Phish have just finished their annual three-night run Dick’s sporting goods park north of Denver. The jam band fools played to an almost fully booked audience and brought out the goods with a combination of bust-outs, covers and some serious jams in spades. This year also marked the tenth anniversary since JEMP started playing the venue and the love for Dick’s, as the weekend proves, still lingers. The anticipation was also high due to the level the group had worked at before the Colorado stop and the fact that these shows also marked the end of the summer tour and were the last chance for everyone to do the magic before an unsafe fall with COVID and indoor experience venues.
The first night saw a solid introduction to the Trifecta. The band rocked the place and started the weekend with a great take on “46 days”. After a little over 8 minutes, the band didn’t waste a moment showing that they were warmed up and ready to go. After the first set of lyrics, Trey jumped straight into the dark land and started the slow burn while the rest of the band continued to fan out. With a nice cresc ending and tight delivery, the weekend was underway. As if they wanted to feel that too, the next selection said it all: “Party Time”. With a big shuffle and McConnell spinning around the keys, from piano to organ, there was an almost occupied seat in the house as everyone stood up, moved to the groove, and called out the lyrical call to celebration. Another eight minutes and some 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 down a little with the groove machine “Steam” and put down a big sweetie, McConnell grated the organ, Anastasio echoed across the landscape, Gordon gently filled the bass and Fishman chugged along. “Timber” was next up and marked the first bust from the night, not only the inaugural performance of the tour, but also the first since December 2019. Once again the band jumped straight into the jam and swirled the summer through night in audible joy when all enjoyed the strength of the steadfast mule and its riders.
The audience was spoiled next to the delightful Gordon song “Yarmouth Road”. This version kicked off great Gordo lyrics and a bouncy reggae vibe, was tight and gave Mike the chance to step on the effects pedal and show off his vocal high-end skills. With only a few seconds break, Fishman started the well-known composition “Foam”. For the band, this melody was occasionally mistaken in the later years, as it is not an easy piece to play, but many smiles were conjured up across the venue and the stage as the syncopated beginning was completed without hesitation and had to give way to the easy one McConnell piano stylings. At the end of McConnell’s limelight and audience gratitude, Trey took over and continued to impress the audience by rolling out those mellow tones that make this tune a favorite for so many. Back to the final difficulty of the number, nobody missed a beat and slot number six was complete and received rousing applause from the audience for the performance. The next surprise of the evening came in a row when the band brought both “Vultures” and “Pebbles and Marbles” onto the set. These two melodies were also put on hold since July and December 2019. “Vultures” rushed in with their sharp-edged beaks and broad wings, taking the audience through high elevators and dramatic falls, and making the audience wobble and whirl with the double flick of the structure.
After the carrion landed, Trey turned to the crowd and wished everyone a “Happy Anniversary” to celebrate the decade of fun on the edge of Mile High City. Trey went straight back to the store, counted off Pebbles and Marbles, and everyone was back in their place. This song is one of those great examples of the band’s ability to oscillate between gentle ease and breakneck shredding. While this version wasn’t a record breaker, it certainly checked all the criteria and showed that the band still loves it as much as the audience does and will continue to keep it in the live repertoire. At the end of the set, “Carini” gave the audience the first extended taste of improvisation of the evening. After 22 minutes from start to finish, the band got the lyrics out of the way and then got to work. The jam part of the melody swung the spectrum of emotions, encountered raw energy, happy major chord playing and disturbing echoing electronica, each member throwing everything they had into the mix and ending the first set of the weekend with a bang.
“Rise / Come Together” started on a positive note and lyrically reminded everyone in the house that we are more the same than different and that we achieve a lot when we are united. After a little less than five minutes, this PSA got the message across and immersed itself in “A Song I Heard the Ocean Sing” without a break. The band spares no time to lead the venue into the gloomy oceanic depths of the sound of this song, to slowly take their time, with every movement willed, swim without rush or aim, with the capacity to float everyone who surrenders to the current would. In the end, and apparently out of nowhere, the well-known power chords of “Chalkdust Torture” got everyone out of the liquid ether and back into the classroom. Classes were as usual for the first seven minutes before the break. For the next thirteen minutes the band played with a happy main theme, lively and electric, that got everyone dancing and having fun. Balancing the frenzy and in remarkable juxtaposition, the tail end deteriorated and transformed into the calm and softness of “Beneath a Sea of Stars”. With the opening text “We are all together and the weather is nice / dance in a dream and we are free of time” the audience uttered a short cry and consciously recognized their place in the moment: standing, dancing at the feet of their favorite band at the beginning of a three day Weekend full of music and a straight start. At the end of the text, the resulting jam lasted seven minutes, clinging to some semblance of structure before deteriorating into an ambience like drifting through space as the earth moves further and further away until it is out of sight and all that? Filling the field of vision is new, strange and without a familiar context. “Light” shone next and was lit with great spontaneity, including an apparent allusion to the themes of “Manteca” and “NICU”.
The band went on without a break or breakdown and switched to “Plasma”. All in all, this TAB original is a rarity in phish set lists and the crowd audibly accepted it. The band also decided to play with it and mix it up from the start. On the last line of the opening verse, Trey began to shout “Party Time” to the beat of the established melody. Giggling at each other, it didn’t take long before more hijinks came up when Anastasio lyrically switched between “party time” and the plasmatic “You always end up where you start” and finally the music back to the “Chalkdust Torture” relocated “topic. As the welcome comedy continued for several bars, Gordon jumped in and added “runaway, runaway, runaway, runaway” from “A Song I Heard the Ocean Sing” before everyone hit a penny and started on “Runaway Jim.” For more than seven minutes, the dog ran hard on the lam and with great enthusiasm, to the delight of its owners and all onlookers. As the end of the set drew near, the familiar chords of “Slave to the Traffic Light” signaled to everyone that the first night was coming to an end. Timed over 12 minutes, this version provided a great middle section that was unhurried, wowed with its warm pattern, and built the crowd with excitement before breaking into ecstasy.
At the end of the evening, the band gave the believers a triple encore. Starting with the Phish classic “Cavern”, the band and audience showed that they both still had something in their tank, the band rocked and the audience swung. Taking a breather and thanking the following, as the band often does, “Waste” said everything that the Phab Four often convey from their musical time of almost four decades. Emotions aside and in order to send everyone into the night with an energetic step and a big smile, the band gave their last tip to the night in Led Zeppelin’s “Good Times, Bad Times”. Not since Mexico played in 2020, Trey and the gang broke loose on the all-too-famous cover and the audience was happy to obey with full attention and as much energy as she and the band had started the night.
In the end, the first night was a great start to another end of a fantastic and unforgettable weekend for 27,000 people. The sound was spot on and the Kuroda Magic and Lighting Rig was a spectacle in itself. For those lucky enough to have tickets for all three nights, the joy just continued to flow with more bust-outs, improvisations, and setlists that make believers come back for more and turn the first-time listeners into devotional minds. It is obvious that the band is in love with everything they have and if the first night was an indicator they are showing no signs that they are going to quit anytime soon. Although a pandemic crippled everything we love for over a year, we all had a chance to pause and appreciate the gifts we have in one another, the music and what we call life. May that appreciation continue and here is the positive attitude that drives a successful and incredible fall tour.
Check out more photos from the show.