Camden 6.30.2019 (Mr. Completely > Twenty Years Later)
By Mike Shields
Four score and what feels like a hundred thousand years ago, there were live Phish shows, and they were good. Damn good. Outstanding even, as was the case on the final night of the Vermont quartet’s three-night stand in the infamous city of Camden, New Jersey. The city, nestled immediately across the Delaware River from the bright lights and big city of Philadelphia, is home to the BB & T Pavillion. Affectionately and most unfittingly dubbed “The Gorge of The East” by a smattering of fans, this venue was the location of a trio of shows often preceded by perilous thunderstorms, and entirely brimming with goodness.
Night One found Phish unleashing two covers near and dear to my heart — “Strawberry Letter 23” and “Timber (Jerry)” — which paved the way for the band performing a fiery second set featuring a stunning “Mercury” > “No Man’s Land” pairing and a dizzying “Antelope” closer.
Night Two’s offerings included Phish opening the show with a classic Mike’s Groove before driving through fan favorites such as “Everything’s Right,” “Roggae,” “Golden Age,” and “Ghost,” then capping off the evening with a delightful “YEM” encore.
But, it was Night Three that, in hindsight, stands the tallest, and as one of those Camden shows that grabs fans in its clutches with the first few notes, and doesn’t let go until the lights come up.
When I think back upon this momentous evening, my excitement surrounding Phish’s upcoming Summer Tour, a mere weeks away, swells. I think about how “The Curtain With” is the perfect opener, and how “Buried Alive” always gets the party started even when it isn’t in the lead off spot. I remember ballads experienced live like “Fast Enough For You,” “Tela,” and “Shade”, sent chills coursing up and down my body. And I think about the musical depth that unfolds traditionally across Phish’s second sets, which was surely the case when two songs, “Mr Completely” and “Twenty Years Later,” set ablaze the commencement of set two that unforgettable final night in Camden. It was a set flush with an incendiary forty minutes of improvisational psych rock that will live on forever in Phish lore.
“Mr Completely” is a song that has the ability to transcend its structure and aim towards the far reaches of outer worlds. It can be a vehicle for improvisation or a launchpad towards a sublime sonic-filled cosmos. It’s the sort of song that has the ability to literally bring down the house (listen to Episode Two of Osiris Media’s Alive Again podcast if that reference escapes you!). A true rarity (played only seven times with Phish), “Mr. Completely” has been raged in cities such as West Valley City, Utah (7.15.03, its triumphant Phish debut) and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (7.9.17).
The “Mr. Completely” played in 2019 to open the second set of the final night of the Camden run set sail with such ferocity that not even three minutes into it you could feel the song leaving the confines of its structure. Moments later, a darker tone set forth from Trey Anastasio’s guitar and the audience waded deeper into the melodic seas until mid-way through the extended jam, the band steered the soundscapes towards the ethereal with a facade of pulsating sound that was so delicate, so fine, that one would imagine a segue into another song forthcoming. This imagined segue was not to be, and instead a throbbing, purposeful heartbeat erupted from the musicians in perfect unison that from it effortlessly materialized a collection of cutting classic rock riffs. Trey carried the jubilant crowd through a series of building crescendos that eventually concluded with the “Hearts will billow when the dream, dream comes and it comes into me” chorus of “Mr. Completely”, which marked the end of a spectacular sonic journey. This enrapturing musical excursion, we would learn forthwith, was only the beginning…
“Twenty Years Later” followed without a pause, a song that has all my heart, and whose chorus always takes me back in time, in this case to a touch over twenty years prior at the same venue, where I could be found wide-eyed and in awe taking in a “Chalkdust Torture” for the ages (7.10.99, I’m not old — I’m Phish-perienced). This place, I thought, has history, and my mind began to drift further off to tours of yore. But, I caught myself and drew my mind right back to the present where it was emphatically going down.
This particularly “Twenty Years Later” began with a sinister tone, unsurprising for a “Twenty Years Later” jam. What was birthed from these menacing soundscapes was an explorative adventure that much like its predecessor “Mr. Completely,” took a serious turn midway through, driven this time by an aquatic funk tone from Trey and reverberating bass bombs from Gordo. The version of “Twenty Years Later” was rife with varying musical motifs and improvisational turns, like the softer, blissful bubbly funk that emerges around the thirteen-minute mark that found Page on his feet trading notes with Trey, or the deep funky, blues riffs that carried the song into its home stretch. Camden’s “Twenty Years Later” blossomed into an all out funk dance party, and at just two songs into the set, Phish fans both new and old alike were in that moment wholly satiated and fulfilled.
It is a gift to experience one near twenty-minute long jam in a Phish set, but to experience two back-to-back is an absolute treasure. The musicians leaned into this opening duo of “Mr. Completely” and “Twenty Years Later” with intense fervor, and it’s truly hard to believe that the sonic madness that is “Big Black Furry Creature From Mars” was to follow. And then a “Tweezer.” What a mindfuck! And so, a stone’s throw from where Mare of Easttown put back Yuenglings, snuck vape pulls, and dropped Mare-isms such as “Doing something great is overrated. Because then people expect that from you all the time” (am I the only one still thinking about this show?), Phish capped off a wondrous three night stand in a venue and town that is persistently becoming synonymous with Phish greatness. I look forward to Phish’s return to Jamden, New Jersey one day, but first and foremost comes Summer tour 2021…see you all out there!
Michael Shields is the Editor-in-Chief at Across the Margin, an online Arts & Culture magazine and the host of the podcast Across The Margin : The Podcast (Osiris Media Co.). He is also one of the hosts of the film and television podcast Welcome To the Party Pal and can be found on twitter @mikeshza.