Day two in Commerce City began in a manner similar to many previous day 2's over the years, with us replenishing needed supplies (mostly cheap beer, Red Bull, Gatorade, fiber bars because I'm old, and sweetbreads), then hopping over to Jimmy Johns for sandwiches. (Not for nothin', but the Northeast really gets the shaft with regard to crappy fast food options, amirite? The South gets Chik-fil-a; the West gets In N'Out; everywhere else gets Hardee's / Carl's Jr. and Jimmy Johns. The Northeast gets, what, Dunkin' frickin' Donuts? Eff that noise.) Rather than lie around the Best Western Plus like schmucks, Bricer and Beafvy had plans to visit several local breweries during the day, and Salvador and I drove about 23 miles southwest to check out Red Rocks.
Initially we'd planned to hike the six-mile Red Rocks trail, but we scuttled those plans after finding the walk up the loooong staircase into the venue to be, uh, surprisingly challenging. (I blame the elevation. :-/) Instead, we tooled around the amphitheater itself for a bit, visiting the Red Rocks Hall of Fame downstairs, which includes yearly lists of all of the artists to have ever performed at the venue, signed instruments, gig posters and other memorabilia, etc. (No direct mention of the circumstances surrounding that time Phish was unofficially banned from Red Rocks after their '96 shows, or their triumphant return to the venue 13 years later, if you're curious.)
I can honestly say I've never seen anything at all like the scenery at Red Rocks and throughout the surrounding area - I'd driven through mountains similar in size during a trip to Idaho in 2010, but never green mountains like these, and of course never anything like the massive rock faces jutting out seemingly everywhere across the landscape. After Red Rocks, and with several hours left before shakedown-thirty, we decided to check out nearby Morrison. Cute little town! We ate a meal and drank martinis at The Blue Cow, and although I hesitate to place the sole blame for the intestinal malaise that later befell the both of us on said meal, I'm'a go right ahead and let their Yelp rating speak for itself. Plus the server was a douchebag.
Sped back to the Best Western Plus to begin pregaming in earnest before cabbing it over to Dick's. After more cheap beers at shakedown and still yet more grassy knoll, we entered the venue and walked down to the field area, pleased to find that Mike side was much more spacious than Page side had been night one. This was very much unexpected because this show had been announced as sold out (Friday was not).
The show begins with typically tight versions of "Free" and "Moma," two first set standards that get the boilerplate "man, I wish they'd stretch these out for a change" comment from me, but both of which I enjoy in any format regardless. "Halley's" in the three-hole features some unusual playing, with Trey employing his wah during the choruses and Page later mirroring Trey on the clav. A little extra length at the end of this version had me super excited for what would be the first type 2 "Halley's" in ages, but alas it was not to be. Nonetheless, we get some really nice solos from Trey. Not a big "Stealing Time" guy although once again Trey's guitar work in this version is pretty nice.
The twelfth (thirteenth, if you count Letterman) "555" of the summer comes next, and if we're choosing between "Yarmouth" and "555" I'm going to pick the latter every time. Of course, I'd love it if they'd mix things up with a "Destiny" every now and then, but that decision obviously ain't up to me. This "555" is super funky, which suits it well. "Rift" next. During the excellent pre-tour Fishman interview on Maine public radio, Fish pinpointed "Rift" as a song that has had its tempo slowed through the years as the band has aged. Well, nobody bothered to tell this version, which gallops along at a hellacious clip. "Sample" continues the parade of standard first-set staples, and Trey nails this solo, too.
"Devotion" is the first legitimate stinker of the set. When a longtime non-phan (sometimes vocally so!) friend accompanied my crew and me to Randalls2 in July, he remarked that "Devotion" sounds an awful lot like an '80s sitcom theme song - generic, smarmy, lightweight and limp. That may be true, but let's not damn the many great '80s sitcom themes by association with this turd. A typically awkward, unpracticed-sounding "Yarmouth" follows, giving us the rare Double Mike treatment in the opening stanza. (This is, in fact, the first time both "555" and "Yarmouth" have been played in the same set.)
I am not among the many "Sparkle" haters, and this one is plenty quick, although Trey seems to lag at times. In a set full of songs ideal for a bathroom break, "Wingsuit" stands out as perhaps the most ideal of times to hit the head; the composed section is just godawful and the singing is always cringe-inducing, but if you can make it back in time to witness Trey's gorgeous, emotive solo, both you and your bladder are winners. Trey's guitar work on "Wingsuit" reminds me so much of the epic "Billy Breathes" solo (argubably my favorite "composed" solo in Phish's formidable arsenal) that it just makes me wish they'd play "BB" more often - only four total performances in all of 3.0 :-/.
At 70 minutes in by this point, I felt "Wingsuit" could've easily shut the first set down, but instead we get "Bowie" with a bonus "Cavern." Truth be told, I wasn't really feeling this set, so I left the field area, instead choosing to wander along the upstairs concourse, where I chatted with a dude who I've run into exactly once every year for the last 3 summers, haha. With hindsight, the song selection was slightly underwhelming, but, as I mentioned earlier, it's likely that my discomfort was at least partially caused by our meal earlier during the day in Morrison - I caught up with Salvador later during setbreak, and he also reported feeling similarly out of sorts throughout this show.
Anywho, what better way to put an end to the Slightly Subpar First Set Blahs than by leading off the second stanza with a rippin' "Disease?" This one stays type 1 - but boisterously so - through 10 minutes, with Trey pulling off all manner of remarkable trills and runs and [other impressive-sounding guitar technique terminology]. A bit after 10 minutes in, Trey starts into a happy riffin' jamboree, with Page lending support on the organ. By 11:30, the momentum has been dialed back a bit, but the overall timbre remains sunny and carefree. By 12:30, the jam has taken a pensive turn, with Page twinkling lightly on the organ. At 13:10, they've picked up steam again, returning to the uplifting jam from earlier, in a vein similar to much of the summer's soaring improv (see: the best part of Randalls3 "Chalkdust", last night's "Simple," etc.). Around 15 minutes in, Trey teases "What's the Use" briefly before Mike echoes that for a few bars, signaling a full "Disease" fadeout into the first "What's the Use" in over two full years, 77 shows ago. This "WtU" is majestic and gorgeous.
"Carini"'s jagged dissonance jerks us back awake. This version gets pretty damned noisy after the final "Carini had a lumpy head!", stomping along malevolently until Trey flips the "anthemic!!11!" switch by 6 minutes in. At 7 minutes, the jam has fully morphed into major mode, as have so many incredible "Carini"s since early summer '13, and before 8 minutes in, we're back in similar territory to what we heard during the "Disease," only peppier. This is truly some soaring rock and roll, ladies and gents! 9:45 in sees the boys change course slightly, with a lot of Fishman on the hi-hat, Page on organ, and Trey cranking out some uber-happy licks. This great stuff continues until a slight fadeout before the first "Light" chords after 11:30.
The jam in this "Light" stays pretty much type thru about 7 minutes, again, with a sound similar to what we've heard earlier during the "Disease" and the "Carini," only with still yet increased intensity. At 7:30, the jam takes a decidedly funkier bent, and at 8:40, Trey starts working around a catchy, funky lick while Page compliments perfectly on his clav. This is insanely danceable, and these few minutes here are probably my favorite segment of the evening. 9:10 sees Trey starting an energetic ascending lick, and by 9:45 they're in some atonal, arrythmic stuff. The rhythm has totally shifted by 10:10, although Fishman regains a more typical cadence soon. At 10:10 the boys pull their patches off, shamelessly trolling for WOO with a familiar start-stop riff, and the crowd reluctantly obliges - hahahahaha, this is hilarious. While many '13 jams (Tahoeezer and the BGCA "Seven Below," in particular) featured some genuinely thrilling improv directly following the "WOO!," this "Light" returns to chaotic spaciness (let's call it "space junk" before "Fuego" starts up at 11:20.
I have conflicted feelings about "Fuego." Practically everybody pegged this song as the clear standout from the batch of Wingsuit / Fuego songs, and as a result, big things were expected of it as potential jam vehicle. It seemed like happy foreshadowing when Phish played "Fuego" as the first song of the new year after the balloon drop at 12/31/13 MSG. Right? Anyhow, eventually, many phans drew conclusions about "Fuego" (or, more specifically "F U EGO") being a mission statement of sorts, emphasizing equal roles within the band and a more democratized overall dynamic. This directly manifested itself in several different ways; the emphasis on crafting many of the Fuego songs around chunks of full-band improv; the newfound reluctance to play covers; and, for better or worse, the lack of "big RAWK solos" during the early part of the tour, especially the SPAC and Mann shows. (If "ego" indicates Trey soloing like a man possessed, then chalk me up as a big fan of "ego." Harumph.)
Phish has pushed this song like none other in recent memory, playing it once per city (except Oak Mountain, which actually featured a Renault Fuego sports car on its gig poster). Although the aforementioned SPAC and Mann shows probably featured the most notable versions of the song ever performed, clocking in at 20 and 26 minutes respectively, I can't with any honesty say that the band has ever actually performed an "essential" version of the "Fuego." To me, the jam section sounds an awful lot like "Roggae," a song which I absolutely adore as a tasty first set tidbit, but which nobody in their right mind would mistake as a crucial part of a second set. If you've heard one "Fuego," you've heard 'em all, and this one is no exception. Rant over.
Next up, another 2014 appearance of "Slave" outside of its traditional closer role. One of the most gorgeous songs composed by anyone, ever, and the possessor of what Salvador refers to as "the healing power of 'Slave.'" Indeed. "Meatstick" brings back fond memories of the FUCK YOUR FACE show, and a slightly awkward-sounding "Bold as Love" ends the set, the first version since Hampton 3 last fall, and second since it closed out the 2013 BGCA run. (Remember this guy?)
If the Dick's run can offer a summation of the summer's shows, the encore certainly hearkened back to the incredible combination of goofiness and ferocious playing at MPP2. Here, the band faked us out, at first seeming to play "Horse" with no "Silent," referencing the fact that the previous nine "Silent"s had been played without a "Horse" intro (they had only done this three total times in the past 20 years prior). After "Silent," Trey lets the crowd in on the joke, before explaining that old-time Phish song "In a Hole" was basically only written and performed to give the band the opportunity to end a song by singing, "I'm an a-hole." The crowd roars with approval, and Trey gets some mild ribbing from Page and Fish, haha. Seemingly as a reward for the crowd appreciating the gag, "Fluffhead" ends the night on a glorious note.
So, another night at Dicks, another great show that easily tops anything from Dicks '13. Sure, the first set wasn't great, but the first 45 minutes or so of the second set brought the fire, indubitably. Not much improv in the fourth quarter, but I liked the song selection. And the encore brought laughs *and* a "Fluff." A little bit of everything.
In terms of the other shows from summer '14, I'd place this one somewhere in the third tier, amongst such shows as Randall's2 and the tour closer at Alpharetta. Ya know what? Why not rank 'em all right here, right now, right? [Note - I haven't heard all of the shows, so this ranks the ones I have heard. A * denotes a show I saw in person.]
[Haven't heard - 7/1/14 Mansfield, 7/25/14 Charlotte, 7/29/14 Portsmouth, 8/1/14 Orange Beach, 8/2/14 Pelham.]
Today marks the 18th anniversary of my first Phish show ever, and in two days I fly out westward to hop onto Fall Tour, where, if everything goes right, I'll be seeing the final 10 shows of tour. Salvador will be joining me for SBB (and hopefully BGCA), Beafvy's flying in from Ebolaville for Forum and Sleep Train, and Bricer and Rumpo are doing the Vegas run. Not only would this be the most intense Phish run I've ever done (10 shows in 14 days, hooooo boy), but the longest I've ever been away from home. I intend to document as much of the tour as it's happening as I can - hoping to put up a full update and pics each day. Frickin' excited as hell. Wish me luck!!