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Phish, Dick’s Sporting Goods Park, Commerce City, CO – 9/1

The problem with playing a show that leaves people asking where it ranks in your band’s history is that you might have to go out and play one again the next night. Earlier this year Felix Hernandez pitched a perfect game for my beloved Seattle Mariners in an event that was one of the most euphoric events in team history, but no one thinks too much about the 5-3 victory over the Twins that followed. As Phish’s second night at Dick’s began, that’s the role that this show felt destined for. Sure there was a moment of interest when it was noticed that “[Run Like an] Antelope,” “Backwards Down the Number Line” had a pattern going, especially because those were weird song placements (it was the first “Run Like an Antelope” opener since 1990), but the equally surprising third song “Tweezer” ruined the alphabetical game and seeing how no Phish song starts with “Rbt,” that game was over.

As the “Tweezer” stopped just as soon as it was getting interesting – albeit to play a very solid “Fluffhead”; one of the most exciting developments about the last two years of Phish is that they feel so confident in their ability to play the compositions that they’re able to mess with them a bit, adding a little reggae section to the end of “Fluff’s Travels” or a cool new drum fill. In the late 90s and early part of the new century, it felt like the entire audience was holding their breath hoping for the band to make it through. Now people just wonder how good it will be – and then solid but not spectacular versions of songs followed, it seemed like this night would join the long and noble heritage of The Following Night, along with 5/8/94 at the Backyard in Bee Cave, Texas or 6/19/94 in Kalamazoo. You have to have the standard shows to make the epic ones stand out, after all, and a normal Phish show is a good time. It cane take some work to recalibrate so a very hot mid song “Funky Bitch” jam is exciting after being blown away from start to finish the previous night, but once that was done, Phish was playing a quite enjoyable set.

At least that was the story I was expecting to write. As the second set started and a fun, danceable “Golden Age” dissolved into “Prince Caspian” before it could really hit the stride that it seemed heading for, the fate of the show seemed sealed. Sure they’ve started doing interesting things with “Caspian” lately, but it’s not like it’s going to go into a long, deep space jam is it? Seeing how the song’s namesake was known for going on a long sea journey to explore the outer edges of Narnia, it shouldn’t be that surprising that every now and then the song has to see what’s out on the edges. It was an extremely solid version, much longer than any one since Phish has come back the first time and joins a series of songs this year (e.g. the “Roses are Free” and “Boogie on Reggae Woman” from Worcester) where a song has an interesting jam section one time. By doing that it forces people to take every song more seriously, because no one can be 100 percent sure as to where the improvisation will be occurring.

The “Caspian” resolved into “Light.” “Light” has been the most consistent jam vehicle in this era of Phish. The band just had played a few interesting warm up jams. Still though, I’m not sure anyone expected the 23-minute epic that was about to transpire.

Ever since Superball IX in 2011, Phish have been exploring with a new sound. It marries the energy of early Phish with the funk of the late 90s to create this fast funk concoction. When done well this can let a jam get exploratory but not lose the fans who come to shows to dance and get lost in the energy. This night it was done well. Mike created a few themes on the bass that served as a strong foundation for Trey and Page. This let the jam speed up or move from funk to a more rock feel but still give a thematic coherence to it. It gave them a home base to return to so, so when they first went into a stunning section about fifteen minutes in where Mike and Trey wove a beautiful melody and then went into a fast jam, they were able to snap it back to the fast funk jam when they weren’t quite sure where to go next. When they finally did decide it was an extremely exciting peak jam. There are few things better than a hot peak after a long improvisational section. In that moment this night no longer could just be referred to as the show after Fuck You Frenzy, but needed to be taken seriously as an amazing concert in its own right.

Phish came to a complete stop after the “Light” jam to give the crowd a chance to catch its breath. Dick’s is at 5000 feet up after all and you have to pace yourself at altitude. There still would be one more surprise to come. There are a lot of complaints about “Mike’s Song” in the Phish community. The jam in the song used to come in two sections, the second being the more exploratory of the two. That half has now been abandoned and the song is just a rocker. However, sometimes it just works. This “Mike’s” was so solid and hard driving that it felt like it came out of 1990. All it needed was for CK to hit the smoke machine button and fire up the strobes, and we could have easily pretended that we were in a club with 900 people. However, this is 2012 and instead of the “I Am Hydrogen” that would have followed if we were at Trax or the Bayou, they dropped into Led Zeppelin’s “No Quarter.” This was perfect song placement, creating a great rock trilogy to close out the Saturday night set.

It was so high energy that Fishman fell victim to the altitude himself. He had to quickly eat a banana to replenish his energy, leading to some funny banter at the beginning of “Sleeping Monkey.” The show then concluded with “Tweezer Reprise.” Shouldn’t every Saturday night event that anyone ever does somehow end with a rousing version of this? Sometimes the band likes to play the strong set pieces on a Saturday night to leave everyone going home pumped. The more jaded fans complain about this, but when it comes on the heels of an intense jam, even they might find themselves throwing glowsticks and pumping their fists in the air as the crowd around them goes crazy. There was a strong Saturday night energy in the building and the high-energy ending was a great way to end yet another strong night in Commerce City. They really do love Dick’s.

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