After dropping the most fluid and breathtaking three night run in recent history at Bill Graham Civic Auditorium in San Francisco, Calif., one thing was apparent; Phish’s monstrous first leg of summer tour was no fluke. Riding high on a wave of bliss I knew I had to make it out to Colorado for the closing nights of their 2012 Summer Tour. I found myself once again dropping everything important in my life, including my job, to travel half way across the country chasing a band that was undoubtedly having a tour for the ages. It took only one set of music to convince me that I had made the right decision as the band let out a big ol’ F.U.C.K. Y.O.U.
Friday night’s show was unlike anything we have seen from Phish. While most shows are centered around second set exploratory eminence, the first night of “Phish-dicks” was all together unusual. Luckily for fans unusual Phish is mind-blowing Phish. Dropping a fiery “First Tube” opener the tempo was immediately set for this Labor Day Weekend blowout. The band as whole had a tangible energy from the first note. Turning on a dime in true “Phishy” fashion they followed up with a tight version of “Uncle Pen”. Coming right back into heavy hitting rock n’ roll Trey blasted the opening notes of “Carini” into the breezy night air. Acting as an impressive launch pad for exploratory jams throughout the summer, “Carini” was the band’s first venture into the unknown. Landing in a field of psychedelic bliss “Carini” quickly gave way to “Kill Devil Falls”. Following a fairly straight forward version Page was quick to reiterate the band’s affection for the state of Colorado, which has acted as the bands west coast home since their first visit in 1988.
When the opening notes of “You Enjoy Myself” followed we all knew we were in for something special. The crowd immediately went wild to hear this second set centerpiece be thrown into the middle of an already steamy first set. The third appearance of “YEM” in the second leg of summer tour was unlike any we have heard. Trey led the band out of the compositional section, building patiently into an up-tempo gust of emotion. Trey then passed the torch off to Mike who led the crowd through yet another funk driven dance party, which played testament to the amount of fun the guys seemed to be having. Entering the vocal jam, the band began a humorous trade-off of “Mike loves Dicks, Trey loves Dicks, Page loves Dicks, Fish loves Dicks, we all love Dicks”.
After that “YEM” no one really knew what to expect, the band obviously had an outside of the box plan. “I hope you all are having as much fun as we are,” said Trey just before the band moved into “Ocelot”. After a truly moving version the band opened up “Undermind”, another song that Phish has let breathe this summer. As the band entered the jam they seemed to gather up the entire crowd into one entity, dancing in unison under the spectacular blue moon above. As the jam moved brilliantly from theme to theme, the feeling of perfection came across me once again. Much like the final night of the San Francisco run, it felt as if the band could do no wrong. Everything from Trey’s refined guitar tone, to the smile on Page’s face seemed flawless.
As the band exited the stage following set one a friend quickly came up behind me and explained, “They just spelled out F.U.C.K. Y.O.U. with first letters of the songs, they are going to play F.U.C.K. Y.O.U.R. F.A.C.E”! I instantly realized why I had felt that something different was taking place during the entire first set. Everyone began playing the guessing game of how they would spell R.F.A.C.E. My only hope was that “Crosseyed” would be the C, but really it didn’t matter, we were being “phucked”, in the best way possible.
As the band walked back on stage the joke was on! However, there was nothing funny about the “Runaway Jim” that the band used to start the second set. Stepping almost immediately into the abyss, no one was ready for what was about to transpire. Not one person. Moving into an exceptional blend of ambient-funk the band morphed through landscapes as one solid unit. No one member could be heard taking the lead. The funk grooves continued as the jam began to gain momentum towards a peak. The patience was otherworldly as they used ‘97-esque stop-start techniques to move seamlessly from one improvisational world to the next. It was Type II at its best. Musicianship at its best. Imagination at its best. Phish at its best. The cohesive journey into lands unknown lasted nearly 20-minutes, eventually settling in pure bliss.
“Farmhouse” grew beautifully out of the depths as the band entered into F.A.C.E. The lyrical references to “the stars so bright” was fitting as the blue moon continued to illuminate the cool Colorado sky. The band fell immediately into an ambient jam that had “Also Sprach Zarathustra” written all over it. Surely this would be the A in the equation I thought. As Trey continued to toy with loops, he exchanged a few words with Page and moments later we heard the opening piano for…. “Alaska”?! Even Trey looked shocked. Despite the collective moan of the crowd, the obvious “fuck you” by the band was too well-played not to appreciate. Turning the fire back on Trey ripped into a “Chalk Dust Torture” that would surpass all others before it.
Carrying the high energy of the song, the band led each other directly into a unique improvisational groove. Tearing through mysterious territory with no signs of slowing down the audience was literally entranced. Spectacular staccato playing by Trey fell over a beautiful background created by Page on the Rhodes. The band moved deeper and deeper, leaving all aspects of “Chalk Dust”, well, in the dust. Once again the band led the jam to a blissful ending setting up another spectacular surprise. Mike began singing the opening lines to The Rolling Stones “Emotional Rescue” for the first time since September 30, 2000. The bust out completed “F.U.C.K. Y.O.U.R. F.A.C.E” in classic Phish style. Not surprisingly a “Fuck Your Face” closed out the second set and the band walked off stage grinning from ear to ear.
Playing off the “Dick’s” theme the band encored with “Grind>Meatstick” to cap one of the most well crafted and unique set lists of all time. The question from that moment on was not whether Phish 3.0 could be as good as the ‘90’s. It wasn’t whether the band was having fun. It wasn’t whether traveling half way across the country was worth it. Instead, it was: How the hell are they going to follow that up tomorrow night?
The bands answer was quite direct as they opened up Saturday night with “Run Like an Antelope” for the first time since 1990. Phish picked up the audience right where they left them the night prior. The song heavy first set included an outstanding “Tweezer>Fluffhead” that once again showcased the band’s ability to jam as one solitary unit. Other first set highlights included “Theme From the Bottom>Golgi” and a blistering “Stealing Time From the Faulty Plan”.
At this point it was almost no surprise that the beginning of the second set was a 45-minute odyssey of “Golden Age>Prince Caspian>Light”. “Golden Age” contained amazing work from all four members. Page laid the groundwork as Phish moved from the song’s original structure into more ambient-funk. This multi-tiered jam included a little of everything. The unit moved with acute precision from one style to the next and their overall patience allowed for fluid jamming that stood out even during this dazzling summer tour. A seamless segue into “Caspian” fit perfectly as the improvisation seemed to pick up right where it left off in “Golden Age”. Working the song into the depths of psychedelia, the audience became one with the band. The music stretched through valleys and across plains, morphing into a heavy metal throw down that led effortlessly into “Light”.
“Light” has been without a doubt the jam vehicle of the 3.0 era. Nearly every time Phish has touched the song this summer it has given way to outstanding examples of improvisation. Saturday night’s version would be no different. Transforming slowly from the songs structure, Phish moved into ambient territory and never looked back. Mike began lacing thick bass lines within the ambient texture. The other three members slowly jumped on board and the groove began to morph into something spectacular. What followed was an absolute musical odyssey that played with every human emotion in existence. Phish began building the jam out of the depths with a near perfect pace. The band collectively climbed the hill to emotional freedom with uncanny accuracy. I found myself, usually unable to stop dancing, standing still, with my jaw on the floor. Unable to move. Unable to fathom. Unable to deny that I was witnessing something great.
As per usual the crowd, including myself, was back dancing as the band stepped into “Boogie on Reggae Women”. Following a solid “Boogie” was a great run of “The Wedge, The Horse>Silent in the Morning.” The opening notes of “Mike’s Song” sent a of wave of energy back into the crowd. A relatively straightforward “Mike’s” landed in yet another ambient landscape. In a show that was already dripping with psychedelia, Page began to play the opening notes of my favorite Phish cover “No Quarter”. As I stood in disbelief I was reminded for the second night in a row why I disregard responsibilities to follow Phish around the country. “No Quarter” fit the theme of the night, acting as the psychedelic bridge to the groove. Not surprising, “Weekapaug Groove” led us to the end of a surreal second set. After a “Sleeping Monkey>Tweezer Reprise” encore everyone left Dick’s Sporting Goods Park in disbelief. Everything seemed to have fallen into place. In the band. In the audience. In the universe.
Entering the final night of the run it was anyone’s guess how Phish would end their greatest tour since reuniting in 2009. Understandably the first set was fairly straightforward, as if Phish decided to be great instead of absolutely mind-blowing for once during the weekend. Highlights included another run through “Ride Captain Ride”, which closed out the amazing weekend in San Francisco, as well as a fluid “Haley’s Comet>46 Days”. During set break the excitement in the crowd was tangible. Everyone seemed to realize after what they had witnessed the past two nights, Phish would certainly go out in style.
The funky groove of “Sand” opened the second set, setting the pace for what was to come. “Sand” moved precariously through several unique stages carrying with it a subtle dance groove throughout. The band stretched each section of the jam to the edge, patiently waiting for the right opening to progress into the next tier. As Phish blended the end of “Sand” into “Ghost”, the dance party carried on into the night. “Ghost” never really got going once the improv began. Steering towards dark territory right off the bat, the band seemed a bit lost throughout. Nevertheless, a placid segue into “Piper” regained promise in the final set of summer. Trey was firing on all cylinders entering the “Piper” jam, driving the band into an incredibly trippy corner of music. From there the jam continued to twist and roll its way though the night, leaving nothing but a trail of pride behind.
Phish shifted slowly into “Twenty Years Later”, a likely nod to the time that has passed since we had heard anything this good from the band. An unexpected “Lizards” was well received by the audience who danced wildly across the soccer stadium turned land of Gamehendge. The set closing “Harry Hood” showcased several moments of improvisational prowess. The jam built to a grand crescendo, however it did not come close to many of the outstanding “Hoods” we have heard this summer. As the band came back on stage for one last song, each member thanked the audience for “an absolutely joyous summer” and one last “fuck your face”. Closing out the night with an over the top “Character Zero” the band nailed the coffin shut on a summer all of us will never forget.
I was lucky to have seen so many Phish shows this summer. While some were surely able to catch more, others less, and some maybe none at all; the smiles on the faces of each band member shows us that Phish is going to be producing one the best live music experiences on earth for many years to come. You ought to see.
Set 1: First Tube, Uncle Pen, Carini, Kill Devil Falls > You Enjoy Myself, Ocelot, Undermind
Set 2: Runaway Jim, Farmhouse > Alaska, Chalk Dust Torture, Emotional Rescue > Fuck Your Face
Encore: Grind, Meatstick
 “We all love Dick’s” vocal jam theme
 Crosseyed and Painless tease
Set 1: 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
 Crosseyed and Painless tease.
Set I: Cars Trucks Buses, AC/DC Bag > Down with Disease, Bathtub Gin, Nellie Kane > Sample in a Jar, Back on the Train > Rift > Free, Ride Captain Ride > Maze, Halley’s Comet > 46 Days > Possum
Set II: Sand -> Ghost > Piper > Twenty Years Later > The Lizards, Harry Hood
Encore: Character Zero