Phish kicked down a monster at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park Saturday.
Following a meaty Friday night that featured all songs beginning with the letter ‘s,’ the Vermont squad on Saturday vanquished the gimmick and opened the proverbial fire hose of innovation, dousing the swollen park with some of the best playing of their lives.
The first set “The Moma Dance” set the joint jumping with guitarist Trey Anastasio leading his team into steamy, interlocking grooves. The set’s “Funky Bitch” saw bassman Mike Gordon layering his deep dish bass lines over Anastasio’s staccato bursts. And the “Llama” –- speedy and spicy –- saw the band hammering in tight formation. The only dash of improvisation came in the late set “Wolfman’s Brother,” where Gordon was yanking on his bass, as if enticing Anastasio to climb onboard. With keyboardist Page McConnell working his clavinet, Anastasio took to the pedals, subtly layering saucy distortion into the mix. The four-way syncopation was a sign of what was to come.
Photos, below, from Day 1.
The “Down with Disease” second-set opener was expected, but familiarity quickly faded as the band – winding down its strongest tour since Fall 1997 and one show away from a needed and lengthy break from touring – elevated Saturday at Dick’s as the show that fans will be rocking for the next year.
With drummer Jon Fishman rattling a loose high-hat, Anastasio began tinkering with a “Tweezer” deep in the belly of “Down with Disease.” It sounded promising and his bandmates – now deep into a summer groove and able to deftly maneuver within songs to clear hinting pathways into deeper realms – swiftly swung away – exiting DWD a tad early – and veering into a “Tweezer” that likely ranks as one of the best ever. The Commerce City “Tweezer” will forever be a hallmark of what Phish – on the right night, in the right head and at the top of its game – can be.
Patiently building and progressing with silky dexterity, Anastasio –- now in charge but working with Gordon’s authoritative bass lines – dove into the unexplored, crafting an entirely new song in “Tweezer” rooms we’ve never known. Eschewing the typically nasty, even scary grooves that he often unearths, Anastasio instead orchestrated a calming symphony that meandered through an exquisite and lush jungle of jams. But what’s that shiny thing he found in there?
From the loftiest corner of his aural workshop, Anastasio could have easily bailed to the couch with a sing-song deflator – a common teasing touch the band employs out of its most monstrous jams – but not Saturday.
Rooting through the foggy “Tweezer,” Anastasio and Gordon piloted into TV On The Radio’s anthemic “Golden Age,” a soaring cover that encapsulates Phish’s monumental ascent in the last year. “The age of miracles. The age of sound.”
Only three songs into the second set and Dick’s was legendary. As if noting the momentum – Phish has a unique connection with its audience, able to vibe off the crowd vibe and Saturday that syrupy mojo was flooding Dick’s – the band crashed into a “Limb by Limb” with Anastasio buttering jazzy riffs between Gordon’s rockslide bassline.
With the pedal to the floor, “Kill Devil Falls” sparkled with unrivaled, hard-edged jamming, lead again by Big Red who was literally galloping now across the stage, like a hunting hound released.
Surely it was time for a snoozer, some well deserved downtime for the fellas who had been charging relentlessly for the past hour. But maybe the lockstepped interplay was too good to retire, so they worked up an ethereal “Also Sprach Zarathustra” that was largely defined by McConnell’s Bill Withers-esque tender, funky touch on keys.
So far the second set had featured three of the band’s most reliable jam vehicles: “Disease,” “Tweezer” and “2001.” A good show usually has one of these. This passed good show status in the deft segue between “Disease” and “Tweezer.”
And then came the “Light.” The ambient tune that has carried some of the band’s finest moments in the last two years, “Light” hooked deep into the night’s floating fervor and swirled with lightman Chris Kuroda’s exploding show. Patiently circling back on a riff spinning through his pedals, Anastasio worked the song to frenzy, even teasing the unfinished “Disease” riff deep in the belly of “Light.”
After a breather on a Chuck Berry’d “Julius” and mysterious “Caverns,” the fellas regained their mission with a “Run Like an Antelope” that left everyone in Dick’s wondering which way was up. The frenetic, fully-engaged jam warped the entire park into the ether with all four pistons firing in perfect syncopation. The dramatic draw-up, the requisite release, everything was working perfectly in Phish.
Yeah, it was a moment. One of those that make it all worth it – the traveling across the country, the explaining to outsiders, like 7-year-old daughters, this strange obsession for a 42-year-old, the decades of listening to the same songs played differently, pleading with pals who have banned your Ipod from roadtrips. Saturday is why we do it. Why we’re hooked on the Phish. It’s why we will always keep coming back.
The Moma Dance>
The Divided Sky
Fast Enough For You
Down with Disease>
Limb By Limb
Kill Devil Falls>
Also Sprach Zarathustra>
Run Like An Antelope
Jason Blevins is a strange dancer, but that has never stopped him.
John Leyba is a Denver Post photojournalist and regular contributor to Reverb.