After a fantastic summer tour that ended without having an end-all-be-all show of the tour, Phish’s annual Labor Day weekend at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park came in with a little more pressure than normal to put an appropriate cap on summer this year. The band also chose to highlight its eleventh year at Dick’s by adding a fourth night to the mix for the first time—a move that means Phish is either trying to reward or murder its Colorado fans, but most likely somewhere in the middle.

With plenty of tickets still available at show time, it appeared some fans were opting to ease into the weekend rather than hit the first ever Thursday Dick’s show. The band was in no rush either.

Opening up with a “Sand” that maybe had a little too much space, the vibe felt reminiscent of an animal stalking its prey; lots of waters getting tested, but no strikes landing. Once a second set sure thing, “Sand” has begun to find a familiar home as a first set opener, including in this exact same location exactly four years to the day, where it also, just as this day, segued into “Down With Disease”.

The standard explosives of DWD quickly found their way into the Jon Fishman break-beat-shuffle that has defined Phish’s sound in 2022. Stacking soft synthesizer chords, Page McConnell sounded like he was trying to lead the rest of the band into Michael Jackson’s “Human Nature”. But then Trey Anastasio hit that ping-pong switch of his and it was nothing but a sea of tumbling polyrhythms.

Anastasio then started a quick chord riff that became both the most real and most natural gazinta to “Scent of a Mule” in the song’s history. “Mule” was followed by “Ocelot”, which has benefited from its increasingly sparse appearances over the past few years, and this version was welcomed all around.

The also rare-in-the-current-age “Heavy Things” came next, reminding us of the times when the band thought a radio single was an attainable goal. It seems official to say we’re fully back in “Axilla (Part 2)” land as, after its 26-year gap ended last year, we’ve only had one version return to the (Part 1) lyrics. This one was a little rough, but it’s worth it to have the slow outro be a standard piece again.

“Back on the Train” rolled in next, and since this review is getting written late at night, I can only 98% guarantee you that Trey played a direct Game of Thrones tease in his solo. Intentional or not, there’s definitely some House of the Dragon on the man’s mind.

“Theme From the Bottom” soared per usual, before handing off the set-closing reigns to “Blaze On”. As Trey shouted his verse outros, he threw out a “Blaze On, It’s Legal!” before popping a smirk and launching into his solo. The set ended but the vibe for the rest of the evening was clearly set.

Opening up the second set for the umpteenth time in its existence, “Possum” got moving, but never went far. Instead, the first expansion of the set would go to “Twist”, a lofty jaunt fully worthy of a post-blaze engagement that saw all four members of the band’s eyes open and attentive. This was heads-up Phish; a different kind of jamming than the amorphous blob that sometimes grows on the stage.

“Ruby Waves” came next, and despite its batting average for big jams, it still received a tepid response when it started up. Still, add this one to the keepers’ pile. The jam stayed in form for a while before going into some dark ’70s arena rock that lighting wizard Chris Kuroda aligned with splendidly nightmarish patterns.

Related: Chris Kuroda & Andrew Giffin: Mobilizing The Phish Lighting Operation [Interview]

The jam then got deeply fierce, but again this didn’t feel so much like hive-mind improvisation, but more like intellectual four-piece cohesion. Each band member was writing their own unique story, that in only-Phish fashion somehow layered with each other in a way that would surely be a rolling dumpster fire for most other bands.

Nearing the 17-minute mark of the jam, it sounded like they were trying to compose a new theme for Cosmos, but nothing was sticking strongly enough to pitch it to the networks. Fish smartly brought it back to the “Ruby” form, and then rolled it right into “Don’t Doubt Me”, a Sci-Fi Soldier song popping up for just the second time since its debut last Halloween.

“Don’t Doubt Me” sounds like a great idea for a tune, but just feels like it could use a lot more song. Even the jam seemed unsure of itself, and it only opened up when it moved in an entirely different direction than its form.

The newer tunes kept rolling with “A Wave of Hope”, which is still riding the crescendo of its phenomenal Hartford performance earlier this summer, but never got far off the ground on Thursday. Then surprisingly enough, we went back to Sci-Fi Soldier again with “The Howling”.

I’m not much of a band interaction guy. I do a few: the sideways stomp in “Moma”, a good ole’ All Fall Down signal… but I don’t shout for “Wilson”, I don’t clap for “Stash”, and I’m never going to howl for “The Howling”. But people are. It’s a thing now.

Sidenote: new bumper-sticker idea up for grabs: “Don’t Howling my 2001”.

But then after a full show that leaned heavily on more delicate exploration, “Piper” came in and whack-a-moled the whole set on its head with an absolute tank of a version. You don’t get to hear Trey go in assault mode all that often anymore, but when he does it is downright glorious. When it comes to shorter jams that pack monster punches, this was as good as they come in the modern era.

Phish “The Howling” -> “Piper” [Pro-Shot] – 9/1/22

A “Harry Hood” encore is usually a blissful send-off, as this one was which found the jam again reverting to the more fragile explorations that had popped up throughout the night. This set was a rough one on paper but had some deep moments in the corners where jaded vets may scoff. One thing’s for sure, nearly everything is still on the table for the next three nights in Commerce City.

Scroll down to check out a gallery of photos from the show courtesy of Ron Adelberg.

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For a complete directory of Live For Live Music‘s Phish summer tour 2022 coverage, head here.

Setlist [via]: Phish | Dick’s Sporting Goods Park | Commerce City, CO | 9/1/22

Set One: Sand > Down with Disease -> Scent of a Mule, Ocelot, Heavy Things, Axilla (Part II) > Back on the Train > Theme From the Bottom > Blaze On

Set Two: Possum > Twist > Ruby Waves > Don’t Doubt Me > A Wave of Hope > The Howling > Piper

Encore: Harry Hood