Photo by Brad Hodge
After just a few hours of sleep the sun again shoved me out of my tent. The manicured lawns are great, but it’s essential to bring an easy up or something to protect you from the oppressive Colorado sun. I spent the morning playing disc golf at the impressive Beaver Ranch in Conifer with friends in from Iowa. We got back and played Polish Horseshoes with some of our neighbors. Everything feels a bit slower on day three. There was a leisurely feel to the afternoon as we strolled around the Lot. I finally reconnected with my wife and the rest of my friends just before show time. We took our place just behind the soundboard again and settled in for the final night of Phishmas. This is the third tour closer Colorado has had the pleasure of hosting and they never seem to disappoint. They opened up with a somewhat unusual “A Song I Heard the Ocean Sing.”
Set 1: A Song I Heard the Ocean Sing, Kill Devil Falls, Back on the Train> Rift, Meat> It’s Ice> Guelah Papyrus, Divided Sky, Funky Bitch, Cavern, Stealing Time From The Faulty Plan> David Bowie
Set 2: Carini> Birds of a Feather> Golden Age> Prince Caspian*> Piper> Boogie On Reggae Woman> Saw It Again, Mike’s Song> Legalize It**> Weekapaug Groove, Show of Life> Suzy Greenberg
Encore: Character Zero
The band moved from docile to destructive with an unruly “Kill Devil Falls.” “Back On The Train” seems to be getting less airplay these days, so it was nice to see it performed. “Rift” was solid, but the funky “Meat” is what got my attention. “It’s Ice” saw some intricate jamming from Trey, before the song melded into a bubbly “Guelah Papyrus.” “Divided Sky” showcased some of the most intrepid jamming of the entire show. During the moment of silence the crowd exploded. “Funky Bitch” was a bass driven dance party. For the second possibly third time in a row, I witnessed Trey execute “Cavern” without dropping any lyrics. This is an impressive feat to say the least. Phish closed their first set with a heavy “Stealing Time From The Faulty Plan” into a deep jam on “David Bowie.” They went to the dark side before the lights went out for the set.
They continued that sinister tone by coming back with “Carini.” The second set featured some of the best transitional jams of the entire run showing some real creativity in the process. Phish broke into a tight “Birds of a Feather” before heading to the lighter side with “Golden Age.” “Prince Caspian” was left unfinished, but “Piper” went off the rails. Phish sounds like a band firing on all cylinders. They are a well-oiled, well-maintained group playing somewhat succinctly at times but always with authority. “Boogie On Reggae Woman” was funky and full of bounce. Phish went into an unexpected “Saw It Again,” which was a first for me. Afterwards they took a slight breather before going into an interesting Mike’s Groove. The meat of the sandwich was Peter Tosh’s “Legalize It,” which was a debut cover for the band. Three days and three premiere covers… This was obviously a nod to the recent passing of Amendment 64 here in Colorado. “Show Of Life” is the type of song that makes random people hug in the audience at the end of a three-day run. They closed with a beautiful “Suzy Greenberg.” The “Character Zero” encore was clean and without much fanfare… And just like that it was over.
Phish loves Dick’s. It’s apparent to anyone who has seen their connection with the fans over the course of three years. Again, it’s not because this is some magical soccer field in the mountains. Quite the opposite actually, it’s a sporting stadium in the heart of Commerce City. It’s also home to a massive oil refinery, which pumps out 90,000 barrels a day. The smog can clearly be seen with each sunset. That being said it’s the only outdoor venue with that type of capacity in the Denver area. It’s super convenient for travel and everyone that wants to gets inside. The band’s connection with Dick’s is with the fans that come back each year. No one knows how much longer Phish will spend Labor Day Weekend in the comfy confines of Dick’s, but I hope that it’s something that will last for the foreseeable future.
Photo by Brad Hodge
The campground was ablaze with activity as the fans filtered out of the venue and into the night. Massive lights on huge towers illuminated the trail as vendors fired up grills and peddlers peddled . The party would go well into the dusk as fans celebrated the first of three days of Phishmas. Saturday was another hot day with the sun forcing us out of the tent and seeking the shade before 9 AM. We headed over to a hotel where our Chicago crew was staying. The pool was complete with giant inflatable floats that varied from swan to tyrannosaurus rex. After a relaxing afternoon we spent a little time on the lot with friends before heading inside. The Dick’s Lot is well known for it’s free atmosphere and acceptance to vending. The Shakedown Street stretches over across six rows and features every ware imaginable. The rendezvous was set and we were on the floor for the next two nights. We posted up directly behind the soundboard, which you could see directly through and the sound is the best the floor had to offer.
They opened with a now vintage “Buried Alive” that was a first for me personally. This instrumental jam signified that we were about to get submerged in some serious Phish-i-ness.
Set 1: Buried Alive, AC/DC Bag> Wolfman’s Brother, Yarmouth Road, Fee> Halfway to the Moon, The Wedge, Halley’s Comet> Bathtub Gin, Bouncing Around the Room, Mound, Gumbo> Run Like An Antelope
Set 2: Chalkdust Torture*, Light-> 46 Days> Steam-> Free, Joy> Also Sprach Zarathustra> Tweezer> Backwards Down the Number Line
Encore: On The Road Again**> Tweezer Reprise
The show that followed was of the highest caliber and the first set especially was just jaw dropping. They kicked it into high gear with “AC/DC Bag” into a funky “Wolfman’s Brother.” The second night of any three-night run seems to have a feeling of unity between the crowd and the band. Everyone is locked in and ready to rage. Yarmouth Road debuted this year and this was my first chance to catch it live. This song is another product of the Muraski-Gordon collaboration. “Fee” off of Junta has become a somewhat rare track, but it seems to come out about once a year. It was very welcomed by the crowd. “Halfway to the Moon” saw a sinister groove juxtaposed against the delicate vocals of Mr. Page McConnell. “The Wedge” has appeared at all of the Dick’s runs, which makes a little sense, but this version saw some extended drum work from Fishman. “Halley’s Comet” into “Bathtub Gin” was a real highlight, and it could have easily been the close to the set. Little did fans know, but Phish was far from done. “Bouncing” was a nice addition and a real crowd pleaser. “Mound” went into the stratosphere with some epically dark jams before fans caught their breath with “Gumbo.” Again a favorite that could have been a nice button on the set, but Phish was not done. They went into a heavy “Run Like An Antelope” to close out this unbelievable set of music.
Friends mingled about in the crowd waiting for the boys from Vermont to return. The lights dimmed after a short break and it was time for round two. Phish opened with a absolutely astonishing “Chalkdust Torture.” Stretching over twenty-three minutes this may have been the best version I’ve ever seen live. Friends asked me several times, “Are they still playing ‘Chalkdust’?” The “Manteca” tease was a nice touch as well. They let the wheels go and took everyone on a real musical journey with this version. They went into “Light” and I wondered if we would be witnessing a three-song set, but it was cut short. “46 Days” was rock-tastic and melted down into an S-show nod “Steam.” Phish nailed another rowdy tune “Free” before an oddly timed “Joy” that seemed to extinguish part of the fire they were building. “Also Sprach Zarathustra” woke everyone back up, but again felt a little rushed. “Tweezer” was anything but hurried and showcased some stellar bass work from Mike. They closed with a solid “Backwards Down The Number Line,” which would have definitely felt like they were refrencing about night one.
Phish encored with another debut cover of Willie Nelson’s “On The Road Again.” It was a bit weird, but also pretty enjoyable to watch. The prerequisite “Tweeprise” ended the show. We ducked out quickly as they finished up. Just days before Phish was scheduled to arrive in Denver, Leftover Salmon announced they would be performing an after show at Cervantes. So we packed it up and headed towards the illuminated skyline of Denver.