Photo by Brad Hodge
For the third consecutive year Phish has opted to close out their summer with a run at Dick’s Sporting Goods Arena in Commerce City, Colorado. Also for the third consecutive year they choose to add a secret message to their Friday setlist. After a great night with Everyone Orchestra we headed to the campground around 1 PM. The manicured soccer fields in the south lawn of Dick’s were reminiscent of the polo fields that surround Coachella. We set up camp and relaxed in the afternoon sun as we anticipated what might be in store.
The week leading up to the shows were filled with excitement and an eagerness to rage. Friends flew in from all around the country. As soon as we were parked and set up we began meeting our neighbors. It became obvious that the Dick’s run has become a destination event. We met people from New Jersey, California, and all throughout the Midwest. We were in the stands on Friday so we set up shop straight back where the sound is the best.
They came to the stage after 8 PM with a funky Ghost opener. My first reaction was that this was definitely an unusual song to lead out with. I later found that this was their first time opening with “Ghost” since 1998.
Set 1: Ghost, NICU, Icculus, Heavy Things, Theme From The Bottom> Esther, The Moma Dance> Ocelot, Stash, Lawn Boy, Limb By Limb, Easy To Slip*
Set 2: Punch You In The Eye> Sand, Say Something> Walls of the Cave> The Oh Kee Pa Ceremony> Harry Hood**-> Silent In The Morning**> Twist> Slave to the Traffic Light
Encore: Oh! Sweet Nuthin’> Meatstick***
Phish went into a bouncy NICU and immediately our heads start to work out the puzzle, G-N. There had been an online Kickstarter campaign to get a plane to write “Read The Book,” in the sky during their soundcheck on Friday. Apparently the sky writer was cost prohibitive so they settled on a plane pulling a banner with the same message. Apparently they got that message because they launched into a transcendental “Icculus,” which featured a reference to the aviator from Trey. Amy looks over to me and says, “I-N-G… THING it’s SOMETHING backwards.” A very nice and straightforward “Theme From The Bottom” verified this, but it was the “Esther” that pushed fans over the top. Another somewhat rare track that had not been performed in 81 shows, Phish nailed it. Every show seems to reinforce the fact that band is playing as tight as ever before. Their ability to riff off of each other and genuinely have fun on stage is apparent with each song. “Moma” featured a standard funked jam. I told my neighbor they were going to play “Ocelot” next and he seemed mildly impressed when they did. Unlike the last two years, this message was a little subtler and it would be easy to miss if not paying attention. The comparison being that it’ fairly difficult to overlook when your favorite band spells out fuck with their first four songs. “Stash” caught me off guard, but it was happily welcomed. This version was spicy and full of pop. I’ve seen this song played flatly from time to time, so it was nice to see the band stepping it up on this tune. The double hockey sticks combo of “Lawn Boy” and “Limb By Limb” gave fans a chance to breath and ponder where the band was going next. They ended the set with a premiere cover of Little Feat’s “Easy To Slip.” ELL SOMETHING…. Backwards.
We relaxed in the stands and wondered where the boys were headed for set two. After a short setbreak Phish came back with a pungent PYITE. This has to be one of my favorite set openers of all time. It’s like a shot of espresso for any audience. The “Sand” was a full on assault of the senses and included a “2001” tease. This was only the second time Phish performed “Say Something,” which is a new song Gordon wrote with Max Creek ‘s Scott Murawski and debuted at The Gorge this year. A beautiful segue later and I was witnessing the biggest “Walls Of The Cave” I’ve ever seen. It was simply huge. Next they transitioned into a nice “Oh Kee Pa” The jam continued with an unfinished “Harry Hood.” The “Silent In The Morning,” which has not seen it’s trusty steed all year long, was concise and clean. At this point we were left with SHOWS SPELL SOMETHING, and fans wondered what the last bit of the message could be. The “Twist” acted as transitional pivot point before the boys went into a stellar “Slave To The Traffic Light. “ This was a huge period on an incredible set of music. Lots of rare and fun songs mixed with tracks from throughout their entire catalog all highlighted Friday night at Dick’s. The encore included a very rare version of The Velvet Underground’s “Oh Sweet Nuthin’” not seen since the historic 2010 Alpine Valley run and a “Meatstick” that included Japanese lyrics. They wrapped up last year’s “Fuck Your Face” show with “Meatstick” as well. As I said while this show was definitely subtler than the last two opening nights at Dick’s, it was a blast. The message ended up spelling “Most Shows Spell Something,” backwards. It’s a fun little memorandum that is almost poking fun at the gimmicks from the years prior. It again proves that the individual members of Phish are having fun. As I’ve said before, Dick’s is special not because it’s a massive soccer field, but because the 26,000 person capacity allows every fan to get inside and share in the moment. While Friday did not sell out the next two nights did, which proves that the Phish fandom in Colorado is expanding and that Dick’s is becoming something of a yearly festival type run for people from everywhere. One down two to go.