Photos by Jim Mimna
The Scene: Magic was in the air as Phish returned to Denver to kick off their fourth, summer closing, Labor Day weekend run at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park. With the Friday night tradition of word play all but a guarantee, anticipation levels were high and the energy was palpable. Walking into the 26,000 person stadium you could feel the excitement and it was obvious from the get go that this would be another Dicks run to remember.
Phish: With the previous 3 years of Friday night “S” songs, “FUCK YOUR FACE” , and “MOST SHOWS SPELL SOMETHING” shows firmly seeding the expectation of some sort of word shenanigans to come, Phish set the tone for the weekend with a blistering version of “Llama” and immediately guesses started flying from the near sold out crowd as to what they were spelling. “Undermind,” the funky title track from the band’s near forgotten 2004 album, brought out the first real dance session of the weekend and led into a Phish staple and psychedelic gem “Stash.” At this point most around me had a pretty good idea of what was coming and once the piano riff to “Halfway to the Moon” swelled through the venue it confirmed their thoughts. In a recent Rolling Stone Magazine fan poll of the greatest Phish songs of all time, a group of fans stuffed the ballot to put “Lushington” into the #1 spot. “Lushington” is a long since forgotten stand alone that was only played 8 times and eventually worked into the classic Phish opus “Fluffhead.” It is often referred to as “The Chase.” It’s hardly a song that would top most fans list of favorite songs and was further evidence that Phish fans love to phuck with people on the internet. With “Lushington” looming it was nice to shift the focus of each song to the music as opposed to what the first letter of the song title was.
Keeping things in the novel spirit, “I Didn’t Know” saw drummer (and band namesake) Jon Fishman once again reaffirm the bands love for “Dicks” as he came sauntering out from behind his drumset twirling his vacuum as if it were his own appendage. This drew big laughs from both the fans and his bandmates. After a bouncing version of the bluegrass ditty “Neilie Kane” and a near flawless version of the epic “Guyute,” “The Line” marked the first appearance of songs from the band’s new album Fuego. Much like previous tours following Phish releases, the summer of 2014 saw most sets peppered with these new tunes. Fans doing the whole tour or even just multiple runs may have complained about hearing some of these songs over and over again but being that these were my only shows of the summer, I couldn’t wait to sink my teeth into some new material. “The Line” set the table nicely for how great these new songs sounded all weekend. “Lushington” was nearly spelled out and after a standard “Ocelot,” things got turned up a notch or two as the “N” was delivered in dark and dirty fashion. Led Zeppelin’s “No Quarter,” with its eerie riffs and waves, seemed to ooze off the stage with piano player Page McConnell once again shining.
With the stage set and the crowd expecting to hear a song not played in 27 years, the band showed off their famous sense of humor by instead playing “Ha Ha Ha.” For a song considered by many to be pure novelty, “Ha Ha Ha” is a surprising rocker and left one near by fan shaking his head saying “God, they really are Dicks!” As the song ended guitarist, and de facto frontman, Trey Anastasio joked “You Asked. We Delivered” as well as “We really do love Dicks.” With “Lushington” in the rear view mirror, the crowd was in for a treat as Trey Anastasio Band members Natalie Cressman and Jen Hartswick joined the band for a stirring rendition of “Suzy Greenberg.” Hearing a “Suzy” with horns has been on my Phish bucket list since first hearing those Giant Country Horn versions from the early 90’s so, needless to say, I thought this was the perfect way to close out the first set.
Set 2 kicked off with the rocker “46 Days.” Things got interesting towards the end but the jam was cut short by a rocky segue into “Back on The Train.” The abrupt transition aside, it was obvious that this set was going to go into much deeper waters. After “Back on the Train” that suspicion was confirmed. From the first notes of “Simple” the band seemed to be playing with more purpose and that purpose was evident once they dropped out of the blissful constructs of the songs outro. Most Phish fans have some way of describing when the band is hooked up and firing on all cylinders. I’ve always thought of them as an 8 legged monster that moves as the sum of its parts. That monster was reeking havoc as they flowed into a rolling and driven build-up then dropped into a Jame’s Brown’esq Funk party led once again by Page McConnell. McConnell was in the zone, taking charge of things with some thick work on the Clavinet that had everyone in the crowd throwing down. All-in-all the “Simple” lasted over 20 minutes and has to go down as one of the best versions of the last 10-15 years. It also marked yet another notch on the belt of classic Dick’s moments.
As the dust settled the band gave the crowd a scant few moments before seguing into “Ghost,” a monster of a song in its own right. While it didn’t quite reach the madness of the previous 20 minutes, the funky groove of the songs composed section gave way to another foreboding build up peaked by euphoric guitar work from Anastasio. Fan favorite “Harry Hood” marked the last inspiring moments of the night as the usually gleeful outro morphed into to a more dark and sinister version. Things cooled down significantly with the melancholy “Waiting In The Velvet Sea” before the set was wrapped up with the classic “Run Like An Antelope.” Rock anthem “Character Zero” closed out the evening and sent fans home happy knowing that they had seen something special and that they had two more nights to enjoy. As I made my way out of the venue I could only think about one thing. “You ask. We deliver.” Indeed Trey. Indeed.
Stage Presence: B
Stage/Light Show: A