Phish loves Dick’s. Fans love Dick’s. If you’ve attended one of the past five runs you know exactly why everyone loves Dick’s. Come Labor Day weekend, the Phish compass points to Commerce City as what was once viewed as a most random Denver area venue has evolved into a fan favorite, integral end-of-summer tour stop. Last night Phish kicked off their sixth three-night stand in as many years at Dick’s with an outstanding sold out show.
1. “Ghost”. An easy way to get the fan base fired up from note one, this was a good decision that kicked everyone into the groove right off the bat. While “Ghost” didn’t go deep we did get a few climbs and peaks that set up the next tune, which was one of the highlights of the night.
2. “No Men In No Man’s Land (NMINML)”. An absolute fire version that built from “Ghost” and completely ramped up the evening barely twenty minutes into the night. I’d go so far as to say it helped frame the show as a whole. Shooting from the pit with the rest of the photographers it was one of those moments where I would have done anything to stop taking photos and melt into the crowd. The jam out of “NMINML” showcased each band member stepping up at one point or another, while the music hinted at a dark side that would surface later in “46 Days”, and deeper in set two.
3. The Next Hour. Last night’s first set was as engaging as any in recent memory. After 26+minutes of what felt like set two music to kick things off the next hour wasn’t all that out there, but the playing was solid (minus the lyrical flub in “Heavy Things”) and there were several bright moments. “Alaska” hadn’t been played in two years and showcased a much slower start and some interesting playing towards the end before a super dark and rocking “46 Days”. And I’ll keep saying this every time I get the chance; imagine the jamming that ends “Ass Handed” taking off for a 15-20+ minute excursion.
4. Set One as a Whole. One of the biggest takeaways from last night is to remember the magic that Phish once wielded when it didn’t matter if it was set one or set two. In the modern area much of that first set magic has been lost. That’s not a totally fair assessment, but the more you listen to this band the more the adventure aspect is shown. I’ve written about that in the past and besides the fact that unique, improvisational music is a cornerstone to all that is Phish, when you get an 87+minute first set that is as diverse as last night it sets up an evening of music that is unequivocal to anything else you can see in 2016. That’s why Phish is still relevant today, can sell out a 26K+ venue for three consecutive nights, and quite literally bring it like no other live touring band today.
5. “Antelope”. It’s amazing what an extended intro will do. After a long, fun, sendy first set “Antelope” dropped hot to kick off set two. It’s uncommon to find this tune opening a second set, but it fared well last night and like the duo that started set one it had the entire venue primed and ready right from the starting gate.
6. “Mercury”. It was heard in soundcheck and it was to the delight of many that “Mercury” found its way back into the rotation last night. Please Phish, keep exploring with this one. The song has an interesting structure that covers diverse musical ground, but then opens up completely for interpretation. The jam last night was going places although it seemed to prematurely fade into “Seven Below”. However, it’s a good thing that wasn’t the last we’d hear of “Mercury”.
7. “Tweezer”. Rowdy, powerful, and unbreakable. This “Mercury” themed “Tweezer” becomes yet another instance where Phish explores the holy grail escapade of stepping into the freezer that has been owning shows since it debuted back in 1990. Right away you could hear the Mercuryesque notes accentuating the improvisational portion of the song. Trey and Page swung leads a few times throughout the jam and Fishman seemed to hit the drums harder at the high points. There were a few times were all four band members locked in last night with “Tweezer”. Mike Gordon drove the groove more so at the end with the move into “Runaway Jim”, but those times where all four band members are in sync are the ones. This is arguably the most interesting “Tweezer” since last summer at Magnaball.
Last night was the 16th Phish show at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park and it was a damn good show. It illuminates the reality that Phish continues to break new ground after all of these years, keeping fans on their toes as to what’s next, mixing Type I and TYPE II playing in such a way that is current and remains purely unique. There were times where the flow seemed interrupted last night, and while that’s to be expected with a band that is built on the vulnerability that comes with fresh takes on songs each night with potential improvisation lingering with each selection, listen to where “Birds” was going, or what about a few more breaths of patience in “Mercury”. The truth is the potential is limitless, and when you can simply wonder “what it” as opposed to locating true missed marks, you know you have experienced a good show.