Phish primed their Halloween audience on Saturday night with a fun and raucous rock show laced with Led Zeppelin history, crossing the strongest rumor off the never-ending list musical costume possibilities. Filling two sets with ballistic playing, Phish granted the Atlantic City audience an explosive and special show that will go down in the band’s rich Halloween lore.
On the eve of their three-set exclamation holiday show, the band crushed from beginning to end, with much of their impressive improvisation coming before setbreak. Popping through a set-opening trio of “Kill Devil Falls,” “Cavern” and “Foam,” the band clearly carried an extra something with them from the get go on Saturday night. But when the band ripped into what seemed like another innocuous first set “Chalk Dust,” the evening was just getting started. Phish transformed a furiously creative jam into a full-blown stop in Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love” before dive-bombing for the ending of “Chalkdust.” At this point, the Zeppelin reference could have been a Halloween preview, or a tease altogether. But when Phish followed up the smoking segment with “Ha Ha Ha,” the joke was clearly on us, and we didn’t even know the half of it.
“Chalk Dust” began a scintillating first set run that continued with a sticky and percussive “Wolfman’s Brother” that continued to push the envelope of fall versions. Moving out of the composition into a vocal scat over a pulsing groove, the bands musical exploits never stopped while they simultaneously added a fifth vocal layer. Passing into a sparse rhythmic plane, Trey darted through the intricate beats with staccato melodies that Gordon answered with strong counter-leads of his own. Soon enough the band was neck-deep in a pit of percussive quicksand that continued to draw the band down the rabbit hole. Hinting at “Manteca” (as most funk jams this tour have at one point or another) all four members kicked in equitable antes in this rhythmic canvas. A strained, but well intended, transition brought the band from “Wolfman’s” into Fall’s first “Undermind.”
Continuing their rhythm-based jamming, Phish flowed into a standout version of “Undermind” that was delivered with enhanced precision and tightness that has characterized this tour. Trey and Mike entered a dynamic conversation while Fishman held the court for such a discussion to take place. Page comped this scene with organ swells that provided a backdrop for the three-piece summit. Look for some furious work from Red throughout this, potentially, best-ever version.
Following the post-hiatus song with two oldies, Phish closed the set with a massive “Bathtub Gin” and “Squirming Coil.” Highlighted by guitar acrobatics – an emerging theme of the show – Phish led “Bathtub Gin” down decidedly dancy road. Oozing right into the thick of things, it took Phish no time to lock into an initial groove that spiraled into a tornado of nasty guitar licks, ballooning bass lines, and collective melodic sensibility. This “Gin” built into a cathartic first set standout that brought one of the legitimate high points of the entire show. Flowing and connected with unparalleled urgency, Phish carried a Mack truck’s worth of momentum through this mind-numbing first half gem.
But after setbreak, Phish built a retro-adventure centered on a “Tweezer” that wove in and out of four Led Zeppelin songs, climaxing with the iconic final verse of “Stairway to Heaven.” As soon as the “Tweezer” jam dropped, Phish went right into tease of “Heartbreaker” before changing back into to “Tweezer” for a stellar couple of minutes that too quickly found their way “Ramble On.” Passing through mere portions of each Zeppelin song, Phish built a classic rock jigsaw puzzle that likened a joyride down high school’s memory lane. After passing through the gorgeous “Thank You,” Phish briefly returned to “Tweezer’s” theme before merging into “Stairway to Heaven.” Turning “Tweezer” into a straight up medley, Phish musically chuckled at any fans that had believed the hype, while creating a wildly entertaining sequence of music along the way.
Although a smashing and significant “Tube” opened the set followed by a “Possum” that stuck out like a sore thumb, what this show now needed was some pure Phish fire. All teases and jams aside, there was little meat in the second set until the final third. But any concerns were put to rest with an ornate sequence of “2001 > Bowie” that doused the end of the show with some serious improvisation.
Building on the revitalized versions of Fall, Phish absolutely went to town on “2001,” tearing apart the space-funk with a flying passion. Turning Boardwalk Hall upside down and spinning it around, the band really gave this version the full treatment, extending its second half into a clinic of groove. One of those versions where the mind shuts off and the body just moves, this one had the venue bumping as one in the middle of the second set. Flying off the chain with furious runs of notes, it had been ages since Trey had been so active and out front in the space-aged realm – and it was straight up glorious.
Dropping into “Bowie’s” intro at “2001’s” peak, the band unveiled another resuscitated piece of their catalog that has shined throughout Fall. A dialed-in rendition littered with nuances and intricacies, Mike, Trey and Page played a game of musical tag, chasing each other through a labyrinth of psychedelia. A perfect example of the new and improved Phish, the amount of ideas conveyed within this compact musical cannonball was stunning, as the band never let up from the moment the jam began. Unquestionably the musical highlight of the show, you can take “2001> Bowie” to the bank – top-notch stuff.
“Show of Life” set up a set closer from which the band could have selected a number of successful songs, but “Number Line” wasn’t one of them. Using this enigma of a song as a contained set closer contains very little power, and honestly, leaves the show wanting more. And luckily, last night, Phish had a little more in them, capping the set with a filthy and fitting encore of “Good Times, Bad Times.” Finalizing the evening with a last tease of “Whole Lotta Love” after “Reprise,” suffice it to say that Phish got their Led out on Saturday night, treating the South Jersey audience to a full-on experience. But now that Zeppelin is out, what will the costume be? Nobody knows a thing and the witching hour is quickly approaching! Your guess is as good as mine, but if one thing is for sure, the last night of Fall tour will be one for the books.
I: Kill Devil Falls, Cavern, Foam, Guelah Papyrus, Chalk Dust Torture > Whole Lotta Love > Chalk Dust Torture, Ha Ha Ha, Walk Away, Wolfman’s Brother > Undermind, Bathtub Gin*, The Squirming Coil
II: Tube, Possum*, Tweezer* > Heartbreaker^ > Ramble On^> Thank You^ > Tweezer > Stairway to Heaven^, Halley’s Comet > Also Sprach Zarathustra > David Bowie, Show of Life, Backwards Down the Number Line, Good Times Bad Times
E: Sleeping Monkey, Tweezer Reprise*
* w/ “Whole Lotta Love” teases, ^ incomplete