While Phish has visited Madison Square Garden the most over the past eight years, no run has been more consistent than their annual Labor Day Weekend stint at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park outside Denver, CO. After a couple of weeks to mourn the cancellation of the highly-anticipated Curveball festival, the band came out ready to relieve their stress all over the sold-out Commerce City crowd.

“Free” started the weekend off right as fans crammed into the packed arena. Mike Gordon added some extra chunky bass thumps to the classic breakdown before Trey Anastasio, instrumentally inviting the capacity crowd to “come on join the party dressed to kill” with teases of The Who’s “Eminence Front” throughout. Taking the second slot was the curiously placed “Harry Hood,” making its earliest appearance in a show since it opened the band’s 20th-anniversary performance on 12/2/03 in Boston. The jam was patiently piled high with Page McConnell’s full spectrum of keys and finished off strong with Trey bringing the effects to soaring heights, leaving the entire crowd feeling good about what was to come.

Phish – “Free” [Pro-Shot]

[Video: LivePhish]

The spacey and tranquil “What’s The Use?” from The Siket Disc was gently placed into the already-enticing setlist for the third year in a row at Dick’s. When Trey blurted out “Blaze On, Leo!” during the “Blaze On” that followed, the Centennial State audience ate it up like an edible from one of the many recreational weed shops in the area. Trey, a.k.a. Big Red, relied on the delay effect to get the blaze roaring during the first half of this smoking rendition. The 12-plus minute “Blaze On” was accented by Chris Kuroda’s lighting magic, periodically holding the high beams over the energetic field of fans to let the band enjoy scene from their perch on the stage.

Phish took a moment to discuss the next tune, leading some note-takers to assume that the fifth song might be a new cover or, perhaps, a debut original. Instead, it yielded something even better: a 15-minute, first-set “Ghost”. During the initial Type II jam, Page and Mike bounced their notes back and forth, giving way to brief “Under Pressure” teases by Trey.

The second half of “Ghost” grew wings as the foursome collided into some speedier funk, capped off with a gorgeous transition into “Crosseyed and Painless”, a tune that made a big showing as the centerpiece of a tease-filled show in its last Dick’s trip in 2016. The two songs melted together so fluidly, it nearly seemed like this would stand as merely a tease. However, to the surprise of the arena, “Crosseyed” sat comfortably in Set 1 for the first time since 8/13/97 at Star Lake Amphitheatre. Where “The Great Curve” follows the Talking Heads original on the Remain in Light album, Phish’s symbolically-driven “Simple” took its place, reminding fans in Colorado that they may not have had a Curve, but they’ve still got a band. The classic set ended with the recognizable “Cavern” getting some bonus bass from Mike, a man that definitely knows how to take care of his shoes.

On night one, Phish continued their Summer 2018 trend of hammering home extremely powerful first sets, leaving fans to ponder what could possibly happen during Set 2. “Exposed to all the elements,” Phish returned to the stage hitting dingers during a set-opening “No Men In No Man’s Land”. Page stood up to rock the Clavinet as Mike carved some meaty grooves around Trey’s fuzzy MuTron effects.

Phish – “No Men In No Man’s Land” [Pro-Shot]

[Video: LivePhish]

“Carini” fluttered into outer space next with a focused and passionate guitar solo accented by Page’s ambient synth. A familiarly blissed-out expedition became the theme here, as it has in many of the song’s recent outings this year. Trey held onto notes like it was the last time he would ever play, and the crowd held on with him. If there was one thing the Phish community learned from Curveball’s unfortunate debacle, it was to not take anything for granted. The band certainly seemed to be living in the moment as they built upon Jon Fishman’s swift shift in momentum, bringing the jam to a colossal peak before fizzling out into “Theme From The Bottom”.

A clean and well executed “Theme” gave way to an otherworldly “Mercury”, yet another song with an impressive Dick’s pedigree. Nearly an hour into the set and four songs deep, this planetarium of a jam was propelled by Mike’s groovy bass which set up the stepping stones for Page to fill in the spaces with precision. Phish was playing with a wide-eyed, childlike energy—which might explain the “Young Lust” teases seductively tossed into the end of the jam.

The band took their time with the set-capping 18+ minute “Light”, reminding skeptics that the Joy songs can rip, especially in Commerce City (remember this D-Light-ful version from 2012?). Page took to the organ to warm up a Caribbean-influenced interlude, eventually spawning “Gotta Jibboo” teases. A fearless Fishman was the silent killer in this one, igniting the band and closing on the 5-song set in fiery fashion.

After a brief encore break, Page took to the Clavinet for “Martian Monster” while Mike tossed thick, syrupy grooves into the Chilling Thrilling favorite. Fishman hacked away on the blocks to calm the short and sweet Disney sampler down before Trey loaded up the cannon and brought the crowd to a frenzy. “Julius” put the exclamation point on a show that is easily one of the best of 2018 thus far.

An old-school first set that that gave way to a five-song second set took Colorado by storm. On paper, this uniquely designed set list will hopefully bring happiness to heartbroken Curveball ticket holders that are still waiting for their refunds. Hold onto your dicks, nights two and three are soon to follow.

Setlist: Phish | Dick’s Sporting Goods Park | Commerce City, CO | 8/31/18

Set 1: Free > Harry Hood, What’s the Use? > Blaze On, Ghost -> Crosseyed and Painless > Simple > Cavern

Set 2: No Men In No Man’s Land > Carini > Theme From the Bottom > Mercury > Light

Encore: Martian Monster > Julius

A full soundboard recording of the show is available via LivePhish.