Phish returned to Dick’s Sporting Goods Park last night for the third and final show of their annual Labor Day run. After a wild night one and an up-and-down night two, the band fell somewhere in the middle on night three, with a show that had several highlights and a few notable swing-and-misses. Phish turned in a fair amount of improvisation while remaining somewhat reserved in their song selection (and that can be said for all three nights of the weekend in Colorado), and they seemed to be somewhat out of sync for much of the show. While Sunday night’s performance was ultimately a good one, it lacked the punch of some of the band’s standout shows this summer, and certainly some of the shows that have made the Dick’s Sporting Goods Park venue legendary over the years.
Watch the full show below from Dick’s Sporting Goods Park on 9/3/2017, courtesy of LivePhish
Phish started things off with a rarity in “Buffalo Bill”. Performed for only the nineteenth time since its debut in 1992, this was the first version of the track since it was busted out last Fall at the Verizon Theatre in Grand Praire, TX. After the quick run through “Buffalo Bill”, Phish launched into a solid version of “The Moma Dance.” The song was played in a slightly higher key than usual by bassist Mike Gordon, giving the part a particularly melodic feel. The band was loose and aggressive, which led to a somewhat sloppy delivery of the song. However, when the band reached the song’s jam section, they harnessed that aggressive approach for a short piece of improv that sounded somewhat like the jam section in “Walk Away.”
“Birds of a Feather” was up next, and Gordon continued his melodic bass playing. Guitarist Trey Anastasio comped his way through the song’s chorus, adding flourishes and tasty licks to give the song a unique feel. “Birds of a Feather” doesn’t get stretched out that often, and this could be called another “standard” version of the song, but their “standard” version is often reminiscent of the band’s early-1990s aggressive style of playing, so it almost always works. The band made their way through the song with ease, before keyboardist Page McConnell brought the song to a close with a quote from “The Birds.” A quick “Sugar Shack” batted cleanup, and it contained some expected and familiar flubs throughout the song’s composed section by Anastasio. He just can’t seem to get that one right in 2017.
The band then delivered McConnell’s Vida Blue-era track “Most Events Aren’t Planned,” which was performed by Phish for the first time ever during the final night of this summer’s Baker’s Dozen residency at Madison Square Garden. The song was one of the biggest surprises of the residency, and it was just as surprising to see it make the setlist once again at Dick’s. The track features a prog-rock vibe and a Genesis-style groove that really allows for the band to get comfortable and lock in. This version was, of course, filled with improvisation, with Anastasio pushing a rhythmic theme that defined the early portion of the jam. He utilized echo and delay effects while McConnell created a wild array of sounds with his synthesizers. Page moved over to his organ, adding some piercing stabs that acted as a catalyst for Anastasio, who responded in kind. Finally, Gordon entered the fray with another melodic bass part, and the band was off and running with an exciting piece of rock ‘n’ roll improvisation. The jam sounded similar to “First Tube,” and as such, it was high-octane and thumping throughout.
A bouncy “Back on the Train” was trotted out next, and the band made their way through the fan favorite with a fun and bright type I jam. “Leaves,” a newer song that was debuted this summer, followed “BOTT,” continuing the hot-and-cold first set. The song was pretty and blissful, although the vocal harmonies left a bit to be desired. Fortunately, Anastasio started up one of their most classic songs, “The Wedge”. The band worked their way through the song before quickly moving into “46 Days” with a flat transition that found the band trying to incorporate some start/stop elements that didn’t quite land. A dark and dissonant jam emerged out of “46 Days,” and the band built it up methodically towards a raging climax. Anastasio included a brief vocal jam at the tail end of the jam to mark this a unique version of the song.
The band closed out set one with a wild “Bathtub Gin” that contained a number of musical ideas. After working through the song’s form, the band put together a delicate piece of improvisation that slowly built towards a triumphant peak before bringing set one to its natural conclusion.
Phish returned to finish their final set of the summer with a monster “Down With Disease.” They worked through “DWD” with excitement, bringing a huge amount of energy with them into the lengthy improvisation that song is known for. The band found themselves moving into a blues rock sound before they dissolved into a quiet and ambient space, which built in its ominous nature until Jon Fishman kicked into gear, pushing the band to another depth. Anastasio added some guitar stabs before settling into a jangly speed-funk vibe, with McConnell freaking out on his synth. The band dropped back into a meditative, ambient sound. Fishman dropped out on drums but jumped on the Marimba Lumina, and the band entered true freakout territory with some spooky sounds.
The prolonged ambient segment fizzled out and Anastasio quickly started up one of the band’s most reliable modern jam vehicles: “Light.” Often playing the role of landing point and launch pad, “Light” once again bridged the gap of an amazing jam segment. Phish utilized this “Light” perfectly, jumping into an exploratory and psychedelic jam. Anastasio returned to some Allman Brothers-esque jamming for a moment, and the band really seemed comfortable, taking their time building the “Light” jam up to a power-chord heavy, hard rock moment that led to a screeching peak from Anastasio. He was reminiscent of “Machine Gun Trey,” at times, before dropping into a funk groove that signaled the beginning of “Rise Up/Come Together”, the guitarist’s new song that has found a nice home in Phish setlists this summer.
After a spirited performance of the new song, the band started up “Piper.” The song is overdue for a standout version. Anastasio’s playing has been focused for most of the second set so far, confidently leading the band from one improv scenario to another. Here, the band quickly moved into a funk space that allowed for them to drop into a groove and stay there for a while. Gordon led the band with a Bass melody, while McConnell turned to his Yamaha keyboard and served up some plinko type sounds. Trey turned on his echo and started entering the mix more prominently. He delivered with a Santana-esque solo the pushed that band into overdrive, with more blues guitar shredding leading the way towards a huge climax.
The band quickly faded out and moved into the venue-appropriate “Meatstick.” After the song’s now-mandatory Japanese lyrics, it was quickly brought to an end, skipping the improv that is typical of most versions of the song. The band opted instead to and start up the weekend’s first cover, a pulsating “2001.” This version started up with some interesting sound effects that seemed to come from Anastasio’s Kaoss pad, which is first used when the band performed “Everything In Its Right Place” by Radiohead during Lemon night at the Baker’s Dozen. Of course, Trey eventually turned back to the guitar to lead the band through “2001” and right into “Possum.” The old favorite was welcomed with a huge explosion of energy from the crowd, glow sticks raining down from the sky as the excited audience was whipped into a frenzy. “Possum” contained a major tension/release jam that blasted things off into orbit. Phish closed out the set with a fun take on “Suzy Greenberg.”
For the encore, Phish busted out “Waste.” It was a fitting way to open the encore, after an amazing summer that will stand out as one of the best of all time for Phish. Both the relationship between the members of the band and the relationship between band and their fans have never been in a better place, and, as we saw at the end of the Baker’s Dozen with the band’s final encore opener of “On The Road Again,” these guys are emotional, so this song is perfectly placed in that regard. After that display of raw emotion, Phish switched gears for a raucous “First Tube” that served as the final song of the evening and of the run. The energy is always high during “First Tube”, and, even if it wasn’t the cleanest delivery of the song in the band’s history, the crowd responded with waves of energy, one last romp with Phish before the summer is over.
In the end, save for the uneven first set, Phish finished up the weekend with a strong show. The powerful second set was well-crafted, with no identifiable down moments to speak of. The weekend as a whole, however, was good but not great. Sure, tonight and Friday both featured lights-out, second sets (with Friday taking the cake for set of the weekend), but therun weekend lacked the gravity of previous editions of the Dick’s residency. There was no special set, no message spelled out in the setlist, no guests, no gags, and, it could be argued, an overall lack of creativity in the song selection all weekend long. Call it Baker’s Dozen fatigue, if you will.
With rumors abound that the band will soon announce their New Year’s Eve Plans–believed to be a return to their new home court with a four-night run at Madison Square Garden–fans may not have to wait that long to get their next fix of Phish. As of now, the band has no future tour dates announced. Thanks for reading our Phish coverage all summer long!
Phish | Dick’s Sporting Goods Park | Commerce City, Co | 9/3/2017
SET 1: Buffalo Bill, The Moma Dance, Birds of a Feather, Sugar Shack, Most Events Aren’t Planned, Back on the Train,Leaves, The Wedge, 46 Days, Bathtub Gin
SET 2: Down with Disease > Light > Rise/Come Together > Piper > Meatstick, Also Sprach Zarathustra > Possum > Suzy Greenberg
ENCORE: Waste > First Tube