As a native of the northeast, I’ve experienced a fair share of prejudice toward the state of New Jersey. And while I know plenty of fine people who call the Garden State home, the tatted-up bros at the shore, an inability to pump one’s own gas, and the difficulty with making an accessible left turn could lead even the most progressive minds to breath a sign of relief when leaving the state’s borders. And Camden, NJ certainly has done nothing to improve the reputation of the state in which it resides. With graffiti covered streets, scam artists, and one of nation’s highest crime rates, Camden is the last place a wide-eyed Jewish boy from Pennsylvania would go for a good time. But with Phish taking a two night residency at the city’s surprisingly beautiful Susquehanna Bank Center (formerly the Tweeter Center,) the normally poverty laden streets were infused with colorful tie-dyes and homespun goods as thousands of fans entered the city for a double dose of joyful music.
Taking the stage during a picturesque sunset, Fishman began swirling around on the high-hat before the group exploded into a huge “David Bowie” opener. Anastasio then led the band into a high energy “Stealing Time from the Faulty Plan,” a tune that’s grown heavier and more exciting with every new take. The group then broke down into the second cover of Bill Monroe’s bluegrass tune “Uncle Pen” since the summer of 2000, before Gordon shifted to an electronically affected bass tone that signaled the start of a super funky take on Stevie Wonder’s “Boogie on Reggae Woman.” The foursome then kicked into the first “Gumbo” of the summer tour before slamming the audience with the opening notes of “Timber.” After jamming out of “Timber,” Fishman left the helm behind the drum kit as the other three members started the a capella tune “I Didn’t Know.” As the whimsical song progressed, Anastasio reminded the audience of a prediction he’d made one year earlier that the Philadelphia Flyers would be Stanley Cup champions (almost!) before claiming that Fishman’s vacuum solo would conjure voodoo spirits to guarantee a Flyers victory in 2011 (during Fishman’s solo the crowd began a “Let’s Go Flyers” chant). The first set then moved through a flawlessly executed “Reba” before finishing with a rockin’ cover of Led Zeppelin’s “The Rover.”
After the sun had fully gone down with the Philadelphia skyline beautifully illuminated in the distance, the band retook the stage, opening with a standard “Down with Disease” that dove into the show’s highlight; a fantastic version of the rarely played Talking Heads’ song “Crosseyed and Painless.” Phish certainly has a knack for paying homage to the quirky brilliance of the Talking Heads, and infusing their unmistakable energy into “Crosseyed” threw the massive crowd into blissful merriment.
The jam eventually fell into an airy sing-along “Nothing” before Anastasio fiddled around the opening chords of “Harry Hood,” accompanied by an explosion of glowsticks from the center of the crowd. The group moved through the complicated sections of the tune with ease before the song’s climax finally gave way to the third “Fluffhead” of the summer 2010 tour. The foursome nailed the many sections of yet another intricate tune before charging back into the chorus with some of the best Anastasio shredding of the evening. A lively Julius then bled into a set closing “You Enjoy Myself,” with the crowd reprising the “Let’s Go Flyers” chant during the song’s vocal jam.
And while Phish didn’t quite punctuate the show with the same energy, opting to encore with the more laid back tune “Bug,” it literally “didn’t matter” as the versatility and sheer power of the first two sets were more than enough to hold the crowd over until the next night.
So while I quickly crossed the Delaware River into Philadelphia after the show to avoid any undesirables of the Camden nightlife, I realized that for three hours Phish managed to fill a downtrodden city with light. And while I certainly don’t intend on visiting Camden regularly, it’s amazing to see how a little rock and roll can make even the worst American cities a little more phun.