Last night Phish closed their fourth consecutive Labor Day run at Dick's Sporting Goods Park outside of Denver. In that relatively short period of time, the band has done more than just play twelve mostly above average shows at the otherwise soulless soccer stadium; they've created a new tradition. New Years Eve and Halloween will likely always be the two most hallowed days on the Phish calendar, but pencil in the Dick's run right below those. Fans are on notice, if they weren't already, that this isn't just another three-show run. Miss these shows at your peril, because it's no longer coincidence that Phish delivers outstanding shows at Dick's.
After two great shows to open the run, we knew we were going to be pouring from the proverbial gravy boat all night. Even a run of the mill show couldn't really tarnish either the run or the Dick's legacy, but the band made it clear with a cleanly played "Curtain With" opener, that there would be no need to entertain those possibilities. It's always good times when the boys take the stage looking for fun and a playful "Wombat" declared those intentions. Straight forward versions of "Kill Devil Falls," "Bouncing" and "Poor Heart" continued to show the band in good form, even if they didn't offer groundbreaking improvisation. "ASIHTOS" (aka "Assy Toes") provided the first, albeit brief, glimpse of deep improv. "Lawn Boy" let everyone catch their breath before jumping right back into the deep end with a stellar "Wolfman's Brother." Rather than proceed directly to the swampy funk peak as many versions tend to do, this "Wolfman's" took its time, hitting several slinky grooves along the way. Don't miss this one.
Photo © Andrea Nusinov
The Fuego combo of "Waiting All Night" and "Winterqueen" followed at which point many probably figured "Funky Bitch" would close the set. Phish had other ideas, though, and threw a quick "Tube" at us before closing the set with "Possum." Cooked low and slow, this "Possum" had a little extra mustard in the sauce as it finished off the best first set of the run on a high note.
As the Dick's run becomes a Labor Day tradition, Phish continues to build several traditions within the tradition. The most obvious is, of course, the first night spelling sets. Less obvious, but more rewarding, is the annual running of the Dick's "Chalk Dust Torture." Phish played standout versions of the song in the second sets of both the 2012 and 2013 runs and would do so again in 2014 (for the third consecutive year, on 8/31). Unlike the prior two years, type-II renditions of "CDT" have become expected over the course of 2014. But that doesn't make them any less appreciated, and this was certainly a keeper. Fish drove the band to deep space and back in this version. As the band returned from the beyond into a soaring jam, it appeared we might be heading from the land of "very good" into "great." Alas, just as Mike seemed to be starting up the third phase of the jam, Trey opted for what turned out to be a fairly standard "Twist." "The Wedge" followed and, while it, too, stuck to the script, this was a hot version.
At this point, everyone knew we were due for the "Tweezer" and the band did not disappoint. "Tweezer" methodically built to a rock peak vaguely reminiscent of the Dick's "Light," before melting into a "Sand" that would serve as the high point of the evening. Trey took immediate control of "Sand. " At the show it sure seemed like he led everyone back into "Tweezer," but, on reflection, it was probably just a tease. Whether the rest of the jam is "Tweezer" or "Sand" may be up for debate, but what is not is that this was pure insanity -- a jam from another dimension and the reason so many of us continue to travel so far to see as many shows as we can. A brief but fiery "Piper" kept the energy up before "Joy" provided the sole breather of the set.
Any thoughts that Phish would be ending the Sunday festivities on the early side were thrown to the wind when they started up "Mike's" just before 11:30 local time. There are three things I will take away from the 2014 Dick's run. The first is the "Simple" from night one that is, in my estimation, the single best jam of 2014. The second is the "Tweezer" -> "Sand" segment I just described. But in terms of pure elation, I'm not sure either of those moments will top being reunited with an old friend. "Mike's Song" has come in for its share of criticism in the 3.0 era as being too by-the-numbers. Grass roots campaigns to bring back the fabled "second jam" have been brought to band members' attention on at least two occasions. Those pleas have gone unanswered and we didn't get the second jam last night either. But what we did get was a truly unique and inspired reading of "Mike's Song" for the first time in nearly fifteen years. Deep into the gravy boat at this point, the band launched into "Sneaking Sally" in the traditional "Hydrogen" spot (as "Hydrogen" still has yet to make an appearance in 2014). "Weekapaug" served as the exclamation point to the deceptively jammy ten-song second set.
"Loving Cup" (rather than "Lushington") and "Tweezer Reprise" closed the book on Dick's 2014, as the band made their presumed midnight curfew with mere seconds to spare. As the house lights came on to chants of "We love Dick's," what we should have been chanting was "FOUR MORE YEARS!!!!!" See everyone next September 4th.
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