Phish just wrapped up their annual three-night run at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park just north of Denver. Playing to near capacity audiences, the jam band jesters brought out the goods in spades with a combinations of bust outs, covers, and some serious jams. This year also marked the ten-year anniversary since JEMP began playing the venue and the love for Dick’s, as evidenced by the weekend, still remains. Anticipation also ran high due to the level the group had been operating on preceding the Colorado stop as well as the fact that these shows also marked the close of the summer tour and anyone’s last chance to catch the magic before an unsure fall with COVID and indoor venues.
Night one saw a solid introduction to the trifecta. Getting the place rocking, the band started the weekend with a great take on “46 days”. At just over 8 minutes, the band didn’t waste a moment showing that they were warmed up and ready to go. Following the first set of lyrics, Trey jumped right into dark land and started the slow burn as the rest of the band fanned on. With a nice cresc-ending and tight delivery, the weekend was underway. As if to state they were feeling it too, the next selection said it all: “Party Time”. With a great shuffle and McConnell working his away around the keys, from piano to organ, there was a nary an occupied seat in the house as everyone was up, moving to the groove, and shouting out the lyrical call to celebrate. Eight minutes again and a serious cardio workout later, it was easy to see just two songs into the evening that everyone was on the same page, and it was going to be a great night. The band slowed things a bit with the groove machine “Steam” and laid out some thick sweetness, McConnell grinding at the organ, Anastasio echoing over the landscape, Gordon smoothly filling the low end, and Fishman chugging along. “Timber” was up next and marked the first bust out of the night, not only marking its inaugural performance of the tour, but also the first since December of 2019. Once again, the band jumped right in on the jam, swirling the summer night in auditory delight as everyone enjoyed the power of the steadfast mule and its riders.
The audience was treated next to the delightful Gordon tune “Yarmouth Road”. Touting great Gordo lyrics and a bouncy reggae vibe, this version was tight and gave Mike the chance to get down on the effects pedal as well as show his prowess on the vocal high end. With only a few seconds of rest, Fishman started up the familiar composition “Foam”. For the band, this tune has been intermittently wrought with error in the later years as it is no easy piece to play, but many a smile were made across the venue and stage alike as the syncopated start was completed without falter and gave way to the light piano stylings of McConnell. At the close of McConnell’s spotlight and the appropriate gratitude of the audience, Trey took over and impressed the audience further, rolling out those gentle notes that make this tune a favorite for so many. Returning to the closing difficulty of the number, no one missed a beat and slot number six was complete and received a rousing applause from the audience at the accomplishment. The next surprise of the evening came in back-to-back form, with the band dropping both “Vultures” and “Pebbles and Marbles” into the set. Again, these two tunes had been shelved since July and December of 2019, respectively. “Vultures” swooped in with their hard-edged beaks and wide wings, taking the audience through lofty lifts and dramatic dives and kept the audience bobbing and weaving with the one-two punch of the structure.
After the carrion landed, Trey addressed the crowd and wished everyone “Happy Anniversary” to mark the decade of enjoyment shared on the outskirts of the Mile High City. Getting right back to business, Trey counted off “Pebbles and Marbles” and everyone fell right back into place. This song is one of those great examples of the band’s ability to oscillate between soft lightness and breakneck shredding. Although this version was no record breaker, it certainly checked all the boxes and showed that the band still loves it as much as the audience and will continue to keep it in the live repertoire. To close out the set, “Carini” gave listeners the first expanded taste of improvisation of the night. Clocking in at 22 minutes from start to finish, the band got the lyrics out of the way and then got down to business. The jam portion of the tune swung the spectrum of emotion, hitting on raw energy, joyful major chord play, and disturbing echoey electronica, each member throwing everything they had into the mix and closing the first set of the weekend with a bang.
“Rise / Come Together” started set two out on a positive note, lyrically reminding everyone in the house that we are more the same than different and accomplish much when unified. Coming in at a little under five minutes, this PSA got the message across and without pause dove into “A Song I Heard the Ocean Sing”. The band spared no time taking the venue into the murky oceanic depths of the sound of this song, slowly taking their time, intentional with every move, swimming without hurry or destination, floating with capacity all who would give themselves over to the current. At its end, and seemingly out of nowhere, the familiar power chords of “Chalkdust Torture” brought everyone out of the liquid ether and back into the classroom. For the first seven minutes it was class as usual before departing for recess. For the next thirteen minutes the band played around with an upbeat central theme, lively and electric, that had everyone dancing and having a great time. Bringing balance to the frenzy and in notable juxtaposition, the tail end deteriorated and morphed into the tranquility and softness of “Beneath a Sea of Stars”. With the initial lyric “we’re all here together and the weather’s fine / dancing in the dream and we’re free of time” the audience gave out a brief shout, consciously recognizing their place in the moment: standing, dancing at the feet of their favorite band at the beginning of a three-day weekend of music and just getting started. At the close of the lyrics, the resulting jam stretched out seven minutes, holding onto a semblance of structure before deteriorating into ambiance, much like it might be drifting through space as the earth travels further and further away, until out of sight and everything that fills the field of vision is new, strange, and without familiar context. “Light” shone next and was illuminated with great spontaneity, including what seemed to be some hinting at both the “Manteca” and “NICU” themes.
Transitioning without break or breakdown, the band shifted into “Plasma”. All things considered, this TAB original is a rarity in Phish setlists and the crowd audibly embraced it. The band also decided to toy with it, mashing it up from the get-go. At the final line of the opening stanza, Trey started calling out “Party Time” in cadence with the established tune. Giggling at each other, it didn’t take long for more hijinks to come rolling out as Anastasio lyrically alternated between “party time” and the plasmatic “you always end up where you start”, eventually shifting the music back to the “Chalkdust Torture” theme. As the welcomed comedy continued for several measures, Gordon jumped in and added “runaway, runaway, runaway, runaway” from “A Song I Heard the Ocean Sing” before everyone turned on a dime and started into “Runaway Jim”. The dog on the lam ran hard and with great enthusiasm for over seven minutes to the delight of its owners and all the onlookers. With the end of the set nearing, the familiar chords of “Slave to the Traffic Light” signaled to everyone night one was coming to a close. Timing out at over 12 minutes, this version carried a great midsection delivery that was unhurried, delighting with its warm pattern and building the crowd up with tension before breaking it free into ecstasy.
For the finale of the evening, the band gifted the faithful with a triple encore. Starting off with the Phish classic “Cavern”, the band and audience showed each other that they both still had something left in the tank, as the band rocked it and those listening swung it. Taking a breather and thanking the following in a way that the band often does, “Waste” said everything the phab four conveys often from their musical time approaching four decades. Emotion aside and wanting to send everyone into the night with an energized step and broad smile, the band gave out their last bust out of the night in Led Zeppelin’s “Good Times, Bad Times”. Not played since Mexico in 2020, Trey and the gang ripped loose on the all too familiar cover and the crowd was happy to oblige with full attention and as much energy as they and the band had started the night off with.
In the end, night one was a great start to what would eventually be another completion of a fantastic and memorable weekend for 27,000 people. The sound was just right and the Kuroda magic and lighting rig were a spectacle in and of themselves. For those lucky enough to have tickets for all three nights, the joy just kept on coming with more bust outs, improvisation, and setlists that keep the faithful coming back for more and turn the first-time listeners into devoted heads. It is apparent that the band is in love with all that they have and if night one was any indicator, they show no signs of stopping soon. Although a pandemic shut down all that we love for over a year, the silver lining is that we all had a chance to pause and appreciate the gifts we have in each other, music, and the thing we call life. May that appreciation continue and here is to the positivity fueling a successful and incredible fall tour.