On Friday, for the tenth time in eleven years, and for the first time since 2019, Phish returned to Commerce City, CO to kick off a Labor Day Weekend run at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park.
Coming off of a top-notch run at Shoreline Amphitheatre on Tuesday and Wednesday—and a top notch tour before that—Phish rode into Dick’s with considerable momentum for the final stand on this eventful 2021 summer trek.
Launching into the performance with intention, Phish served up a rendition of rocker “46 Days” complete with plenty of patented summer 2021 low-end grease and a sturdy, early-show peak.
Also quickly apparent, at least from the couch, was the oft-noted girth of the soccer stadium, the way the general admission crowd seemingly engulfs the stage in every direction as far as the eye can see, adding a baseline layer of grandiosity to the proceedings. Even a decade on, nothing else feels quite as good as Dick’s.
“Party Time” arrived in the second slot, guitarist Trey Anastasio and drummer Jon Fishman playing off each other to push the teetering tune to some satisfying tension-and-release. Another pair of brief but potent blasts of energy followed with feedback-steeped “Steam” and a sparse, moody “Timber (Jerry)”, the latter highlighted by an electric piano/floor tom segment from Fish and Page McConnell.
Mike Gordon took the baton next, powering the band through the reggae bounce of “Yarmouth Road” with his meaty, bleacher-shaking bass tones. A solid take on complex early-days Phish composition “Foam” followed from there.
While the set had already been strong to this point, the quality spiked upward as Phish worked through the tour debut of the soaring Fishman showpiece, “Vultures”. Following the song, Trey took a moment to address the milestone Colorado run and contemplate ten years of Dick’s.
“Happy anniversary,” he cooed. “We love you. Good decade, good decade, you guys. Well done. Seems like only yesterday that we were catching each other’s eye across the room, wondering if we should start this thing, glancing over.”
“‘You like Dick’s?'” Trey asked Page. “You like Dick’s?” he asked again, turning to Mike. “Still loving Dick’s,” he surmised on their behalf, laughing along with the crowd.
The band proceeded to pass around a towel, each member ceremonially blotting tears from his eyes before tossing it into the audience. “We’ll get it back from you in three days when it makes it all the way around,” Trey laughed. [Note: The CDC recommends that you probably shouldn’t share a sweat rag with tens of thousands of strangers at a Phish show, pandemic or otherwise].
Many fans have noticed that Phish has employed a shorter list of songs this summer, and that’s likely due to a conscious purge of the live repertoire. As Fishman told SiriusXM Phish Radio‘s Ari Fink ahead of the Deer Creek run, “I know that recently Trey went through the songlist and hacked a bunch of them out. I don’t even know which ones are missing. All my favorite songs are still there [laughs]. It’s not like I looked and was like, ‘Where the f— is ‘Pebbles and Marbles?!’ I’ll go to the mat for that one.” Fish finally got his wish on Friday as the band worked through the first 2021 rendition of the Round Room track.
While those on tour may be seeing songs multiple times, the tighter song rotation is paying dividends in jams. “Carini” got the call to close set one on Friday, marking its fifth appearance of the summer. Each of these “Carini” outings, however, has been unique and exciting, tugging the song in new directions. The extrapolation that rounded out set one added to the song’s already impressive 2021 resume with a multi-part voyage that moved from low-register dissonance through melodic advances and into dark, echoing submersion. After twisting into a web of atonal feedback loops around the 11-minute mark, Trey picked up a purposeful lick and rode it out to a cathartic peak. The landing back into the “Carini” theme was rocky, no doubt, but after 22 minutes of creative improv, it’s hard to complain about a little turbulence.
After set break, the band resumed the show with quick takes on “Rise/Come Together” and “A Song I Heard The Ocean Sing” before stepping back out into uncharted waters with “Chalk Dust Torture”.
Yet another song that has produced a number of great jams on this tour, the Dick’s “CDT” rode the momentum of an early Type I peak to a patient, meditative exploration as LD Chris Kuroda sent lights creeping and crawling behind them like something out of Stranger Things’ Upside Down.
Continuing the delicate, laid-back feel of the twenty-minute “Chalk Dust Torture” jam, Trey pushed the band into the ambient “Beneath A Sea of Stars Pt. 1”, the Ghosts of the Forest tune that’s been increasingly utilized by Phish as an outlet for the band’s more mellow, shapeless musical proclivities. Much like he did during the rendition at The Gorge, LD Chris Kuroda briefly turned off the lights to allow the crowd a moment to appreciate the natural beauty above them. This version took on more melodic direction than past outings, verging on “What’s The Use” territory before shifting into “Light”.
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After a few minutes of droning guitar synths and echoes from all directions, Gordon dropped into the strolling bass line of “Plasma” and the band quickly fell in behind him for the tour debut of the brooding Anastasio vamp. This version wasn’t content to sit still for long, however, as Trey began to inject “Party Time” lyrics over the “Plasma” instrumentation after just one verse.
Setting the tone by mixing calls of “party time” with “Plasma” lyrics “always end up where you start,” Anastasio kicked off a thrilling segment that saw the band mash-up “Plasma” with various parts of various songs from earlier in the set a la Deer Creek Night 3.
It’s hard to say exactly what song is being played when Mike is playing the “Plasma” bass part and singing “A Song I Heard The Ocean Sing”, Fishman is alternating between “Party Time” and “Chalk Dust” drums, and Trey is playing alternating bars of “Party Time” and “46 Days” while singing “Chalk Dust” mixed with “Plasma”, but it is easy to say that the whole segment was a lot of fun and worth revisiting.
Perhaps Mike’s echoing “run away, run away, run away” refrain from “ASIHTOS” provided the next anchor point for this free-association exercise as Trey guided the band into a dynamic “Runaway Jim”. Finally, yet another powerful 2021 rendition of “Slave To The Traffic Light” drove the set home.
With time to spare, the band returned for a pounding “Cavern” encore. While they could have called it there, Phish kept the show going with a gorgeous “Waste” before passing the mic to renowned Robert Plant impersonator Page McConnell for a closing cover of Led Zeppelin‘s “Good Times Bad Times”.
Good times, bad times, you know Phish Dick’s has had its share. Thankfully, after a pandemic-imposed year away in 2020, it’s a good time for good times in Commerce City once again. Happy anniversary, everybody. We love you all, and we surely love Dick’s.
Phish returns to Dick’s Sporting Goods Park for night two of three tonight, Saturday, September 4th. For a full list of upcoming Phish 2021 tour dates, head here.
Check out a gallery of photos from Night 1 below courtesy of photographer Andrew Rios.
Setlist: Phish | Dick’s Sporting Goods Park | Commerce City, CO | 9/3/21
Set One: 46 Days, Party Time, Steam, Timber (Jerry the Mule), Yarmouth Road, Foam, Vultures, Pebbles and Marbles, Carini
Set Two: Rise/Come Together > A Song I Heard the Ocean Sing > Chalk Dust Torture > Beneath a Sea of Stars Part 1 > Light -> Plasma -> Chalk Dust Torture, Runaway Jim, Slave to the Traffic Light
Encore: Cavern > Waste > Good Times Bad Times
Trey teased Fire (Ohio Players) in 46 Days and Party Time. No Men In No Man’s Land was teased by Trey in Party Time as well. Plasma contained Party Time quotes and 46 Days teases. The second Chalk Dust Torture included Plasma and A Song I Heard the Ocean Sing quotes. This was the rescheduled date from the show that had been postponed due to the coronavirus COVID-19 outbreak in 2020.