Live review: Phish @ Red Rocks Day 3 - Reverb - Reverb

Live review: Phish @ Red Rocks Day 3

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Phish isn’t generally known for its verbatim performances, but they pulled out all the technical stops on Saturday at Red Rocks. Photos by Candace Horgan.

In case anyone was thinking Phish just jams – rooting through each song for a door to another – Saturday night revealed a band that has spent many recent months practicing. In an intensely focused and tactical performance, Phish on Saturday night left the aimlessness of Friday’s show on the shelf and raced through some of its most technical, risky compositions, ducking and diving in four-way syncopation that illuminated the many hours the band has spent rehearsing.

The sudden starts and stops of the first-set “Punch You in the Eye” and “Tube” affirmed a 25-year-old band that is very comfortable with each member’s command. The boys are as tight as they’ve ever been and they’re working hard to keep it that way.

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Phish proclaimed its dedication and vigor with a couple of relics the band pulled from its dusty library: a first-set “Mound,” which was last played in 2002 and only twice in the last 13 years, and a by-the-book yet utterly embraced “Esther,” the first in nine years. Trey Anastasio’s cascading “Esther,” a carnival tale with dark valleys and floating peaks, was played verbatim, without a touch of improvisation.

With one of the deepest catalogs in the business, “Mound” and “Esther” informed the phlock that the nearly forgotten nuggets are now fair game. In fact, everything is back on the table now, with Phish’s historic four-nighter at Red Rocks already revealing a stronger-than-ever band willing to tear down and rebuild old favorites.

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The first-set “Gotta Jibboo” returned the band to its playful ways with Anastasio pushing deeper into a groove that spilled into “Guyute,” a breezy, crowd-tickling poem of a dancing pig. While the show featured obviously rehearsed gems, the overall scene was painted on the fly. There were more than a few scrimmage-line calls Saturday, with an extra-frisky Anastasio bouncing into a surprise “Punch You in the Eye” and “Tube.” His newest ballad “Alaska,” showcased the Vermont guitarist’s impressive ability to rescue a flat song and reel his Pavlovian fans back onboard his ship.

To close the first set, Phish unearthed a never-before groove from deep inside “Run Like an Antelope.” As if to test our willingness to bend, Phish purposefully shattered “Antelope” early and spent the next roiling 10 minutes meticulously re-assembling the song into something new. It’s a classic wily Phish gambit: spontaneously expanding the scope of a song to create new, fleeting tunes that never can be created again.

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To start the second set, a cover of the Velvet Underground’s anthemic “Rock and Roll” – sung impeccably by Page McConnell – quickly crumbled into a sometimes discordant jam that, again, plowed into new territory. There were many of these moments Saturday, where you would shake from a groove and wonder where you were: “This is still ‘rock ‘n Roll?’ Whoa.”

Mike Gordon’s bombastic bass – a five-string he now plays with a pick, which has expanded his deep end to netherworld depths – found enough footing in “Rock and Roll” to make the subtle turn toward “Down With Disease.” It was yet another example of near-flawless transitioning that will go down as a hallmark of this Red Rocks stand. And it again emphasized a single point: Phish has been practicing.

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To close the show, a heavily anticipated “Harry Hood” corralled 9,500 zealots in a swarming strut. Anastasio reservedly trickled into “Hood,” taking his time delicately building to his crescendo. The ascent to “Hood’s” thunderous pinnacle took a unique path, delivering glimpses of what the song could become.

The encore “Sleeping Monkey” was tight and controlled and followed by a rambunctious “First Tube,” that saw Anastasio in a rare frolicking mood.

Set One:
AC/DC Bag
The Curtain With
Mound
Gotta Jibboo
Guyute
Punch You In the Eye
Tube
Alaska
Run Like an Antelope

Set Two:
Rock and Roll > Down with Disease > Free
Esther
Dirt
Harry Hood

Encore:
Sleeping Monkey
First Tube

Check Reverb daily for updates on Phish’s four-night visit to Red Rocks.

Read Jason Blevins’ review of Phish at Red Rocks, Day 1 and Day 2. Did we mention he listens to bands that don’t even exist yet?

Candace Horgan is a Denver freelance writer/photographer and regular contributor to Reverb. When not writing and shooting, she plays guitar and violin in Denver band the defCATS.

And follow Reverb on Twitter. Here!

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Categories: REVERB
  • Zach

    Fantastic Review… you obviously know your stuff and possess great writing chops.

    Bravo