Phish, Dick’s Sporting Goods Park, Commerce City, CO – 8/31
Last year Phish played a setlist game at their first show in Commerce City. Every song began with the letter S. That primed the expectations of fans for the opening night of the return show. When the first set opened up with “First Tube,” removing it from its traditional closing role, amateur cryptographers started getting their decoder rings out. Following that with the first “Uncle Pen” in two years raised eyebrows. “FU” makes everyone think, “Fuck You.” Sure enough, all of the songs played in the first set continued that pattern.
Discussion around the venue during the setbreak was all about the gimmick. It was subtler than the S trick, but once one person caught on, they started telling their friends and the word got around. There were a few potential ideas being batted around. One was simply that it was a one set game and the second set would be back to normal. Perhaps there would be different insult thrown out. Maybe the “Fuck you” was aimed at someone and their identity would be spelled out. One of the more popular theories was that they’d continue spelling out the Phish rarity “Fuck Your Face” and then play it. When the second set started with “Runaway Jim,” the plan started to come together.
As much fun as the gimmick was – and it was indeed a blast trying to speculate what the remaining letters would be, if “Also Sprach Zarathustra” would count as an “A” even though most fans call it “2001” – the game had an unexpected bonus that actually managed to overshadow the playfulness. By limiting their setlist, Phish forced themselves to explore more, sometimes from unusual places.. It started out with the opener being somewhat non-standard, but the first set had an unheard amount of free jamming for this era. “Carini” –as typical for 2012, but not for first sets – had an intense, dark vibe to it, but the outro to “Undermind” seemed to come out of nowhere. The song seemed to end after a short run through but then they kept playing and playing and playing for ten more minutes. It’s not just the length that was important here. The jam was a high energy, stunning piece of improvisation. It’s moments like this that keep us returning to see this band over and over again.
The second set also had surprises. “Runaway Jim” escaped from the short rocker cage in which it has inhabited since Phish have returned and ran away in all sorts of directions for nearly 20 minutes. What seemed to be a standard run through of “Chalk Dust Torture,” went on after the song’s normal end. First it just reprised the main jam but then it built to great peaks, worthy of the Colorado setting, for a full 12 minutes after it normally would be over. Even “Farmhouse,” a song that normally varies little from its structure, managed to have a five minute deep space jam coming out of the end of the final chorus.
This really was a show that united all of the elements of Phish. You’re mainly a fan of bustouts? Fine, here’s the first “Emotional Rescue” in twelve years. Want silliness beyond the setlist game? The vocal jam at the end of “You Enjoy Myself” had a little ditty about how the members of Phish all love Dick’s… or is that dicks? “Emotional Rescue” also had an amusing vocal jam before bringing the game to the finale.
Before the encore – also thematically appropriate for a “Fuck Your Face” show at Dick’s, with “Grind” and the double entendre of “Meatstick” continuing the joke – Page thanked us for putting up with the shenanigans. No reason to thank the fans for that. Play another two shows as creative as this one to complete the run and we’ll easily find a way of somehow sitting through the concert. Go on. Try it! I dare you!