On Friday night, Phish returned to their regular Labor Day Weekend destination, Dick’s Sporting Goods Park, for the first of three shows in Commerce City this weekend. The show marked Phish’s first date since their stellar Sunday night performance at Alpine Valley Music Theatre.
The band put together a solid performance on their first night at Dick’s, playing through a focused setlist comprised predominantly of newer-vintage original songs. The main storyline ahead of this year’s Phish Dick’s run, however, did not concern the music itself, but rather the outbreak of the plague—yes, the plague—in fleas affecting the area’s prairie dog population. While “the band plays on,” the plague situation forced Phish to cancel onsite camping and vending for this year’s run.
It didn’t take the band long to reference the deadly disease “plaguing” the Commerce City areas fleas and prairie dogs. “You still alive out there?” Trey Anastasio asked as the band took the stage.
The band offered up a surprise for their first song of the weekend, diving into the second-ever performance of long-lost original, “Can’t Always Listen”, a boogieing blues-rocker penned by Trey and longtime songwriting partner, Steve Pollak, better known as The Dude of Life. The song debuted to a positive response as the meat of a second set “Ghost” sandwich 12/30/15 at Madison Square Garden only to go missing entirely until last night. Even after the nearly 4-year gap, this rendition was tight and well-played, making fans wonder why it has been forgotten for so long. Here’s hoping it finally makes its way into the rotation.
Sticking the landing out of “Can’t Always Listen”, the band chugged forward with “Free”. While the sludgy funk interplay between Mike Gordon and Page McConnell was surely noteworthy on “Free”, this rendition was most notable for its lyrical adlibs, which heard Trey change several instances of the word “Free” to “flea” in yet another nod to the story of the plague.
After a moment of deliberation, the band moved into “No Men In No Man’s Land”. While this version of the funky Fuego track didn’t reach the improvisational heights of some recent renditions, it showcased a band locked in and ready to wow their faithful Colorado audience.
From there, the band tumbled into the easygoing bounce of “555”, a song that’s always remained close to its composed structure despite seeming ripe for an improvisational ride. This would not be its night, however, as the band swiftly moved out of “555” and into an energetic “Back on the Train” and a spry “Rift”.
“Steam” billowed up next, giving the band an opportunity to utilize some patient, dynamic, swelling tones as Chris Kuroda showed off his impressive light rig on the soccer stadium’s sprawling expanses. After exploring some dark, ominous improvisational space and riding some interplay between Page’s organ and Trey’s nimble guitar riffs, the band punched their bluegrass card for the evening with a rendition of A Picture of Nectar ditty, “Poor Heart”. “Undermind” was up next, followed by a welcome change of pace in the second “Train Song” of the year. Following a dynamic “Wingsuit”, the band put a pin in the first frame with a “Blaze On” set closer.
Phish returned after set break and launched into “Everything’s Right”, the TAB/Phish crossover that’s come into its own as a go-to jam vehicle in recent tours. Gordon’s bass led the way on this simmering jam, assisted by an airtight (as always) Jon Fishman behind the kit. After starting in “evil” Phish territory, the jam shifted toward happier pastures as Fishman maintained his unrelenting backbeat. As the crowd stood transfixed by Kuroda’s lighting, Page helped push the jam into swirling spacey territory with delicate synth work before the song bled into another recent go-to jam vehicle, “Mercury”.
“Mercury” has become increasingly reliable as a second set improvisational centerpiece, and this version surely didn’t buck that trend. Clocking in at nearly 24 minutes in length, the Dick’s “Mercury” moved through several distinct sections, from a methodical buildup to an island-tinged major key groove to some excellent Page/Trey call-and-response to a sparse, salsa-style breakdown. Trey unleashed a barrage of fast-fingered riffs over Page’s synth swells as this outer space voyage made its way back into the galaxy of blues-rock.
After ballooning to a big Trey peak (bolstered by Kuroda’s bobbing and weaving technicolor visuals), the band found their footing in a “Blaze On”-like groove before fading into a well-earned breather ballad, “Shade”. While this marked the shortest-ever gap between “Shades” (it was played on the second night of the Alpine run just two shows ago), the heartfelt lament was a welcome interlude in this already-strong set two.
“Light”, another proven 3.0 improv vehicle, came next (bonus setlist points for “Shade” blocking the “Light”). While this version didn’t cover as much ground as the “Everything’s Right”/”Mercury” combo that started the set, it did produce some satisfying improvisation thanks in large part to the almost telepathic connection between Gordon and Fishman. Before long, Trey introduced the riff for “Party Time” and the rest of the band followed suit, moving full-tilt into the Joy-era call for shenanigans.
A sizzling “Sand” followed, always a welcome song selection late in the show when the band’s engines are already primed and ready to rip. After methodically building “Sand” up to a big white light Trey peak, the band found their way into the beautiful, swelling instrumental, “What’s The Use?”—as always an impressive showcase of this band’s mastery of dynamics.
From there, Fishman’s familiar opening drum fill signaled the start of “Harry Hood”. One of Phish’s best examples of musical tension and release, this “Hood” saw the band patiently inflate the jam behind some truly hair-raising Trey soloing for a set closer about which we can all feel good.
With time for just one more, the band returned to the stage for a “Say It To Me S.A.N.T.O.S.” encore, making it the first Kasvot Växt tune to make an appearance at Dick’s.
“Say It To Me S.A.N.T.O.S.”
[Video: Live For Live Music]
Night one at Phish Dick’s proved to be a fun, well-played show—particularly considering the relatively (aside from “Can’t Always Listen”) run-of-the-mill song selection. Make sure you give an extra listen to both the top-notch 42(ish)-minute “Everything’s Right” > “Mercury” segment as well as the highly potent “Hood” set two closer while you rest up for night two.
The 2019 Phish Dick’s run continues tonight, Saturday, August 31st. The party’s just begun. Have fun out there, team. Take care of your shoes and steer clear of the plague. We’ll be back tomorrow with a recap of night two.
You can scroll down to peruse a gallery of photos from the show courtesy of photographer Bill McAlaine.
For a full list of upcoming Phish tour dates, head here.
Setlist: Phish | Dick’s Sporting Goods Park | Commerce City, CO | 8/30/19
Set One: Can’t Always Listen, Free, No Men In No Man’s Land, 555 > Back on the Train > Rift, Steam > Poor Heart > Undermind, Train Song, Wingsuit > Blaze On
Set Two: Everything’s Right > Mercury > Shade > Light -> Party Time, Sand > What’s the Use? > Harry Hood
Encore: Say It To Me S.A.N.T.O.S.
 Lyrics changed to “flea.”
This show was webcast via Live Phish. Can’t Always Listen was performed for the first time since December 30, 2015 (142 shows). Free’s lyrics were changed to “flea” as a reference to an outbreak of plague transferred by fleas to prairie dogs in the Commerce City area. Trey teased Tired of Waiting for You In Everything’s Right. As a further nod to the outbreak, Amie by Pure Prairie League was the postshow music.