And sometimes there are strange nights at the Phish concert, and Sunday would most definitely qualify. Despite a quality opening to the second set in “Drowned > 2001 > Reba,” the band played songs as if they were on “shuffle” mode all night long and somehow, their iPod missed any true launch pads and—for much of the second set—even rock songs. In a series of head-scratching decisions, the band unveiled a string of ballads in the middle of the second set, totally dousing any fire the set had going, while leaving the night with little to no musical adventure. Phish, to their credit, played every song in both sets quite well, but whoever was calling songs was in a particularly mellow mood and allowed the show—as a whole—to fall flat. Before breaking down the questionable calls in this one, let’s turn to the centerpiece of the show.
Bursting out of the second-set gates with The Who’s “Drowned,” the guys crafted an engaging jam, but it never veered far enough from the song for long enough to qualify for an “Atlantic City Jam,” and for a second-set opening cover, that says a lot. Trey slinked into the background once it started, allowing Page to lead much of the way on piano. But just as the piece dropped into half-time and it felt like things might pop off, the band, instead, turned for a quick, ambient transition into “2001.” And here is where the action of the show truly took place. Opening up the funk instrumental with slowed and chunky, open-air grooves, all four members coalesced in the most exalting “2001” of this summer. Stretching out the first verse with James Brown teases, and then the second verse with slow and swaggering rhythm patterns that evoked the vibe of many past festival monsters, Trey shared the spotlight with Gordon. The wide open grooves continued as the band followed the peak of “2001” with a divine “Reba.” Remaining true to its classic contour throughout, the band delicately eased into the groove and slowly built a remarkable rendition. But aside from this phenomenal chunk of summer dance music, the show was quite thin and there’s no other way to put it.
After “Reba” came to a conclusion, Phish dropped into a second-set “Roses” and my heart nearly stopped. Were they really shifting “Roses” into rotation as a jam vehicle?! After Worcester’s first set revelation, this move seemed to signify exactly that. But when the juncture came to elevate, the band fizzled out into “Chalk Dust?!” Really? And the blows just kept, inexplicably, coming—“Prince Caspian -> “Silent In the Morning” (a pairing that worked well, though ill-placed), “Bug,” and an anticlimactic ending of “A Day in a Life” and a standard “Down With Disease?!” The setlist oddities continued right through a double encore of “Jibboo” and “Quinn The Eskimo.”
In a Sunday show that seemed bound to blow up on a half-empty Bader Field, Phish took things in the polar opposite direction with virtually zero out-of-the-box jamming in either set. The random song generator was at work for an harmless first half as well. The unquestionable highlight of a solid opening half was a torrid “Timber” and surprisingly energetic version of “Fluffhead.” And I rarely point out “Fluffhead.”
In summation, Atlantic City’s final night left many, dare I say most, in the crowd incredibly underwhelmed. Though each song was played well individually—Phish is at the top of their game after all— their setlist made no coherent sense whatsoever. When the band never even attempts to jump into adventurous jamming, we are left with last night—Singlestown, USA.
On to Portsmouth…
I: Brother, Runaway Jim, Dogs Stole Things, Boogie On Reggae Woman, NICU, Foam, Wilson, Timber, Fluffhead, Walls of the Cave, Character Zero
II: Drowned > Also Sprach Zarathustra > Reba > Roses Are Free > Chalk Dust Torture, Prince Caspian ->Silent in the Morning, Bug, A Day in the Life, Down with Disease
E: Gotta Jibboo, Quinn the Eskimo