DISCLAIMER: I have had very little sleep in the last three days and I appear to still be a bit inebriated from last night. If any of the words or opinions that follow seem asinine or otherwise moronic to you in any way, shape or form, please do not doubt that they are. Thank you.
You’ve seen the setlist. And if you’ve seen even a few Phish setlists over the years, you may be wondering, “Seriously!? A “Rocky Top Mike’s Groove” first set opener, a “Curtain With” first set closer, a “JOY” second set closer!?” WTF!? “Curtain With” has never closed a first set, of course, and “Rocky Top” has not opened a show since 12/2/96. And closing a second set with an emotionally intense (if not ironically depressing) ballad like “Joy” just seems batshit f’ing crazy.
Last night was THAT kind of night. This was no “typical” Phish show. It was not anywhere close to “average-great.” It was a freak of nature, a perverse (and often baffling) phenomenon, especially for 2011. Sure, “Joy” was the only recent song played, so it was an extraordinarily “old school” show. And yes, the preshow vibe was fantastic, maybe even a touch moreso than your average Phish show. The show was in CAMDEN after all, where Phish has often performed well.
But what, to me, makes this show so unique -- in light of all of the Phish that I’ve heard and seen over the years -- are that this show’s highs and lows are DRAMATIC. And obvious. Even to the most spectacularly deaf fans among us. As such highs and lows were, quite frankly, at Coventry.
THE GOOD: The “Weekapaug Groove” is hands down the best version in many years. It is played with an intensity that has been sorely lacking in recent years. It is unequivocally a must-hear version. “Stash” is good, but not in the league of 10/31/10 Atlantic City. “Guyute” was relatively well-played, which is remarkable given Trey’s flubs elsewhere in the show. “Mule” was strong, frankly, and reminded me of typical versions from the mid-1990’s. The “Curtain With” -- while not perfectly played -- features a stunning, magical, soulful solo from Trey. This may just be my favorite version of the song. It is unquestionably one of the finest versions of the song in Phish history. You can watch the official video of it here.
As for the second set, although not very long, the jam in the “Down with Disease” eventually becomes magnificent. This is easily one of my favorite “short” versions of this song. As for “Free,” Mike is truly awesome in what’s otherwise a straightforward rendering. Trey’s soloing in the “Possum,” however, is excellent, in my opinion. This is easily a top version of “Possum” and I like it much, much more than the Blossom “Possum,” which is also a well-above average version. If Phish is going to play “Possum” like this, they can play it at every god damn show as far as I’m concerned. “BBFCFM” is a riot -- Mike even sat down on stage for part of it. It’s a much more inspired version than the one last year in Camden. “Swept Away > Steep” was very cool to get, and I enjoyed its ominous, Floyd-esque coda before “Bowie” started up.
THE BAD: The second set, overall, was -- wait for it -- WEIRD. It started off quite well, as already noted, with strong versions of several tunes, but then it just would not end. IT WOULD NOT END I TELL YOU. And this wasn’t really a positive development. We got set-closing song after set-closing song, that were at best “fine” (namely, “Bowie” “Julius” “Golgi” and “Fluffhead”), and then the set ended with “Joy.” WTF?
THE BUTT UGLY: There are flubs from Trey in a ton of songs. In fact, Phish purists will be aghast at many of them. These are the kind of flubs that make it impossible to call this show “well-played” in general, which a typical Phish show is, of course. Playing well is par for the course for Phish. If you listen to this show, you will hear flubs from Trey where they’ve only rarely occurred in Phish history, like in “Hydrogen” and “The Sloth.” Many of us at the show really could not have cared less about the flubs, though, and while the second set seemingly wouldn’t end after getting, let’s face it, kinda dull, it is hard to complain too loudly given the old school, "greatest hits" feel of the song choices, and the fierceness of the playing in the songs that I mention above. But some fans were very disappointed, and a somewhat surprising number of them left the show at various times during the second set. You don’t see this every day, especially at a Phish show.
All of this said, the music of this show, like it or not, absolutely brings IT at times. Just listen to Trey’s solos alone in the “Curtain With” and the “Possum” for christ’s sake. And as mixed a bag as it was musically, last night was still a whole hell of a lot more entertaining, to me, than a Bethel3 or a Cincinnati or even a PNC. (I think the PNC shows have been grossly overrated.) And as far as I’m concerned, while the lows of this show were certainly low, the highs of this show were just as up there, musically speaking, with every previous high on this tour so far, such as the Bethel1 “Kill Devil Falls,” the Bethel2 “GoldenGinTeca,” the Pine Knob “Down with Disease,” and the Blossum “When Harry Have Mercy Met Sally.” I will also take a show like this Camden show any day -- any fucking day -- over a so-called “average great” show. So download the Camden show now, and thank your Almighty God that Phish is still at IT.