To conclude what has been what I’ve previously called the “best Phish tour in a decade,” Phish threw down an absolutely historic three-night stand at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park in Commerce City, Colorado over Labor Day Weekend. Their second consecutive Labor Day finale held at this venue, and my first trip out there, I can still not find a bad thing to say about this the venue, the vibe and most especially – the effort the band put forth to finish their 2012 with a gigantic exclamation point.
[All Photos by Andy Hill]
In my Leg Two Preview Column, I offered up a few challenges to the band. In Colorado, and throughout the leg, they delivered – big time.
“In addition to some fresh material, I’m also hoping that the band goes completely off the wall in a few aspects this second leg. Start with the crazy setlists and bustouts that they’ve brought forth this year and take it to the Nth degree. Realize that each show will be the only footprint (in most cases) that they will get to leave on a certain venue/city, and go all out. In other words, don’t play it safe – anywhere. There are 13 proper shows remaining until December. That’s not a lot for the final five months of the year. So go for IT. Build upon what you’ve created and take it DEEP! Explore, delve and be creative. Make a statement that the early summer wasn’t just lightning in a bottle for the 3.0 era.”
Last Friday’s first night of the Colorado run saw not only Phish take it to the next level in terms of setlist creativity, but go completely overboard. Playing a setlist that spelled out “F.U.C.K. Y.O.U.R. F.A.C.E,” before ending the show with the song proper and encoring with an allusion to “Dicks” in Grind >Meatstick, it was evident that the band was thinking creatively and obviously trying to one-up the infamous “S” show from one year earlier.
But, the show was not just about the gimmicky setlist. There were also some outstanding, and even all-time versions of a few tunes that were JAMMED to another realm, namely the Undermind, Chalkdust Torture, Carini and Runaway Jim. With the Jim clocking in at an even 20 minutes, Chalkdust at nearly 19 and Undermind reaching 15+, the band developed such impressive themes and ideas that stretched into out of bounds areas, much like the skiers of Colorado on the mountains. These songs took more twists and turns than a double diamond and simply have to be heard to be believed. And they all happened within the first show of a three-night run! It wasn’t even Saturday yet!
When Saturday finally did roll around, the band kept up the energy by playing the first show-opening Run Like An Antelope since 1990. A third song Tweezer that again developed into a thematic rocket to the stratosphere, and a fourth song opus of Fluffhead (which will forever define Phish 3.0 thanks to Hampton ’09), was yet another sign that anything goes in “Colorful Colorado,” having played three of their biggest tunes in the first four songs of the show.
However, the **clear** centerpiece of the weekend was about to come in the second set. Kicking off with Golden Age, another song that has defined this era of Phish – in both a musical and metaphorical sense – the band dropped another stellar version before segueing into Prince Caspian. A song despised by many fans, this version I’m sure changed a few minds and again became an all-timer, and possibly my favorite since Japan ’99. At this point, I just shook my head, and realized that my favorite band in the universe was back at the top of their game. It was as if the band was on the golf course, having the rounds of their lives, and every tee shot they took, they were downwind-hitting everything 300-yards right down the middle of the fairway. Just take out the driver, tee it up and let ‘er RIP! Anything was possible and everything they touched turned to gold. It didn’t matter what they were performing: they were playing it ALL with such fury and passion that it was as if not a single soul in the stadium had any idea of what was to come.
And then…they dropped Light.
If what we had witnessed and heard the past night and half wasn’t enough of a clue, Phish simply delivered one of the greatest jams I have EVER heard in my entire life. That is not an overstatement, even though I’m often guilty of saying and feeling so on the spot. This version was simply out-of-this-fucking-world. With more peaks and valleys than the Rocky Mountains looming in the distance, this jam has three, if not four distinct jams or peaks. I haven’t listened to it again, just yet, for fear of diminishing the moment, but trust me – this one is a keeper. In fact, I’d probably be justified in saying it was the single best JAM they have played since their return. The band released it as their official video from the show, so please listen and watch below to see what I mean…
Closing Saturday’s show with an ambitious and unexpected Mike’s Song>No Quarter (a cover that fits Phish to an absolute T) > Weekapaug Groove segment which saw the band play until midnight. An encore of Sleeping Monkey>Tweezer Reprise featured front man Trey Anastasio’s quip about drummer Jon Fishman returning for the encore eating a banana for energy after “almost passing out from rockin’ too hard” during the set. It was clear the band was enjoying themselves, that they were loose and in the comfort zone.
Sunday night saw the band catch their breath a little during set one (how could they not after the previous 2 nights?), but did see the tour’s second rendition of Ride Captain Ride. However, the main event was surely the second frame and showed the band was not about to slink quietly into the night before their well deserved break off the road until New Year’s.
Sand, the song I called the MVP of Leg One, fittingly kicked off the final set of Summer 2012. And, as per usual, Fishman held down the anchor and Mike Gordon wrapped his bass line slowly around our collective selves, like a poised and deadly boa constrictor, while Trey came over the top with swirling guitar patterns and Page McConnell added another layer of sonic wonderment before this version spring-boarded into oblivion. Another sure highlight of the weekend, this tune felt more like a sinking hole of quickSAND, as the audience seemingly struggled to keep focused on the four-headed monster known as Phish that was taking us for this ride.
A funky Ghost and relatively short (by this weekend’s standards) gave way to the dark Twenty Years Later. The poignant rejoicing came at the end of the show as Phish closed out their 2012 Summer Tour with two of their oldest tunes: The Lizards and Harry Hood. Lizards was my favorite Phish song for a long time and Hood is as cathartic as they come in the catalog, so I couldn’t do anything but close my eyes, feel the burning smile that my face had involuntarily been making for the past three days and obviously, “surrender to the flow.”
As the thank you’s from the band and Character Zero faded away and the house lights came on, I again thought to my previous column from before the tour started…
“We’ve all wished for greatness out of Phish since their return, and now that we’ve consistently seen it, I’d say “great. Now show me more.” We wouldn’t be Phish fans if we didn’t have a “what have you done for me lately?” attitude that came from seeing the band constantly raise the bar throughout the ’90s. I challenge the band to dig deep and lay it all out on the line. This short, but intriguing second stint, in my eyes, is a statement time and turning point in the band’s next chapter. With some new tunes, greater risks and more jams, the band could not only break – but shatter – new ground for the next few years of Phish lore going forward. The choice is up to them.”
Simply put, Phish’s second leg, especially the Dick’s three-night run, DID – without a shadow of a doubt “GO DEEP” and SHATTER new ground for Phish moving forward. The future is bright, my friends. And I, for one, am counting the day’s until the band returns in December. Thank you Phish, for your best Summer in a very, very long time.
Here’s more photos from Dick’s courtesy of Andy Hill…