Phish at Dick's Sporting Goods Park in Commerce City, 8/31/12 - 9/2/12
Eric Gruneisen Phish's Trey Anastasio at Dick's Sporting Goods Park this past weekend.
PHISH @ DICK'S SPORTING GOODS PARK | 8/31/12 - 9/2/12
Telluride '88, Red Rocks '94 and Denver '97 -- these aren't just places and years to Phish fans. They're monuments, pivotal parts of Phish's Colorado legacy. Out of nearly eighty concerts that the band has played in the Centennial state and more than 1,578 shows in all, they represent high points of the band's career and various peaks of their musical eras. This past weekend, Phish showed over three nights that after nearly 24 years touring in Colorado, they still have the stuff of legend.
Whereas the opener of a show is often like an icebreaker, Phish's choice of "First Tube" on Friday night was like kicking in the door of a party with a megaphone screaming, "I'M FUCKING HERE!" Not that it was a clue as to what was to come in terms of the setlist, but the band certainly laid down the foundation for the rest of the night stretching the tune to a lengthy nine minute buildup to the screaming feedback and loop outro.
Not letting the energy drop at all, guitarist Trey Anastasio blasted into one of only two cover songs for the night, Bill Monroe's "Uncle Pen." Bluegrass in Colorado is never a bad idea, obviously. It began to sink in about halfway through the fourteen-minute "Carini," as the band moved from one of their most metal, power-chord arena rocker to a beautiful, spacey and jam that completely left the original crunchy structure: The first letters of the first three songs are F-U-C.
Eric Gruneisen Phish at Dick's Sporting Goods Park this past weekend.
Are they doing it again? Fuck me! They are. Nearly a year after starting out the Denver run with an entirely "S" set of songs, the band was once again in on a joke and it was up to us to figure it out. "Kill Devil Falls" sealed the deal. It was fucking on, whatever it was. And so was the band, who, like most people observed, hadn't played like this in years. Though the song selection was somewhat erratic, the group was in a constant groove all night with drummer Jon Fishman really pushing the rhythms and forcing the band to create around him, as opposed to dropping off early into spacey cymbals.
If you weren't in on the joke at this point, McConnell made it clear when he thanked the crowd and said how happy they were to be back for a second year in a row: "We love Dick's. We do." Anastasio's rolling lead into a "You Enjoy Myself" that spanned nineteen minutes (!) and went into a vocal jam that showcased how goofy this band can be. Anastasio started it out with, "I love Dick's, you love Dick's, we love Dicks's," and the rest of the band quickly caught on in singing the praises of Dick's until finally cracking one another up repeating "Trey loves Dick's."
Guesses began to float around as to what the band was spelling out. There were a few other random ideas, like "Fuck your Signs", in relation to the people holding up signs for the last few years for songs; "Fuck your Dicks," for the obvious juvenile humor; and even "Fuck you Mitt Romney" -- seriously overheard from some guy a few rows up.
Eric Gruneisen The scene at Dick's this past weekend during Phish's three-night stand in Commerce City.
But the two most realistic ideas: It was either going to be tonge-in-cheeck Fuck You to someone in particular, or (more likely) the band was going to spell out a very rare and old Phish song, "Fuck Your Face." The tune was captured on the band's White Tape demo from the early '80s. By most accounts, it was only played once in April of 1987, before being shelved for 23 years, until it resurfaced in 2010 in Charlotte, North Carolina of all places.
And so for the second year in a row, the rest of the show became a guessing game. But instead of only "What song will they pull out next that starts with this letter?" but now: "What letter will it be? Some songs were easier to pick than others, like "Ocelot" and "Undermind" to round out the "YOU" and the rest of the first set.
But they weren't just filler, both were face-fuckingly long versions of two relatively new songs (in the grand scheme of things). "Undermind," in particular, took off about seven minutes in and became something completely outside of itself for another seven or eight minutes until Anastasio thanked the crowd and the band bowed out to end a fucking awesome first set.
The selection for second-set openers - if the "Fuck Your Face" thing were to pan out - was narrow. Was it going to be "Reba" or "Ramble on" or "Ride Captain Ride"? Or maybe "Rip this Joint" or "Rock and Roll" or "Rift" or "Roggae" or what about "Run Like an Antelope"? Nope. How about a sizzling, twenty-minute "Runaway Jim" instead? Fucking-a, right.
Two words down, one to go.
"Farmhouse" wouldn't have been anyone's top choice for the next song - maybe a "Fluffhead" or a "Funky Bitch" or a rare "Fly Famous Mockingbird" without "Col. Forbin's" in front of it. But "Farmhouse" it was, and fuck you if you don't like it, they were going to play it - and jam it the fuck out in one of the more creative musical moments of the evening.
Eric Gruneisen Phish bassist Mike Gordon at Dick's Sporting Goods Park this past weekend.
In ten minutes, they went from Anastasio's Vermont country crooner about cluster flies and northern lights to the rumbling spaceship takeoff formations of "2001," a cover of a (classical) cover which is technically titled "Also Sprach Zarathustra." Bassist Mike Gordon picked up on it and began thundering on the low end and even cuing light director (and so-called fifth member of the band) Chris Kuroda to crank the fog machines and kick the lights into hyperdrive.
But in a good-natured "fuck that" to what was becoming the obvious direction for the next song, Anastasio turned to the talk-back mike behind him around the time when Fishman would begin the signature funky beat to "2001," said something to the band with a wicked smile, and then completely changed directions into "Alaska".
"Chalkdust Torture" has been a fuck you song forever and only made sense as their choice for the "C" song. "Can't this wait 'till I'm old, can't I live while I'm young?" has taken on a different slant as the band grows older - but as long as they play like they did last night, they keep the music fresh and young even for those of us seeing them for fifteen years or more. The band began to abandon the song about five or six minutes in, with Gordon thumping out what sounded like teases for "Slave to the Traffic Light" at one point and a few teases from McConnell and Anastasio for "Esther" - the most likely choice for the next song.
But fuck your expectations. Phish threw them all out of the window for the last three hours, why would you have expected anything different now? Instead, the band kicked out the Rolling Stones' "Emotional Rescue" for only the fifth time since Hampton 1997 to complete the "Fuck Your Face" spelling (and theme of the night). Gordon's falsetto Mick Jagger went perfectly over the classic, thick opening bass line for the short but sweet second of two covers for the night.
Eric Gruneisen Trey Anastasio of Phish this past weekend at Dick's.
And finally, "Fuck Your Face." A song about Gordon's desire to fuck your face with his guitar. Seriously. With a Sailing the Seas of Cheese-era Primus-like feel to it, the song rips, and while it's cool to have a few songs kept on the shelf and rare - it wouldn't kill us all to hear this strange tune played more often. It didn't make the most bombastic set-ender, and Anastasio just simply yelled "Thank you" before building the band up to a final, "Day In the Life"-like finish and walking off stage.
Walking back out for encore, McConnell made a small reference to the "S" set last year, thanking the audience for putting up with the band's "shenanigans" on stage. They weren't done, though. One last bit of dirty humor for the night: They ended a show about face fucking with the appropriately titled "Grind" and "Meatstick."
Keep reading for more on nights two and three, as well as set lists and Critic's Notebook.