For several years, the annual Phish run at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park in Commerce City, CO was synonymous with “spelling.” While we won’t be returning to Dick’s this Labor Day weekend, let’s take a look back at the five special “spelling” sets that Phish has played at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park over the years.
2011 — The “S” Show
Phish – “Sanity” – 9/2/11
2011 found Phish returning to form in way that was reminiscent of their mid-90s peak. The band was jamming incredibly, and the antics that fans had come to expect from the band had returned. Amidst this new era for the band, they seemed to have a breakthrough in Chicago at the UIC Pavilion when they played an “elements”-themed set that featured songs like “Sand” and “Dirt” and “Steam,” which referenced the natural elements of Earth, Wind, Fire, and Water.
A few weeks after the Chicago run, Phish hit Dick’s Sporting Goods park for the first time. The energy of the Phish universe was bursting with excitement after the “elements” set, and Phish seemed to harness that energy perfectly when they played their first night at Dick’s. Phish opened the show with “Sample in a Jar”, then “Sparkle”, then “The Sloth”, and it soon became perfectly clear what the band had in mind. Phish would go on to play songs that started with the letter “S” for both sets and the encore—twenty six songs in total.
The “S” theme showed Phish’s ability to stretch their catalog, as they busted out several rarities to make the theme work. “Sweet Virginia” was played for the first time in 84 shows, Mike Gordon‘s “Susskind Hotel” was played for the third time ever, “Sparks” by The Who was busted out for the first time in 463 shows, and the band played some of their classic rarities in “Sanity” and Allen Toussaint‘s “Sneakin’ Sally Through the Alley.” Of course, the show was brought to a close with another huge bust out in the Beastie Boys “Sabotage”, which was played for the first time in 318 shows. Phish would continue to make “S” references throughout the next two nights at Dick’s, and fans were absolutely thrilled with the energy and enthusiasm the band was showing.
Setlist: Phish | Dick’s Sporting Goods Park | Commerce City, CO | 09/02/2011
Set 1: Sample in a Jar, Sparkle, The Sloth, Sweet Virginia, Susskind Hotel, Strange Design, Stash, Sneakin’ Sally Through the Alley -> Sparks > Scent of a Mule, Stealing Time From the Faulty Plan, Shine a Light, Split Open and Melt, The Squirming Coil
Set 2: Sand > Simple -> Steam > Soul Shakedown Party -> Seven Below > Suzy Greenberg > Scents and Subtle Sounds > Slave to the Traffic Light > Silent in the Morning > Sanity, Sweet Adeline
2012 – The “Fuck Your Face” Show
Phish – 8/31/12 – Set One
Phish – 8/31/12 – Set Two
Phish returned to Dick’s in 2012, and both fans and the band were excited to back inside the park’s friendly and spacious confines. After the “S” set in 2011, fans arrived at Dick’s wondering if any theme would pop up in 2012. Phish responded by opening set one with “First Tube”, then “Uncle Pen”, then “Carini” into “Kill Devil Falls”… Did they mean to spell “Fuck” or were they just f’ing with us? When the band kicked off “You Enjoy Myself”, everyone knew that an “O” and a “U” were coming, and the band delivered with “Ocelot” and a huge “Undermind”. “Undermind” is a song that is beloved by Phish fans, and this version is the performance fans were waiting for, as the band turned in a 15-minute, Type II jam that floored the Colorado audience to close their “Fuck You” set.
When the band returned for set two and opened with “Runaway Jim”, fans lost it, knowing that the the game was still on. When the band jammed into “Farmhouse”, one by one people, in the audience started figuring out the puzzle: the band was spelling “Fuck Your Face”. After capping off the spelling with the first version of the Rolling Stones‘ “Emotional Rescue” in 236 shows, Phish performed “Fuck Your Face” for only the the 7th time ever to the delight of the Dick’s audience.
Setlist: Phish | Dick’s Sporting Goods Park | Commerce City, CO | Friday, 08/31/2012
Set 1: First Tube, Uncle Pen, Carini > Kill Devil Falls, You Enjoy Myself, Ocelot, Undermind
Set 2: Runaway Jim > Farmhouse > Alaska, Chalk Dust Torture > Emotional Rescue > Fuck Your Face
Encore: Grind, Meatstick
2013 — The “Most Shows Spell Something” Show
Phish – “Icculus” – 8/30/13
By the time phans got to Dick’s in 2013, the jig was up. Everyone knew that Phish would spell something, they just didn’t know what it would be. When Phish opened their set with “Ghost”, “NICU”, and a ridiculously fun “Icculus”, it seemed that the tradition had unceremoniously come to an end. However, when Phish then played “Heavy Things” and “Theme From the Bottom”, sleuthing fans noticed that the setlist had spelled “thing” in reverse. Would Phish be spelling something backward?
Once “Esther”, “The Moma Dance”, “Ocelot”, and “Stash” completed “something”, the game was back on, and fans were on the edge of their seat as each song revealed a new letter. By the time the encore was brought to a close with a raucous “Meatstick”, Phish had spelled out “Most Shows Spell Something”, a kind of wink and nod at the fans with such high expectations. With this performance, many fans left Dick’s believing that the spelling tradition had come to a close.
Setlist: Phish | Dick’s Sporting Goods Park | Commerce City, CO | Friday, 08/30/2013
Set 1: Ghost, NICU, Icculus, Heavy Things, Theme From the Bottom > Esther, The Moma Dance > Ocelot, Stash, Lawn Boy, Limb By Limb, Easy To Slip
Set 2: Punch You In the Eye > Sand, Say Something > Walls of the Cave > The Oh Kee Pa Ceremony > Harry Hood -> Silent in the Morning > Twist > Slave to the Traffic Light
Encore: Oh! Sweet Nuthin’ > Meatstick
2014 – The “Lushington” Set
Phish – “Suzy Greenberg” w/ Jennifer Hartswick and Natalie Cressman
In 2014, Rolling Stone hosted an online poll asking Phish fans for the top ten Phish songs of all time. Due to an organized effort from a group of phans, “Lushington”, an extreme rarity that hadn’t been played since 1987, won the poll and was the #1 favorite Phish track of all time. It was an obvious joke, but one that the band took note of, as they showed up with a setlist that would mess with fans just as much as the fans messed with Rolling Stone.
The band opened set one with “Llama”, then “Undermind”, then “Stash”, followed by “Halway to the Moon” > “I Didn’t Know”. Once the “I” came in, it was clear that the band were spelling out “Lushington”. Would the band actually play that revered rarity? As the band reached the second and final “N” in “Lushington”—a great version of Led Zeppelin‘s “No Quarter”—fans were going nuts for “Lushington”, when, all of a sudden, a grinning Trey Anastasio counted off “Ha Ha Ha”, essentially laughing at their audience for getting their hopes up, and making for one of the most humorous moments in Phish history. Trey proclaimed “You asked, we delivered, simple as that” before introducing Jennifer Hartswick and Natalie Cressman to add horns on a memorable, set-closing “Suzy Greenberg”.
Setlist: Phish | Dick’s Sporting Goods Park | Commerce City, CO | Friday, 08/29/2014
Set 1: Llama, Undermind, Stash, Halfway to the Moon > I Didn’t Know, Nellie Kane, Guyute, The Line, Ocelot > No Quarter, Ha Ha Ha, Suzy Greenberg
Set 2: 46 Days > Back on the Train > Simple > Ghost > Backwards Down the Number Line > Harry Hood > Wading in the Velvet Sea > Run Like an Antelope
Encore: Character Zero
2015 – The “Thank You” Encore
Phish – Encore (“THANK YOU”) – 9/6/15
Phish returned to Dick’s for their fifth year, and played nights one and two without any special-spelling or themed sets. While some fans may have been let down, others were ready to let the tradition fade out of focus for something new. However, during Sunday night’s encore, the band kept everyone on their toes by performing an eight-song, rarity-filled encore that ended up spelling “Thank You”.
In a true love letter to fans, the band opened the encore with “Tweezer Reprise”, before kicking off their fan-favorite “Harpua”. Anastasio informed the audience that “Harpua only counts once,” as he began the improvised narrative, and they were off to the races. The “Harpua” story contained “After Midnight”, “NO2”, “Keyboard Army” (the first in 684 shows), and “Your Pet Cat”. “Harpua” went unfinished, as it bled into a cover of The Talking Heads‘ “Once in a Lifetime”, which was busted out for the first time in 634 shows, before closing things out with a fitting cover of “United We Stand”.
This is one of the best moments in Phish history, as it shows the true love between the band and their fans. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house when “Once in a Lifetime” turned into “United We Stand”, and fans watching at home on the stream were left in awe at what they had just witnessed. It was a truly incredible Phish moment to see the band go above and beyond to create a special experience for their fans. Moments like these are the reason why so many of us chase the band.
Phish | Dick’s Sporting Goods Park | Commerce City, CO | Sunday, 09/06/2015
Set 1: The Landlady, Free > The Moma Dance > Seven Below > Prince Caspian > Backwards Down the Number Line, The Line, Scent of a Mule > Saw It Again, Halfway to the Moon, The Birdwatcher, Frankenstein
Set 2: Wilson > Down with Disease > Carini > Steam > Piper > Also Sprach Zarathustra > Tweezer > The Horse > Silent in the Morning > Slave to the Traffic Light
Encore: Tweezer Reprise, Harpua > After Midnight > NO2 > Keyboard Army > Your Pet Cat > Once in a Lifetime > United We Stand
2016–2019 – Gagless
When Phish finally returned to Dick’s Sporting Good Park the year after the outstanding “Thank You” encore, fans were still on their toes, not knowing how the band might top the jaw-dropping encore. As the weekend came to a close, it became clear that there was no special themed set for Dick’s. Though we’ve seen some fantastic Phish shows at Dick’s in the years since, it seems the spelling gags are a thing of the past (for now).
[Originally published 8/30/17]