Phish: Atlantic City 6.17.12
Atlantic City, NJ
Words By Benjamin Wilkerson
Photos By Jim Piermarini Jr.
Father’s Day shows for Phish have a running tradition, so for the fourth year in a row, the children of all the band members appear on stage in a tin wash-bin for the duration of the first song “Brother”. The kids of Trey Anastasio, Mike Gordon, Page McConnell, and Jon Fishman are introduced one by one, with the newest addition to the McConnell clan coming in at 8 months old, prompting Page to play “Charge!” on the organ like you would hear at a sporting event.
Set 1: Brother, Runaway Jim, Dogs Stole Things, Boogie On Reggae Woman > NICU, Foam > Wilson > Timber (Jerry), Fluffhead, Walls of the Cave > Character Zero
Set 2: Drowned > Also Sprach Zarathustra > Reba, Roses Are Free > Chalk Dust Torture > Prince Caspian -> Silent in the Morning, Bug > A Day in the Life > Down with Disease
Encore: Gotta Jibboo > Quinn the Eskimo
 Contained brief ending similar to Brother.
 No whistling.
 Ending similar to Brother mixed in with normal DWD ending.
The second of many fitting nods and song placement, “Runaway” Jim gets the crowd’s amperage up while seeming to reference the lengthy, runaway nature of the weekend’s improvisation, or even the ever-increasing number of children in the bathtub for “Brother”. “Dogs Stole Things” is then played by request for a young lady holding a poster with the name on it.
Next, Mike demonstrates his expert construction of unique low tones as he plays what were originally keyboard parts recorded by Stevie Wonder in his Motown smash-hit “Boogie On Reggae Woman”. As the band lightly experiments within a few instrumental measures, Page descends into the down-tempo again like yesterday, perhaps as a cue to for the rest of the band to drop out giving Mike Gordon a few measures solo, and this move is executed flawlessly before they jump into “NICU”.
Another Father’s Day nod, the NICU acronym for a hospital’s post-partum Neonatal Intensive Care Unit can also serve as a pun on the phrase “and I see you”, or even Nickel and Copper which sit side-by-side on the periodic table (NiCu), perhaps referencing small change. This special version contains many emphatic elements to no doubt tie in all the double and even triple entendres to the holiday and Atlantic location as the lyrics mention ‘A slipper, a sand dollar, day at the shore’ prompting crowd cheers. Trey even gives a little giggle when the crowd shouts and cheers for the line “back in those days when my life was a haze”. The singing trio puts extra emphasis in for the lyric ‘swim with the Cactus’, prompting the crowd to scream even more for the bassist’s desert nickname before Trey shouts the song’s customary ‘play it Leo!’ at Page to start rocking out the piano solo.
The avant-garde jazz of “Foam” comes up next and Mike playfully throws in some of the funky bass licks from “Brother” in the beginning. Another song with crowd-participation appears as the audience again chants the songs name in coordination with the band for “Wilson”, and this performance also has the vocal wiggle from “Brother” which is added when the band screams the song’s pining question ‘Can you still have any fun?’.
The blues song “Timber” was originally written in the 1930s, re-recorded in the 60s and re-emerged in the late 80s as a part of the Phish catalog. Also spontaneously including an ending like “Brother”, this new mutation leads Trey to ask the audience a trivia question regarding how many of their songs end like that and he notes that ‘tonight is a special day’ because “Timber” is the fourth song that now ends like that. The band continues with more silly banter as Trey asks Page to end “Lawn Boy” like “Brother”, and they try it out. With Metallica playing the same venue in a few weeks, Trey, still conversing, notes that they have no songs that end with a vocal wiggle, and if we all wrote them they might end “Master of Puppets” like that. It appeared that the ever-quiet Mike Gordon leaned over to Trey to whisper a song name, and finally they launch into the opening notes of the fan favorite “Fluffhead”.
“Fluffhead” contained more vocal wiggles for the chant of the song’s title and many fans join in singing and shouting along before Trey shreds a triumphant closing guitar solo with some complementary piano duet parts thrown in by Page. A rare appearance is made by the lengthy and introspective “Walls of the Cave” which lyrics recall ‘those you couldn’t save’ in one of its two distinct musical segments. In keeping with the lyrical theme of quirky people, “Character Zero” closes out an interactive set full of hijinks with a head-banging lead and shouting vocals.
The Who’s “Drowned” is a classic set two opener that typically foreshadows big improvisations. Notable occurrences of this are 7/20/2010 which led to a piece of music simply known as “Charlotte Jam”, on 8/12/2010 leading to “Noblesville Jam”, and several other mid-second set appearances like 6/20/2010 and 5/31/2011, according to phish.com. The band smokes through another cover song with a definitive, funked-up rendition of “Also Sprach Zarathustra” (commonly known as the theme from 2001: A Space Odyssey, or “2001” for short).
Another crowd favorite, the nursery rhyme lyrics of “Reba” are sported in a non-repeating chord progression (think a musical version of the number Pi) that culminates in a beautiful improvised peak. This song contains a quintessential element of Phish: accessible surface elements like musical wordplay which can serve to capture your attention while leading to tight compositions like the emotive and tear-inducing solo in “Reba”. Another cover is unveiled as the band strikes into Ween’s “Roses are Free” which is another tune that is quintessentially Phish-y despite not being their own, and its essence also helps summarize the bands’ unique appeal. Another energetic rocker, “Chalk Dust Torture” jams into ambient space before landing in the sing-along ballad “Prince Caspian”.
The scrapped song “The Horse” from Saturday is nearly always followed by its companion piece “Silent in the Morning” but today “Silent” makes its appearance in the segue from “Prince Caspian”, and without “The Horse” for an occurrence that has happened only a half-dozen times in history. During this number and under the rest of the nighttime darkness, Chris Kuroda’s new addition of LEDs to the light show which debuted this tour appear so bright, piercing and powerful that it renders glowsticks practically obsolete and they are visible as lifeless white plastic flying through the air when the crowd is basked in the new rigs’ vibrant luminescence, which at a show like this is nearly constant. Kuroda displays his new techniques during the harmonious layers of “Silent” and into the contemplative yet energetic “Bug”.
Still showing off their complex chops, Phish nails The Beatle’s “A Day in the Life” while throwing in more vocal wiggles among the spacey-noise created in the dissonance of its bittersweet lyrics. This song is often a set closer or encore, but to the audience’s surprise, Mike mucks right into the swampy bass intro for “Down with Disease”, and then Trey opens up his staccato lead riff into a high energy closer. The lyrics seem to shout out to the crowd once again on the final eve of this stop in New Jersey with the lines ‘this has all been wonderful/but now I’m on my way”, before comically ending once again in the manner of “Brother”!
For the encore, Bob Dylan’s “Quinn the Eskimo” acts as a giant cherry atop the triple-layer cake that was this run of shows. A fitting end for an exciting weekend, it follows the first encore song “Gotta Jibbo’s” cries of ‘mama sing sang’ and ‘papa sing sang’ that again note a memorable Father’s Day.
We stayed next to the newer airport that replaced the aging runways of the venue, Bader Field, a 142-acre site which was formerly the first U.S. municipal airport for both land-based and sea planes. The next morning I awoke to the noticeable rumble of jet engines lumbering by overhead, hearing them for the first time all weekend, undoubtedly carrying swaths of Phish fans home while still grinning ear to ear.
Notes: For the fourth Father's Day in a row, "Brother" was performed and featured all of the band's children on stage and subsequent introductions (which included a Charge! from Page). After "Timber," Trey sang the ending notes to "Brother." Trey then said he had a trivia question for the crowd and asked "how many songs end like this?" and the band sang the ending of "Brother" again. He answered the question by saying the songs were "My Friend, My Friend," "Rift," and "Brother" (all of which had their endings "sung"). Trey added that tonight was special because from now on, "Timber" would also end with the "Brother ending" (which was sung again). Trey said Page could also end "Lawn Boy" that way from now on, prompting a "Lawn Boy" quote from Page. Mike then teased Ha Ha Ha. Trey went on to say that Metallica would be playing at Bader Field soon after Phish and that he didn't think they ended a single song like the ending of "Brother" (Trey sang the ending). Trey said if everyone wrote Metallica a note saying "Dear Metallica, please end 'Master of Puppets' like this" (singing the ending one final time), if they got 20,000 notes, they just might do it. "Fluffhead" and "Down With Disease" subsequently had endings similar to "Brother" mixed in with their normal finishes. "Reba" did not contain the whistling ending and "Caspian" was unfinished. (Courtesy of Phish.net)