Atlantic City is a small American metropolis of about 40,000 with more personality than many larger ones. Situated at the tail end of the Jersey shore, AC (as it is known for short) can conjure up images of old-timey, mustachioed men in red and white pinstriped, onesie bathing suits as easily as it can summon visions of modern hotel casinos with their gleaming metal, steel and lights.
It's as much an attraction for New Jersey residents as it is for nearby Philadelphians. And as the circus comes to town for the third time, we are reminded of all the city has to offer: From the attractions of the boardwalk (Play some Skee Ball. It's a NJ tradition!) to the beauty of the ocean (although you might not want to go for a dip in November). It also has a wealth of hotels within walking distance of the venue (a la Hampton) and the extensive gambling (a la Las Vegas) and a wide variety of culinary delights (it's not just the famous New York style pizza and Philly cheese steaks after all).
And all this will take place around a three day Halloween run at venue with a personality befitting its surroundings, Boardwalk Hall.
The hall has a storied tradition of performances since its completion in 1929. Past performers include Louis Armstrong, Count Basie, Luciano Pavarotti, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Who, Elton John, Van Halen, Madonna, Lady Gaga and Bruce Springsteen (of course), along with New Jersey's own Chairman of the Board: Frank Sinatra. And every year the Miss America pageant comes to town (love it or despise it).
But so much for history. What might be most striking about the hall in this current day and age is its architecture. The venue sports a throwback, railroad car architecture that harkens us back to the day when Atlantic City establishments openly flaunted Prohibition like the town was its own island nation (for an interesting take on this, see HBO’s “Boardwalk Empire” series, which coincidentally debuted with a weekend-long marathon during the 2010 Halloween run). The 14,770 capacity audience that will be in attendance come the 31st will be treated to great sightlines, and many good sounding areas for such an unusually shaped venue. The sound is likely due to the original ceiling of acoustical tiles that may or may not still be hidden under the current dome (itself a product of a 1998 renovation). And like it or not, seating will be according to the format now becoming more de rigueur on Phish tour: general admission floor, reserved stands.
With past and present highlights, that brings us to the (near) future of our forthcoming host, which comes out of the past (huh?).
Lying deep in the back of the hall is the heart of a beast so vicious, thunderous and humongous that its tentacles stretch across the front, sides and top of the vast building. As of now it sits there, waiting. But it’s newly rejuvenated and ready to once again roar a mighty roar that will make the building's joists tremble and mortal men run for cover, hands over their ears for protection.
Why it's the newly restored mighty Boardwalk Hall pipe organ! A building resident since the beginning; but decommissioned until recently, this monster is in the Guinness Book of World Records as the loudest musical instrument in the world. It takes a dozen people to play it to its full effect. And it's re-opening for public performances in 2014. Hmmmm... November 2013 is close to 2014. Could this behemoth be awakened from its slumber in time for the upcoming Phish run? Can you imagine "Tweezer" played on the loudest instrument in the world? One can only hope as that would surely make this a trio of shows to remember and push AC over into premier or even legendary venue status! And oh, we’re so close to that.
Phish's previous forays into this giant amusement park of a city consisted of an extended stay at Bader Field in 2012. But with the band choosing to reprise its Halloween celebration again this Fall at Boardwalk Hall, one has to consider whether this is going to become a tradition.
After all, the 2010 stop included:
October 30 - What can be said? While none of the singular performances reaches Top 10 territory, it's the kind of show Phish fans dream about. It’s the kind of performance that keeps us going to multiple, even double digits concerts per year for decades. When the band just lets loose and has so much fun doing something so unexpected that we're launched out of the chute, onto a roller coaster ride that we're still talking about days (or in this case) years later.
Normally a show with only four slow songs would be enough to start fans talking. But after a surprising “Chalk Dust Torture” > “Whole Lotta Love” (first since 1991!) in the first set, the band came out in the second and performed some great crowd pleasers; but interspersed them with a greatest hits collection from Led Zeppelin's catalogue. The crowd on hand was alternatively celebrating, laughing and gaping. A great reason not to look at the soundcheck until going back to the hotel, as the band rehearsed “Whole Lotta Love," “Thank You” and “Ramble On” pre-show.
October 31 - What was expected to be the highlight of the run turned out to be a letdown for some (not me). After opening with a Halloween-themed “Frankenstein," “Big Black Furry Creature from Mars," “Ghost” -> “Spooky” the band lightening the mood with “Divided Sky," and settled in for a fairly standard (meaning great) set.
The "musical costumed" second set was a love it or hate it affair. Those familiar with Little Feat and their near-perfect live album Waiting for Columbus were enthused. And the addition of Giovanni Hidalgo on percussion and a full horn section didn't hurt matters. But it's probable that many in attendance never heard these beautifully crafted songs before, and had hoped for more Type II in their lives that night.
In the third set a raucous “Down with Disease," lengthy “You Enjoy Myself” and celebratory “Julius” encore (with horns!) put this one over the line to being a keeper, even if not on par with ‘94, ‘95, ‘96 and ‘98. But put it in the books anyway.
All in all, if Phish can reach the highs of 2010 in this year’s trio of performances, we're well on our way to Boardwalk Hall being featured venue on any tour in which it appears. So what will put it over the top? Short of a monster organ in the hall, there's always one aspect that is so much fun to conjecture upon when a Phish concert falls on October 31st. Maybe the mostest funnest of them all!
Having published them in order of the impending fall tour, this is the last in our series of venue spotlight pieces. And it's tough being the anchor on the team. But luckily, one of the great things about working with the phish.net team is being constantly surrounding by a group of people as knowledgeable and passionate about music as any other mob of nerds out there. When it comes to analyzing and ranking any artist, band, song, album, genre or movement (not just Phish), this bunch is always game for a heated, yet scholarly and respectful discussion.
So when I posed that other phish.net staff help save my then writer's blocked brain by fleshing out this piece with our suggestions for a 2013 Halloween album, it resulted in an over 200 (and counting) email exchange. What follows is the distilled list of responses to the original assignment: Pick ONE album that would be a great choice for Phish to play in Atlantic City this Halloween. Not one you'd necessarily like to hear (although how can that not be a huge impetus?). The main point is it would be good for Phish to play. Then write a couple/few sentences about it. Where possible, I asked that contributors submit directly to me to avoid coloring anyone else's picks.
What resulted is a wonderful list of essential albums quite suited for band and audience alike. This is sure to elicit quite a few comments from intrepid readers who made it this far!
Graceland has everything you would want from a Halloween album. It has enough hits and energy to keep the crowd invested, but there still are some obscure songs to fill the role of the new rotation standard. It's a single album which means that Phish would have room to stretch it out, as they did with Remain in Light and Loaded. If that's not enough, it teaches a lesson: an artist in his late 40s can indeed reinvent himself and create a new career with new influences.
The idea of came to me out of a discussion among the phish.net staff regarding that there is no album post 90's that we would want to hear costumed by Phish. This choice just makes it, having been released in September of 1991. It contains elements such as funk, punk and soul that Phish has explored before but have never fully taken to the max.
A live recording with a full backing band from a gig in Boston in 1982. It features a cross section of "hits" from Zevon's albums through that point in his storied career and a cover of Springsteen's "Cadillac Ranch" to provide a nod to the patron saint of Jersey/AC. The songwriting is some of the best in American rock history and would really showcase Page's piano fighter skills.
They'd either need to strip the songs down from the ~10 band members AF plays with, or bring in extra help a la Remain in Light/Exile on Main Street/Waiting for Columbus. If they fully commit, I'd love to see the result either way. And it could do wonders for the soaring/anthemic-type of song Phish has had mixed results with when writing original closers like “Show of Life” / ”Bug” / ”Character Zero” etc.
Ellis Godard: Gotta. Be. Zeppelin.
The B-Boys 7th studio release offers tremendous opportunities as an engaging, interesting, contemplative, and danceable cover album. Self-described as post-punk, but more accurately characterized as a thick, crunchy funk, The Mix-Up won a Grammy for Best Instrumental Pop Album. This apparent genre-defier is fluid and consistent enough to play as a single 43-minute track, and features a huge array of accents over a base of industrial textures that could be opened up into storage-like territory.
Aside from being one of Neil's best albums, it shares one characteristic with Phish's most successful musical costumes: it is a single album. Just the thought of Phish stretching out songs like "Down by the River" and "Cowgirl in the Sand" even farther than the original versions is enough to give me heart palpitations. The fact that Trey's guitar style is so radically different from Neil's further ensures a unique take on this classic album.
When playing the Halloween Fantasy game, I'm looking for three things: The album "fits" Phish's instruments and can be performed with no guests; it needs to be loose enough to allow plenty of room for jamming; and that it is sufficiently well known that the vast majority of the audience will "get it." This album has it all. Nine songs, almost every one of them a classic. Vocals: "Rock and Roll" (Mike), "Celebration Day" (Page), "The Song Remains the Same" (Mike), "Rain Song" (Page), "Dazed and Confused" (Trey), "No Quarter" (Page), "Stairway" (Trey), then all Fish for the side four finale "Moby Dick" > "Whole Lotta Love" orgasmic explosion? Who walks away from that gig unhappy? Not this guy. Even if you "stick to the album" you have a 26:53 jam built in!
If Talking Heads’ Remain in Light is the Halloween album that most influenced Phish's sound prior to 2003, then Sound of Silver is the modern equivalent album for them to explore. A cornucopia of rhythms and sounds, the album would lend itself to an entire set of exploration where Phish could define its own interpretation of the music. And the audience would dance, dance, dance.
A high-energy album with a mix of styles that is friendly to Phish's own musical palette, this album could provide an excellent launch pad for a classic Phish Halloween set. One can imagine the energy in the room were the surging opening/title track to be pulled off well, setting the tone for a very exciting set even among attendees who were unfamiliar with the album. And the one "hit" song on the record is the last song, offering an energetic piece de resistance of a set-closer.
I think The Mollusk would phenomenal. Great songs, and the place would blow up during tunes like “Johnny On the Spot” and “The Blarney Stone.” Chocolate and Cheese would be the more natural Ween album choice, but I can't see them playing “The HIV Song.”
This highly regarded live album would be a very appropriate Halloween costume choice for Phish, which has been heavily influenced by the Allman Brothers. In their early days, Phish covered several well-known Allman Brothers songs, including "Whipping Post," "Jessica," "Blue Sky," "Revival," and "Midnight Rider." Fillmore East would pay homage to a central Phish influence, while also providing space for extended jamming on longer tracks like "Whipping Post" - 23:04, "You Don't Love Me" - 19:20, and "In Memory of Elizabeth Reed" - 13:06.
Fine, it ain't gonna happen, but it should. The album really is that good, and it would be a great pick for Phish. It mutates from muscular riffage into jaw-dropping prog into sun-kissed soul -- sometimes within the same song -- and there are ample portals into open improvisational space. A large percentage of fans would walk into Boardwalk Hall with no idea who White Denim was, but nearly all of them would walk out fans, and there's no need for guests -- which for me stacks up in the plus column. Let's bring this tradition into the 21st century, shall we?
I would much rather see Phish make someone else's record their own through improvisation (see, e.g., Remain in Light or especially Loaded) than meticulously recreate a classic studio album (as with Exile). We're going to a Phish show, after all. So I want a single LP that leaves room for jamming. And since we're going to be not just in Jersey but on the Boardwalk, I vote for Bruce Springsteen's proggiest record. Not only could Phish stretch out with it, but it even comes complete with -> style segues ("Incident on 57th Street" into "Rosalita"). Plus, can't you just hear Fishman crooning "4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)"?
Sure, Trey wouldn't stop talking about Pavement's Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain in the mid-1990s, but their first LP Slanted & Enchanted would make a better cover album. With 14 songs fitting into 39 minutes in the original version, there would be plenty of room to jam, not to mention awesome screaming in songs like "No Life Singed Her," "Conduit for Sale," and "Two States" that Fishman could destroy. I think the tepid response to Waiting for Columbus from many fans shows a desire for Phish to move on from classic rock, and Slanted & Enchanted is the perfect way to do it.
If asked, nobody hearing this album blind would peg it as a relic of the beginning of Punk. Several of the songs were born in 1974, as Television transformed the infamous CBGB's into the genre's Ground Zero (although the record itself was not released until 1977 due to their perfectionist tendencies). Yet Tom Verlaine's guitar playing has been frequently compared to Jerry Garcia (I don't hear it); and the title track tops ten minutes. This was a Punk band that liked to jam, in the studio AND in concert. And this is a five star album that Phish should make their own.