Over Labor Day weekend, I made the small trek an hour south to Commerce City for three nights of Phish at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park. When it comes to Phish it is very difficult for me to take off my phan hat in order to take an objective listen. Granted, I like to think I always maintain some semblance of objectivity no matter the show, but honestly, when it comes to Phish even an off night is a good night for me. My bias aside, the three nights of Phish out here in Colorado proved not only to be a Phish phan’s dream, but was truly pure musical bliss.
The Phish Labor Day celebration began slowly as I had to spend most of the day dealing with the Bureau of Motor Vehicles and waiting for two members of my crew to arrive in Colorado after a long drive from Indiana. Despite the hurdles, we managed to arrive on the lot around 6:00 P.M. Enough time to drink a few beers, walk around Shakedown Street, and simply enjoy seeing the circus in town. It had been too long. Unfortunately, after one year of graduate school my funds and schedule worked against me for the rest of Phish tour, allowing me to catch only these three shows in my new Colorado home.
Still, I cannot complain. If I had to only catch three shows this summer, I lucked out and caught the best three-show run since the band’s 2009 return, and in my backyard no less. Walking towards the gates and entering the stadium, there was a tangible aura of excitement and anticipation for what the weekend held in store. Yet, I don’t think a single person entering the soccer stadium Friday September 2 was prepared for what was in store that evening.
Friday night’s first set started off routinely enough with the band taking the stage and diving into “Sample in a Jar”. One of the band’s more common songs, “Sample” still managed to send the Phish hungry crowd into an initial frenzy. Jumping straight into “Sparkle”, the crowd got a taste of what Colorado loves in a classic Phish tune with a true Bluegrass feel. The night’s first highlight followed with “Sloth”. After this number, I got clued into what was happening, and over the course of the next few songs the whispers and what ifs began to sweep the stadium.
You see, as my buddy Mike and I wrote down the Rolling Stones’ cover “Sweet Virginia”, he turned to inform me that every song played thus far began with the letter s. I looked down at the page, and sure enough in my rough sharpie pen scribble was a capital S to begin each song. From that point on, the only comments our crew made to one another throughout the rest of the first set was either to add another ‘s’ song to our list of potential songs to come, call the next song, or about what could close the set. After rounding out the first set with “Suskind Hotel”, “Strange Design”, “Stash”, “Sneaking Sally”, “Sparks”, “Scent of a Mule”, “Stealing Time from the Fault Plan”, “Shine a Light”, “Split Open and Melt”, and “Squirming Coil” the majority of the banter heard throughout the field, seats, corridors, and concessions was whether they were going to keep the ‘s’ theme going throughout the remainder of the show. While I thought they would, I kind of felt naive believing so. Certainly, that was merely a first set novelty.
The boys returned to stage, picked up their respective instruments, and all questions were answered as they tore straight into the always-funky “Sand”. Obviously, the rest of the set stayed true to theme containing ‘s’ after ‘s’. Sure, I suppose any band could go out one evening and decide to play a show consisting entirely of tunes beginning with the letter ‘s’, well maybe. However, this is simply not all that happened on that first Friday of September. So many of the things that truly make Phish a unique, must-see, and in my opinion a legendary band were present this evening.
First, you had a band that played 26 different songs beginning with the letter ‘s’ in an evening, with only 6 being covers. Impressive yes, but there remain a number of ‘s’ songs in the Phish catalog of approximately 786 different songs performed live. Perhaps, I will comment on that number later but for now just let it marinate upstairs in the old brain. Second, going to a Phish show is much more than a simple concert for an avid music fan. Outside their own extensive catalogue of original songs, they have performed an expansive number of covers. Thus, during “Sweet Virginia” and “Sparks” I had to go through an entire mental process before putting a name to the song. Is this an original or a cover? I think this is from Festival 8, the Rolling Stones Exile on Main Street set, ahh yes my first “Sweet Virginia”. In the case of “Sparks”, I could not even pull the song title out of my head. All I could think was, this sounds like a Who song. Thankfully, Mike was there to provide the track name.
This brings me to a third point about this band. Twice during Friday we got to hear Phish perform two songs that they had not played live since the mid to late 1990s. First, “Sparks” the Who cover was last performed in November 29, 1996, which makes a 463-show gap between that date and September 2, 2011. The second would come as the encore. During the break prior to the encore, we were discussing and attempting to predict what ‘s’ song was going to pop up in the encore or as the encore closer. None of us came even remotely close to calling the song and we were taken by complete surprise as the opening notes of the encore song poured forth. “Sabotage” the Beastie Boys cover only performed for the fourth time in phishtory, and the first appearance since November 21, 1998.
So went the first night of a three night run. I was trying to keep my expectations low as we arrived on the lot that Friday, but no matter how high they might have been, they easily would have been exceeded by the ‘s’ set. I mean, after all, it is a Phish phan’s dream to be at a show where several years later they can say oh yea I just happened to be there. Well, I had been waiting for that moment since missing the so-called “Moby Dick” set in my native Indiana back in 2000. The bar was set high for the next two evenings, however no one in my crew was prepared for what Phish was about to lay on Colorado the two subsequent nights.