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. phishm Says:

    Love me some Desolation Row. I was actually watching that new Hobbit movie a few days back and of course it reminded me of that song.

  2. MrCompletely Says:

    Simple Twist is a very very powerful song. @Irie, that sounds like maybe you don’t know Blood on the Tracks? It is by far the most, ah, “listenable” Dylan album out of the whole catalog. I cannot recommend it highly enough.

    Really wish Jerry’d done Idiot Wind a couple times. Meet Me In the Morning and Buckets of Rain two of my top Dylan album cuts.

  3. HeadyBrosevelt Says:

    @ricks- desolation row may be my favorite dylan tune of all time, just not my favorite cover by the dead. highway 61 is arguably dylan’s greatest album- it is bookended by like a rolling stone and desolation row- holy fucking shit.

  4. RicksFork Says:

    Second the Blood on the Tracks rec @C. Love Shelter from the Storm. Not sure what to expect from Dylan live anymore, but couldn’t pass it up. Saw him a the State Theatre in Portland Maine in ’96 and it was awesome. A few Dead tunes at that one.

  5. RicksFork Says:

    I hear ya Heady. Maybe my love of it clouded my judgment of it as a dead cover, but the first version I heard was from a dead bootleg I had when I was 15 and it has been super special to me ever since.

  6. RicksFork Says:

    Uh oh, looks like I started Dylanthoughts.

  7. IrieWalton Says:

    Oh, I definitely know Blood on the Tracks @ C. I’m just terrible at remembering exactly where certain songs appear in an artist’s discography. Dylan, Miles Davis, and Phish got me through college, frankly.

    Without those geniuses’ takes on art and culture for my naive self to listen to, relate to, etc. I don’t know where I would be at this point in my life.

  8. MrCompletely Says:

    Shelter From the Storm a work of genius. Love the ending. Crazy. Better story than 95% of oscar winning movies. Same for “Lily, Rosemary and the Jack opf Hearts” and heist films.

  9. Sex&City Says:

    is there any copies of Trey with the Colorado Symphony Orchestra 2/28/2012… with any good quality?

  10. phishm Says:

    I just found this Sex.


  11. phishm Says:

    I wonder how many folks hesitate to click on that link. Didn’t come out right. Maybe add a & after Sex.

  12. Sex&City Says:

    @Phishm… are you kidding??!?!? I clicked right away not even realizing that was for me!

  13. Max Says:

    Testing my new gravatar…

    Carry on with your random discussions. I will deal because I am apparently in the minority.

    thanks for the welcome, though. Appreciate it. Also, yay SF/Vegas!

  14. stapes Says:

    Funny. Been listening to Blood on the Tracks all weekend in the car. Hadn’t spent any time with that album in awhile. Genius for sure.

    Tough to pick a fave Dead Dylan cover. Love the whole of Garcia Plays Dylan. Tough Mama up there. Always liked a good rendition of Queen Jane. Of course Jerry crooning Tangled always hit me hard.

  15. HeadyBrosevelt Says:

    in general, deadheads love blood on the tracks. even deadheads who are not into dylan, love blood on the tracks.

    @ricks- i saw dylan shortly after jerry died. he came out wearing a ten gallon cowboy hat and played some for jerry: peggy o, watchtower, tangled up in blue, forever young, alambama getaway, and friend of the devil. there were lots of stoked hippies at that show.

  16. Sex&City Says:

    @phishm… Thats what I’ve been listening too but if there was any quality recordings of it… it would be DOPE!

  17. stapes Says:

    I don’t think I could even pick one favorite Dylan album. Each have their time, place and overall mood.

  18. HeadyBrosevelt Says:

    i have stated this on here before, but i love seeing dylan live. i have seen him numerous times and i always have a blast. i told this dude once that i never saw a bad dylan show. he told me i was full of shit. ha!

  19. IrieWalton Says:

    Also, this might get some eye rolls, but I loved Dylan’s often overlooked album “Self Portrait”.

    Some quality tracks on there, too.

  20. MrCompletely Says:

    planet waves def my overall fav Dylan album

    when I saw Dylan in Eugene in the late ’90s he talked about how “I never was a hippie myself…but they made me an honorary hippie” & played NFA as well as a couple other nice kickdowns

    highlights were still Don’t Think Twice & Boots of Spanish Leather though. Nice clean versions with not too much random re-interpretation.

  21. stapes Says:

    I agree Heady. His constant rearranging of old classics is what does it for me. His backing band always rips. He’s got swagger for days. And if you know the lyrics you can at least partially understand 😉

  22. MrCompletely Says:

    I’ve def seen some bad Dylan sets. Mostly opening for the Dead in the 80s. Yeeech

  23. Sex&City Says:

    @Heady… since I have tix for him playing here in CO… I hope I don’t see a da show either.

  24. HeadyBrosevelt Says:

    i agree with you stapes. i change my mind all of the time. and to be honest, when i play dylan now, i usually put on his newer material. time out of mind, tempest, modern times, love and theft, together through life. i love the shit.

  25. MrCompletely Says:

    or not “opening” but the co-headliner shows & ones with the boys as his band. RFK ’86 he was the tweener between Petty and the Dead. Def the worst Dead show I ever saw AND the worst Dylan show I ever saw.

    Still had fun. Was 17 and on the road.

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