away into an ambient segment with heavy Nitrous Oxide overtones. Fishman's sporadic drumming and Mike's huge bass bomb created an excellent illusion of being on some intergalactic carousel that occasionally spins past a drummer in a mumu.
What's this emerging? Billy Breathes?! Holy god. This and If I Could might have to do battle for the best placed 2nd set ballads in quite awhile.
A long pause complete with STEEEEAM requests (Couldn't agree with you more, homeboy!) and Sally brings the funk back for a quickie. Nothing spectacular but pretty solid, I dug the way Fishman pushes the beat directly into David Bowie. Mike's single Maze tease in the intro- a sly nod to the uproar over repeats? If so, well played Cactus, well played. As far as "Remember those songs we played earlier tonight?" Teasefests go, this one was pretty fun. Trey & Page play a really interesting game of cat & mouse on and off prior to the shift into rage mode. A premature jump into the Bowie peak provided one of the few blemishes on the set.
Extremely solid First Tube with a little extra mustard and pickled onion, perhaps some DWD teases in there towards the end?
Can't think of any reason to give this show less than an "A"
Curious to see what would have happened if they played this set at the 'Roo. Maybe more people would have walked out, but I'd assume that WAY more people would have dropped their life and decided to worship Phish for the rest of their lives.
I really really hope they keep up this level of passionate playing and sneaky-amazing improvisation. It's been really invigorating hearing this kind of stuff lately. Thank you, Phish!