Phish capped its now officially historic four-night stand at Red Rocks Sunday with a flourishing, monster second set that served as a fitting kicker for a run that revealed a newer, stronger and more curious than ever band.
With the pressure waning, Phish seemed relaxed and poised for down-and-dirty exploration as they tore into “Boogie on Reggae Woman” to start the second set, its third consecutive second-half kick-off cover. And just like Saturday’s “Rock and Roll,” the typically staid “Boogie” became a flume for a rich jam that eventually carried zero similarities to Stevie Wonder’s poppy funk.
Surprises like that ruled the night, with the most ornate, challenging jamming emerging in the strangest corners. The first-set “Reba” went places never before seen. The new bluesy “Kill Devil Falls” closed a dense first set with an intricate stroll that showed a band willing to mine its newest creations for unknown treasures. The dozen-tune first set was crowded with variety, with a tender ballad “Waste,” and two recent compositions, Page McConnell’s stirringly sad “Beauty of a Broken Heart” and Mike Gordon’s “Sugar Shack” sandwiching a stomping “Sample in a Jar.”
The first set reflected the theme of the previous night’s show, with the band playing tight and — aside from “Reba” — keeping the off-piste meandering to a minimum. The band seemed happy to just play with patience, waiting for something shiny to appear in their intricate probing of each tune. It’s a new Trey Anastasio that’s pioneering that patient, sublime approach, taking his time and really listening to what Gordon, McConnell and drummer Jon Fishman can build. It’s a deliberate and sometimes dramatic tact for Anastasio and — as we saw Sunday night — it’s allowing him to burrow into places he’s never been.
Staggering out of the flamboyant “Boogie,” the band dove into a non-stop string that ranks as its finest work this year. From the first tickling notes of “You Enjoy Myself,” an “oh-we-will enjoy ourselves” dance festival emerged with rapturous fans traversing their own grooves as light wizard Chris Kuroda painted the moonlit sky.
“YEM” wasn’t the over-the-top, epic blast of years past, but it was just as stately and elegantly funky. As the song descended from its summit, the band’s swift crew rolled out an extra drumset and out came a be-goggled Billy Kreutzmann, the rhythmic backbone of the Grateful Dead. The dueling drummers settled into some rich riffs before latching onto the surprising “Undermind.”
The “YEM”>“Undermind” segue was exciting and energetic, with Anastasio and Gordon intertwining their work and carefully layering it atop the Kreutzmann-Fishman thunder. That dynamic rumbling led to a rare “Drums,” with the percussive duo pursuing outrageous rhythms. “Seven Below” was another surprise as the exit from “Drums,” but again, jolting curveballs were de rigueur inside Red Rocks this weekend. The heavenly “Seven Below” teemed with possibility as Anastasio led his team at a lumbering yet judicious pace. The transition away from “Seven” was gloriously spacey — and in this fan’s opinion, the finest shape-shifting realignment of the weekend — opening the door to the classic “2001.”
Phish’s supremely funkfied and inspiring rendition of Richard Strauss’ 113-year-old tone poem is a suspenseful vibe-builder, with the entire crowd locking down on Gordon’s heavy-handed, even stinky bass lines and Anastasio’s cresting and elongated chords. The Phish 3.0 version of “2001” is less trippy but still packed with heat; a dense and meaty thumper that resonates deeply with dancers. The space-odyssey opus trickled into a memorable “Waves,” with Kreutzmann doing much more than daintily augmenting Fishman. A fun and warbling “Character Zero” closed the set that many in the crowd hoped would feature a Grateful Dead cover. (It seemed likely with a member of the storied band on stage.)
A triple encore began with a genial “Bittersweet Motel,” which Anastasio dedicated to his daughter. An extra bubbly and circuitous “Bouncing Around the Room,” followed and the crowd — sensing a third song encore — trembled with poignant emotion. This was it. The send-off to what will likely be heralded as Phish’s most prolific, creative and ultimately magical four-night stand in its quarter-century history on stage. A loafing “Slave to Traffic Light,” burned brighter as it progressed to its resounding zenith and 9,500 fans, their arms held high, embraced a rock-n-roll band like no other.
Roses Are Free
Get Back on the Train
Beauty of a Broken Heart
Sample in a Jar
Kill Devil Falls
Boogie on Reggae Woman
You Enjoy Myself > Undermind* > Drums* > Seven Below* > 2001* > Waves*
Bouncing Around the Room
Slave to the Traffic Light
*with Billy Kreutzmann
Lindsay McWilliams is a Boulder-based photographer and a regular contributor to Reverb.
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