Phish: Atlantic City 6.15.12
Atlantic City, NJ
Words By Benjamin Wilkerson
Photos By Jim Piermarini Jr.
Phish’s return to Atlantic City after their 2010 monster-mashed Halloween weekend at the Boardwalk Hall was embraced by clear, sunny skies and thousands of adoring fans. The open spaces and flat, asphalt runways of Bader Field made the perfect dance floor for an urban faux-festival, with the only real lack of amenities being the absence of on-site camping. But, the band still managed to maintain their typical ambience and fan-fare with lighted art installations, a Ferris wheel, and their iconic Beers of the World tent complete with Foam, a unique brew named for one of their songs and crafted by Sierra Nevada exclusively for Phish events.
Set 1: The Sloth, My Sweet One > 46 Days > Camel Walk, Tube > Cities > It's Ice, Ginseng Sullivan, Stash, Simple > The Wedge, Stealing Time From the Faulty Plan, The Squirming Coil
Set 2: My Soul, Birds of a Feather -> Back on the Train > Heavy Things > Twist > Piper > Billy Breathes, Sneakin' Sally Through the Alley > David Bowie
Encore: First Tube
 "Woo!" quotes from Twist in intro.
 Stash, It's Ice, Birds of a Feather, Simple, and Ginseng Sullivan teases. Wedge tease from Fishman.
 "Woo!" quote from Twist.
Notes: Birds of a Feather was unfinished. Bowie contained Stash, It's Ice, Birds of a Feather, Simple, and Ginseng Sullivan teases. (Courtesy of Phish.net)
Perhaps as a gentle ribbing for the tardy fans that continued to flood through the entrance to Bader during the opener, Phish begins with an ambling version of "The Sloth." Followed by the playful bluegrass ode to a beau, "My Sweet One," the remainder of the audience settled in to their spots just in time for a vibrant "46 Days" that kicked the energy level up even higher and even contained a slight nod to "Birds of a Feather" in the lead guitar work as foreshadowing to set two and later the rich blends of noteworthy, overlapped melodies and teases throughout many of the weekend’s songs.
"Camel Walk" introduces some funky metering to the evening by way of Mike’s bass as dozens of inflatable fish surf the crowd, and the first notes of "Tube" are struck in a scene much like the beach ball war from their fully-featured 2011 festival Superball IX during the same song. The shorter "Tubes" of post-reunion Phish were outdone by this quality version which featured several musical drop-outs that allowed solos from both Mike Gordon and Page McConnell before guitarist Trey Anastasio ripped into the bluesy reprise to finish it out.
An appropriately placed "Cities" is laid out before the towering casinos and hotels that surround the flat architecture of the island venue, no doubt in appreciation of the overall atmosphere. The rarity "It’s Ice" was a thrilling tour-de-force of intricate melody, and a fitting warm-up for the fast-paced bluegrass number "Ginseng Sullivan" that followed.
"Stash" beckons the start of some lengthy and impressive improvisation, and definitely qualifies for the highlight reel despite its first set placement. In another nod to skyscrapers, the vocal harmonies of "Simple" are nailed down, and the jam segues into "The Wedge." The ever-maturing "Stealing Time From The Faulty Plan" provides a rocking closer, complete with "Birds of a Feather" nods, with "The Squirming Coil’s" poignant piano solo topping it all off and leading the audience sweetly and gently into the break.
An unlikely opener, "My Soul" revs up set two with its "Truckin"-esque pentatonic rhythm before we are launched into a six-song trail that just keeps getting better: the notables being "Birds of Feather," "Twist," and "Piper" before ending on the uncommon "Billy Breathes." Allen Toussaint’s "Sneakin' Sally Through The Alley" (popularized by Robert Palmer, whose name is also mentioned in the Tube lyrics), is a welcome addition and one of several cover songs throughout the weekend before the energetic, frenzied, climax of "David Bowie" which is then matched by a roaring and satisfying encore performance of "First Tube."
Day one in Atlantic City sets a hectic pace, even for a band known for its skillful reinventions of music. The blissful crowd files out into the streets, after-parties, and boardwalk eagerly await the next days’ exposition in the Las Vegas of the East, and sometime in the wee hours of the morning, the drummer's last name “Fishman” is carved into the wall of a bathroom at the Revel Casino.