It’s early Monday morning. I’m sitting in a Bed & Breakfast in nearby Absecon, NJ, collecting my thoughts on the show that ended only a few hours ago, and on the greater tour at large. Feelings of gratitude, splendor, wonder etc. are all running amok through my head.
AC3 was my ninth show of this inspired tour. It’s no secret that the last two years have been an absolute joy for us Phish fans. Seemingly all the rules of set-listing are out the window, the band’s jamming is at an extremely high level, and everything just feels fresh. I’ve walked into every show I've seen this tour not knowing what to expect as the band has delivered twists and turns and major highlights nightly. After a revelatory, improvisation-laden Friday night and Saturday night party, the band was poised to deliver a top-to-bottom “complete” run in Atlantic City.
Did it finish in strong fashion? Were the Sunday Show™ vibes in full effect? Would we see Satan on the beach, trying to catch a ray?
The festivities began with the extremely welcome piano chords of “Wolfman’s Brother.” Is there truly a more consistent song in the modern era? The band moved through a brief but spirited jam that got a bit gooey in the middle, courtesy of a generous helping of Mike Gordon’s synth bass. “Tube” followed up and just to get it out of the way: They Definitely Jammed Tube. This version patiently glides through several sections before executing a butter smooth re-entry to the song. “Mountains in the Mist” offered an early breather for the set, and “Ocelot” gave us some spirited Type 1 playing courtesy of Trey. Next the band pulled out a relatively rare mid-set “Fluffhead.”
The band’s recent performances of Fluff in the last few years have been fairly scattershot in quality. Not tonight. Despite a few hiccups, the band delivered a crisp, energetic rendition that anchored the later part of set 1. “Mercury” and “Gumbo” were up next and while unfortunately neither song took off improvisationally, they contributed well to the set’s flow. “Carini” came next, barging through the door with gusto as it normally does. This version had shades of the 9/14/00 version…with Trey pouring sheets of sound from his guitar in a seemingly endless wave of peaks. Don’t be fooled by this version’s run time. It’s lean, mean and thoroughly lumpy.
“Mike’s Song” opened up the second set and immediately you could sense the crowd on the edge of their seat, hoping for the ever-elusive second jam. Alas, it was not to be as the band moved through a classic, albeit a bit standard “Mike’s Groove.” “I Am Hydrogen” was pretty and “Weekapaug Groove” offered a nice take on its standard bouncy Type 1 jam. Truthfully at this point of the set I wasn’t quite sure of its direction. As has happened many times before, I was reminded to trust the band’s intentions.
“A Wave of Hope” appeared next. If this tune isn’t a contender for “Best New Song,” I don’t know what is. Countless times on this tour I’ve been frankly captivated by how well the band has been listening to each other during jams. "AWOH" trudged through psychedelic murk while weaving through brief passages of bliss. Page’s keys swirled, Trey’s loops and effects filled the air, Mike’s inspired grooves pivoted and swung, and Fishman’s masterful drums outlined and anchored the whole affair. The latter part of this jam is true four-headed monster Phish. Every band member fell into place to deliver a polyrhythmic jam that sounded like some industrial complex in the Upside Down. Just listen to the way Jon Fishman challenges the beat throughout this thing. We are infinitely blessed that this band is still finding new ways to push their sound forward…and it’s happening every night.
Like a left hook, “You Enjoy Myself” came flying out of the end of AWOH. This was a killer YEM. However, it doesn’t quite start that way as Trey lost himself in the beginning composed section. Never to fear, the Phish would redeem themselves in both the first jam and yes, the second jam. The emergence of the post-vocal-jam jam has arguably been one of the most exciting things to come out of Phish in 2022. It’s frankly astounding that this band can reinvent a song with so much history in nearly its 40th year. The post-tramps jam delivered a monster peak and if that were all, I think we’d have all been happy…but we were not done yet. The second jam emerges out of a brief vocal jam with a somewhat samba-esque jam. This thing is grooves.for.days. as the band builds to an absolutely screaming “Hell yes this run was awesome” peak. “Suzy Greenberg” closed-out this action-packed set in fine fashion.
The band wanted to hit us with one more water-themed song for the road, so they hit us with a serene version of “Wading in the Velvet Sea” in the first encore slot. The band followed that up with the always raging “First Tube.” I absolutely danced my ass off. Another joyous Atlantic City Beach run was in the books and yeah, it was great.
On a personal note, last night was my wife’s 100th show. We actually met at a Phish show. Phish has remained a constant throughout our 11 years together…whether they were a coping touchstone during dark days, or an ebullient beacon during celebrations. I’m sure we aren’t alone in this glorious band being the soundtrack to our relationship. We’ve shared so many knowing glances at shows when a jam has taken off, or when the band busts out a huge rarity, or when my wife Melissa swears that Trey definitely/actually looked at her. I’ve had an amazing time on this tour but I think the highlight was watching the smile on her face as YEM was taking off.
I’m constantly reminded of how fleeting this all is. Time moves on faster and faster…it’s so important to get to share these experiences with the people that are important in our lives. If you’re going to any of the following shows on this tour, cherish them. We truly don’t know how long we’ll have this band, especially at the high level they’re playing at now.
I can’t lie. Most times I scoff a bit when the band launches into “Soul Planet.” Last night however, as I looked at the joy on my wife’s face during the YEM second jam…suddenly that song’s refrain made all the sense in the world. Maybe the ocean really is Love. Have a great rest of tour everyone.
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