[Photo credit: Phish Facebook]

Earlier this summer, Rolling Stone asked fans to submit their favorite Phish song for a Readers Poll. Someone on PT must have had a good laugh, because the long-shelved “Lushington” came in at #1. The obscure song hadn’t seen the light the day since 1987, as parts of it were merged into the classic Phish tune “Fluffhead.” The perfect in-joke for Phish phans to play on Rolling Stone.

Last night marked the beginning of Phish’s fourth consecutive Labor Day weekend trip to Dick’s Sporting Goods Park in Commerce City, CO, just outside of Denver. In 2011, Phish kicked off the weekend by playing an entire show of songs starting with the letter “S.” In 2012, the band spelled out the rarity “Fuck Your Face,” before dusting off the tune. Last year, the set list from night one of the three-night stint spelled out “MOST SHOWS SPELL SOMETHING,” backwards, of course. Would Phish keep the theme?

Kicking things off with a rockin’ “Llama,” the first of 2014, Phish dipped into the groovy “Undermind.” Smooth sailing out of the gate, band and crowd energy levels at full throttle. Trey Anastasio hits the intro lick for “Stash,” and we’re clapping along, asking ourselves, “LUS?”

“Halfway to the Moon,” the first song played from Phish’s new album Fuego, comes up next. The slower number completes the word LUSH, and those “in the know” are already predicting the “LUSHINGTON” spell-out. With “I Didn’t Know” as the next song in the set, Jon Fishman made his way to the front of the stage for his traditional vacuum cleaner solo. Always love when the vacuum makes an appearance, especially when Trey announces that Fish is going to “suck at Dick’s.”

The bluegrassy “Nellie Kane” keeps the crowd dancing, gearing up for the next bust-out of the night: “Guyute.” The first since July of 2013 (56 shows), this ugly pig ballad was executed flawlessly. The song is a monumental composition, swerving through a spacy segment that builds to a climactic celebration. Truly masterful.

By this point, we’re LUSHING. Phish decides to cool things off, playing the poppy-yet-enjoyable “The Line.” At this point, the nearby crowd was practically certain that “Ocelot” and “NICU” would be the next two songs. The “Ocelot” prediction proves accurate (not many other songs start with “O”), lending itself into a very laid-back jam section. Instead of “NICU,” however, the band busts out their Led Zeppelin cover, “No Quarter.” This swampy, rocking song is a fan-favorite, making a handful of appearances over the last three years. Page McConnell nails the vocals, and Trey can rock those Jimmy Page riffs like none other. Well, except for Jimmy Page, of course. 

Do or die… would fans get to hear the first Lushington since 1987? Phish’s answer: “Ha Ha Ha.” The fans trolled Rolling Stone, and Phish wound up trolling their fans, playing the brief tune with the laughing title. Commenting on the gag, Anastasio said, “You asked, we delivered. Simple as that.” The spelling bee was over, ending on a comical note.

To close the first set, Phish brought out two renowned musicians from the Trey Anastasio Band (not to mention their prolific solo work), trumpetist Jennifer Hartswick and trombonist Natalie Cressman. With the horn section, the musicians roared through the classic “Suzy Greenberg,” with each person trading off solos throughout the piece. An incredibly fun way to end a first set jam-packed with musical highlights.

Now finished with the spelling, Phish settled into the second half of the show, delivering a standard, yet delightfully improvisational second set of music. With a set-opening “46 Days” into “Back on the Train,” the band segued into the highlight of the set, a 20+ minute version of “Simple.” The improvisational segments here were phenomenal, with excellent interplay between the band members. Moments like these really showcase the band’s cohesion.

The “Simple” weaved its way into a gleeful “Ghost,” popping into a “Backwards Down The Number Line” that bled into the all-mighty “Harry Hood.” You can feel good about Hood. “Velvet Sea” slowed things down, before “Antelope” ended the second set with a bang. And of course, the encore version of “Character Zero” was as ripping as always, with Trey bringing the energy with every lick.

So Phish trolled their “Lushington” fans, and we all shared a good “Ha Ha Ha” over it. If anything, the inside joke is typical of the artist-fan base relationship that Phish has cultivated over their 31-year career. The members of the band say it all the time… they really do have some of the greatest fans in music.

See you tomorrow night for round 2!

-David Melamed (@DMelamz)