There’s no place like Colorado to see a Phish show. Under the backdrop of the Rockies, phans from all over the country pour in to the pioneer of legal pot and set up vendor tents and food trucks in dusty parking lots across the flat landscape of Commerce City. Older and shockingly wiser than they used to be, people carry rain gear and coolers and even pets into a facility that prohibits pointy umbrellas, coolers, and even pets. It’s a partial utopia where, for some inexplicable reason, the powers that be let us do, within reason, pretty much whatever we want.
That was the mood in the rapidly cooling air of Friday, September 2, 2016 in the hours that led up to Phish taking the stage for their first night run at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park, home of the Colorado Rapids. The first night of a multi-night run always includes a nervous energy caused in part by people wondering what sort of show will be played and in part by people wondering whether their drugs will be found and confiscated. Yesterday was no different, as phans predicted set lists and stuffed tiny baggies into whatever conspicuous crevices they could find.
About an hour before the first set started, I saw something I’d never seen before. A shirtless man, made a desperate leap over the wall leading to the field. Landing successfully, he sprinted into the crowd of people hoping to lose himself amidst the pursuing security forces. He failed, and that’s when things got tense.
One of the security forces pulled a taser on the man and ordered him to the ground. Thousands of wide-eyed phans, full of edibles and who-knows what else, watched as the threat continued, certain we were about to see something awful. Thankfully, the man cooperated, though he was promptly arrested and escorted off the premises.
This was a sad moment for most of us because Phish shows aren’t about that level of extreme security. People do things wrong at shows all the time, usually things much worse than jumping a gate. None of the phans would have cared if they’d let the man go to dance his face off, and most of them wouldn’t have cared if there’d been a peaceful, responsible arrest made. But to whip out a taser at a Phish show—the world has changed.
Phish took the stage just after 8:00PM. While they normally noodle around for a few seconds before launching into an opening song, their instruments didn’t emit a single note before Trey hit the first chords of “Ghost,” a most unexpected and unusual opener because of it’s low-energy jam and it’s minor-key structure. After treating phans to a longer-than-normal opening jam, they segued into “No Men In No Man’s Land” which brought with it incredible piano swells less common to Paige and more the likes of the guitar leads Trey usually provides. (Trey’s leads were up and down for much of the first set.)
After acknowledging Paige’s handiwork, the band went on to play my least favorite songs in their library with an eclectic mix of swells and sectioned jams that had everyone sensing the rest of this run would be something special. Only two songs clocked in at under eight minutes, one of them Fish’s now infamous “Ass Handed.” The set closed out with a rare appearance of “Alaska” and then another swell-infested “46 Days.”
Set Two picked up where the first had left off with an almost unheard of “Run Like An Antelope” opener, possibly the most energized song of the night. But even “Antelope” had it’s sluggish moments as the band seemed to be pacing themselves for the two nights that would follow. More slow jams dominated “Mercury” and “Seven Below” and even “Tweezer,” a song that surprised the set list coming in just a few tracks from the end of the show. The “Bug/Tweezer Reprise” encore summed up the show perfectly: paced, steady, not too aggressive, but with enough quiet energy to ring the lofty bells that define the band regardless what level they’re playing at.
Night Two is often the best show of a three-night run, but as Night One demonstrated, even thirty years in to the music of Phish, they still find ways to surprise us. That’s why we go to all of these shows in the first place; not because there’s a guarantee of something amazing, but because the chance of being amazed is just too good to pass up.