Armed with a devastating setlist and a centerpiece jam for the ages, Phish annihilated Dick’s for a second straight night, playing a show that stepped onto the top shelf of 2012. After Friday night, few could imagine how the band would follow a performance of such magnitude, but they did just fine and then some. Centering the show on a sublime 45-minute sequence of “Golden Age > Caspian > Light,” the band not only met their level of creativity on display on night one, but in the course of a single jam, surpassed it. I’m not sure where “Light” might fall on a Top Ten all-time jams list, but one can be sure its on there! Phish seems to have found a new home out here in the Rockies, feeling comfortable to let loose and tap into the source on a nightly basis, and the results have been nothing short of astounding.
A recap of a show that opened with “Antelope” for the first time since 1990, and featured a significant “Tweezer” in the first set would presumably lead with the opening half. But on a night when Phish played one of the greatest jams I have ever witnessed, first things must come first. Even a staggering second-set-opening couplet of “Golden Age” and, arguably, the greatest “Caspian” ever played must wait, because on this night, “Light” stole the entire show. Since the beginning of 2012, no song has consistently broke new ground than the metaphysical anthem, but last night, Phish used the modern vehicle to showcase where they are, musically, right now—and that place is Shangri-La. It’s been ages since the band has played such emotionally moving music on a routine basis. The level of interplay and communication between band members, at this point, is dialed in to the point of subconscious, and when everything clicks, “Light” happens.
Fusing just about everything they do into a single, all-encompassing jam, Phish unveiled a timeless piece of music that floored everyone in the stadium. When the band dropped into their modern staple for the final time of summer with astonishing momentum, everyone know we were in for something special. The band had been locked into IT since they stepped afoot Dick’s stage, but this was something else altogether; this was Phish at the most supreme level. Flowing between feels—never stagnant, but seeing ideas to fruition—the guys held nothing back. At one point, as they were deep into the excursion and slaying IT like we’ve never seen, it felt like they might just continue jamming forever and we’d all just transcend together; our own 2012 arrival. The energy that moved between the stage and every one in the stadium was so tangible—as the late WWF announcer, Gorilla Monsoon once said, “You could cut it with a knife!” This jam—musically and metaphysically—realized the meaning of Phish. Soaring through the universe on a flawless soundtrack, everyone felt locked into IT; the entire experience grew into something far larger than the magical music pouring from stage. But the music is stuff of instant legend. Seductive groove? Check. Percussive wonderment? Check. Bliss? Check. Darkness? Check. Totally original music? Check. Fluid, full-band rock peak? Check. And on and on and on. Honestly, I’ve heard this four times already, and damn if not’s one of the greatest moments in the history of Phish.
But before the band even started the jam, they provided all sorts of musical adventure in “Golden Age” and “Prince Caspian.” When Phish played “Golden Age” amidst a weekend that feels like a celebration of all they’ve accomplished in this era, the cover had never felt so poignant. Perhaps the guys felt similarly, because they tore off a torrid chunk of music upon splashing into the jam. Not settling in pure funk, but moving into a more driving groove, the band shifted into “effortless” territory, where the music seemed to flow through them more so than from them. Pushing into uncharted waters, one could feel how “on” the guys were, and it reflected in the cohesion of their improv. And while the band was feeling IT, why not drop an all-time “Prince Caspian” that quickly challenged, if not vaulted over, Albany ‘97’s sprawling version to claim top billing? When the band has the Hose turned on full blast within an exploration of “Prince Caspian” (!?), one knew something momentous was going down; anybody in that soccer stadium can attest.
Instead of ending the song, the guys built out of the grungy feel of “Caspian” and into a seething jam of Sith-Phish. Blanketed in effects and layers of sonic sorcery, the music turned to the dark side the band showed that bliss isn’t the only direction they can move these days. Blossoming into heavy metal-esque territory without losing a semblance of groove, the guys virtuoso jamming took on a life of its own in “Caspian,” growling in monstrous form and enveloping the entire crowd. Sounding as if they might jam back into “Tweezer,” the band, instead, turned for the “Light,” and the rest is history.
Phish cooled down from this monstrous stretch of improv with a string of crowd favorites in “Boogie On,” “The Wedge,” and “Horse > Silent,” before dropping a “Mike’s Song” that few, if anyone, saw coming. Using Led Zeppelin’s “No Quarter” to bridge the “Groove,” the surprises kept coming in a weekend that is growing in stature with each passing set. And for that matter, let’s peak at the first.
When Phish fired up the Denver crowd by opening the show with “Run Like an Antelope” for the first time since January 26, 1990, the set immediately continued surprise vibe left by Friday night’s face-fucking. And another unexpected twist came when the guys unfolded a multi-tiered “Tweezer”—Leg Two’s “Comeback Player of Tour”—that finished its season in style. Building a village of groove, the band started the jam with smooth rhythmic interplay that set a lampin’ tone early on. Sitting within this musical molasses for some time before Trey’s took a solo, the band seemed on the brink of ending a solid first setter when they jammed right through the end of the song into a couple minutes of ambient-groove denouement. Filling the rest of the set with spicy renditions of well-selected songs, the band slammed down an action-packed opening frame that set the table for the musical drama to follow.
Phish can do no wrong right now, dropping into stunning jams at any time they choose. Locked in a Jordanian musical zone as they come to the close of Summer Tour, the guys are letting things hang out in their final shows until New Year’s Run. With one more to savor before we break for a while, the band is on top of the world, and they’ve brought all of us along.
I: Run Like an Antelope, Backwards Down the Number Line, Tweezer > Fluffhead, Roses Are Free, Funky Bitch, The Moma Dance, When the Circus Comes, Theme From the Bottom > Golgi Apparatus, Stealing Time From the Faulty Plan
II: Golden Age > Prince Caspian > Light, Boogie On Reggae Woman, The Wedge, The Horse > Silent in the Morning, Mike’s Song > No Quarter > Weekapaug Groove
E: Sleeping Monkey > Tweezer Reprise