Pransksters, those Phish. Last Labor Day Weekend, as the improvisational maestros first dipped into Dick’s Sporting Goods Park, they slipped a sneaky score into their Commerce City debut, playing only tunes that started with the letter “S.”
On their triumphant return a year later – Friday night at the soccer stadium where octogenarian ticket checkers seemed only remotely startled by the overwhelmingly buoyant crowds – the band took a more subtle approach. But the first-letter theme thrived.
The “First Tube” opener, with its immediately ribald leads from bandleader Trey Anastasio, revealed that this wasn’t going to be your typical sing-song Phish first set. An usually placed, hoedown-y “Uncle Pen” followed with an explosive “Carini” and typically lifeless “Kill Devil Falls.” Wait a second. As the blue moon waned over Dick’s grassy domain, savvy listeners among the nearly sold-out crowd at the first of three shows began to ponder the unusual first few tunes. By the especially buoyant “You Enjoy Myself,” — a jam launcher rarely seen in first set, introduced by keyman Page McConnell with a “we love Dick’s” — the whispers in the crowd were overwhelming. Take the first letter of the songs so far, and it was evident the band was trumpeting its mighty “Fuck Your Face.”
Sure enough, a roaring — yet unfinished — “Runaway Jim” second-set opener rolled into an awkwardly placed “Farmhouse.” (For those following the acronymical hue, a hurried “Ocelet” and a sadly forced “Undermind” closed the first set, thwarting — smarmy FU theme aside — a first-set for the record books. The expected “Fuck Your Face” that abruptly closed the second set was more than explosive, with Ansastasio delivering his mightiest punches of the evening. Alas, the jams were fleeting Friday at Dick’s with only shallow, wading ventures into improvisational bliss.
As the band skipped from unexpected tune to tune, they never really lit into it, failing to delve deep as the exploratory jam giants are inclined to do. Yet even as they coyly theme, the Vermont quartet doesn’t dawdle. Every note is tightly wound, and perfectly placed.
Bassist Mike Gordon’s piercing lyrical perfection on “Emotional Rescue,” which spilled from a stormy, if abbreviated, “Chalk Dust Torture” jam, demonstrates a strict adherence to structure mingling with straight-up fun.
Really, who doesn’t want stand before a crowd of thousands and hoot “Uh-hoo, uh-hoo-hoo, uh-hoo-hoo Hoo?” And how fun is it for a rock-and-roll giant like Phish to encore a “Fuck Your Face” concert with a “Grind” into “Meatstick.” That’s right. Sounds like a porno title.
That’s Phish, fun and fiery; frolicking as they get busy.
Kill Devil Falls>
You Enjoy Myself
Chalk Dust Torture>
Fuck Your Face
Jason Blevins is a strange dancer, but that has never stopped him.
Seth McConnell is a member of YourHub at The Denver Post and a new contributor to Reverb.