At the end of this hot show, I texted to my friend, Marshall, “Damn! What a show. I guess they had to bring it hard tonight so we forgive them for playing in Camden.”
Sorry, Camden, for making you the butt of the joke again. But hey, at least no one was shot in town on Wednesday (that I know of), and no one died at the show (that I know of) as someone had the previous night. There were some other strange health emergencies near me during the evening, but I will get to that.
The show was, indeed, a hot one, including some fine jamming in the first set, especially by Page who tore it up on "Undermind" and on the best, tightest "My Sweet One" I have heard in years. The opening combo of "The Moma Dance" and "Free" set the mood perfectly for a set that had no problems being equally funky and rocking. After "Undermind", the guy behind me said, "They're going to slow it down, now," and sure enough, they started "Theme From the Bottom", but despite its tempo, it was huge and powerful. "Steam" was great to hear, especially as it was a big improvement over the limp previous version (7/31/18, which was not as slinky in its groove). Oddly, the sexiest Phish song ever included a long tease of the decidedly unsexy "Apostrophe" by Frank Zappa. Contrast!
The set was perfect until Trey started “Train Song” at too fast a tempo and then had trouble keeping up with the pace he set. Then, during “Halley’s Comet”, the weirdness started happening around me.
I think “Halley’s” was good, but I was distracted by the guy next to me who passed out on his feet and crashed to the ground. A few of us helped him up, only for him to hit the dirt mere seconds later. Without any ability to brace himself, his head hit so hard that his glasses flew off his head. This time we were much more concerned, so we flagged down someone from security to get some medical help. Thankfully, we were in the very front of the lawn section so all we had to do was look over the rail and call for help.
Security got there quickly. They seemed to determine that he was at least half-lucid. He could answer their questions but his body did not seem to be cooperating. They had a tough time getting the guy up because he kept stiffening his body and clutching the rail. After they finally got him vertical, with two security guys and me keeping him propped up, he kept insisting that he did not need medical attention. An extremely patient medical professional came over and the caring way she reasoned with him finally got him to plop into a wheelchair and get carted away.
No sooner were they on their way that the girl next to me on the other side went flopping to the ground! On the plus side, security was still in the area, so they immediately tended to her as she started convulsing a bit. They got another medic to the scene and, soon enough, wheeled her away too.
Ironically, during all this nonsense, the band was playing “Everything’s Right”. At least I had a lot more dancing room as I was finally able to focus on the Phish show again; and just in time, too, because it was another one of those amazing jams that peaks, drops down, and then peaks again. It was gorgeous, until Trey decided to awkwardly crash back into the chorus of the song to end it.
The second set started with “Julius”. Since the song has no chance of reaching its fiery peaks from the days of yore, its placement in the front of the set - rather than its typical set-ending, near-set-ending or encore slot – works much better these days. It set a great mood as a set opener at the Forum earlier this tour, and nailed it again in Camden. Prior to these, it had been two years since “Julius” started a set (thanks to phish.net for the stats). I think it is time that this becomes the norm.
A one-two punch of big jams followed with “Carini” and “Set Your Soul Free”, with Fish steering the former by subtly shifting the rhythm around, keeping Trey on his toes to follow. The latter featured a happy, upbeat jam to match the tone of this new entry in Trey’s string of positivity songs. Sadly, “Wingsuit” failed to sustain the intensity as it went on too long while Trey tried to force a second climax into its eighth minute, when an ending at its natural climax in the fifth minute would have been perfect.
The problem was definitely not the slow tempo because “Waste” worked perfectly well a little later in the set. And that was after a massive “Scents and Subtle Sounds” that included the intro section for the first time since 2015, in the very same geographical area (the Mann in Philadelphia), even though they played the song six times since then. What is it about the Philly area that brings the intro? (Thanks again to phish.net for the stats). Even more odd, though, was the jam, which usually follows a I-IV jam in the style of “Simple” but went to much weirder and darker places this time. I cannot say it was better than usual, but it was certainly interesting.
Speaking of dark jams that are more interesting than good, that brings us to “Split Open and Melt”, which has been consistently as such in the entirety of the 3.0 era. Freaky, spacey jams are great in “Carini” and “Waves” and even “Sand”, but “Melt” is different. Sure, it is probably because I have been a fan long enough to remember the rip-roaring “Melt” jams of the ‘90s. Try as I may, I have always had a tough time enjoying the new versions for what they are.
This one, however, could be subtitled the “How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the ‘Melt’” because something about the mixture of dark textures, hypnotic rhythms and insanely trippy lights caused me to finally let go and get fully immersed in its wonders. This was easily the best “Melt” since the 1999 funk “Melt” in Holmdel.
With nothing left to do but bring the house down, Phish launched into “Character Zero”, taking the ending down for a little while for pauses to let the audience to its “woo” thing before kicking it back up to peak intensity for the big finish. The encore of “Suzy Greenberg”, with Page yet again killing it in his piano solo, put the exclamation point on the night.
During set break, I saw a guy with a shirt that read, “I’D RATHER BE AT THE MANN”. So would I, but I have to admit, despite the weird and sad things that happened in and around the venue, it ended up being a damn good couple of nights in Camden.