A Rocky Mountain High

DIck's 2014 (Andrea Nusinov)

Dick’s 2014 (Andrea Nusinov)

Phish capped the summer of 2014 with a triumphant three-night stand at Dick’s that far surpassed their accomplishments of late July and early August. In Denver, the band combined the deep jamming that shone at the start of summer with the whole-set flow and thoughtful setlist contours that they diligently sharpened during the second half of tour. The result was three flowing second sets that were coherent in make up and laced with top shelf jamming. By integrating their two foci of summer tour, Phish was able to craft shows that truly illustrated their growth of 2014. The Colorado shows provided a hopeful blueprint for what is coming on fall tour, while providing a three-night exclamation point to another summer of Phish.

Dick's Official (DKNG)

Dick’s Official (DKNG)

In Denver, second sets didn’t fizzle halfway through, segues were not abrupt, jams were not rip-corded nor oversaturated with rhythm work by Trey. Rather, sets were thought out and fluid, flowed from start to finish, were highlighted by multiple deep improvisations each night, and laced with a different Trey who broke out of his late-summer shell. In retrospect, Phish dedicated the second half of summer to improving their fluidity and tightening up their live show at the cost of massive jams, but if the ending point of this growth likens the flowing sets stacked with powerful jams at Dick’s, then the growing pains were very much worth it.

The Denver shows provided a fantastic bridge to fall, blowing away most of the band’s summer performances and providing a preview of big things in the channel for October. The band has finally reached the level of whole-show literacy for which we have been yearning. Last weekend’s sets had distinct contours with very few gratuitous songs. The band is finally finishing shows with a purpose—one of the biggest growths of summer—featuring significant jams and dramatic closers in the fourth quarter of shows. Each night in Denver could be used as an illustration of this trend, as the guys capped each show with something special—”Hood” “Fuego > Slave” and “Mike’s Song.” And this time they brought the jams too!

8/29 (Graham Lucas)

8/29 (Graham Lucas)

Beginning with “Simple,” the most developed and realized jam of the weekend, Trey broke out of his rhythm-only shell that had restricted the development of so many late summer jams. And when he broke out, he did it in huge fashion, peaking a longform “Simple” with calculated licks of splendor before leading the jam into a post-peak dance party that resembled a TAB show with its focus so squarely on Big Red. This jam felt like a breath of fresh air as Trey finally led the band to victory again. It clearly felt right to him, because he annihilated the peak of the subsequent “Ghost,” seemingly righting the ship for the weekend. The last standout of this set came in the final “Harry Hood” of summer—a dark-themed jam whose moment of transcendence occurred as Trey absolutely nailed the re-entry into “Hood’s” peak in very unconventional fashion. Friday’s show provided some incredible moments, however, the set of the weekend would take place the following night.

It is rare for Phish to jam their faces off while sequencing an entire second set in flawless fashion, but that’s what went down on Saturday night at Dick’s. As if shot out of a cannon at setbreak, the band responded to a rather standard opening frame with one of their most prolific sets of the year. Lacing together three highlight jams in “Disease,” “Carini” and “Light” with a “What’s the Use?” interlude and a “Slave” cap, Phish dropped a set plucked from a fantasy, and their playing stacked up to the eye-popping song list. Each of the three jams navigated unique musical planes, and each flowed quite well, musically speaking, from into one another. “Disease” provided a nice example of a standout 2014 group jam. And while Trey didn’t leap out in front of this one, his tone and directional play provided plenty of leadership in this jam as the band collectively worked their way into “What’s the Use?”

8/29 (Graham Lucas)

8/29 (Graham Lucas)

“Carini” provided the platform for Trey’s most triumphant playing and most vintage peak of the year. This was the type of guitar god throwdown that so many of us have been craving in a notably guitar-lite season. This eruption of Trey’s soul transformed into the moment of the weekend in a certifiable case of time-warp Phish. Trey tore a portal in the universe through which the show—and all of its participants ascended—elevating the performance into something far more than a rock concert. This was one of those spiritual peaks that leave one thunderstruck at what just happened. The band carried this energy into “Light,” departing from convention almost immediately and embarking on a multi-terrain, psychedelic trek. Trey’s powerful leads continued through this jam, as if he was inspired by “Carini,” and his creative flow continued. This extended excursion finally melted into a poignant “Slave” that punctuated an hour of non-stop jamming with a fast-paced, group-based rendition. The pairing of “Meatstick” and “Bold as Love” provided the most bizarrely perfect come down from such a cosmic voyage, and Trey graced Jimi’s cover with a stunning solo to conclude an incredible personal performance. Saturday was another in the growing list of timeless nights that seem to happen with a notable frequency in Commerce City, this time highlighted as much by the duration and consistency of top-shelf play as it was by any one jam.

The band closed the weekend with their most complete two-set show of the weekend, lending some gusto to the opening frame in the form of a rarity and copious contained jamming. “Curtain With” opened the show for the first time since 1988, “Wombat” and “Wolfmans Brother” both contained extended jam segments, “Winterqueen” and “Funky Bitch” came with some extra mustard, all helping create an enhanced first set vibe. But as usual, the plot truly unfolded after setbreak.

8/29 (Graham Lucas)

8/29 (Graham Lucas)

Phish opened their final set of summer with “Chalk Dust,” the song that could be considered the anthem of Summer ’14 as it has featured massive improvisations all season long. This was another fully competent version, though it didn’t separate itself from the pack of non-Randall’s renditions from this summer. “A lot of territory in a little time” might as well be the slogan for recent “Chalk Dust” jams, as more often than not the band doesn’t settle on a single space or theme, but rather hops from feel to feel in an ever-moving improvisation. This jam followed this trend to a tee, though the band moved even quicker than usual from one idea to another, compromising any real vertical build and pulling in short of several other versions from this summer. Two songs later came the final “Tweezer” of summer, a straight forward though totally well-played version. Trey started out with some slick rhythm work that allowed the band to create an engaging groove, but before too long he turned to a quasi-generic solo that brought the band into a more directional build. The more creative highlights of this set would come in its back half in the form of “Sand,” “Piper,” and “Mike’s Song.”

8/29 (Graham Lucas)

8/29 (Graham Lucas)

Perhaps because the initial two jams of the set didn’t reach full glory, the band took a mid-set turn for the abstract, favoring storage jam-like soundscapes in both “Sand” and “Piper.” “Sand” descended through a plinko-infused sequence after Trey briefly returned to “Tweezer’s” lick, and the process of deconstructing the jam brought about the highlight of the show. Note was how Fishman never left his the groove as his bandmates’ playing became increasingly abstract. “Piper” contained a bi-polar jam, favoring a beatless and amorphous vibe after a torrid opening section, as the band fully committed to a far out soundcsape before dripping into “Joy.” But the cherry on top of this visit to Dick’s came in the first jammed “Mike’s Song” of 3.0. Trey ditched his wanking solo and dove into some wah-infused rhythmic interplay and the band jumped right on board! Integrating the cowbell into his rhythms, Fish formed a tasty backbeat on which the band layered their dancy exchange. Trey then used his tape delay to add some more effects to the mix as the band stuck with this whole-band groove for the duration of the jam. Phish—at long last—played an original “Mike’s” jam in this era, and this certainly points to larger things from the song come fall.

Phish came to Denver and integrated what stood out on both halves of their summer tour—jamming and fluidity—to sculpt quite a memorable Labor Day weekend. The pieces all came together at Dick’s and the hindrances of summer seemed to dissolve in the mountain air. And as the community departed from Colorado for the short off-season, they did so with large smiles inspired by the music heard in the mountains. If Phish sticks with the blueprint of flowing sets chock filled with improv that was set in Commerce City, come fall we should be in for quite a two-week treat!

Dick's 20143 (Andrea Nusinov)

Dick’s 20143 (Andrea Nusinov)



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760 Responses to “A Rocky Mountain High”

  1. Driz Says:

    mike’s was really fun for sure, but Trey had the same approach in the 10/26/13 version – all funk chords on the wahwah and tape delay. No solo to speak of. This past weekend’s version was more realized with Fish’s cowbell and that mini breakdown he did. Crowd on the floor was pumped for this!!

  2. stapes Says:

    Yep St8 of Mind. Sunday is all about the rhythm section to me. Grooving.

  3. jtran Says:

    I think we’d all be surprised at the amount of people taht love 90 minutes of sing-along phish

  4. stapes Says:

    I agree Palmer. Just mixing it up a bit would go a long way.

    Curtain With opener made me very happy. Been wanting that all weekend.

  5. Sup Says:

    Wow great article. Maybe you should take your mouth off treys dick though. You might need to breathe.

  6. Kevin Says:

    I preffered night 3. Very good first set. Sand just smoked.

  7. HeadyBrosevelt Says:

    nice work on the cigs palmer. i used to smoke when i was partying, but i have not had one since april 6- closing day of our little local ski area. and it feels good.

  8. Jsf3000 Says:

    A lot of 1st set haters out there. Just fucking enjoy yourselves and quit being a bunch of whiney dicks.

  9. HeadyBrosevelt Says:

    my only gripe about sunday is that there was a joy were my billy breathes should have been. ha! if trey wanted me to be happy he would have played billy in that spot.

  10. MrCompletely Says:

    them Nusinov pix come out interesting but she’s using more filters than Garcia in a ’78 Fire on the Mountain

  11. Stoney Case Says:

    Whale, I agree on the W songs. Figured that was for Waterwheel Mattys birthday nod

  12. HeadyBrosevelt Says:

    the whole run was amazing. it is hard for me to pick a favorite night. the simple >ghost from night one was my kind of phish; the flow and song choice of night two was a true psychedelic journey; chalkdust, tweezer>sand>piper, mikes groove satisfied the soul- tough call for me.

  13. jonacho Says:

    I agree – the whole run had highlights, and that is part of what made it such a good weekend. Each night had some real standout elements that made the 3 nights come together – similar to Dicks 12.

  14. btb Says:

    Simple>Ghost … Sand>Tweezer>Piper … Disease WUT? Carini Light…

    Damn. Wish I was there. Howdy y’all.

  15. HeadyBrosevelt Says:

    here is my best arty dicks


    with ’12 and ’14 being very close- hard to call. i am a sucker for the fyf show.

  16. Stoney Case Says:

    Friday for Stash and I was a lot like the ‘S’ show for friends of Scotty. Really an awesome, heavy, surreal, healing, painful experience. Luciungton

    Really impressed and happy with the run and Trey and Phish.

  17. MiA Says:

    We want you to be happy!

    I think Trey plays Joy just to say that to the crowd. At least I like to think that.

  18. little umbrellas Says:

    Nice write up Miner. Good stuff. Probably good to keep expectations in check though. Stuff like:
    “The band has finally reached the level of”
    …I think is a little dangerous. Not sure Phish will ever plateau at a level of consistent top shelf jamming and flow. Pretty sure we’ll still see duds. But savor those great moments!!

    Thanks for all of this Miner. Good work.

  19. Mr.Miner Says:

    ^ its been a long haul. time to celebrate that they have finally nailed down their second set flow.

  20. MiA Says:

    To me, it seems Phish feels comfortable doing whatever they want at Dick’s, and that these shows are almost mini-festivals, and not “normal” concerts.

    I definitely felt that way at Deer Creek often. Like there was Phish, then there was Phish at Deer Creek.

    Phish, and Phish in Colorado at Dicks.

  21. HeadyBrosevelt Says:

    i actually enjoyed that joy- i was blissed out. guilty pleasure.

  22. MiA Says:

    Hood > WTU. Pretty fantastic too… The Hood is ethereal.



  23. tela's_muff Says:

    excellent recap Miner. loved your approach to summer reviews (although we have to get you comfortable with Chicago somehow). also love that you gave that Dicks Funky Bitch some love. i really had a blast getting down to it. been a long time since i felt that kind of excitement for that song.

  24. Mr.Miner Says:

    chicago was clunky. kind of a pivot of summer when they stopped focusing as much on jams and more on set fluidity. they still busted the wombat, light, hood, wedge and ghost though, so jams still existed. Just didn’t think the shows came off that tight less the 3rd one.

  25. MiA Says:

    The band was very fluid. contains way more fluid than Jeff Beck…

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