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Thursday, June 21

Bobby Martin's Phishing Trips: Bader Field - 6/15-17/2012

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Photo: Bobby Martin

I have always heard stories and rumors about Atlantic City and its decadence, along with its depraved but pleasing demeanor.   I can say that most of what I have heard is true after seeing three days of Phish in the miniature beach-side Vegas; living off of overpriced French fries from the boardwalk, lukewarm beer and pure unadulterated adrenaline through lack of sleep.
Rolling into Atlantic City at about 8 a.m. on Friday morning, we still had several hours before we could check into the Taj Mahal.  Our small crew that was about to explode into a large one relaxed on the beach only to witness a Baywatch style rescue attempt.  These rip tides were rough and one swimmer found out the hard way, but fortunately he was rescued.   
Anticipation was running high for these shows after Phish had just put on a spectacle in Worcester before a stop at Bonnaroo.  In the early stages of tour they have already been showing they are not afraid to jam and send songs to the outer limits.  Atlantic City would exceed my expectations for Phish, both visually and musically.
While not billed as a festival, there were rumors leading up to the three day fiesta that it was a bit of a festival in disguise.  This was pure truth.  With Bader Field equipped with Phishy art work, a giant Shakedown Street and a Ferris wheel.  In what seemed like a bit of a joke, and Phish’s way of saying that it wasn’t exactly a festival, the ferris wheel was lit up all weekend but never held a single passenger supposedly due to not meeting code… Just not quite a festival.
Night 1
We got to lot at about 5 p.m. to search for a ticket. I got antsy and went to box office where there were plenty of tickets available. Fortunately I got it just as the opening notes of The Sloth were starting up. There was already an overwhelming feeling of positivity throughout the (almost) festival grounds and a Sloth opener only increased this. From top to bottom the first set was very fun, equipped with some serious funk coming from Camel Walk, Tube>Cities.
While the Tube didn’t get into uncharted territory, do not be fooled by the fact that it is only 6:33 and that Cities is only 5:50. Both songs got interesting treatment, with Tube getting the most funk in recent memory.
Another highlight in the first set was a 12 minute Stash, which raged right into Simple. This was a lethal combo and was the most exploratory section of the set. But the real exploration came in set 2, which was an absolute barn burner. There was never a dull point and it was highlighted early with a nearly 15 minute Birds of a Feather. I remember at the time feeling like it was one of the better Birds of a Feather jams I have heard. Upon relisten I can say that there is major truth to this.
Birds melted right into Back on the Train with precision, with the short but sweet jam featuring some plinko style jamming. Phish didn’t slow down with Trey blasting right into Heavy Things.
The exploratory jamming came right back with the always classic combo of Twist>Piper. This was 22 minutes of fun, jammy Phish. It was impressive no matter what era you stack this one up against. The crowd was just as involved as the band was with the jam, with Twist getting nice slow treatment in the start of the tune. It had a laid back funky mood to the beginning of it, which eventually blasted off into an upbeat jam that featured some jamming that was more like cleverly placed notes that somehow created fantastic music. Right around the 5 minute mark the entire band was firing on all cylinders, with Fishman laying down some fills on the blocks that fit perfectly in with Trey’s shredding. The jam really takes off at about the 7 minute mark with Trey showcasing why he is one of the greatest guitarists of all time. Pure shredding right to the end, and amidst a sea of people screaming woo along with the band, Piper starts up. The band and the crowd wouldn’t give up the chant, with elements of Twist still being heard several minutes into Piper.
Piper’s jam was ferocious from start to finish. This Twist>Piper is a must listen and displayed the type of playing that Phish has been all about in the early stages of the tour. Piper went from a crazy upbeat Trey led jam and melted at about the 11 minute mark into a pure type 2 segue into Billy Breathes that featured a massive bomb from Gordo reminiscent of the bomb dropped during the massive Piper of the MSG New Years run.
David Bowie closed out the set, and this really may be the true highlight and best jam of the night. In fact, it is one of the better Bowie’s of 3.0 with teases all over the map throughout the mid section of the song. Listen for obvious teases of Stash, It's Ice, Birds of a Feather, Simple, and Ginseng Sullivan. There was also a Wedge tease from Fishman.
Walking out of the venue on night one was absolute mayhem. Imagine a sea of wooks trampling across the psychedelic landscape of the board walk, most yelling and cheering and everyone with grins on their faces that seem almost sinister. There was an overwhelming feeling that we were seeing something special this weekend, it was only night one.
Night 2
The second night at Bader Field featured a gigantic crowd that was visibly bigger than the previous night which was estimated to be anywhere from 25,000 to 30,000. It was also obvious that energy was at an extreme high. Throughout Shakedown Street fans were going absolutely nuts with their pre-show festivities and getting completely geared up for what everyone was hoping would be a serious throw down of epic proportions. What we ended up getting was my favorite show of the tour so far, and possibly since the comeback in ’09.
The show started off with a bang with a huge classic Mike’s Groove. Mike’s Song doesn’t getting the extended jam segment anymore, but the type one rocker set the mood nicely. The Weekapaug was memorable and had a sweet tease of Nellie Kane by Trey. The crowd of what seemed to be 40,000 people or so was in a frenzy as the opening notes started. This frenzy really never stopped and neither did Phish. It was a musical energy that I haven’t really seen from them.
While the whole show was a highlight real, as far as the first set goes Wolfman’s Brother was probably the true jam coming out of the first set. Wolfman rarely disappoints whether it is taken for a 20 minute ride or just funked out for 10 minutes. This was a very upbeat jam with areas of funk and pure rock and roll that last for nearly 12 minutes before Trey attempted Horse and aborted it to tell a story about My Friend My Friend’s ending being so stupid that it botched his attempt at Horse…. Okay. Because Trey always nails Horse, right?
Possum was the next highlight and is once again proving to me that even though it is played more than any other song of late, it still gets experimental treatment complete with teases, tempo changes and epic tension and release that makes it one of Phish’s finer tunes. This one was dirty and teased Stash and Lawn Boy. One thing that I’ve noticed about the band’s play, particularly Trey, is that they are not afraid to take chances and tease other songs that actually inspire additional jamming.
Punch You In the Eye was an unexpected treat with a late set one slot. It was played to perfection with the fans interacting throughout the entire jam. It kept the energy sky high as Phish went into Ocelot, which featured a bit of a slowed down, funky, grimy jam that went on for about 11 minutes. Ocelot, while not my favorite song, is starting to get some good jam treatment and I will certainly never argue with that.
The second set started off with a bang and never gave up. From the start of Crosseyed and Painless this was the highlight of the set, night, weekend and tour as of now. Crosseyed>Slave>Light>Manteca>Light>Theme>Golgi>Sand is a must hear. There was one point I remember watching the stage, which is now complete with one of the best lighting displays imaginable, and thinking that Phish had just stepped into a brand new area of playing. As my buddy Cready pointed out on the strange walk back from the show, it’s like it stopped being music and art all together and become something totally different, unique and almost unreal.
Look for the entire set featuring teases of Crosseyed, Light, Sand and Manteca. This is one that every fan will love.
With the wind flying around, the lights hypnotizing and the band firing out jams like they haven’t in years, slipping teases and bustouts in at the same time… I was mesmerized. I walked out of Saturday’s show wondering if I had just watched my favorite Phish show. I wasn’t the only one, as I heard many heads young and old saying making similar comments to their buddies.
Night 2 was in the books and the energy carried throughout the night, with much of the crowd hitting up a free Karl Denson show. I went back to my buddy’s suite with a crew of about 25 where we listened to funk and partied like there was no tomorrow. Needless to say, we were all impressed with Phish and Atlantic City was getting the brunt of our energy through all sorts of antics and shenanigans.
Atlantic City is an interesting place because no matter what time of the day or night it is, you can be sure to be able to grab a beer in the casino. Security may watch you with a thoughtful eye, but most limits can be pushed with little to no problem as long as you keep dumping cash into their establishment in one way or another.
Man, what a city. What a night. What the Fuck!
Night 3
Night three was mellow right from the get-go, with a far smaller crowd than the night before and a general feeling of being totally exhausted after the insanity of the first two nights. Everyone was still having a great time, but it was obvious we were all beat.
The show had a similar feel, with the band taking a powerful but also laid back approach to their songs. As Father’s Day shows have done for the past four years, this one started with Brother and getting all the kids in the tub. Unfortunately I didn’t exactly like how Brother was played, as there was little to no jam and seemed a little less inspired. It was cool to see the families up on stage, though. It was also obvious that Phish was very happy, something that we can all agree is a good thing. One thing that continued from the previous show was stage banter about My Friend My Friend, with Trey talking about the very end which is actually Fishman’s favorite ending to a song.
The highlight of the first set was a nicely jammed out Timber followed by a very inspired, tight and slightly exploratory Fluffhead. It was nearly 16 minutes long and taken for a ride, equipped with an ending similar to that of Brother. After Timber, Trey had just said that there are three songs that end with the My Friend My Friend ending and that is Brother, My Friend My Friend and Rift. However, Trey said Timber would now have that ending and apparently they decided they might as well end Fluff the same way.
Walls of the Cave was played very well and was a treat as it is not played all that often. The composed section was dead on and the jam to follow it up was very upbeat, type one and Trey led featuring some fantastic soloing.
Set two started up hot with Drowned>2001>Reba>Roses are Free>Chalk dust>Caspian. Drowned was taken for an 11 minute ride until it dropped into 2001, which exhibited some of the funkiest playing of the weekend. While it wasn’t a monster, coming in at just over 8 minutes, it was fun filled and featured great funk communication between the whole band. It reminded me of the way Tube was played on the first night. It never took off completely, but it was compact with exploration.
Reba, which didn’t feature a whistle, might have been the highlight jam of the night. It had everything you want out of a Reba: a nailed composed section, a well executed jam and a gigantic peak.
This show was going in the right direction, but hit a little bit of a wall at with Caspian>Silent in the Morning, Bug.  Energy was brought right back up with a great rendition of Day in the Life and a set closing Down With Disease that was a straight 8 minute rocker that actually ended, which is fairly rare for DWD these days.
Gotta Jibboo>Quinn the Eskimo ended the night in triumphant fashion. Jibboo featured some outstanding jamming, and I thought I was able to hear hints of Manteca at one point during the sirens. Third night went well, but didn’t have nearly the energy and exploration of the first two nights. It was still, by all means, a fantastic show and a great way to end one of the most powerful weekends of Phish I had seen.
The weekend had it all: festival feelings, jams, bustouts, crowd interaction, stage banter and a ferris wheel that never worked. You get a big fat A + Phish, and everyone who was in AC should and would probably agree.
See you at the next show folks.

Bobby writes for the online site: examiner.com, faithfully known as the Phish Examiner

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