This must be what Woodstock felt like. With one band and no mud.
Phish brought its legion of devoted fans to Bader Field in Atlantic City on Friday, kicking off a three-day outdoor tour stop and becoming the second band to throw a weekend-long music event there, following The Dave Matthews Band last summer.
Sure, there were plenty of people smoking weed in their tie-dyed shirts, but when the smoke cleared, Phish proved why it is arguably the most popular jam band on the planet: the group consists of superb, improvisational musicians who are also a heck of a lot of fun — especially outdoors with a bunch of friendly hippies.
Like a party atmosphere similar to a Jimmy Buffett concert but with much better musicians, Friday’s Phish show had people singing and dancing for hours as a colorful light show accented the late-spring sky with the Atlantic City skyline in the distance on a cool, clear night.
Phish, returning for the first time since its weekend of Halloween shows in 2010, offered a fun set list that tackled the band’s music from its impressive catalog while throwing in some surprises, too.
Facing a Ferris wheel and more than 20,000 people, the Vermont-based band, known for its ability to stretch songs into double-digit-minute marathons, kept things succinct early, offering a rocking, tight version of “The Sloth,” keeping it under five minutes, followed by a to-the-point version of “My Sweet One,” a redneck, saloon tune that even Jeff Foxworthy might make fun of.
Things starting getting longer once the band ripped into a stellar version of “46 Days,” a groovy jammer in which guitarist-lead singer Trey Anastasio finally let loose on two extended solos that had the crowd moshing their heads.
Like many great jam bands, Phish showed its musical versatility Friday, giving concertgoers some funk in songs such as “Tube,” featuring some great bass work by Mike Gordon; jazzy influences in “Stash”; some blues with “My Soul”; and even some bluegrass with its cover of Norman Blake’s “Ginseng Sullivan.”
Standouts included a long, rocking version of “The Wedge,” which started as a harmonic classic rocker similar to Crosby, Stills & Nash and ended up sounding like an Allman Brothers classic; the superjammy “Stealing Time From a Faulty Plan;” and "The Squirming Coil," in which Page McConell concluded with a beautiful piano solo that ended the first set at 9:15 p.m.; and the fun crowd favorites “Back on the Train” and “Heavy Things.”
Not-so-stellar moments included the humdrum “Camel Walk,” the quirky “It’s Ice” and the self-indulgent “Piper”
And there were even some surprises, including an offbeat cover of the Talking Heads’ “Cities” and the second-set singalong “Birds of a Feather,” which stretched to nearly 25 minutes and the band didn’t even finish it.
The absence of large screens — or any screen — was a disappointment, but newly planted grass and recent rain kept things relatively dust-free, unlike last year’s DMB Caravan, which left people looking like miners.
With a more rocking, energetic first set and more jamming, psychedelic second set, Phish's three-hour opening night gave the fans a nice mix of the band’s eclectic styles. It will be interesting to see if Saturday’s set will live up to the band’s reputation of playing its best show on the second night of its three-day stops.
At just 60 bucks, Phish’s Bader Field concerts are one of the best entertainment deals you will find in Atlantic City this summer season. Great music, a cool vibe, food, drinks, a Ferris wheel and being outdoors in the summer. What could be better? Metallica and 30 other bands next weekend?
Contact Scott Cronick: 609-272-7017, SCronick@pressofac.com
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