I’ve recovered sufficiently from the collapsed-in-a-heapedness to let y’all know that The Wife and I had a kick-ass vacation: Two Dead shows, three days at the lovely Jersey Shore (no, really … it was), and a Phish show that was free of mud, and, mostly, free of hassles as well.

We stayed at the Crown Royal (ummm, not the actual name) in Center City for the Dead shows, and they were as unbelievable as expected. Here’s the lists:

The Dead, Aug. 7, Tweeter Center at the Waterfront, Camden, N.J.
Set 1: Jam> Alligator> Mississippi Half-Step> Mr. Charlie, Broken Arrow, Strange World> Smokestack Lightning> Casey Jones
Set 2: Jam> China Cat Sunflower>Uncle John’s Band, Lady With A Fan> Morning Dew> Jam> Terrapin Station> I Know You Rider> Drumz/Space> Golden Road> Viola Lee Blues(v1 & v2)> Midnight Hour> Viola Lee Blues(v3)… One More Saturday Night
E: Cosmic Charlie

The Dead, Aug. 8, Tweeter Center at the Waterfront, Camden, N.J.
Set 1: Sitting On Top Of The World> Bertha> New Speedway Boogie, You Remind Me, Stagger-Lee, Baba Jingo> Milestones> Baba Jingo, Brown-Eyed Women, Mason’s Children
Set 2: Friend Of The Devil, Feel Like A Stranger> Eyes Of The World> Cold Rain & Snow, Hard To Handle> Samson & Delilah> Drumz/Space> Stella Blue, Night Of 1000 Stars> Gimme Some Lovin’> Not Fade Away…
E: After Midnight> Brokedown Palace

The first night was a monster, boundless energy, excellent crowd reaction and even big smiles on stage once it was done. The second night was a little less consistent (no one could figure out who was taking what verse on Stagger Lee), but still, plenty of good shit. For me, the highlights were the Alligator, which I’d never heard before; the entire pre-Drums segment on Saturday — clean segues, and just non-stop fun; Cosmic Charlie, for crying out loud; Sitting>Bertha to open the second night; Hard to Handle; and the After Midnight to start the second night’s encore, at a funky tempo somewhere between the JJ Cale and Eric Clapton versions.

Sunday was especially fun, because after breakfast (Chef Dave’s banana French toast at the Marathon Grill at 16th and Sansom — oh, Sweet Jesus, that’s some excellent stuff), I went and bled at Philly’s blood bank for a chance to meet Phil Lesh, who as a cool as you’d expect. Took time to talk to everyone who bled, signed my ticket stub from the night before and gave everyone a signed Phil and Friends NYE poster from a couple years ago. Very cool experience.

We then took off for the beach. We camped at the Ponderosa, near Cape May Courthouse, and were about the only Americans in the place — apparently that’s a big destination for Quebequoise (and there’s no way I spelled that correctly). Nice place and just a short drive to Wildwood and Cape May. Only we didn’t spend much time in either of those places, because the beach at Avalon, about five minutes from our campground, was totally cool. No boardwalk to speak of, none of the things that make Atlantic City’s beach such a clusterfuck — just, you know, a beach. We’d head out in the morning, stay until mid-afternoon, and then start to think about what we were going to do for dinner.

And dinner turned out to be a cool thing as well. We found a new southwestern kind of place along Route 9 in Ocean View (which doesn’t seem to have any actual view of the ocean) that made good use of the local seafood all over their menu. Between the two of us, we had blue crab nachos, crabmeat enchiladas, a huge freakin’ soft taco with crab, shrimp and scallops and a crab-stuffed grilled trout. Yum.

After three days at the beach, we headed back to Philly to see our last-ever Phish show. The overall experience turned out to be pretty cool, especially when compared with SPAC earlier in the summer. The venue does a better job of managing things, and our local knowledge helped a bunch, especially when it came to getting out of the lot at the end of the night. There were a bunch of teenagers partying in the area around our car, and the amount of garbage, broken bottles, etc., we had to clean up just to leave the parking space was outrageous. But inside, there were no hassles at all, and the show was a killer:

Phish, Aug. 12, Tweeter Center at the Waterfront, Camden, N.J.
Set 1: Wilson, You Enjoy Myself (w/ vocal jam)>Ghost>Maze>Catapult>Maze, The Moma Dance, Horn, Pebbles and Marbles
Set 2: Piper, Sneaking Sally>Cavern>Limb By Limb, Julius, Rock and Roll, Scents and Subtle Sounds
E: Lawn Boy, Frankenstein

The segues from YEM through the end of Maze were seamless and Scents seemed to wrap things up perfectly: from the subtle section the band built a 20-minute or so instrumental piece that summed everyone’s feelings at that moment, ominous, dark and achingly beautIful. The song ended with Fishman onstage alone, drumming along to a feedback loop that Trey built before he walked off. When the drummer left, the loop just faded slowly away.

The Wife was bummed because she missed Trey and Mike on the trampolines during YEM, but she totally called Rock and Roll, and in her exuberance, she smacked the shit out of my arm (“Nice work, honey … and by the way, ow…”). A great night.

All day long we kept hearing about the monumental hassles that folks headed to Coventry were encountering. It apparently was bad enough that Trey made an announcement that if anyone at Camden was planning on heading north for the weekend, they shouldn’t even try to get close to the site until Saturday — when, as it turned out, the police started turning people away. It sounds like most of the folks who had tickets made it up there in plenty of time to get their cars stuck in foot-deep mud.

The end of our Phish experience was a bit more low-key. We got back to the hotel near all the old stuff, and were sitting outside enjoying a last beer and cigarette. We were both hungry, but we didn’t feel like driving to Chinatown to see if anything was open. We know of all-night places in Center City, but as we were a bit out of our element, we were resigned to going to bed without satisfying the beastly munchies we both had.

Until we saw a couple heading back to the hotel carrying a pizza box. The guy gave us vague directions, and we eventually found Soho Pizza, on Market between Second and Third. I had two slices of pepperoni; The Wife had two slices of her favorite, a garlic-spinich (and mushroom?) concoction. Went to bed very happy indeed.

The next day we drove back to Pixburke, switched cars and headed to Columbus for a wedding the following day. Came back Sunday. That’s when we commenced with the exhausted heapage. And it was totally worth it.

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