Saturday 09/01/2018 by zzyzx


Coming out of the canceled Curveball festival, speculating the plan for the first show of Dick’s has been a hobby for many. They would do rare songs to appease those who missed the festival! The show would spell something with the setlist! [Insert tweeter's/forum member’s/random guy who had seen a few shows' favorite song that they’ve never seen] would be played of course… twice! Others tempered speculation saying that Phish would just play a normal show, and people had to keep their hopes in check for the “Harpua” opener or for the mysterious ball that was the centerpiece of the artwork to somehow appear in Commerce City.

Somehow both groups were wrong. Phish didn’t play anything unusual. Every song had been played already on Summer 2018. Outside of “Cavern,” (somehow not performed since the way distant past of 7/28/18) every song had even been played in one of the 8 previous shows in August. However, despite playing a night where the building blocks were standard, they somehow still manage to confound any normal expectation.

Photo © Phish, by Patrick Jordan
Photo © Phish, by Patrick Jordan

Getting to the venue proved to be a bit of an ordeal. New traffic rules meant that the usual 15 minute wait to park the car stretched well over an hour. Metal detectors slowed the entry some more, requiring patience. Dick’s has been such a well-oiled machine that any variant to the program seems shocking. Some of the delays likely were due to the Colorado football game taking some of the security, so that should run more smoothly tonight. My advice is to get in early.

Between the traffic and a few health issues, I might not have been in the best mindset when lights went out. As Phish opened with “Free,” – wait, this isn’t the “Anarchy” bustout we’ve all been wanting oh so much!?!? – I looked at my wrist. It still had my Curveball wristband on it because I vowed it would actually see Phish. Well guess what, it had, but I think it was its vibes that were causing all of my issues. I removed it as the chorus began, and as the band sang, I was “Freeeeeeeeeeeeeee!”

While “Free” isn’t that odd for an opener, the song that followed was oddly placed. Excluding a couple of one set festival shows where set rules don’t apply, “Harry Hood,” hadn’t been played in the first set since 12/2/03. Coming this early was a statement, two actually. The first is that unless you can figure out a message that starts with “FH,” there was not going to be a gag with the titles of the songs. More importantly though was the sign that they meant business this night. They weren’t going to mention Curveball or shows that didn’t happen, but instead would take out their frustrations through ridiculously strong playing. While not the longest version ever, it still managed to find a few digressions along the way to the peak, which is a great sign.

Photo © Phish, by Rene Huemer
Photo © Phish, by Rene Huemer

After a pause to consider the option, another oddball song selection followed. “What’s the Use?” is a song of transition, usually used to end a second set jam and move it into the next song. Having it come out of a dead stop felt weird, but it didn’t affect the playing at all. For the past few years, they’ve been playing this song with delicacy and grace, and this night was no exception. They brought it way down to a beautiful quiet space, before playing the riff that marks the second half of the song. When they’re giving extra emphasis to the songs as well as the jams, we’re usually in for something amazing.

After another jam – this one out of “Blaze On” – turned into a fun dance party, the highlight of the first set came. One would think that it would be time for a shorter song or a composition, but instead we got “Ghost.” No abbreviated version, this went through multiple segments until it finally landed on a fast funk jam. Then, completely out of nowhere, “Crosseyed and Painless” emerged. It started as a quick tease, but always attentive Dick’s crowd caught on immediately and gave a loud cheer. Perhaps that’s what egged on the band to take their time and craft a stunning segue into the Talking Heads classic. Like so much of this set, this was in a weird spot. There have only been three first set “Crosseyeds” before, all in 1997. Star Lake Ampitheatre on 8/13/97 was the last time Phish played this before the break, and it had extra power coming in a place where no one expected it.

As the jam petered out and morphed into “Simple,” an exciting idea started to form. Maybe this would be a backwards show, one that started with the “Free” encore, and then played a second set in reverse order. Could we have a “Weekapaug” > “Hydrogen” > “Mike’s?” The “Cavern” that closed the set – the first song since “Free” that was played in its normal location, ended that idea, but this was an exciting set. The music was well played but changing rules lend extra power to their performances.

Photo © Phish, by Patrick Jordan
Photo © Phish, by Patrick Jordan

The only question at the break was if they could keep this up for the night. The “No Men in No Man’s Land" > "Carini” to start the second set answered that. This was the same combination that started the second set of the first night of Dick’s last year. This might not have matched the length of 2017’s performance, but they made up for it by the fiery conclusion of “Carini.”

Outside of the “Cavern,” and maybe “What’s the Use?”, there hadn’t been a song-focused performance really since the opener. The “Theme From the Bottom,” acted as a palate cleanser. After so many improvisations, we needed a bit of a usual song to rest our ears for a moment. But the theme of the night was the jam, and we still had a few tricks left to witness. “Mercury” had a great mid-song improvisation and then the set closed with one last open-ended song – “Light.” Despite having a lot of the focus of the night be on freeform playing, with funk jams and dance segments and some spacey elements, the one classic form of Phish jamming we had not yet seen was the build jam. “Light” provided that, building to a peak, and – as perhaps was appropriate on a night like this – just ended the set after it had been fully explored.

It’s a cliché to say that Phish like to make a statement with their music, but on this night that seemed to be true.They not only played many jams, but even the composed sections were nailed, freeing us from the usual trade-off that comes from when the band plays more loosely. All of the pent-up frustration from Curveball came out in the form of excellent full band improvisation, and while there might be an element of lament present because of that – if Phish are playing this well, what might have been a few weeks ago – at least we managed to get this show (and whatever might come the rest of the weekend) out of it. A reminder of why we put up with the downsides of tour was really needed, and Phish most definitely delivered. Here’s hoping it lasts for the rest of the run!

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, comment by Wilsonwasframed
Wilsonwasframed Was sitting Page side last night and can confirm that my face was completely melted off! Can’t wait for the next 2 night!
, comment by zarathustraz
zarathustraz A lot of repeats this tour, but we owe it to them. It seems like the guys are happy doing a "Greatest Hits" tour after the wide-ranging unique song offers of the Baker's Dozen.
, comment by ckess22
ckess22 Incredible show. Thanks phish!
, comment by CreatureoftheNight
CreatureoftheNight Great review, but don't forget the AMAZING Martian Monster encore. Trey actually smiled during the duet and possibly predicting that the best playing of the weekend is yet to come.
, comment by justbecuz
justbecuz Excellent recap. The segue from Ghost into Crosseyed and Painless was one of my favorite jams in recent history. It does my heart and soul very well to see them having fun and playing at this level after all these years. Phish never ceases to amaze me, and that is why I have a greater appreciation for their music now than I ever did before. Can't wait to see what the next two nights have in store
, comment by Slewfoot
Slewfoot Great review! Very similar to my thoughts all around. The two words that summed up my feelings on the show were: Introspective Intimacy. There was delicateness and poise to a lot of the songs combined with a bit of an edge making for a very unique vibe...Trey obviously wanted to make a statement through the music as seen in this photo during the Harry Hood on the webcast:

, comment by skradiate
skradiate What an inspired show! If anyone who is a casual fan asks me what a good Phish show sounds like in 2018 I would direct them to set 1 of this show. It has everything and all performed at the highest levels. Interesting that there was not a single song with Mike on lead vocals. I expect a big Mike night tonight.

Any other children of the ‘70s and 80s catch that Odd Couple riff during one of those first set jams? In the midst of all that emotion, was there a Neil Simon hat tip on the week he passed? Other teases included Eminence Front during Free (“come and join the party dressed to kill” riff) and Little Feat (via Allen Toussaint) “on your way down” bass line from Mike in set 2. Truly inspired playing. My Curveball Blues are all but a distant memory....
, comment by shwibba
shwibba Eminence Front during Free (“come and join the party dressed to kill” riff)

Interesting,I'll have to give it another listen. I took it as the David Bowie "Fame" riff.
, comment by Mattc3039
Mattc3039 Speaking of metal detectors, for those attending Albany in October beware that they are there and that entry is a challenge. I saw Springsteen there a couple years back and the entry was a nightmare...
, comment by AbePhroman
AbePhroman Solid review. My sentiments exactly.
, comment by black_eyedkaty
black_eyedkaty Right on @skradiate I really loved the Odd Couple and Eminince Front teases. Enough cannot be said about the Ghost>Crosseyed segue. Jaming on point!
, comment by hdorne
hdorne Anyone else catch the “O Come All Ye Faithful” tease in Hood? It’s in the beginning of the jam, Trey interpolates the “Gloria” melody. Really beautiful. Great show!
, comment by GAphishin
GAphishin The whole band gave us such a wondrous first Friday night! Dick's is such Joy!
Mike was on Fire! Jon was on Fire! Page was on Fire! Trey was on Fire. Kuroda! YOU FREAKING BLEW MY MIND! what a way to begin a weekend at the Field!

I caught the "Oh Come All Ye Faithful! HDORNE!
, comment by hdorne
hdorne Actually, I just realized, it’s “Angels We Have Heard On High.” Got my Christmas songs mixed up!
FACTSAREUSELESS Very sparse review of an astoundingly excellent show. But thanks for the thoughts you did share, as I agreed. Jealous that you get to be there, but glad I caught the Alpharetta run.
, comment by moonofjupiter
moonofjupiter Excellent review. I too was one of the many who thought we would get Walfredo opener or A train or something very rare. Even perhaps a Forbins with narration about CurveDEbacle. My inner mind said it would be a normal set list with huge playing.
And so it was. I too felt it was a backwards show until Cavern.
What happened was Phish played the best show of the entire year so far. And we felt every moment.
Very atmospheric. Tightly played. Peaks upon peaks. And so much ambience too.
Well played, Phish. Well played.
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