Phish at Dick's Sporting Goods Park, 9/2/12 (photos and review) - Reverb

Phish at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park, 9/2/12 (photos and review)

The bar was high Sunday as Phish took the stage at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park in Commerce City. The previous two monumental evenings (Friday review here, Saturday here) had the three-day Labor Day festival poised for inclusion in the short list of the Vermont band’s top runs.

It was almost too much to ask that Sunday even rival the first two shows. While Sunday had moments – the segue from “Ghost” into “Piper” or the expansive “Sand” – it served better as an exclamation point to a weekend that now firmly rests in Phish’s “best ever” archives.

Photos, below, from Friday’s performance.

For almost 30 years, Phish has toured the country, exploring their musical range on countless stages, rooting through a stable of several hundred tunes for in-the-moment musical gems. With a second year run that miraculously bested last year’s Labor Day throwdown, Dick’s evidently can pull the very best out of a band that aims high every night. From silly to dark, flamboyant to subtle, both the setlists and the musicianship of Dick’s 2012 will forever resonate through Phish lore.

It was at Dick’s that Phish, on Friday, stretched a mere 14 tunes into a concert for the ages, culling brilliant nuggets from often overlooked tunes like “Undermind” or reviving a classic – “Chalk Dust Torture” – with repurposed vigor. And it was on the same soccer pitch the next night that the quartet spent 45 minutes churning through new landscapes in “Prince Caspian” and “Light,” forging an improvisational masterpiece.

For a kicker Sunday night, Phish merged the themes of the previous nights, stretching out a first set – 14 songs thick – with jam vehicles like a swift-tempo “Down With Disease” and a cascading “Bathtub Gin.” The abbreviated yet inspired riffs by captain Trey Anastasio in “Disease” and “Gin” were augmented by unexpected jamming deep inside formerly routine outings like “Sample In A Jar” and “Back On The Train.”

The fellas shined up “Ride Captain Ride” – by one-hit-wonder Blues Image – before going deep in a “Halley’s Comet” and late-set “Possum.” Nearly every song in the first set saw the team patiently building on each other’s offerings, elevating spectacular moments of four-way cohesion. Razzle dazzle Anastasio has tamed his inner rock star, channeling that ability to collar a coliseum into promoting the work of his colleagues, who are more than able to sway thousands.

Sunday’s second-set, which was pinched by time and dwarfed from the get-go by a monster first set, started hard with Anastasio leading his team into a simmering jam within the tempestuous “Sand.” The “Ghost” that followed kept the stormy, rollicking groove, with keyboardist Page McConnell tickling a whispered “Piper” riff early as Anastasio worked his pedals. The gradual dawning of “Piper” inside the “Ghost” jam was quintessential Phish, with technical, sly, smoking jams erupting on whims.

McConnell’s soaring grand piano in “The Lizards” prepped the dance party, with Anastasio’s line “The trick was to surrender to the flow” churning the flock. Phish closed the summer tour with a “Harry Hood” commandeered by bassist Mike Gordon’s popping wah-wonk-wah lines. Gordon’s thunder in “Hood” reverberated around Dick’s as glow sticks pierced the dense medicinal fog.

After thanking everyone for an “absolutely joyous summer,” Anastasio hurried happily through “Character Zero.” The rush-job was just fine though. The Phish fountain flowed freely this weekend and every cup in Dick’s was full Sunday.

Set 1: Cars Trucks Buses, AC/DC Bag > Down With Disease, Bathtub Gin, Nellie Kane > Sample In A Jar, Back On The Train > Rift > Free, Ride Captain Ride > Maze, Halley’s Comet > 46 Days > Possum

Set 2: Sand > Ghost > Piper > Twenty Years Later > The Lizards, Harry Hood

E: Character Zero

Bonus: 22 photos of Phish phans in the parking lot before Friday’s show.

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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.