[Many thanks to Ryan Harrell for recapping Camden2 for the site. -Ed.]
The BB&T Pavilion in Camden, New Jersey, is storied not for its architecture or aesthetic, but rather for the high quality of shows Phish has brought to its stage over the years. This was my first run at this venue, and what struck me the most was the great sound quality one could find at almost any place on its large lawn. In particular, the drums and bass guitar sounded noticeably crisp and tight. I wondered if the individual band members have any venue-specific knowledge about how their instruments carry out to the crowd. While I have no idea if they have such knowledge, given the strong, confident performances by Mike and Fish last night, it wouldn't surprise me if they did.
Accordingly, the first set launched with the classic pairing of "The Moma Dance” and “Free.” Although neither deviated from its expected format, both conveyed a particular snappiness, and the two-chord portion of the jam in “Free” had an added richness.
“Undermind” fit in well with this vibe, as did “Theme From the Bottom” (which soared, and will almost certainly make its jam chart). “My Sweet One” was a welcome blast of energy, and a good contrast to more simmering “Steam” that followed. The jam to this “Steam,” although relatively brief, found Trey creating strong, repetitive riffs, which pointed to the direction many of the show’s subsequent highlights would take.
The crowd appreciated the rarity of “Train Song,” and the “Halley’s Comet” that followed featured strong harmonies from the band members, an additional trend that continued through the show.
The set-closing “Everything’s Right” was the set's clear highlight, and its mighty jam foretold the harnessed energy the band would release in the second set as well. Although the jam settled into workmanlike bliss, notably, an additional jam segment emerged, focused on blistering energy, and brought things to a satisfying peak before the band returned to the chorus and concluded a solid, if not unique, first set.
The second set kicked off with the somewhat odd choice of “Julius” (which hadn't opened a second set in a few years). I didn’t expect this to be taken for any significant ride, but I was aware of the way in which the song has launched other high-energy sets, specifically 07/06/1998. This approach seemed confirmed when “Carini” appeared in the set’s second slot.
This brings me to my only real quibble with the show. “Carini’s” jam began confidently, and quickly shifted to an up-tempo section, against which some nice descending-chord "hose jamming" emerged. The promise of this jam, however, was cut short by Trey essentially dropping out of the jam to set up the beginning of “Set Your Soul Free.” I was was reminded here of the “Twist” in 10/15/2016, which to my ears had its potential promise cut short by a similarly abrupt shift into another, newer song, in that case, the debut of “I Always Wanted It That Way.”
“Set Your Soul Free,” despite its similarities to other recent Trey output, does have an advantage in its righteous ending chords and vocal round, which were played in spectacular fashion both before and after the upbeat jam.
“Wingsuit” was right at home in the next spot, and consistent with the peaking jamming preceding it, delivered its Floydian conclusion in a highly satisfying way. The full version of “Scents and Subtle Sounds” followed (it included the intro), and the band confidently delivered a simmering jam with good interplay from all members before Trey took it to a moderate peak. The beginnings of another jam segment began, but dissipated in favor of the opening strains of “Waste,” which felt earned as the second-set ballad, and went over well.
I was expecting a big finish, and received it in spades when the opening drum crack of “Split Open and Melt” rang out. It seems clear the band is giving special attention to this song at present, and this focus paid off in the resulting tangled, knotty version the Camden crowd enjoyed. It would not have sounded out of place in August 1993, frankly, and it was easily the evening’s most exploratory and challenging jam. Chris Kuroda deserves special mention for the way in which he draped the light rig downward in a dramatic way that made me slightly worried he would permanently tangle the rig.
“Melt” could have capably ended the set, but we were treated to “Character Zero” to close. In addition to the expected Hendrixian guitar heroics, a portion of the jam opened itself to "wooing," which the band seemed to enjoy and encourage. A standard but energetic “Suzy Greenberg” as the encore capped the show’s energy with a bold-font punctuation mark.
This has been a high-quality tour so far, and although I do not see characteristics of this show that would make it lead the pack, I would rate it as acquitting itself admirably within that pack. Those who seek energy and peaks would do well to check out the second set as a whole, and Phish fans of all stripes should immediately listen to this excellent “Split Open and Melt.”
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March 27, 1993
25 years ago
Set 2: Buried Alive > Halley's Comet > It's Ice > Bouncing Around the Room, Chalk Dust Torture, The Man Who Stepped Into Yesterday > Avenu Malkenu > The Man Who Stepped Into Yesterday > Mike's Song > I Am Hydrogen > Weekapaug Groove, Hold Your Head Up > Cracklin' Rosie > Hold Your Head Up, Poor Heart > Golgi Apparatus
 Beginning featured Trey on acoustic guitar.
 Fish on trombone.
 All Fall Down signal in intro.
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