If there’s anything circling around the sun for decades following this band has taught me, it’s that you have the best shows when you have no expectations. When you live in the moment. And when you focus on feeling so damn lucky to be a part of something much bigger than yourself. Because even if you think you have it figured out — these guys find a way to surprise you. And when you let go of chasing songs or building dream setlists — the magic happens. For me, 8/31/2023 was that kind of night.
For the 35th rendition of Dicks, Phish took the crowd on an interstellar improvisational adventure. There was no shortage of experimentation — from the explosive start with a 19-minute show opening “Carini” (dedicated to Frenchie, the naked dude who inspired NYE 2022’s gag and a fellow Coloradoan I happen to have personally known… RIP) to a Tweezer that’s honestly hard to put into words. All night, it was easy to get lost in the ambient jamming under the full moon. And just when the flow seemed to go off the rails, the band brought the crowd back down to Earth to remind us why we were all here in the first place — to have a one-of-a-kind experience unlike anything we’ve ever heard before.
Leading up to Dicks N1, it was an emotional week of highs and lows as a phish fan. Riding the tails of the incredible energy from the SPAC benefit featuring Derek Trucks (you can still donate to Vermont flood relief here), the stoke level heading into the final run of the summer was high. Though I’ve been skeptical of sit-ins in the past (I just want to hear Phish…), I couldn’t help but watch the benefit and wonder, were there ever two guitars more perfectly paired than Derek’s and Trey’s? I think not. It was a real treat to see these world-class guitar players (even from couch tour) collaborating and finding a way to harmonize the scales in “First Tube.” Mind blown.
But then, last Monday the news came of the passing of Trey’s bandmate and extraordinary saxophone player, James Casey. This one cut to the core. He was an extended member of the phish family, a positive force of energy, and a rare and beautiful talent. It’s a heartbreaking loss, and the outpouring of love from the entire community has been heartwarming. (Do James’ legacy a solid and get screened for colon cancer if you’re high risk or over 40.)
So we came to Dicks with hearts full of emotions. We came to celebrate life, mourn those we have lost, and be grateful for every note and every.single.moment with this band. We came to find the most profound joy in letting go, feeling the feels, throwing our inhibitions aside, and flailing on the dance floor as our favorite foursome played the soundtrack on a soccer field with a view of the Rockies to our dance party. And that we did.
The band hit the stage guns blazing with the “Carini” opener. The energy was off the hook. About 10 minutes in, my friend beside me said with overflowing excitement, “This feels like the middle of the second set!” It went deep that fast.
Energy stayed high into “Halley’s Comet” (despite a mishap with the lyrics, which is endearing considering the massive catalog the band pulls from these days), as we got the first glimpse into space. Kuroda’s art really stood out during “Blaze On,” as the lights turned shades of orange, magenta, yellow, and red. “Prince Caspian” was a welcome breather for everyone to slow down, lean into the emotion, and catch their breath for the first time of the night. Short and sweet, “We Are Come To Outlive Our Brains” was a joyful treat. It made its first appearance since August of 2021 (or 108 shows) — and it even took me a minute to place the opening notes, which is rare for me!
Speaking of the idea of space… next came “Mercury” a frequent flyer at Dicks and a tune that always fits the vibe of this venue. The groovy composition weaved through several sections, almost making this feel like a 1.0 song with a 3.0 tone.
The next big jam came in “Ruby Waves,” another song from the modern era that’s been a welcome jam vehicle and opportunity to take chances and explore. And a rockin’ “Character Zero” to close the set was the perfect send-off for the crowd to fill water bottles and hug some friends.
“Set Your Soul Free” to open the second set was in an opportune slot for great jam potential, but the band had other plans. Unlike earlier this summer when they made fans wait until the final night of MSG for “Tweezer,” they were all about getting right to it after a quick and standard version of “SYSF.” Well… ooookay. I’ve never met a “Tweezer” I didn’t like. And tonight’s version was no exception. I’m not going to lie, though; something was definitely a little different in the vibe of this song right from the beginning. It’s hard to put my finger on exactly what it was, but as the band weaved through different sections of funk to bliss to ambient jamming… and there were a few times when it felt more like a “Split Open and Melt” jam than a “Tweezer” jam. Holy Fishman! If you’re looking for a “Tweezer” that zags when you expect it to zig — pop this one into your earbuds. It got weird.
Our spirits were then guided back to space — this time as the full moon was rising over the back end of the venue — as the band dropped into the Ghosts of the Forest tune “Beneath a Sea of Stars Part I.” After the twinkling beginning, this one took a turn, and I couldn’t help but think it resembled the slow, quiet section of “What’s The Use?” The crowd slowed down appropriately, and maybe it was just me, but I was craving another pop of energy. To my delight, the band dropped into the 5th appearance of the new tune, “Oblivion,” a song that just feels Phishy. It felt like the groove could have continued with this one, but instead, the tempo slowed, and an exploratory “Light” followed. Again, the experimentation in this jam was sensational. For phans that crave jamming, this is a must-listen.
A perfect “Slave To The Traffic Light” capped off the set, and Trey reminded us that he’s still the rockstar we all fell in love with. When the band returned to the stage, they launched into an emotional encore, “Show of Life.” This is one of my favorite tunes to cap off an emotional Phish show — how can you not be moved by the band thanking the crowd and get filled to the brim with gratitude when you hear this song? And though we expected another song for the second slot, they instead opted into “Say It To Me S.A.N.T.O.S.” to complete our interstellar journey — which was so much more than just a concert. Dicks 1 was about the band taking chances. They played the venue! Created incredible new music. Challenged our cosmic consciousness. And reminded us how fragile this thing is — and how lucky we are to be a part of it. Gratitude abounds.
The “Tweezer Reprise” looms.
And that’s why we keep coming back for more.
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