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.
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!
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?”
“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.
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.”
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!