Phish’s Camden performance boasted little flow, several obvious flubs and wound up as one of the lower tier shows of summer’s opening leg. But during June 2011, even the band’s lesser engaging nights still carried strokes of brilliance. When at a show, its whole contour often strikes one more than its individual parts, but when listening back with the ability to focus in on one particular jam at a time, a recording can offer snapshots of greatness. Though its two-set dynamic never quite elevated, Camden’s show did offer some great musical nuggets. Despite strong first-set versions of “Weekapaug” and “Stash,” the following three jams represent, in my opinion, the most transcendent moments of a relatively underwhelming show.
In the highlight of the first half, and arguably the show, Phish threw down a majestic, set-closing version of their seminal classic, “The Curtain With.” A fluttering beat from Fishman framed a passionate, three-part dance between Mike, Page, and Trey. The phrasing of all members took an emotional and virtuosic turn as their lines seemed played from the comb of a music box—intertwining with mind-boggling perfection. The band immersed themselves in a sacred exchange as their interplay dripped with a collective catharsis that you don’t hear every day. Camden represented the first time in the band’s career that they used “The Curtain With” to end a set; but after this rendition, there was simply nothing left to say.
Though June featured many a standout “Disease,” Camden’s second-set opener is right up there with the best of them. Sprinting through high-speed rock textures, the band boasted the improvisational tightness we heard during “Curtain (With),” and as they veered off course, it was clear an adventure was ahead. Settling into a sparser canvas, the band’s offerings seemed to chase each other in a game of musical tag. Trey’s lines slowly grew more abstract, while Page and Mike went along this spiritual climb with him. Fish’s driving break-beats gave way to more delicate rhythms, and quickly, the band was amidst stunning original interplay. As the music developed out of this mellifluous realm and into more psychedelic waters, Mike and Page lead the jam as much as Trey. Then after stepping back, Red emerged with an uncompressed growl over an increasingly dynamic groove—and within this section lies some of June’s more impressive jamming that has largely been lost in the fray. Ending naturally in “Free,” this “Disease” is pure exploratory fire. Though the rest of the set didn’t exactly blow the roof off Camden’s Susquehanna Bank Center, this “Disease” most certainly did.
Any way you cut it, “Possum,” “Big Black Furry Creatures,” Swept > Steep” is a whole lot of nothing as “meat” of the second set. Nonetheless, following the full-on adventure of “Disease > Free,” it was this exact run of songs that totally derailed the show. But as Phish reached “Steep” and its modern-era composed jam, they decided to take the song for the first ride of its career. Not only expanding on the emotive ending that was debuted on New Year’s ’09 in Miami, Phish took the jam straight into uncharted territory. Entering a down-tempo, four-minded psychedelia, the band took “Steep” into a dark-then-ambient plane, seamlessly fusing with a solid, mid-set “David Bowie.” (“Steep’s” surrounding tracks are included in the clip below for context.)
Jam of the Day:
“Stash” 6.10.11 I
While we are revisting Camden, here is the “Stash” that followed the show’s opening “Mike’s Groove,” a dark slice of jamming at the beginning of the night .