Ode to Dick's
When Phish’s summer 2013 tour dates were announced, many fans expressed dismay at the lack of a 30th anniversary festival. Ever since they reinvented the modern rock festival with the Clifford Ball in 1996, Phish's festival shows have been among the most anticipated and cherished concert experiences of many fans. Before the 2004 breakup, these shows almost always occurred at the end of the summer in out of the way locales. Plattsburgh. Limestone. Big Cypress. Coventry. The festivals almost always took place in the "corners" of this fair country.
That trend was one of many to change in 3.0. Festivals became less of a regular occurrence, and when they did take place they were much closer to civilization. Festival 8 in Indio took place barely two hours from Los Angeles. Super Ball IX in Watkin's Glen was only a shade over four hours from NYC. As for Bader Field... was that even a festival? No one still seems quite sure.
But the strangest development of all is that Phish's 2013 Festival has been hiding in plain sight, as it has for the past two years: at a soccer stadium in suburban Denver. Sure, Festival 8 and Super Ball IX had many of the same trappings as past festivals: three set shows . . . art installations . . . The Bunny. But scratch below the surface a little and you'll find a different kind of festival (containing many of the essential elements of a traditional festival) taking place at Dick's Sporting Goods Park in Commerce City, CO.
Most festivals until the breakup took place in mid-August. As the last shows of the summer, these shows placed the proverbial cherry on the tour that led up to them. This was also usually the last weekend before a substantial percentage of the fanbase returned to school. The fanbase has aged in the last fifteen years and, for most of us, Labor Day has become the end of summer (psychologically, if not on the calendar). For the third consecutive summer, Phish will play a trio of Labor Day shows at Dick's. Dick's also has camping (a common element of every Phish festival), as well as a number of hotels in close proximity (another nod to an aging fanbase).
Most of all, though, a Phish's festivals have afforded the band the opportunity both to take musical risks and showcase their prankster persona. And that's where the Dick's shows to date have really shined, serving as musical exclamation points for the past two summer tours, just as the Ball, Went, 'Wheel and IT did in years past. And, when we get down to it, it's all about the music.
The very first Dick's show on 9/2/11 found immediate fame as the 'S' Show, where every song they played began with the letter S, allowing for bustouts ("Sparks," "Sanity," and "Sabotage") and substantial jamming ("Sand" > "Simple" > "Steam") alike. The next night is probably the the tamest of the Dick's sextet, but still makes room for what some call the best "Tweezer" of 3.0 (they're wrong, BTW – it's 12/28/12 – but it's still a great version). The final night of Dick's '11 gave us an exceptional "Gin," and what might be the best start-to-finish set of 2011. Seriously, this set has everything: a Beatles bustout, a Moroccan tennis player, a Faux-runner tease... (Wait, what's a Faux-runner tease? It's that thing, where Phish plays something vaguely resembling "Roadrunner," we argue about it for a year and write a blog post about finally removing the tease). Oh, it also has probably the best "Harry Hood" of 3.0.
As good as the 2011 run is, it's telling that they are probably the fourth, fifth and sixth shows most fans think of when they talk about Dick's. The 2012 Dick's run is seen almost universally as the high water mark, not just of 2012, but of all of 3.0. The shows have been so dissected over the past nine months that it hardly seems worth discussing them here, but lets do it anyway.
On 8/31/12 the band reprised the gag from the first night of Dick's '11, but with the twist of spelling out a message with their setlist (in this case, F.U.C.K. Y.O.U.R. F.A.C.E.). An added benefit of such a succinct message was that it practically made multiple extended jams a necessity. "Carini," "Undermind," "Runaway Jim" and "Chalk Dust" all received extended treatments. Picking a favorite is like picking your favorite child. The following night featured a rare "Antelope" opener and a sick "Golden Age" > "Caspian" > "Light" sequence. Picking a favorite there is far easier; the "Light" is otherworldly and has been hailed by some (ahem) as the best jam of the 3.0 era. In fact, the Dick's run is so strong that,if they keep it up, we may have to start using the term "3.1." The last show of the run on 9/2/12 included the "Sand" we were waiting the entire summer for (the -> "Ghost" isn't terrible either).
Six shows, all containing legitimate highlights... Dick's Sporting Goods Park must be one magical venue, combining the majestic surroundings of Red Rocks with the intimacy of Nectar's. Not so much. What we have here is an unremarkable Major League Soccer stadium – yes, stadium – that is one of the largest venues Phish has played. Dick's is snugly nestled in the suburban sprawl of Commerce City, Colorado. Before the construction of Dick's Sporting Goods Park in 2007, Commerce City was known primarily for greyhound racing and an oil refinery. Take away the Rocky Mountains visible in the distance (but not visible from inside the stadium) and the the town couldn't be more nondescript. But like Limestone and Big Cypress before it, it brings out the best in Phish.
So say it loud and say it proud... WE LOVE DICK'S!!!
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