Under a full moon and before a full house at the Susquehanna Bank Center on Sunday night, Phish did what jam bands ultimately do: they jammed.
Front man Trey Anastasio repeatedly found a groove and fingered fluid guitar solo after solo, to the rapturous delight of the crowd, most dancing in that form of writhing free body expression associated with hippies, Woodstock and the Grateful Dead.
In their first area appearance since their 2004 hiatus, the veteran Vermont four-piece squeezed out 23 songs over three-plus hours. And if it felt right, they went the distance on improv extension, Anastasio often undeniably evoking the sweetly spiking high tone of the Dead's late guitarist Jerry Garcia - "Sand," the first song of the second of two full sets, clocked in at 22 minutes alone.
Drawing from well over two decades of material, the setlist immediately elicited raves at fan forums online. Consensus? Best yet of the reunion tour that started a week earlier at Boston's Fenway Park (with an a cappella version of the "Star-Spangled Banner" from the pitcher's mound).
Curiously, there were no covers in Camden - this from a band famous for doing whole albums in concert by the Beatles, Pink Floyd, Talking Heads, Velvet Underground et al., and which has been interpreting songs over the last week ranging from Stevie Wonder to Led Zeppelin, along with Francis Scott Key.
The band seemed particularly on-point Sunday, as Jon Fishman effortlessly drummed up the all-Phish event with Page McConnell coloring in the melodies on keys and Mike Gordon bobbing his head in time to his percolating bass lines. Gordon also sang lead on the funky "Sugar Shack," one of the night's two world premieres off the forthcoming 14th Phish studio album due on July 28 (the other was Anastasio's "Joy.")
Of course, a Phish show means more than the band and the jam: there is the sizable community that materializes in the venue parking lot beforehand. Camden was no different. Many cranked up WXPN on their car stereos at 4 p.m., when guest host Brian Seltzer - 950 AM ESPN Philadelphia Eagles beat reporter and an impressively knowledgeable Phish enthusiast - mounted a three-hour tailgate party broadcast of choice live tracks and commentary.
Others brought out their instruments and jammed along with Attitune, a Morristown, N. J., open-mic band that habitually set up their gear beside their van and invite anyone to sing, recite poetry, sit in behind the drums or plug into an amp and wail. A stand selling crystals, jewelry, handmade hemp bags, prayer flags and more was located nearby. The tie-dye-shirted, long-haired proprietor, based in Ithaca, N. Y., said he's doing all dates of the current early summer Phish tour. "Business has been good today - but business is always good at these things," he said.