Phish soared off tour last night at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park wrapping their best Colorado stand ever with two sets of blistering, dead-on musical marksmanship.
From the rare first-set opener “Maze” to the meandering “Walls of the Cave” closer, every one of the quartet’s 22 songs dripped with sublime exploration and subtle, perfectly sculpted jamming.
The first-set “Bathtub Gin” –- with its breaking glass intro exploding a frenetic dancefest in Dick’s — set a “We-Will-Rock-You theme” that rang through the show. The band, playing as well as they ever have with an evolving confidence and patience that allows each member room to shape their own groove within intricate, organic four-way jams, overlapped each other’s solos with dexterity. Even if one stumbles briefly, the other three swoop in instantly with a rescue that hides any wayward notes.
Photos, below, from Day 1.
Now 28 years into this game, the Phish have become a four-headed monster, stomping with singleminded determination through any and all musical landscapes. There has been no better display of cooperative improvisational jamming –- sometimes sneaky, sometimes subtle, always sublime — than Sunday night’s ”Bathtub Gin” at Dick’s. But by the end of the show the songs stopped mattering and the litany of rolling jams became the highlights and memories.
The furtive “Tube” and jungle-drummed “Timber” rolled with Mike Gordon hurling dollops of syrupy bassline. Keyboardist Page McConnell conjured his best with his moving “Halfway to the Moon,” which spurred guitarist Trey Anastasio to dig deep.
A slow, simmering “Gumbo” spiced the first set with rollicking pop.
The second-set opener “Rock and Roll” had many in the stands cupping their ears, hoping for a glimpse of last month’s version at the Gorge, where the band unearthed possibly its best jam of the summer. While reined and paced, McConnell’s “Rock and Roll” did display some fire, it rolled quickly into an Anastasio-sparked “Come Together,” which saw the four-top playing its tightest, tethered jams of the night.
For the next 90 minutes, all four would labor over their instruments, barely looking up at the crowd. The crowd did the same, embracing and celebrating each note with passion as the band worked their way toward an ascendant departure from the road.
Teasing a “Low Rider” inside a memorable “Twist,” the fellas drove hard into a “Piper” that featured a vocal jam overlapping Anastasio’s poetic licks and McConnell floating spacey nuggets on his theremin.
Thousands reached for their mobile phones in their pockets when Gordon began nudging everyone toward “Harry Hood.” The whole world seemed to be vibrating.
The venerable glow-stick war exploded with “Hood’s” pounding push into the next dimension, littering the air with millions of firefly flashes.
Now deep in the pocket and not bothering to come up for air, the band veered into a tremendous “Roggae” and powerful “Ghost,” that became a moment bigger than any single song.
Crushing and overwhelming, the Dick’s “Ghost” will join Saturday’s “Tweezer” as highlights of the band’s strongest three-night stand in recent memory. Layered with juicy, turbo-charged four-way jamming, the “Ghost” spilled into the uber-rare “Guy Forget,” which saw all four members screaming the name of the French tennis player before regaining the swirling, ethereal “Ghost.”
The “Backwards Down the Number Line” encore saw lots of bro-hugs as the sentimental song closed the door on a 33-show run that ranks as the band’s most memorable in years. With McConnell expecting a baby this fall and potential wintertime plans for an album brewing, it might be a quiet 2012 on the Phish front.
Which is fine. The three nights from Dick’s –- featuring a band working at their absolute peak — will still be lingering in our tape decks and craniums when they next storm the stage.
Sidenote: A 27-year-old Georgia man was found dead in the Dick’s campsite Sunday morning, slumped in a chair. While police haven’t determined a cause of death, it’s very likely a drug overdose. Police combed the campsite all day Sunday searching for a name of the man or anyone who knew him. With Phish’s bandleader Trey Anastasio now a 12-stepper and vocal cheerleader for the national Drug Court system, it seems only a matter of time before he steps up to the mic to address the rampant and escalating drug abuse at his shows. Just like any concert, the drugs range from doobies to dangerous and I’ll bet the kid who died was dabbling in opiates, which seem to be making a resurgence on the Phish scene, with hairy, dazed dudes peddling Oxycontin pills in the parking lot. It’s a shame that such a tremendous stand was marred with a death, but hopefully it can jolt some awareness into the parking lot kids who so rabidly pursue ridiculous levels of inebriation. Hopefully, but not likely.
Back on the Train
The Way it Goes
Halfway to the Moon
Roses Are Free
Rock and Roll>
Walls of the Cave
Backwards Down the Number Line
Jason Blevins is a strange dancer, but that has never stopped him.
John Leyba is a Denver Post photojournalist and regular contributor to Reverb.