When Phish dropped “You Enjoy Myself” halfway through the first set, albeit a surprise, it felt totally out of place. They had just slayed an extended “Carini” that immediately vaulted into the elite versions of all time, and all of a sudden we were headed for a vocal jam? Nonetheless, Phish was on fire and throwing IT down. Halfway through “Ocelot,” my friend told me a theory someone had just hatched: the band was spelling “Fuck Your Face” with the first letter of each song. My first reaction was, “Really? Yeah, right.” Then we quickly went through the setlist—“First Tube,” “Uncle Pen,” “Carini,” “YEM,” Ocelot.” Really!? It seemed like a brilliant idea—referencing the “S” set from the first night at Dick’s last year—and I immediately believed. If the band played “Undermind” next, it was clearly going down. And boy did they ever play “Undermind!” Closing the first set with a staggering piece of cathartic improvisation, Phish wrote last night’s “Undermind” into the record books. With an uplifting piece of utter bliss, the band stamped a divine exclamation point on one of the best first sets of all time—and the setlist spelled “F.U.C.K.Y.O.U.”
It was one of those magical nights that only happen in Gamehendge; one of those shows that we will never forget; one that will live in legend forever. Drenched with jamming of the highest level—including two excursions in “Undermind” and “Chalk Dust” that easily flirt with the loftiest jams in band history—the first night at Dick’s 2012 contained more masterful improvisation than several “normal” shows combined. The guys were as thrilled to be in Colorado as much as we were, illustrated by their “Phish Love Dick’s” vocal jam in “YEM.” Trey was notably on from his solo in “First Tube,” and he played as well he ever has all night long. The entire band swam in IT throughout the show, cranking out mystical, uplifting music for the duration. Following a late-summer trend of bliss jams, the band added two of their best to date last night with “Undermind” and—easily— the greatest “Chalk Dust” ever played. Phish feels great these days, as Trey admitted openly on Denver’s KBCO yesterday morning, and that feeling is permeating their music. With every jam last night, Phish reached points of rapture and exhilaration, sculpting their most spiritually significant night of music in memory.
At setbreak, everyone hypothesized how the band would spell “R.F.A.C.E.” in the second half. My call was “Rock and Roll > Free, Crosseyed > Esther,” but I wound up going 0-4 in my guesses, which was all part of the face-fucking theme of the evening. Starting out the set with the first long-form “Runaway Jim” since Miami ’03 (but that was slop, so really, the E Center on 7.3.2000), the band dropped an exploratory epic that touched on incredibly diverse feels from wah-clav ’97 dance-funk to ambient, etheral realms. About halfway through, the band “reset” the jam into groove, and from that point out, it only grew in grandeur. Reaching several remarkable planes, the guys continued to gravitate towards the euphoric at every opportunity. An exploration that likened the old days, but with the music of Phish 2012, this one couldn’t have been a bigger surprise. After playing “Farmhouse,” however, Phish set up the prank of the night.
Building a several minute ambient intro, it was all but clear that “Also Sprach Zarathustra”—better known as “2001”—would be the next song. But throwing a left hook that nobody saw coming, the band dropped into “Alaska!” Causing a collective groan from much of the audience, the fake out was an incredibly Phishy maneuver. It soon became part of the joke—the band played the best show of the year with “Farmhouse” and “Alaska” in the middle of the second set! When the guys kicked into “Chalk Dust” for “C,” they simply unveiled the best version of all-time. If you love Phish, and you love inspired guitar playing from one, Trey Anastasio, this jam is as good as it gets. Connecting on every level—another theme of the night—the band improvised out of the end of the song and into heaven. Combined with “Undermind,” these two pieces have instantly earned plaques in the Hall of Fame that are being chiseled as I type. This music was the stuff of dreams. Highlighted by four magnificent jams—totaling a ludicrous 68 minutes of top-shelf Phish—the band’s music spoke for itself last night; an aural revelation of the highest degree. And the face-fucking wasn’t over.
At setbreak, the only song anyone could think of that started with “E” was “Esther”—an odd closer, but what else could they play? As fans were catching their breath from an intergalactic “Chalk Dust,” the guys started the Rolling Stones “Emotional Rescue” for the first time since September 30, 2000! After spelling it out, the band closed the set with “Fuck Your Face,” a song that I thought would be the encore. But Phish came out to a with a double encore of “Grind” and “Meatstick,” a pairing that put a comical twist on the theme of the night.
A combination of the mountain air, the great energy of the crowd and the end of a spectacular summer converged to cause a musical bolt of lighting last night in Colorado. And nobody can wait to get back into that soccer stadium tomorrow night! This has been a special year for Phish, and they are capping it with their most impressive playing of the season. It has been a blessing to watch the band climb back to prominence since 2009, and to see them reaching new heights, never previously touched, is the greatest reward one could ever ask for.
I: First Tube, Uncle Pen, Carini, Kill Devil Falls, You Enjoy Myself, Ocelot, Undermind
II: Runaway Jim > Farmhouse > Alaska, Chalk Dust Torture, Emotional Rescue > Fuck Your Face
Encore: Grind, Meatstick