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.
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.
For many, many, many, and yes, many years I have been dying to see one particular band that I had heard so much about. One band that has the reputation of being the ultimate jam band, with a massive following that they have accumulated since their beginnings in 1983. On Friday June 29, 2012 I was finally given the opportunity to experience the musical genius that is Phish.
From the second we arrived at the venue I could already tell that this was going to be a unique show. The crowd was in general, a little older and a little more reserved in a way – but definitely not in a bad way. These were the die hard fans that love the music and the band in a truly exceptional and loyal sense; they were there for no other reason.
Unlike most of the shows I normally attend, there were a total of four hula hoops (mine included) and not many other flashy toys…and the truth was that once the show started, it was easy to see why: the band is so captivating, and the energy between the band and the fans is so powerful, that it’s almost impossible to tear yourself away to look at or play with hoops.
I can’t imagine how much money went into their light show; it was amazing. The overall picture from the lawn at Klipsch Music Center was spectacular. On the big screens it was possible to get detailed views of the expressions on Trey Anastasio’s face as he sang his heart out. We could see Page McConnell’s fingers go crazy on the keyboard, Mike Gordon’s insane picking on the bass, and the Jon Fishman wailing on the drums. The whole band had such awesome chemistry and it was contagious – as there wasn’t a single song that you didn’t find yourself singing along to. “Possum” was by far the best example of everyone dancing and singing together as the song built up every time with the main chorus.
The first set was great, and from some of the fans I learned that it was a unique compilation of their music. That Friday was the first time since 1998 that they played the song “Sweet Jane.” Among my favorite tracks was “Limb by Limb,” where the harmonizing really made the song. I also liked the ominous and almost scary tone that chilled your bones as they played “Big Black Furry Creatures From Mars.” I was ECSTATIC when they played “First Tube” during their encore – as that is one of my all time favorites. However to be completely honest, my favorite part of the concert was when they finished their first set with “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” one of my favorite Beatles songs. It was by far the greatest live performance of that song I have ever seen or heard.
So, overall, I am so glad we trekked to Indianapolis for this most amazing of musical experiences. Phish not only lived up to all my expectations but surpassed them. If you are like me and have always “heard great things” but never had the chance to go, start turning wheels to make it happen. From the first song to their last, this show was a unique adventure – the music, lights and atmosphere was in itself a journey that filled you with emotion and made you wish it would never come to an end. This was my first Phish show, but I guarantee you it will most certainly not be my last.