Phish stepped to Broomfield’s undersized arena in over-sized fashion last night, torching the building with two scintillating sets of music. Beginning from note one, last night’s show boasted a polar opposite vibe of the tour opener, flowing unflappably through the most impressive first set in eons and winding an adventurous path through a second set filled with twists and turns. Compiling a setlist that could make eyes bleed, Phish got back to business in earnest on Monday night, foreshadowing a fall run that will bring the band further down the unforged wilderness of the modern era.
The opening frame read like a page from the Phish canon, from the “Runaway Jim, “Foam” opening combo to the late-set “Halley’s > Tweezer” and everything in between. Following the clean and crisp beginning, “Wolfman’s” got the meat of the first frame underway with snapping, collaborative dance rhythms that stoked a fire of groove in the band which continued for the duration of the show. Piggybacking on the swank excursion, Phish went right ahead and dropped a divine “Reba” that brought the show to a colossal peak very early on. A dynamic version that sprinted right past the several”Rebas” of summer, its likeness in this era may not be found. Treating the piece with utmost delicacy, the band came out incredibly gently, worked cohesively from the start to create an intricate ocean of bliss. As the piece gained momentum, so did Trey, leading the band with an emotional solo that carried them to monumental heights, pushing through the song’s apparent peak to yet a higher plane of sonic sorcery.
And just when it seemed Phish might insert a breather into the set, instead they dropped into the hallowed combo of “Halley’s > Tweezer.” The short launch pad carried a certain tempo and energy that spilled directly into the next massive peak of the opening half – “Tweezer.” Surprising everyone with its first set appearance, “Tweezer” delivered the message that nobody would be waking us from this first-set dream. As Phish splashed into the jam with a laid-back rain forest of funk, Mike grabbed the lead while Trey came in with a set of low-key rhythm licks before stepping to the forefront with a pimped-out, bluesy solo that Page comped masterfully. Clicking with the same semblance of groove that drenched the entire first frame, Trey gradually led this “Tweezer” into more climactic territory with the entire band locked at his hip. Taking the classic version through charted but highly dramatic waters, Phish built an intense, old-school incarnation of their seminal launchpad, all the way down to the gradual “wind-down” ending. Fitting perfectly with the theme of the set, “Tweezer” brought a darker counterpoint to “Reba’s” lucid dream.
And after a sluggish Gordon debut – “What Things Seem” – that combined the sounds of “Spock’s Brain” and “Fikus,” Phish got right back to the their catalog of greatest hits, punctuating the set with the combination of “Squirming Coil,” and “Antelope,” with a hearty emphasis placed on the intense and jazzy set closer. Phew! And that was only the end of the first half? That’s what the clock said, so everyone hunkered down for a whole ‘nother set of Phish. Sometimes after the band drops such a crushing opening frame, the second set becomes an afterthought. But that was not the case last night in Colorado, as the band came out to play another set that continued to light up the 1st Bank Center, including a to-die-for “Twist” that provided the unquestionable highlight of the show.
As Trey began strumming the to open the set, one could barely make out the beginning of…”Golden Age?!” Out of the blue the Phish’s one-time cover of the indie, electro-pop outfit, TV On the Radio, came soaring back into play, kicking off the second set with a celebratory vibe. Playing the piece far more crisply than last fall in Albany, the band shot everyone with 1000 cc’s of adrenaline to the dome while initiating a three-piece musical puzzle. Riding on and the cathartic melodies the song, Phish extended their take this time around, providing a gorgeous structured jam and then continuing the piece after the lyrical refrain. Deconstructing the jam into a percussive canvas that continued to move further away from “Golden Age,” Phish morphed into a shimmering, ambient outro and moved seamlessly into “Piper.”
Bursting with energy as soon as the lyrics subsided, the band tore into this piece with passion, moving as a single entity through a multiverse of musical density. Blazing an aggressive path of one-minded music that featured a subtle, high-speed nod to “Guy Forget,” Phish packed a wallop within a succinct piece, proving again that the length of their jams are meaningless at this point in their career. Soon after the band peaked the blistering affair and broke it down into an alternate canvas, Trey coyly slid in the opening lick to “Camel Walk” and the band was right on top of it, converging to form a seamless surprise segue. The musical molasses of “Camel Walk” brought the set’s opening sequence to a close, but the night’s best music was yet to come.
Phish inserted “Alaska” as a mid-set cool down before re-upping the show’s proclivity to groove with “Jibboo.” More of a showcase for Trey than anything else, “Jibboo” fit within the feel of the show and got the crowd moving again with a lengthy stretch of straight-ahead rhythmic calisthenics. As the jam moved forth, Trey grew more creative with his offerings, bringing some melodic diversity to the largely, one-dimensional song. Taking “Jibboo” to the top with relentless guitar leads, Trey brought the band from the dance crescendo into a “Velvet Sea” that he laced with particularly soulful playing, transcending any standard version of the ballad. With a slot set up perfectly for “You Enjoy Myself,” the band made a far wiser choice, dropping into the hands-down highlight of the show – and this young fall tour – in a masterful “Twist.”
Setting sail into an improvisational matrix, Phish slid into an emphatically slowed down groove in which all four members connected in the type of virtuoso improvisation we dream about. Oozing into a fully locked and ultra-patient groove, the band converged in a dripping psychedelic fantasy that evoked true magic for the first time this tour. Playing off each others’ ideas as if reading minds, Trey and Page formed a melodic pairing that combined with Fishman and Gordon’s slicker-than-ever pocket, forming the standout moment of Colorado thus far. Taking a deep dive late in the set, not only was “Twist’s” placement a surprise, the jam shocked and persuaded souls to ignite throughout the intimate venue. Skillfully steering the murky improv to back to the end of the song, minds were left in puddles on the floor after the final note.
Albeit a somewhat sloppy version, “Fluffhead” brought a boisterous final peak to the set before an randomly placed “Number Line” provided an afterthought to a redonkulous evening of Phish. And to close the show, another nugget of classic lore – “Monkey,” “Reprise” – and all was good for the night. Some evenings of Phish just pop more than others, and the second show of fall did just that. Taking giant steps forward from night one, and leaving night three hanging on the brink, fall tour is just getting underway. Hop on for the ride…
I: Runaway Jim, Foam, Back on the Train, Wolfman’s Brother, Reba, Halley’s Comet > Tweezer, What Things Seem*, The Squirming Coil, Run Like an Antelope
II: Golden Age > Piper > Camel Walk, Alaska, Gotta Jibboo, Wading in the Velvet Sea, Twist, Fluffhead, Backwards Down the Number Line
E: Sleeping Monkey > Tweezer Reprise