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. vapebraham Says:

    “Infidels (like how this one sounds. raw, heartfelt)”

    ^^^ to clarify: this comment is regard to his singing and emotionality.

  2. Mr.Miner Says:

    You know what is funny, the ’97 Walnut Creek Mikes actually sounds a bit like the ’14 Dicks Simple.

    ^ cmon. nothing that happened in that simple can touch that walnut creek mike’s imo

  3. vapebraham Says:

    “like how this one sounds” was in regard to the musical accompaniment.

  4. MiA Says:

    I agree with Miner again. All this classics comparison is kinda funny.

    “Best Ghost since Grey Hall” sort of stuff.

    Calm down. Trey just stepped on a pedal. Don’t blow your wads on that. He has a long way to go.

  5. Max Says:

    His style is just very different now. He isn’t going to play guitar like that Mike’s EVER AGAIN. What we have is a guitarist in a completely different era of his life playing very different but still extremely interesting music.

    I think it is quite valid to say, “Hey, this sounds like an evolution/interpretation of the way he played this one jam on this date in the 90s.” That doesn’t mean its better or worse, it’s just a connection.

  6. MiA Says:

    Dylan could write songs, he just can’t sing them.

    Tzara’s is a huge Dylan fan and I’m just trying to lure him out of lurking mode.

    Instead of going out, the Sales guy wanted to hit the embassy suites “happy hour” which meant Molson Canadian beer.

    Talk about a Dick punch. I excused myself from dinner to watch bad football.

    Felt healthy today until 3 8 oz pours of that shitty beer.

  7. MiA Says:

    I respect that Max. Glad to see a de-lurker throw out some smart Phishthoughts. Don’t mind me. I’m surly.

  8. lumpyhead Says:

    flying lotus & thundercat two weeks after Vegas, nice.

  9. BooVT Says:

    I like Molson Canadian. Especially during hockey season.

  10. jdub Says:

    For one, I’m shooting the shit on a message board about Phish. So everything I say is generally tongue in cheek to some degree.

    But I will say with confidence that the closing funk jam of that Simple has shades of the opening funk jam of the Walnut Mikes. Not trying to compare in any other way other than recognizing that what we hear today originated from ideas in the past. So there will always be a connective thread to every era in modern Phish. And I love trying to hear that connective thread when I listen. Nothing more, nothing less than that.

  11. phishm Says:

    Everything I say on here is completely serious. I don’t know what you are all talking about. Please take me literally at all times.

  12. jdub Says:

    Plus, I love a good troll (meant or not) that gets the embers burning and discussion going.

  13. Max Says:

    More connective tissue->

    @Mr. Miner – Did you notice Trey try to get into that “Soul-emoting” (as you called it in your retrospective a few weeks ago) melody in the Dick’s chalkdust? Respin and check it out – he mostly backs off on it when the rest of the band doesn’t start peaking it, but its definitely in there.

  14. Max Says:

    Quick aside – I am a guitar player and I learned the “Soul-emoting” riff (its actually fairly straight-forward). I also try to throw it into jams with my band but its VERY DIFFICULT. It requires just the right backing and feel to not sound out-of-place and I have a lot more respect for the Camden chalkdust now.

    This also might explain why he can’t just bust that shit out on command…

  15. phishm Says:

    Funny you say that Max. I’ve been wearing out that Chalkdust today. 4 listens may not be enough. Such an amazing tone. It’s like Canadian beer. Can’t do just one.

  16. stapes Says:

    “Dylan could write songs, he just can’t sing them.”

    ^^^i understand where people are coming from not liking his voice. But, man I love it. His phrasing for me is what it’s all about. The way he can just deliver a line and knock you flat. At least me, that is.

  17. stapes Says:

    Yeeeeeeeeediot Wind

  18. vapebraham Says:

    Ravens coach said in press conference that he hopes they work it out as a couple. What!!!??? Why would he go there? The best advice is for that woman to run far, far away from RR. To suggest otherwise is ludicrous and ignorant.

  19. vapebraham Says:

    I’m with u, stapes, re. Dylan’s singing in his heyday. Singular, unique, gripping.

  20. dorn76 Says:

    So should I shit all over your good time, or keep the bad news to myself?

    Serious question. Oh crap I already ruined it.

  21. jdub Says:

    oh man Dorn.

  22. dorn76 Says:

    Bad enough that I am not caught up on the BB. This has happened one other time since ’09.


  23. dorn76 Says:

    Yeah man. I’m gonna text Gdad.

    Sorry guys.

  24. vapebraham Says:

    What happened prince of dorn? U okay?

  25. phishm Says:

    What’s up man? Wasn’t really having a good time. What ya got?

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