After two nights that heavily favored the older pages of its catalog, Phish came into the final night of the band’s annual Dick’s Sporting Goods Park summer tour closer with a large stack of Trey Anastasio’s modern soul-empowerment songs still on the table. “Self-help Sunday” did manage to find plenty of space to get weird though, and showcased a band that sounded like it was in no rush to get back to non-tour reality.
Even though the opening slot is not a rare place to find “First Tube”, many fans were surely reminded of the Dick’s weekend from ten years ago when the song was used to open the famous “Fuck Your Face” show. And geez, I’m getting old if that gig was already a decade ago—are they setting up the AARP booth next to Waterwheel yet?
This “First Tube” featured more narrative soloing from Trey Anastasio rather than just a shred-off and was a great omen for there still being plenty of tricks left up his sleeve. “Bathtub Gin” would follow, getting into a weird corner that could have kept growing before Big Red pulled it back home. It was a thick jam, focused but self-contained; an apt description of most songs this night.
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Another “Fuck Your Face” show alum, “Undermind”, came next but stayed close to home. Then came the first soul/dream cut of the night, “Drift While You’re Sleeping”. The band had actually already tried this pairing once this summer at (the venue formerly known as) Deer Creek, but if you haven’t yet made up your mind on this one, this version isn’t going to push you one way or another.
Beloved favorite “Halley’s Comet” wasn’t given much of a chance to go anywhere, but it did inspire me to start grouping Phish fans into categories dependent on whether they saw the actual comet in 1986, or whether they’ll see it during its 2061 return. Again, if you’re already starting to feel old then don’t think about this breakdown for too long.
“Halley’s” resolved naturally into “Everything’s Right”, which frankly felt like it still had some more searching to go through before it got abandoned for “More”. Now, if you’re opposed to overtly optimistic lyrics in your Phish songs, this is about as big of a one-two gut-punch as you can get. Luckily, a “Fluffhead” closer emerged to cleanse the pallet of both the cynics and the fluffers.
Played for the seventh time this year, “Fluffhead” is currently in the heaviest rotation it’s been in for over a decade, and it subsequently hasn’t sounded this strong in way longer than that. There’s no doubt that the repeats have been greatly beneficial for all the complicated tunes this summer, but to hear “Fluff” played without one iota of hesitation is a glorious thing. The outro jam just kept stacking peaks on peaks on peaks, a real “house-always-wins” kind of vibe.
The final set of summer opened with “Set Your Soul Free”, a song that’s become one of the most bankable tunes in Phish’s modern repertoire despite the angst of all jaded (this author included.) This SYSF jam broke down into a cool syncopated groove that gave Page McConnell an opportunity to venture into some new textured synth territory once again. His willingness to try new sounds at key moments continues to reshape the potential textures of the Phish sound, and it’s a key factor in keeping things intriguing.
A delicate landing into the opening of “Fuego” made it sound like an ideal placement for the song that has consistently struggled to find its place in sets. This jam grew out of its composed progression, and again there was lots of room left for Page to shine. But then “Life Beyond the Dream” fired up and it felt like the first time of the whole weekend where you could hear the energy get sucked out of the crowd. Just because a tune sounds great soundtracking a pyramid-scheme pitch doesn’t make it well-crafted for the final throw-down of the season.
Phish – “Fuego” -> “A Life Beyond A Dream” [Pro-Shot] – 9/4/22
A need to restore confidence prompted “Crosseyed and Painless” to drop in seemingly out of nowhere. Some sanctity has been restored to the Talking Heads tune by leaving it off the table a bit more as of late, and this one instilled those gut butterflies of potential that have wavered over the years. The “Crosseyed” jam was searching for a little bit, but once it found its legs it didn’t stop driving. There was something very productive about this jam—sounding like the soundtrack to a Jetsons factory line, or like Stereolab if they decided to tinker with shred-rock.
The jam found its natural conclusion and rhythmically segued into “David Bowie”. “Bowie” had a bit of a soul resurrection at Alpine Valley last month, so the question was whether it was still riding strong. This one poked the bear for a few minutes and went to the questionable realm that it should roll into, but it still wasn’t the outright journey that would be able to claim its rebirth. Personally, I want my “Bowie”s to make me forget my name, but I could have still applied for a bank loan easily during this one.
The set would close with good ole’ “Loving Cup”. There was nothing wild here, but it felt like that friend who, after you kick everybody out of your party, is still sitting at your kitchen table rolling up joints, and you’re ready to be alone but it also kind of warms your heart to see that he assumed you weren’t talking about him when you asked everybody to leave.
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There hasn’t been a spelling gag at Dick’s since 2015, but things started to get cued up with a “Divided Sky” encore. Appearing in the final slot after a previous 80 consecutive first set appearances, this was a strong but standard rip. Signaling that the group wasn’t done yet, Trey then took a moment to honor the retirement of the band’s longtime stage manager, Paul “P.I.” Ingwersen.
The PI call-out bled into the rare “Icculus”—only the sixth version of the 21st century. There’s always a classic line that emerges out of “Icculus”; this one being Trey shouting: “I’ve been trying to tell you for all of 40 fucking years to read the book!” Next came “Character Zero”. It was short but sweet, leading everyone to get excited over what would come next. We had the D.I.C… what would be next? A “Kung” would be great. Maybe a “Knuckle Bone Broth Avenue”? Alas, it would simply be ‘K’urfew. But if there’s something that Phish does better than everybody else, it’s leaving their fans hungry for more.
Phish – “Halley’s Comet” – 9/4/22
Phish – “Fluffhead” – 9/4/22
Phish – “Fuego” – 9/4/22
Phish – “Crosseyed And Painless” (Talking Heads) – 9/4/22
Phish – “Icculus” – 9/4/22
Setlist [via Phish.net]: Phish | Dick’s Sporting Goods Park | Commerce City, CO | 9/4/22
Set One: First Tube, Bathtub Gin, Undermind, Drift While You’re Sleeping, Halley’s Comet, Everything’s Right, More, Fluffhead
Set Two: Set Your Soul Free, Fuego, A Life Beyond The Dream, Crosseyed and Painless (Talking Heads), David Bowie, Loving Cup
Encore: Divided Sky, Icculus, Character Zero
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