Phish usually stops by Camden to lay down some killer jams and funky grooves.  Last Friday night was, at times, no exception.  The band delivered a stellar first set and finished with a somewhat lackluster second.

The first set opened with Rocky Top, but not before Trey plucked out the Rocky theme song while the others assembled themselves.  Rocky Top is a countrified lamentation of the simple life in a small town in Tennessee, originally from the banjo-slinging, beard-wearing Osborne Brothers.  Surprisingly, this is one of the tunes that has stuck with me since the show – I just can’t get it out of my head.

After Trey’s last wail on Rocky Top, the band switched gears and launched into Mike’s Song.  This was the song when things got serious.  Everything clicked.  Trey’s solos were nicely structured and Page wailed on the organ like it was nobody’s business.  I was surprised at how the Mike’s>Hydrogen>Weekapaug sequence showed up so early in the night, but I was not complaining.  I just hoped it was a harbinger of more good things to come.

When Weekapaug Groove began, it became very clear very fast that we were in Mike’s House, which is part of an ongoing joke from the Makisupa Policeman that happened in Bethel, NY earlier on the tour.  The magic music continued for almost ten minutes – there was no stopping these guys.  Mike’s metallic basslines artfully peeked through exciting guitar solos.  When the words came back, everyone busted a groove and sang along.  It was like we had stepped into the end of an excellent second set.

Stash gracefully let down some of the energy that resonated from Weekapaug.  A dynamic and semi-exploratory jam followed that led us through points of contemplation, exhilaration, and everything in between.  It was definitely a high point of the set.

A short and sweet Tube picked things up and reminded us that we were still invited to Page’s House… and it seemed there was a very funky party going on.

Scent of a Mule continued with the rockabilly theme that began with Rocky Top.  Mike flubbed the lyrics in first verse, but overall it was a good ole’ foot stomper that ended with a jazzy interlude-turned traditional Jewish tune led by Page.  It slowed the tempo down, but not the energy.  Mike (who, as well as Fishman, is Jewish) picked things back up into Mule with a long-winded wail.

Trey butchered the guitar intro of Sloth after a quick Cavern, but once he made it to the verse, things improved.  I had never seen Sloth live before, so it was quite a treat.  Know what was even better?  The Curtain With (which, unbeknownst to me, is actually two songs carefully segued together, sort of like Horse>Silent).

Check out this cool HQ video that Phish released after the show.

The first set of Friday night was shaping up to be the best I had seen or heard (via LivePhish.com) the entire tour.  A cool setlist, high energy, and some hella good jams (I’m lookin’ at you, Stash).  I suspected that if the band was delivering at such a high point in the show already, then the second set would be even better.  That’s the way it usually works, right?

Not so.  The second set, while it had some good moments, turned out to be an utter disappointment.  The energy level took a nosedive right halfway through, right around Golgi Apparatus.  Blame weird placement, blame overkill, hell, blame my personal taste, but from there on in the vibe was killed.  It sounded like they couldn’t decide when to end the set, so they just kept tacking on noncommittal song after song.

I tried to ignore the feeling of déjà vu that I faced when the band opened the set with Down With Disease and then went into Free.  Both were exciting, but the leftover energy from an awesome first set may have had a hand in that.  It seemed like it was too soon to do another DWD opener – it was Bethel all over again.

I hoped that Possum would save this setlist faux pas by injecting some novelty and continue the fun of the first set.  Combined with Big Black Furry Creature From Mars (which I had never seen in its entirety at a show), I had hope.  Halfway through the song, Mike sat down with his bass onstage and finished the song from there.  (Do I hear another Rocky theme tease at 1:15?)  Trey adjusted his microphone way above his head and sang the rest of the song looking up.

Swept Away slowed things down and allowed the band to tone down the goof.  A meaty David Bowie (and another Bethel repeat) was a welcome addition to the set list.

When Golgi hit, it was time for a bathroom break.  When Fluffhead began, I stood at the side of the lawn and chatted with friends.  When Joy closed the set, I was bewildered.  Joy?  I thought shows were supposed to build energy to the end of each set and leave the audience blown away and wanting more.  I usually complain when Joy is thrown into the second set because it’s a buzz kill.  Ending the set on Joy was really, really lame.  Perhaps they did it for shock value, perhaps for novelty.  Either way, it shouldn’t have closed the second set.

When they started the Hendrix song Bold as Love as the encore, there was no saving the vibe for me.  The show wasn’t over, but I was over it.  I guess the reason I was so disappointed with the song selection in the second set is because the first set blew me away.  Sometimes I guess it’s too much to ask for everything.

Elizabeth loves all types of music (or at least the good ones). She can usually be found working for the weekend. For now, she bides her time in western Massachusetts until she can snatch a B.A. and scurry back to the Big Apple. Or maybe somewhere in Vermont.
Elizabeth Bayne
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Friday, June 17th, 2011 at 10:11 am.
Categories: Reviews.

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