It was an epic weekend that certainly renewed my faith in Phish. Here are the high and low lights:
Built in 1926, Boardwalk Hall is certainly one of if not the oldest indoor venue Phish has played. For an arena that was built way back in the day, I thought it was surprisingly well designed and free from the overcrowded concourses that plagued a place like The Spectrum, although bathroom lines were a little long. (I waited about 15-20 minutes to pee DURING the show, but I guess everyone hates “Stash.”) Getting from the floor to the seated areas was a bit of a time-consuming odyssey, but it wasn’t the end of the world. However, getting into the actual venue was a real bitch-and-a-half. Everyone had to enter from the Boardwalk, which was not nearly wide enough to accommodate the foot traffic of people moving back-and-forth plus the people entering the arena. To make matters worse, some people were riding down the hall in rickshaws that took up a lot of space and went against the flow of shuffling foot traffic. (Shock of shocks, I think I saw Craemer riding in a rickshaw on Halloween.) Security pat-down stories seemed to vary from person to person, although I didn’t hear of anyone losing anything, aside from a few heavy Halloween props, which could very debatably be used as weapons.
As crammed as the whole scene was out front of the venue, the situation for the entire weekend was rather unique for its total lack of cops. In one of those silly “Atlantic City Cops Go Undercover to Learn About Phish” articles I read that AC now has a police force of fewer than 300 officers, which is kind of crazy for a crime-ridden city of that size. More or less, the po-po decided to essentially leave us alone this past weekend, which was a welcome change of pace from just about every other show from the last 15 years. Of course, it was interesting that the lack of police presence resulted in people generally abiding by the law and keeping their cool. Funny how that works!
By the way, if you ever wanted a free ticket, Friday could have been your night, as there were tons of extras floating around outside and not enough people to take them all.
It was nice to finally be in a venue that isn’t under the draconian rule of Aramark concessions, and while there weren’t a ton of food options, people did seem to love the candy buffet. They had Hop Devil on tap, which was nice, and this was one of those crazy venues where they let you keep the cap to your bottled water because they realize that water is not a weapon—it’s merely a vital component of the human body.
I don’t think it was easy for anyone to sneak into G.A., although I did see a couple of people make some fortuitous hops on to the arena floor, but more or less, most people seemed to want to be in the seats. I don’t know if that was a function of our collective old age or merely a need to store people’s coats and stuff, but the floor was far from crowded and had plenty of room to move, while the seats were a total free-for-all where chaos rained supreme. Security was essentially irrelevant, although night one began with three cops standing right behind my section. As the band began, everyone around me started customarily blazing away, and it was interesting to watch these three cops talk amongst themselves because I couldn’t figure out if they didn’t understand what was happening or if they were debating whom they should bust first. Eventually, they made their move, but surprisingly, they just took people’s pieces and let them off without even much of a warning. Of course, no one wants to hang in Copland, so it wasn’t long before my entire section became a ghost town. Surprisingly, these three cops hung around for about the first 20-30 minutes of the show (maybe they liked their view of the light show from that vantage point?), and right when they finally left, Phish immediately played “Light Up or Leave Me Alone.” The timing was perfect in so many ways.
From here on out, the set shifted into a new gear, and a particularly rockin’ “Axilla (Pt. 1)” shifted into a nice “Rift.” Then we went into the uber-funky homestretch of “Moma Dance->Cities->46 Days.”
Good shit all around here. Set Two had a great “Sand->Carini Had a Lumpy Head,” but everything lost steam with “Prince Caspian.” It was here that I was reminded of recent criticisms about Trey playing passively. While the rest of the band was firing away, I did notice that he wasn’t entirely assertive and wasn’t exactly sustaining greatness throughout the night. On the whole, this was a very fun show with a bunch of ups and some downs. Most people seemed to be rather happy, and out of 100, I’d give it an 81.
I should also add that it was loud as balls. I sat dead center in the back of the arena, and I couldn’t remember another Phish show that was this loud at that distance. It was also the first time I could recall seeing repeater speakers in a Phish arena show, so maybe the volume increase was a result of those speakers being pointed directly at me. I’m not really sure, but the sound seemed loud enough that I wore earplugs throughout the weekend, something I rarely do at an arena unless I’m right in front of the speaker or Van Halen is playing.
Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe played a post-show concert in Trump Plaza. This seemed like a very under-publicized event, as I only found out about it through friends, and most people there didn’t seem to know it was happening. Trump Plaza didn’t help by displaying lame signs that read “Phish Post-Show Party” without mentioning the band. It wasn’t crowded at all in the very Vegas-style room, complete with lots of banquettes. With a mixture of seating and lots of dance space, the room had the perfect layout for a show. KDTU came on around 12:40 and started a little slow. It took them a while to get into a higher gear, but they finally did get to funkytown a couple of hours later. Also, it probably helped that there was an influx of people coming into the room at 3AM, providing a virtual kick in the pants for everyone there.
Saturday afternoon was a day of rest for many. We were staying in Harrah’s, so while the rest of my krewe napped, I went downstairs for a dip in The Pool, a glass dome enclosed structure so impressive that it merits its own capitalized article. The pool, itself, was nice, but the hot tub was money because it was really big and could probably hold around 30 or more. If you’re tired and feeling a little hungover, sipping a nice Bloody Mary while soaking in the hot tub is a fine remedy. The only downside was the ear-splitting “um-chi um-chi um-chi” of the club music played at full volume, which was a little much for 1PM. I don’t know if this bad music played at the Loft club above the pool was normal for a Saturday afternoon or if this was something special for the LGBT Outfest thing that was happening over the weekend. As a friend remarked when looking at some of the outlandish costumes of the LGBT-ers, finally the Phish people are the normal-looking ones in town!
After a gut-busting gorgefest at the Harrah’s Waterfront Buffet, which will eventually be detailed in an epic post on another blog in the future, it was time for the show.
I was on the floor in the first set and in the stands in the second, and both places were again really loud, which helped for the rockin’ numbers. The “Whole Lotta Love” verses in the middle of “Chalkdust Torture” seemed very organic and fit in nicely. Little did we know that it would be thematic. Of course, everyone will rave about the “Tweezer-Heartbraker>Ramble On->Thank You->Tweezer->Stairway To Heaven Coda” sandwich that was sprinkled with doses of “Whole Lotta Love” teases.
It was a total blast to hear in person, but I think that after we hear the tapes, let’s just say that no one will list this as a career-defining moment for Phish. The looseness and (real or imagined) spontaneous feel of the sequence was what made it great, but if you were looking for solid vocals or even consistently impressive guitar work, you were in the wrong place. For my money, the real highlight of the night was the “Wolfman’s Brother->Undermind” combo, complete with a nice vocal jam in between.
Once again, this night was lot of fun, if not technically precise. It was a real improvement over Friday, so I’d give it an 88.
Against my will, I was coerced into attending the Marco Benevento-Marc Friedman-Billy Martin trio late show at Trump Plaza.
I love Marco’s songs with his trio, but this was just not the right kind of music for a late show. Late shows, especially late shows after an exhausting Phish show, need to be mindless affairs that do nothing but keep people dancing. Instead, what we got was a very good Marco show (my personal highlight was the “Benny and the Jets” sing-along) that would have been better suited to start around 8 or 9:00. Trust me, unless you’re drunk and crying, 2:45AM is no time for an emotional ballad. My legs were jello, so I had to leave by 3:00.
I had a large brunch at the Harrah’s Waterfront Buffet (which shall eventually be described in full detail on another blog) before switching hotels to the comparatively shitty (but next door to the venue) Trump Plaza, home of elevators that don’t work and massive waits to get to your floor. I had just enough time to shower, change into costume, and meet a couple of people before the show. I really wish I’d been outside to catch this:
In the frenzy leading up to showtime, I’d almost forgotten about what the second set might hold, but I was relieved to see the program confirming my friend’s suspicion that it would feature Little Feat’s awesome live album, Waiting For Columbus. Set One began with an enjoyable string of Halloween-themed songs, and Page’s keytar work on the opening “Frankenstein” was impressive.
I can only imagine that the woman handing out free roses, prompted the “Roses Are Free,” which led into a truly nasty “Funky Bitch.”
Now Phish was dropping the funk in a major way, really killing this tune like I’d never heard them before. I was dancing my ass off, and suddenly, I went from thinking, “Gee, it’s not going to be too hot to wear a fleece-lined costume tonight,” to “Holy shit! I’m going to die of dehydration!” “Boogie On Reggae Woman” kept the funk flowing nicely, and I think that the superfunk throwdown of these two numbers was probably my favorite part of the entire weekend.
I’d venture to guess that at least 90% of the crowd was wearing some sort of costume, and it was great to be in a room with so many energetic people who were all fired up and feeling the Halloween spirit. Phish had two photobooths at the venue, and they were taking people’s pictures, printing them out a souvenier copy and then uploading them to Faccebook. Check out the galleries because there are some great costumes.
I went as Punch Ewe In the Eye, although as expected, not one single person I met got it:
Everybody was on board with the Little Feat set, and while I haven’t heard it since, I thought Phish really did justice to this classic album. It was gritty, funky, jazzy, and had what sounded like credible vocals.
I thought it could have been a disaster having Fishman sing “Willin’” with Page on bass, Mike on piano, and Trey on drums, but Fishman did a decent job (for Fishman’s standards), while Mike played a wonderfully soulful piano solo.
It was hard to pick a real highlight of this set because the whole damn thing sounded great. The sparingly-used horns really perked things up, particularly on a slinking “Old Folks Boogie,” and Giovanni Hidalgo’s percussion nicely accented everything throughout the evening.
In my view, this was exactly what you’d want from a Phish Halloween set: great songs, horns, added percussion, and a perfect vehicle for Phish to make this music their own. Oh, and it all ended with a secondline/parade jam around the arena in true Little Feat fashion!
After a setbreak that featured the music of Professor Longhair, the rest of the night was just gravy. Who cares that they botched the opening “Down With Disease” and had to start over? It was hard not to be on Cloud 9 for most of this set, especially during “Back On the Train,” “Gotta Jiboo,” and “Camel Walk.”
I did think it was strange that they didn’t pull the horns back out for “Suzy Greenberg,” and “Harry Hood” was definitely shorter than normal. The same was probably true of “You Enjoy Myself.”
However, those horns did return for a nice “Julius” encore.
You can’t hear it here because the video stops immediately after the song was supposed to conclude, but it really ended awkwardly because Hidalgo started playing again a couple of seconds later, as if he was trying to get the band started again. He did this twice before finally giving up after a few “Dude, this ain’t your band; you’re a hired gun, so act like it” stares from his fellow musicians. It was a little strange way to end a show that nobody wanted to end, but it was a great night that will easily become one of my favorite Phish shows. I’m giving it a 97.