Live review: Phish @ Dick’s Sporting Goods Park, Day 1By Jason Blevins | September 3rd, 2011 | 5 comments
Something seemed suspect. Simple, Sparkle?
Seriously? Such surprising songs to start a set.
Then, with the opening, operatic notes of “The Sloth,” it dawned on many in Dicks Sporting Goods Arena, that, there, in the silky sod of Commerce City’s splendid soccer stadium, we were savoring the essence of Phish.
From the slamming funk sioree that is “Sneaking Sally” to the swanky swing of Marley’s “Soul Shakedown Party,” to the Stones’ sultry “Shine a Light,” to the Beastie’s “Sabotage,” every one of the 26 songs Phish played Friday night began with the letter “S.”
Friday night unfolded at Dick’s with savvy zealots scrambling for solutions to the Vermont quartet’s stubbornly silly stalking of a Sesame Street “Letter of The Day.”
“What else begins with “S?” we stammered as a spiraling “Sand” spilled into a stomping “Simple.”
For Phish’s 71st Colorado show — their debut in the grassiest embrace of Commerce City — the spirited quartet skirted subtlety with nothing short of a celebration of its Esses.
And why not? Esses rule.
Especially when it comes to Phish. It’s probably their best letter.
While whimsical and gimmicky, the band displayed flawless execution and some meaty jams for their first of three nights at Commerce City. With lots of room -– tickets were still for sale at showtime, a rarity in Phishdom –- fans frolicked with abandon, relishing a Colorado show that wasn’t tense and packed. (The pitch alone at Dick’s comes close to holding an entire Red Rocks crowd and there’s room for another 18,000 in the stands. It could hold more if concert organizers didn’t flank an entire side of the field with eight empty-tabled but very illuminated tents, each manned, inexplicably, by several lounging workers. Why are those there?)
The first seven songs in the ferocious second set highlighted bassist Mike Gordon -– awash in the heaviest swishes of fog — leading the band through perfectly sculpted segues. The “Simple” that plucked and poured into “Steam,” and the “Seven Below” groovy grind into “Suzy Greenburg” displayed a Phish determined to merge and meld. Instead of erecting singular jams, the set flowed –- despite its forced adherence to the ‘s’ –- with bass-driven paddlestrokes that kept the band charging into darker planes. Even listing toward the silly and senseless, the band can’t help but forge fat, juicy jams.
As lightning sparked the dark southern sky, there were moments when Gordon played the sinister warlock, prodding guitarist Trey Anastasio into murky realms. Cohesive, yet open-eared and ready to explore, Anastasio on Friday found his higher plane, dribbling staccato to swing to jazz riffs inside his colleague’s best work.
The thunderous “Split Open and Melt” toward the end of the monster 14-song first set elevated an evolving four-way sound that flourished this summer and defines what should be heralded as the band’s best playing ever. And this was just chapter one in the final stand of the summer.
Sample in a Jar
Sneaking Sally through the Alley>
Scent of a Mule
Stealing Time from the Faulty Plan
Shine a Light
Split Open and Melt
The Squirming Coil
Soul Shakedown Party>
Scents & Subtle Sounds
Slave to the Traffic Light>
Silent in the Morning>
Jason Blevins is a strange dancer, but that has never stopped him.
John Leyba is a Denver Post photojournalist and regular contributor to Reverb.