Phish, Dick’s Sporting Goods Park, Commerce City, CO – 9/2
Denver’s weather is always unpredictable. Positioned just as the Rocky Mountains turn into plains, storms can roll in from any direction at any time. That’s why it wasn’t too surprising to see the dark clouds surround the venue as doors opened. The worst of the rain came early fortunately, so the only result of the rain was that early arrivers got to see a rainbow. Would Phish provide the pot of gold?
Lights went out a full ten minutes earlier than it had so far on the run and the band opened with a very strong “Cars, Trucks, Buses.” That would be the theme for the first set. While there was little jamming outside of the main themes of the songs – “Down With Disease” had some, but it largely stuck to the shorter version of the song that they play in first sets rather than the open ended arrangement that leads off set two – but everything was energetic. “Bathtub Gin” in particular had an incendiary peak but the once but no longer rare cover of “Ride Captain Ride” had an explosive final jam and “Maze” was its usual standout self. (Note to Commerce City. If you’re going to continue to have Phish play there, I would appreciate it if you would do something about the whole lack of oxygen at altitude thing. We can’t both have me run around the venue during the entirety of a “Maze” jam and not have a thick enough atmosphere. At this point, it’s less likely that I will stop doing that, as the versions are way too strong not to inspire that, so please find a way of fixing this. Perhaps a pressurized dome?) The general feel of the penultimate set of the summer was that they knew this would be their last chance to play these songs in front of a crowd for months, so they wanted to get as many in as possible.
And then we were down to one last set. “Sand” opened, and the question of whether they would continue to maximize the number of songs played was soon answered in the negative. The song went on for over 23 minutes. While the first section of it was pleasant enough, the jam really picked up around eleven minutes in. It had dissolved into a spacey section, but no one was showing the commitment to spaciness to make it intense. Fishman decided to pick up the pace and the rest of the band took that idea and ran with it. The ensuing few minutes were quite beautiful. The root from which it was born still was a factor as the melody was mixed with some interesting sound effects. Space and melody intertwined to create a rather unique sound. After that finally ran its course, we got a celebratory peak jam to show how much everyone liked what they created. This nine-minute stretch of music would normally be the easy highlight of the weekend; it says a lot about this run that it’s probably the fourth or fifth best moment.
After a brief reprise of the “Sand” theme, Phish went into a mellower space, but Mike had a plan. He slowly started morphing the “Sand” bassline into the “Ghost” one. It’s a very subtle segue into the song, but very cool when everyone catches on to what he’s signaling and runs with it. Like the “Sand,” the “Ghost” was a bit slow to get started but by seven minutes it, it hit an interesting fast paced jam with a lot of Page fills. As much fun as that was, the highlight of this version was at the end, when Page and Trey started playing a very mellow but beautiful jam. After a few minutes it becomes “Piper,” at which point it becomes very clear that the earlier jam is actually a perfect introduction to the song. A casual listener (such as me at the show) might think that Trey had performed the same subtle segue that Mike did a song before. We had to get a booth review to find out and after further review, while Trey does play a few progressions similar to “Piper,” ultimately he just starts it over ambient noise.
While the first three songs of the second set are the clear peak of the show, one would be remiss to not mention the “Twenty Years Later” that followed. The mood of that song follows so well that the whole fifty-four minute section feels like a piece. When listening to this again this morning to write this review (I’m driving back to Seattle so there’s plenty of time to do so), when “The Lizards” started up, I was tempted to rewind back to “Sand” again to listen to it once more. So while this is easily my least favorite of the three, and the only one where I preferred the show from the year before, when the floor of your run has nearly hour long stretch that is that impressive, you know that the Rockies were treated well.