Venue

What Phish fans can expect at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park in Colorado

Excitement could not be any higher for the return of Phish to Dick’s Sporting Goods Park this weekend. We all know the Vermont quartet loves Dick’s. They told us that last year, both literally – chanting “Phish loves Dick’s in the depths of a rolling “You Enjoy Myself” – and figuratively, with two, three-night Labor Day stands rife with legendary peaks.

But the flock’s anticipation is sourced beyond the band’s curious affection for the plastic-pitched, maladroitly named Commerce City soccer stadium. The boys are on fire.

 

The recent stomp through the West Coast revealed Phish stoking the same inferno that blazed through late 1997, an era that has long ranked as the band’s most momentous, with jams that have lingered in dashboard tape decks for decades. But 1997 is teetering on second-place status and this third weekend at Dick’s could be the stand that elevates Phish’s 2013 30-year anniversary tour as the band’s finest hour.

First, there’s Friday at Dick’s. In 2011, the band played two sets with all the songs beginning with the letter ‘S.’ It was a first-ever gimmick for a band not afraid to infuse humor and subtle riddles into songs and sets.

Last year, Phish arrived Friday and laid out two sets of stellar, anagram-themed jamming with the first letter of each tune spelling “FUCK YOUR FACE,” a rare and much appreciated tune.

I struggled a bit with this 15-song show, missing those traditional jam vehicles that build the ethereal jamming I adore. But on second – and 200th – listen, this show has become a favorite, with guitarist Trey Anastasio and drummer Jon Fishman building complex jams inside tunes that never really get stretched, like “Carini” and “Undermind,” both of which recently exploded as one of Phish’s best – and sometimes darkest – psychedelic launching pads.

Friday at Dick’s has revealed a band willing to explore and take chances.

This year, speculation is rampant. Could the band delve into its historic Gamehendge narrative, busting out true Land of the Lizards rarities while retelling the story that birthed the band’s thickest jams? Could they stick with a theme, much like the Golf show at last year’s New Year’s Eve show at Madison Square Garden? Could they go with all covers – please oh please! Maybe all new tunes, which would be awesome. (Bassist Mike Gordon’s new reggae-tinged “Yarmouth Road” is fantastic, as is “Architect,” and the new cover of Apples In Stereo’s “Energy” is a springboard to a party.)

Or could Phish simply let it all hang out and eschew the shtick? Whatever happens, expect the nerdy fans to begin deciphering potential trickery from the first note.

And brace for a throwdown the next two nights. Saturday and Sunday at Dick’s have become the stuff of legends. With a wide palette over the lengthy pitch, lightman Chris Koruda – the fifth band member of Phish and freshman lightman for Justin Bieber – has splashed his trippiest art at Dick’s. It’s difficult to imagine that Koruda doesn’t stir the band. Whatever the impetus, Phish kicks down masterpieces at Dick’s, from 2012 Saturday’s brilliant and evocative “Prince Caspian>Light” to 2012 Sunday night’s soul-stirring dancefest “Sand>Ghost>Piper.”

Sometimes it is dangerous to set expectations too high with Phish. The band can be a fickle force, at times working too hard to sculpt the show and muscling moments that cannot be forged. Phish just happens.
And lately it has been happening a lot. The 37-minute, incomparable Tahoe “Tweezer,” with the audience playing a vital role in the song’s breadth. The buoyant Bill Graham “Seven Below.” The Gorge’s – and my new favorite show of all time – sprawling and relentless “Down with Disease>Undermind> Light>Sneakin’ Sally>Also Sprach Zarathustra>Walls of the Cave>Fluffhead.” These are apex shows riddled with those flashing moments that keep us coming back, defying age, life changes and the scorn of pals – and wives and even 9-year-old daughters – who have tired of this decades-long adulation of a 30-year-old band.

“There’s new music out there, man,” I hear from amigos as I fire up the Phish iPod for yet another listen to that Tahoe “Tweezer.”

Yes there is. And I’ll get it Friday, Saturday and Sunday at Dick’s.

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Jason Blevins is a strange dancer, but that has never stopped him.