This Saturday night in Camden was a prime example of why I make efforts to go in with no expectations, withhold judgement and try to enjoy each moment as it passes (and judge the hell out of it a few days later when a subsequent show eats it’s lunch). So full disclosure up front, for my money both Friday and Sunday night offered more enjoyable setlists, flow and playing and I don’t think that statement is in the ballpark of controversial. That said, Saturday on the whole may have taken gold on the fun factor and that would certainly not be the case if I had judged the show in the moment for what it wasn’t rather than what it was (a slightly below average show by one of the best bands on the planet).
Our Saturday journey began with a stroke of luck that morning as we just barely snagged the free breakfast from the hotel restaurant just before close. We got there at 9:00am on the dot and the guy was nice enough to let us in without hesitation. Big score. Great vibes. Eggs, bacon, pancakes, English muffins, fruit; the lot of it! Girlfriend and I are in heaven.
Post feast we made our way to the rooftop pool. A chance to limber up the joints with some light exercise while catching up with other fans is always appreciated. Some nice folks who were at Merriweather said to keep an eye out for Ruby Waves… Noted.
A pretty heavy rain came at this point so we did the only thing one can do in this situation; order that world famous Philadelphia Chinese food and find the Forensic Files marathon. I don’t need too many excuses to do close to nothing while saving the boogie juice for the show so this was a welcome alternative to whatever else we had planned for this afternoon. Don’t get me wrong, we enjoy catching a museum or seeing a site during the day before a show here and there but boy howdy do we love, love, love doing nothing (and we’re SO good at it). Once more, we’re in heaven.
In time, like it always does, the rain passes and we make our way towards the show. Easy one mile walk to the ferry to hop the river and we’re there. I can’t overemphasize the peace of mind of being able to essentially walk to a show. Another box checked on this lovely Saturday. Big thanks to the PT rumor mill that allows us to book cheap hotels in prime locations (and purchase AR tix the day before tour announcement).
I’m scrambling a bit, back to the Phish show. We posted up about half way up on the lawn and found a patch with our name on it. I feel confident speaking for most fans when I say there’s not many combos more capable of getting the wheels turning than Mike’s > Hydrogen > Weekapaug, Divided Sky. Even performed as standard fare we call it a win. Somewhere in the middle of this opening segment our friend Iris, who we’d met maybe a year prior, stumbled through our area. We caught up, shared a few laughs and she was on her way. These little moments, though brief, have a way of adding a little extra pepper on a night. To be frank, the rest of this set 1 escapes me but I do remember the 46 Days being serviceable and enough to have me pumped for round 2.
Setbreak, if I recall correctly, featured some pretty gnarly fireworks over the river which further set the vibe nicely. More shiny, loud things the better, that’s what I always say.
Set two I could equate to rush hour traffic in a medium size city. Just when we thought we were getting going we’d catch a light and have to regain momentum. Not to say the set isn’t without it’s highlights but to call it cohesive would be cause for a raised brow. Blaze On, while slinking nicely into NICU nicely, could have had a little more pep in it’s step. Golden Age continued the trend as it lost its footing before ever really finding it. There’s a hesitancy and lack of direction in its air that any follower of 3.0 is all too familiar with. The band must have also sensed this as evidenced by a less slinky transition into my clear highlight of the night, Ruby Waves.
Like many of the 10-15 minute jams of summer ‘19, this one offered a good deal in a small package. If I’m nit-picking (and I am), the big payoff punch is still lacking but to support a point from my opening paragraph, let’s judge this one for what it is rather than what it isn’t. This Ruby features a plethora of textural work that painted the crowd nicely from my vantage point on the lawn.
Each band member brought a little something to the table but Page and Trey most notably. I’m probably speaking out of school a bit but I believe Trey busted out the reverse delay which can be found mostly from “the year 2000” (shout out to old school Conan fans) and most notably from personal experience, the Vegas 2014 Piper. This groove gives way to one driven by keys. I generally like my Page work to be a little chaotic, choppy and constantly on to the next so the next few minutes here got along with my legs nicely.
The groove eventually died down to broader waves, this time slightly more naturally than the one prior and despite not packing a huge punch this was easily the creative high point of the night. As most know, each show of a Phish tour builds on the last and having gotten very familiar with the Alpine rendition, I can say with confidence that the juggernaut version to come was certainly aided by this run through. What’s more, the textures and general approach put forward here stands as an example of the types of sounds I believe the band can continue to fine tune and excel with for years to come.
Moving forward, Death Don’t Hurt, though not quite as earned as it has been (see 12/29/18 or Alpine n3) brought the light hearted, fun for fun’s sake vibes I’ll rarely shun. Rift in this slot isn’t my favorite but again, I wasn’t about to complain at that moment and Beneath a Sea of Stars, though producing a groan or two from some friends, brought a reflective vibe that I can get down with. Still not ready to let the traffic theme of the set go, Trey felt it necessary to sneak in Waiting All Night before the old rock and roll crowd pleaser in the form of Ghost > Santos.
The YEM encore served as a pleasant reminder of why my girlfriend and I love doing nothing all day pre-show as it became apparent we had a plethora of energy to burn. Despite it being Saturday night we had a boat load of room on the lawn and we made damn good use of it. The OG compositions are still our main squeeze and we both embraced our inner psychos to the fullest extent to which our bodies allow on this go around. Grind to close it out with a smile and we’re set for the night.
Overall, this was an average show but to reiterate, proof in my mind that the most average show by the best band is still a stellar night for my money. As we walked through the hotel lobby an hour later the most telling review, and the only one I really needed in hindsight, came in the form of a still overly excited fan grabbing me by the shoulders and shouting “HOW ABOUT THAT PHISH SHOW!!!!??!!!!”.
In close, those vibes persisted throughout the night as the lady and I went through a twelve pack as we awaited to close the night the same way we started the morning. We fought off sleep until 6am when the free hotel breakfast was about to start. Slightly haggard at this point, we stumbled our way down in our most relaxed clothes, passing by mostly people who were absolutely not in town for the Phish shows. As we briskly make our approach past the entryway to begin scanning for a table we sense something amiss. The gentleman who had so kindly welcomed us 24 hours prior was nowhere to be found and in his place was a much more stern looking gentleman who gently let us in on the not so secret fact that the all you can eat breakfast was far from free but actually quite pricey. Hilariously embarrassed but further realizing our stroke of luck from the prior morning, we retreated to the bagel shop across the street and watched the sun welcome day three. While not the cleanest victory, a victory all the same. Count it.
Sincere thanks for reading and cheers to a great summer tour to come!
Love you all.
Brian Trotter – Saranac Lake, NY (currently living in Denver)