(Photo Credit - Jake Silco © Phish 2021)
PHISH @ ATLANTIC CITY BEACH, NEW JERSEY 8.14.21
Set I: Llama^, Tube, Destiny Unbound, Ya Mar, 46 Days, Reba, Soul Shakedown Party, Split Open and Melt, The Squirming Coil
Notes: ^ - Slow Llama
I’ll come back to that title. It’s my thesis, but it will take time to get there. In the meantime, let me start at the beginning.
This was my first slow “Llama.” If I were the Phishtorian I used to claim to be, I could tell you whether or not they’ve played one before, but I do not know. Googling it, I see what I’ve been missing. It dates back to 8/14/15. So, I heard my first “Slow Llama” exactly six years to the date after it debuted. Damn. Sorry, true Phans. I’m behind, but I can admit when I am clearly not in the know. However, I celebrate Phish in my own way, and you’ll see it when I publish Sid R Tuh.
They went into “Tube” and followed that with “Destiny Unbound.” The music was pulling me in as any good live show should. I just wish I could tell you that I was used to dancing on the sand at this point. I wish I could tell you that even though I was wearing my mask, everything was back to the way it used to be. However, I cannot. I was at home, in my backyard, cooking Impossible Burgers over the fire. Inside, I had corn boiling on the stove.
I have been to people’s houses to watch live feeds, and back when I bartended at Jackie O’s if there was a Sunday night show and enough Phans, we’d try to get a stream on the projector. However, for night two of Atlantic City, I was at my house. It was almost like a regular night. Yet, at the same time, it wasn’t.
Since I’m sharing, I’ll tell you that I really wanted to see Phish live. They played Hersheypark Stadium, which is less than an hour from my house, and Atlantic City ON THE F’N BEACH, about two and a half hours away. The thought of seeing them was extremely exciting. However, my wife is a doctor, and she works in the emergency room. No matter how much people want to deny it, the pandemic isn’t over, even for vaccinated people. So…it bummed me out all week.
As yesterday went on and it got closer to show time, I debated streaming the show, but it isn’t the same. As Camélia and I ate our Impossible Burgers and watched Phish play “46 Days,” I said, “Being in that crowd of people, listening to the music, and dancing…that refills my soul.” Yes, I am that corny, but it does. There is nothing like being at a live show. Compare it to a sporting event or a fair/carnival, but they are not the same. The music takes over and creates an atmosphere that you swim in and breathe. It controls time, space, and energy. No, it is not the same.
I almost made the purchase at 5pm. I got to the checkout screen on my phone, but I wasn’t ready. Instead, Lizzie talked me into taking her for a walk. It was hot, but not like the last couple of days. Clouds were making an appearance, and it looked like it might rain. But it’s summer; that’s what the weather is supposed to be like.
“Goddamn it, Lizzie. I really want to see Phish.” But she didn’t care. She’s a dog, and if I’m taking her on a walk, giving her a treat, or just paying attention to her, she’s happy. And not afraid to let you know. “You’re right,” I said. “Let’s make the best of it.” So, when we got home, I grabbed my car keys. We went to get our “couch tour” essentials: starter wood for the fire (I like the ease of it), food to feed me and mi esposa bonita, and root beer, so we feel like we are doing something different. While at the grocery, I ordered the webcast, and of course, my t-shirt.
By the time Phish got to “Soul Shakedown Party,” I had told Camélia that I thought Trey sounded great. He looked loose, comfortable, and happy. Even though Mike Gordon looked stiff (nothing unusual about that), the entire band looked like they were enjoying themselves. And they have been doing this for nearly forty years!! Yes, I said that and used exclamation points. Two of them. That’s fucking amazing.
“Split Open and Melt” is my regret for not going. It is one of the songs I have always wanted to see live. One of my all-time favorite Phish songs, it has the dissonance, tension, and in this version, restrained anxiety that I love. Until:
We breathe deep in a steam dream
And plunge below the water line
Down down down down down down
Between beams to the gloom room
Among the seaweed and the slime
Down down down down down down
The restraint in last night’s version. It’s the slog of present tense. The struggles of getting through the pandemic. I feel it, but so does everyone I know. Damn. I just want people to feel that freedom that we took for granted in February 2020. We want it to be over, but like my wife keeps telling me, it’s not.
“That’s what my head feels like,” I told her. “Everywhere at once, but nowhere at all.” I listened to it and imagined I was right upfront. Eyes closed. Feeling the energy and moving with the crowd. “This probably sounds stupid, but I think this song gives me hope. My head is the dissonance. Anxiety washes over me, but there is that one thread. I hear it. It keeps them together so they can find their way out. They always do.
“And so do I. Over the years, I have gain better control of my thoughts and emotion. I don’t let them get so far away that I cannot come back.”
We listened to the rest as we finished our dinner.
“The Squirming Coil,” I said, standing up. “Clean up break.”
“Yeah. It’s Phish telling Phans, go to the restroom ahead of everyone else. But make it back before Page’s solo.”
I added that last part in my written version. The truth is that I forgot about his solo because I usually tune out during this song. However, I made it back in time from putting up my dishes. I’m glad I did. I love ending the first set with Page.
Set II: I Never Needed You Like This Before > Drowned > Ghost -> Scents and Subtle Sounds > Chalk Dust Torture > No Quarter > Slave to the Traffic Light > Suzy Greenberg
We watched the first set outside but took the second one in.
On the couch and comfortable, I wondered how long the show would keep Camélia’s interest. She’d done well so far, but there had been a lot going on. We were making food. She got Jack, our cat, in his harness so he could be outside with us. However, he got out. It was night, and she had to really look for him. She was also worried about the neighbors. I said, “Who cares? It’s not that loud,” but I knew she disagreed. However, when we were inside, there were fewer distractions; we were just on the couch.
“I Never Needed You Like This Before,” the second set opener, and the Encore, “A Life Beyond the Dream,” are like Phish 4.0. They are uplifting and hopeful, which is in contrast to the Ghost years. “I Never Needed You Like This Before” makes me think about Trey realizing how much he relies on the energy of his audience and Phans.
“People hate on him,” I told Camélia. “I don’t know why. Maybe his arrogance from years ago. But he’s lived a dynamic story, one more people should celebrate.
“He’s not a Kanye, just saying and doing crazy shit. He’s not like Lebron, crowned a King when he was in high school. Trey was just a crazy kid who lov