Meet Me Tonight in Atlantic City: JBO Reviews the 2010 Phish Halloween Run | JamBandsOnline.com

Meet Me Tonight in Atlantic City: JBO Reviews the 2010 Phish Halloween Run

Article by James D. McCallister

Friday, 10-29-10

Set 1: The Star Spangled Banner, My Soul, AC/DC Bag, Ocelot, Sample in a Jar, Light Up Or Leave Me Alone, Sugar Shack, Timber (Jerry) > Bouncing Around the Room, Axilla > Rift, The Moma Dance > Cities > 46 Days

Set 2: Punch You In the Eye > Sand -> Carini > Prince Caspian[1], Corinna, Piper > Theme From the Bottom > Golgi Apparatus > Slave to the Traffic Light > Fluffhead

Encore: Loving Cup

[1] Unfinished

Saturday, 10-30-10

Soundcheck: Whole Lotta Love (x2), Thank You, Billy Breathes, Can’t You See, Ramble On, Whole Lotta Love, Ginseng Sullivan, Rock Me Baby, Destiny Unbound [Unconfirmed and possibly incomplete]

Set 1: Kill Devil Falls, Cavern > Foam, Guelah Papyrus, Chalk Dust Torture -> Whole Lotta Love > Chalk Dust Torture, Ha Ha Ha, Walk Away, Wolfman’s Brother -> Undermind > Bathtub Gin, The Squirming Coil

Set 2: Tube > Possum > Tweezer -> Heartbreaker -> Ramble On -> Thank You -> Tweezer -> Stairway to Heaven, Halley’s Comet > Also Sprach Zarathustra > David Bowie, Show of Life, Backwards Down the Number Line > Good Times Bad Times

Encore: Sleeping Monkey > Tweezer Reprise

Sunday, 10-31-10

Set 1: Frankenstein, Big Black Furry Creature from Mars, Ghost -> Spooky > The Divided Sky, Roses Are Free > Funky Bitch, Boogie On Reggae Woman, Stash, Character Zero

Set 2—Waiting for Columbus, by Little Feat: Fat Man in the Bathtub, All That You Dream, Oh Atlanta, Old Folks Boogie, Time Loves a Hero -> Day or Night, Mercenary Territory, Spanish Moon, Dixie Chicken -> Tripe Face Boogie, Rocket in My Pocket, Willin’, Don’t Bogart That Joint, A Apolitical Blues, Sailin’ Shoes, Feats Don’t Fail Me Now

Set 3: Down with Disease > Back on the Train > Gotta Jibboo > Camel Walk, Suzy Greenberg > Wilson > Harry Hood > The Horse > Silent in the Morning > You Enjoy Myself

Encore: Julius

[setlists courtesy phish.net]

At Philadelphia’s 30th Street Station, the phaithful have gathered. Travelers into the international airport here have taken the Septa train to the large downtown station, where they’ll transfer to NJ Transit’s dedicated Atlantic City line. And once they do, at least one car on the train is filled with nothing but Phish folk, including a few left coasters who’ve taken redeye flights into the city of brotherly love. Eyes may be red for any number of reasons over the long party weekend, but in this context it’s because of travel fatigue.

But whether jet-lagged or not, there’s no lack of enthusiasm and discussion among the travelers. Unlike an ordinary Phish gig—as though there could be such an animal—in which there’d be speculation a plenty about what would be played and how said tunes would be played, on Halloween weekend there’s another level of anticipation. Forget New Year’s, this is the high holiday in the Phish world: the cover-costume the band will adopt on the Eve of All Saints ramps up the speculation—and potential reward—to a level far beyond a typical stand of shows.

The train rumbles and clatters through an urban corridor ripe with decay. A wearied, trench coat wearing man shuffles along the track with a battered suitcase, his head down, bowed by whatever dreadful circumstances life’s thrown at him. Factories and rust-belt decaying infrastructure eventually give way to woodlands and aging suburbs, until finally it’s apparent that we’ve reached the coastal plain. Round a bend and then looming on the horizon are the windmills and outsized casino resorts stacked along the Jersey shore like enormous dominoes. “It’s the AC,” someone yells, and the travelers roar their approval. An ordinary Jersey train rider jerks awake from a catnap, his eyes bulging with curiosity—how often does he hear such tumultuous good cheer on his Friday morning commute? From his expression of bewilderment, not often.

On the boardwalk in Atlantic City/life will be peaches and cream. The world-famous boardwalk’s a tourist-trap Mecca, its character defined by both the glimmering, towering casinos, but also by the strips of beach-town souvenir shops, pizza and burger joints, massage parlors and psychics and tattoo parlors. It’s a busy place, even in the autumn off-season—the weather’s beautiful, the weekend’s here, and despite a high concentration of Phish followers, there’s also plenty of what would be considered the normal clientele of a place like Atlantic City: retirees, gambling enthusiasts, grifters, drunks, last-chance Charlies looking for the big score at the gaming tables or playing the colorful noisy one-armed bandits.

Boardwalk Hall: A beautiful venue, Romanesque architecture out of place amidst the garish and gaudy Trump Plazas and Caesar’s Palaces and Bally’s. According to a historical website, this unusual and attractive new indoor venue for Phish has

“ . . . an arched roof modeled after the clear-span train sheds of Europe and closer to home, Philadelphia’s Reading Terminal. It maintained its structural integrity without supporting beams, through 10 pairs of three-hinged steel trusses, each spanning 350 feet and weighing 220 tons per pair. The trusses were tied to the frame columns to allow the building to flex with wind and ground pressure. Between the monumental arches was an inner ceiling clad in acoustic tiles made from compressed sugar cane fiber. The tiles were detailed to suggest the clay tile ceilings of a Roman public bath . . . the new Hall claimed the world’s largest clear span space—456 feet long and 310 feet wide under a 137 foot-high barrel vault ceiling. The large, column-free space was ideal for exhibitions and conventions. It also boasted the latest in technical advances—lighting, acoustics, and performance design.”[1]

A venue, in other words, full of personality and history, unlike so many of the corporate sheds and basketball arenas in which Phish normally plies their trade.

In the Trump Plaza, which is literally physically attached to the concert hall, it’s a veritable phan-filled hive—the masses have converged on the hotel that’s most convenient to the evening’s musical festivities (a Google map consultation, just for shits and giggles, reveals that the walking distance from hotel to venue is 346 feet, which turns out to be a vast overestimation). A bellman, like many of the employees, is a harried, middle-aged white guy who pushes a cart loaded with luggage and cases of beer onto an elevator, blowing out his lips. “Busy weekend?” I ask him. “This is crazy. That concert, literally half the house is booked up for that all weekend.” I play dumb. “Who’s the band?” “I dunno,” he says. “I never heard of them before.”

Outside on the boardwalk, Camp Railrat is set up on the far side of the ocean-facing arena entrance from the Trump, with a dozen or so determined music lovers stretched out waiting for their GA chance to be near their musical heroes. At mid afternoon, a few miracle-seekers mill about outside in what will pass for the Shakedown scene—there’s no apparent central parking lot in which to congregate, no additional venue entrances: this is it, right here, with the salty, sandy Atlantic breeze in the faces of the hopeful and the eager.

As the sun begins to its descent into the western sky, the shadows lengthen, the crowd grows in size, and show time inches closer. At the closest watering hole, which is inside the Trump Plaza, two unflappable blue-smocked bartenders—John and Rink, looking more like 1950s barbers who wandered into a time vortex—handle the boisterous crowd with a taciturn, steely resolve. Jostling for a spot at the bar, no verbal encounter with one of the phaithful is complete without the burning question, which isn’t the usual, what-will-they-open-with-tonight, but rather, what album do you think they’ll play on Sunday? The predictions have become, well, predictable: Genesis, Led Zeppelin, Zappa, Springsteen (owing to the locale) or else, ideally in some senses, a total surprise. As we pass by one another in the hotel lobby, one blissful, youthful reveler suffering from permagrin whispers in singsong, unprompted: “Physical Graf-fi-ti . . .” He winks; he’s sure.

One of the possibilities mentioned on a message board, posted by someone who claimed to know for sure: Waiting for Columbus by Little Feat—the least of the possibilities, in this scribe’s opinion. Zeppelin or Hendrix: that’s my call, and I’m sticking to it.

Because of the limited space on the famous boardwalk, as show time approaches the throng grows thick and difficult to navigate. Splitting off ticketholders into reserved and GA entrances, there’s a real clusterfuck of a cattlecall in play, but once past the modestly invasive security (depending on what type of yellowshirt one encounters), inside the showgoer finds a venue of beauty, with relative ease of movement from floor to reserved seats for those wishing to wander and visit with friends and strangers alike.

The show gets going, finally, sometime after 8pm, when it seems the hall transforms from half-full to bursting at the seams in only a matter of moments. Owing to the enormous American flag on the back wall facing the musicians on stage, Phish begins with a treat, the ever-rare a cappella tune, in this case, our national anthem. Tumultuous response, a huge singalong, hands over hearts. America may be a broken angel possibly on her way down to a low point yet envisioned by many of its clueless citizens, but our relative freedoms have indeed allowed both for the rise of an avant-garde, progressive rock band like Phish, as well as our right to freely assemble and appreciate their brave artistry. Hallelujah, and onto the rock and roll now, if you please.

Which is not half-bad. This first set feels like a first set, with a series of well-played standalone tunes, with My Soul a welcome, relatively rare 3.0 tune getting the music off to a spirited start. With not even Light Up or Leave Me Alone considered much of a bustout anymore, this first set features no shout-out-loud thrilling surprises, but does catch some measure of fire with a scorching Axilla I>Rift combo, and then the set-closing set of potential jam vehicles: Moma Dance, at only six minutes relatively unexplored, then into a Cities that feels more bright and peppy than the tune’s usual ominous undertone. A minimalist jam moves smoothly into a wailing, blowout 46 Days that all but sets venerable Boardwalk Hall aflame, and suddenly the initial foray into our Halloween comes to a conclusion.

Based on the pattern of the 2010 tours so far, up in the rotation for second set opener is probably something like Rock and Roll or Drowned. With both repertoire-staples that originated in past Halloween costumes, either of which would be appropriate. But instead its another warhorse that’s admittedly due for an appearance: Punch You In The Eye, a fun, Phishy start to what will be an interesting but unspectacular set.

The subsequent Sand, at 13 minutes, makes the most of its running time with a snaky groove that feels dark and foreboding, but no less danceable for the enigmatic portent of its melody and subsequent jam, which ultimately veers into a brief, discordant jam before returning to the principal, Cactus-driven theme. Page’s keyboard tone changes, and the nature of the groove morphs into what for a few moments feels like an entirely different tune for about two minutes, then a key change from Trey heralds the dark, heavy rock of Carinni. This amusing but frightening number’s become of late a new vehicle for improvisation, and the Halloween 2010 version doesn’t disappoint—for much of its running time, this is true Type II exploration, the four horsemen of the Phishaclypse searching for the sound, minimalist and almost abstract . . . until an abrupt call from Big Red to go into the far less interesting Prince Caspian, a decision that’s not without precedent, though somewhat disappointing considering the potential for mindbending improvisation that grows out of the purity of the free jam. But abandoned for stumps without feet, perhaps a fine metaphor for the severity of the hard-splice from the freeform into the perhaps all-too-familiar. Prince Caspian may be a member of the royal class, but this version of his tuneful story is anything but exceptional.

But the Prince doesn’t overstay his welcome, and in fact drifts into what feels like an ambient space that’s less a jam than a chance for the band to consult on the next tune. There’s a brief When the Circus Comes to Town tease, but instead we get a true surprise and by any definition a breakout: Corrina, a terrific Taj Mahal ditty that’s also been covered by the Stones, who Phish themselves have often covered, including last year’s Halloween costume, Exile on Main Street. Last played by Phish on 12/30/09, this 2010 debut hasn’t been in the regular rotation since a two-year stint from winter 1987 thru 89. It’s a cool song, but as a standalone it brings any potential jamming momentum to a standstill, and forces a cold-cranked Piper that ought to signal another stretch of flowing improvisation.

Which we get—kind of, anyway. Piper unfortunately doesn’t build to much of a peak, and an uninspiring transition into Theme from the Bottom leaves the showgoer hungry for more. An oddly placed Golgi Apparatus signals the potential end of the set already, but which just can’t be, not yet.

And so, into a Slave to the Traffic Light that’s more introspective than enthusiastic, its peak moment nowhere near some of the notable Slaves from earlier in year, when it’s been a reliable go-to crowd pleaser that’s appeared as early as the third song in the first set. Perhaps knowing that this pumped and primed weekend crowd needs more, Phish reasserts itself and puts the stamp of historicity and energy on the set with a Fluffhead that rages and explores and climaxes on a note of Phistory that reminds us just how adept these musicians are, how intricate their classic compositions, how excited songs that have been with them since almost the beginning are still growing and changing and thrilling audiences. Trey misses hitting the climactic note by This Much, but in the end this insignificant fact hardly dulls the luster of this essential Phish composition.

At last in the encore comes the true nod to prior Halloween glory, and it’s in the form of Loving Cup, a tune Phish has made their own, and sends up out onto the boardwalk and the cool Atlantic breeze, if not sated, then at least with appetites whetted for the aural astonishment that’s surely to come.

Night the deuce begins strong out of the gate with typical 3.0 show opener Kill Devil Falls, a self referential composition for recovering-addict Trey, and a rocking, boogieing way for us to start getting off on a Saturday night of Phish. For the next few tunes, however, we’re safely and snugly ensconced in the 1.0 era with a surprising early set Cavern, a thick serving of Foam, and one amounts to the first indicator that the group mind is at work on this otherwise unremarkable Saturday night on the Jersey Shore: the interlude between song movements “The Asse Festival” and “Guelah (The Fly)” lasts almost two minutes, owing to the massive glowstick war that erupts. A marvelous, joyous exultation that builds and builds (and includes a bit of teamwork thanks to Trey’s participation), this is a moment of glory, of oneness, of joy. “And maybe I could be a fly . . .” with a note of amusement in Trey’s singing voice finishes the tune and a sequence that far outshines anything from the previous night, at least in terms of audience and band energy forming a tight bouncing ball of happiness, which never quite seemed to happen on Friday.

What comes next, however, solidifies the notion that, tonight, something special’s in the works.

Chalkdust Torture, which in fairly uncommon instances can turn into much more than the sum of its parts, here makes an appearance in an unusual slot, mid-set, and as such portends more, perhaps, than the normal uptempo rocker delivers as a set opener or, on occasion, closer. But what we’d get goes beyond a mere interesting jam—the audience gets both punked and stoked like an enormous blazing fireplace in the castle of the king: As Chalkdust indeed seems to transform into what seems to be an impending Type II jam, deconstructs itself, falls back into the theme, then a massive riff drops in out of nowhere like a platoon of heavy shock troops dropped from a silent, hovering Zeppelin: Whole Lotta Love, at first at the sped-up tempo of the host-song, then dropping into the more familiar beat. And, for 75 glorious seconds, it seems as though Phish is covering a new Zeppelin tune, but then after they roar back into Chalkdust proper, the questions begin swirling in the minds of the delirious dancers: a tease of things to come, or a message that, if you want Zep, this is all you’re gonna get. In any case, it’s the first time Whole Lotta Love, even in this abbreviated version, has appeared as anything but a jam-fragment—and over 19 years since the last one of those, at that. So, a massively cool surprise, no matter what it means.

Energized both onstage and off, the rest of the set takes off like a rocket rather than a lumbering dirigible. First, with the rare Fishman tune Ha Ha Ha, what seems a clear message: you Zep freaks have been pranked, LOL. And then another dip into the classic rock well by going into a massive, raucous Walk Away that shakes the old hall up to its Roman tiles in the ceiling.

A wonderfully inventive Wolfman’s Brother comes next, and this heralds the best sequence of Phish music yet in this run, and which stands tall alongside any other particular sequence from the fall tour. Featuring a vocal jam and a wildly deconstructed outro jam, this Wolfman’s Brother is a keeper, and melts neatly into the only Undermind of the tour. Rearranged, as its lyrics directly suggest, from its 2.0 version, Undermind is a welcome selection that also now carries with the possibility of interesting improvisation, this one never taking off into outer space, but featuring a fine guitar break.

Seeming to conclude yet not, as the band vamps the call is made: Straight into a cool refreshing tumbler of Bathtub Gin. From its spirited Page ivory-tinkling to kick things off and concluding its 11 minute length with a Type I jam that soars and swoops and fulfills like a good cocktail should, this is a fine bottle of gin indeed. Tagging the set with a masterful Squirming Coil, complete with yet another Zeppelin tease in Page’s outro solo—a brief statement of the lovely theme from Thank You—the first set of Phish’s Saturday night jam session is over and done with a level of satisfaction that the previous night couldn’t touch even if it wanted to.

Primed and ready for more—in theory, a first set like this can only portend further greatness to come—the crowd roars its approval as the band retakes the stage. Tube and Possum have both been played quite a bit this year, and their appearance here constitute a fun start to the set. With Tube clocking in at slightly over five minutes, it’s a well-jammed version by 2010 standards, and the Mike-led Possum fairly crackles with energy—this is a band that’s warmed and ready to rock. It doesn’t hurt that there’s another electrifying Whole Lotta Love reference tossed into the mix, which as it happens isn’t so much a reference to the previous set as a signpost to what lies ahead.

Tweezer at last brings the hope of some cosmic exploration, and what this one lacks in the aggregate length of its segmented appearance, it more than makes up for with a sequence of teases and fragments that blows the edgy, anticipatory audience through the back wall of the hall: Led Zeppelin II almost, almost seems as though it’s going to be played in its entirety, an event not unlike the post-Halloween appearance of a complete Dark Side of the Moon only two days after the legendary Velvet Underground costume set. But it’s not to be, only a tease—a trick, if you will, prior to the coming treat. Rough harmonies and transitions aside, for this Zeppelin fan (whose first favorite album by them was, indeed, the so-called “Brown Bomber”), this is a moment that’s the highest of the high. The Stairway conclusion to this thrilling sequence of music—now we know for sure that this is a lark, a jape, and that Zep II isn’t going to be played in its entirety—strikes another powerful chord with the audience. Trey’s joke—“Happy Halloween, everyone—we’ll see you next year!”—solidifies this as a Phish moment for the ages, one that resonates and lives and breathes in its unique status, and is capped off by a tension releasing moment of humor, an element that’s one of the pillars of the overall Phish experience.

Following the novelty value of the Twee-zep sequence, it’s time for what turns out to be the real meat of this set, in the form of a Halley’s Comet>Also Sprach Zarathustra>David Bowie sequence that proudly serves as the true centerpiece of this already unique set. At 10 minutes, this funkfest is one of the longest “2001’s” of the modern era, and even features a subtle nod to the Talking Heads and Born Under Punches, an ephemeral, concise reference to 1996’s musical costume. And Bowie? An exemplary version that finds a wonderfully-danceable groove, ironic considering that the stated purpose of composing the song is to make it well-nigh-on impossible to maintain a danceable groove throughout its time signature and tempo-shifting composed sections.

Two of the best 3.0 compositions come next, the slot-appropriate Show of Life, which here falls far short of the peak versions of this tune, and Backwards Down the Number Line, which despite precedent seems a strange choice to end a strong second set—this lovely sentimental rocker, which has shown great potential as a jam vehicle, simply “feels” better to these ears as a set opener.

And so, Number Line doesn’t end the set—instead, we get the final Zep reference of this glorious Led fest, longtime repertoire staple Good Times, Bad Times, the first song by the British supergroup that the world ever heard, and the last we will hear of them from our favorite Vermont minstrels on this now fascinating and satisfying holiday weekend.

Except, that is, for a final Whole Lotta Love reference at the end of a strong, powerful encore combo of Sleeping Monkey>Tweezer Reprise, underscoring what’s been one of the more fun and surprising Phish sets that this reviewer has seen in the modern era.

Halloween at last arrives, and the costumed masses gather outside Boardwalk Hall, a pastiche of pop culture references more so than scary monsters. A costume contest[2] awaits revelers inside, with the payoff a set of tickets to the MSG New Year’s run; the real contest, however, remains the correct guessing of what the band’s “outfit” will look and sound like this time. Scary monsters, eh? Maybe it’s Bowie himself as the band’s costume—Ziggy Stardust or Hunky Dory. Nobody knows—or, those that do won’t say, anyway.

Once inside, however, the infamous Phishbills are handed out, and the mystery crumbles like a sand castle on the shoreline only yards away from us—as the prescient message board poster asserted, it’s Little Feat, Waiting for Columbus. A fascinating choice for the band, interesting and fresh in that what they’ve chosen to cover is not merely a famous album, but a stupendous live album from one of rock’s more influential, yet somewhat under-appreciated 70s acts. With the promise of a horn section to duplicate the presence of the Tower of Power horns on the 1978 double album release, the biggest-selling of Little Feat’s career, the costume set bodes well for a Cajun-infused slice of indelible American rock and boogie. Awesome!

But first, the Phish:

The first set opens with a sequence of monstrous tunes, all appropriate to the occasion, but none of which offer much of anything in the way of unique renditions—Frankenstein delights with Page front and center on the Keytar, BBFCFM rushes through its punk rock parody, but the early show appearance of Ghost bodes well for a first set jamfest. At only seven minutes, such an outcome isn’t the cards, though what we get instead is a new cover tune, like Whole Lotta Love one that’s only been hinted and teased in jams or segues: Spooky, the old Atlanta Rhythm Section tune that remains a staple of classic rock radio. Good stuff.

Divided Sky breaks the Halloween theme for a standard version, but Roses Are Free, with its directive to “throw that pumpkin at the tree” again reminds us of the season. Another short, jamless version—1998 is a long time ago, now—is followed by standard read-through versions of both Funky Bitch and Boogie On Reggae Woman that rock and groove without breaking any new ground. Stash, on the other hand, offers up the first true jam of the evening, one that, at 13 minutes, is fully explored and climaxed in a manner most satisfying. Phish may be about to adorn themselves in the music of antecedents and progenitors, but after a cover-laden first part of the set, here they assert themselves as masters of their own material with a rendition that darts and scurries and bounces around the old convention hall, a delightful conversation among best friends—four onstage and 14,000 off.

After Stash peaks there’s really nowhere left for this set to go, not with so much other music ahead, so Character Zero appears and rocks us onward to the set break. With all tension dissipated about what they’ll play, all they remains is how they’ll play what they play—same as it ever was, same as it ever was.

A secret language prank opens the costume set, with a call and response as on the original album: “Gimme an F,” gets a reply of “PH!” and so on, as FEAT, in this instance, spells PHISH. And from the first cowbell strikes of Fat Man In the Bathtub, this is both bands in one, the music rolling and tumbling around the hall, the influences of Little Feat on this band quite clear, a fact that’s gone unnoticed through the years by this close Phish listener, a wonderful gift from them to all of us. This is a set that doesn’t defy description, but rather than a laborious tune-by-tune breakdown, rest assured that Little Pheat, on Halloween night 2010, has delivered an all-timer that ranks at or near the top of all previous costumes. But don’t take my word for it—get this music and decide for yourselves.

Besides the joyous opening of Fat Man, every tune in its own way is a standout, with both well-known ditties like Dixie Chicken and Times Love a Hero, itself an occasional part of the normal repertoire. One of many highlights includes a deft, seamless transition from Hero into Day or Night, which rocks despite suffering from some problematic vocal blends. Rockers like All That You Dream, Spanish Moon, and Sailin’ Shoes keeping the crowd shaking and moving and grooving. The horn players—Aaron Johnson, Stuart Bogie, Ian Hendrickson, Michael Leonhart and Eric Biondo—are all fantastic, but the standout guest star is conga virtuoso Giovanni Hidalgo, who’s on every track but Willin’ and Don’t Bogart That Joint.

Speaking of those two tunes, these represent not a mere facsimile of Little Feat’s prior performance of them, but rather are exemplars of Phish’s commitment to humor and creativity—truck driving lament Willin’ is not merely sung by a center-stage Fishman, who in a self-deprecating moment says, “That’s right—they leave me with the feature vocal part,” but in a moment of headspinning Phish pranksterism, Mike sits down at the keys, onetime adolescent drummer Trey takes his place behind the kit, and sensitive and gentle tunesmith Page straps on the Cactus’s bass! A scenario worthy of April Fool’s Day[3], this is nonetheless an emotive but winking version of Feat’s ballad of weed, white (crosses), and wine-fueled weariness in the face of duty and the endless the highway that lies ahead.

Before a return to the more serious interpretations of the Little Feat classic album, we get one more Phishy treat rather than trick—stoner singalong Don’t Bogart That Joint is rendered in an a cappella barbershop quartet version that has the audience laughing, singing along, and firing up spliffs and bowls to the point that the stands and floor twinkle. A huge exhalation of blue smoke appears, along with the appreciative approbation of the amused throng.

The rest of the performance simply smokes, with each tune ramping up the energy until the fantastic finale of Feats Don’t Fail Me Now, which along with Spanish Moon and Dixie Chicken are the longest and most fully developed of the songs. It’s not enough, though, that we’ve been blown out of the water by this masterful set—as Feats winds down the ten musicians all pick up percussion instruments and, led by Hidalgo, they march around the perimeter of the floor in a conga line! The floor convulses somewhat as eager fans rush around trying to follow the line; the band is all smiles, and eventually depart to the side of the stage to a final roar of approval.

Collecting ourselves, it’s difficult to imagine what lies ahead in the third set, mainly because it’s hard to fathom how they’ve got much spunk left after knocking the costume set out of the park. But they do, and soon the lights are down again. Coming out one last time for the Halloween weekend run and immediately mucking up Down With Disease is hardly a stellar beginning to this final set of Fall Tour 2010, but the band seems more amused than upset at this forgivable flub. “We’re allowed to mess up someone else’s album,” Trey says, laughing. “Not ours.” And so they rip into Disease anew, with fervor and vigor that sustains its 11 minute length.

But overall, this set, if not quite a letdown, feels something like an afterthought, and offers up a series of tunes that are reasonable in execution, but somewhat odd in song choice. If Disease into Back on the Train into Gotta Jibboo into Camel Walk, then Suzie Greenberg into Wilson into Harry Hood into The Horse into Silent in the Morning into YEM reads on paper as epic, in the hall these solid renditions of Phish classic material felt moderately inorganic in terms of true “phlow,” owing possibly to unusual placement of tunes like Camel Walk, Suzie, and Wilson. This mild criticism should be taken with a grain of salt, as, with all such experiences, the proof is not so much in the pudding as in the perception, and everyone’s is different owing to mindset, level of engagement, level of fatigue (he readily admits), and expectations. YEM, in particular, deserves kudos for ending the tour on a note of both precision as well as improvisation; the foot-stomping encore of Julius, in which all the guest musicians reappear a la last year’s exclamation point of a Suzie Greenberg finale, is just the right note on which to end this fantastic weekend and fall tour.

Sated and exhausted by the last seven sets of glorious Phistory, the crowd files out into the cold Atlantic air one last time, with those of us unable to catch the New Year’s run with one thought in mind besides the slot machines, the gaming tables, or perhaps a place for a head on a soft pillow—how long until the next tour is announced? Come back soon in 2011 Phish—you guys are on one hell of a roll.

[1] http://www.atlanticcitynj.com/mediaonline/story_ideas_detail.aspx?NewsID=2

[2] The eventual winners, voted on by Facebook fans of the band, are a couple dressed as Eric Stoltz and Cher from Peter Bogdanovich’s 1984 tearjerker movie Mask.

[3] Listen to the Grateful Dead’s amusing rendition of “Promised Land” from 4-1-1980 for a less-than-polished attempt at such a prank.

James D. McCallister, of Columbia, SC, is a novelist and freelance writer whose latest publication is a short story featured in the Kearney Street Books anthology THE STORYTELLER SPEAKS: RARE AND DIFFERENT FICTIONS OF THE GRATEFUL DEAD.

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