By Nate Etter
Phish brought their summer tour to an epic end Sunday night with the last of three sold-out shows at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park outside of Denver. The night featured a handful of rare bustouts (like the opener “The Landlady,” which hadn’t made an appearance for over 20 years), unexpected instruments (like Fishman’s Marimba Lumina playing on “Scent of a Mule”), and one of the more memorable encores you will ever see.
A twelve-song, somewhat subdued, first set kicked off the night. There was a funky “Moma Dance” and the triumphant chorus of “Prince Caspian” ignited the first of many glow stick wars from the capacity crowd, but for the most part the set had lent itself feel-good ballads with vocal harmonies like “Backwards Down the Number Line,” “Seven Below” and “Halfway to the Moon” instead of lengthy jams and heavy hitters. After the acappella “The Birdwatcher” the band finally brought the heat for a set-ending rendition of Edgar Winter’s “Frankenstein,” with Page McConnell busting out his signature keytar for extra flair.
The second set wasted no time in getting the energy back, opening with a brief but one of the best takes of “Wilson” in recent memory. The song dropped into Mike Gordon’s watery bass opening of “Down with Disease” which drifted into mellow space before itself dropping in the grungy rock-and-roll of “Carini” with a backlit band. The rest of the set could be summed up as a funky dance party, most notably thanks to a lazy “Steam,” a top notch “Also Sprach Zarathustra (2001)” and a “Tweezer” that saw guitarist Trey Anastasio really open up.
The hands down highlight of the night would prove to be an 8-song encore that showcased Phish’s light-hearted storytelling and genuine appreciation of their fans. While the band failed to spell out anything with their setlist night one as they had in previous years at Dick’s, the creativity was saved to spell out “THANK YOU” with their tour-closing encore.
The fun began with the predictable “Tweezer Reprise”(T). Then it was “Harpua” (H) the rare improvisational saga extra close to the heart of the Phish faithful. Anastasio’s wacky narration included Colorado references and Trey sucking out of an oxygen tank (Jimmy moved to Crested Butte and needed an oxygen tank and edibles to relax and listen to his favorite old songs on the radio…). At this point the band broke into a spot-on take of JJ Cales’s classic “After Midnight” (A). Then things got weird. Fishman returned to his spacey Marimba Lumina and the band played, if you want to call it that, “NO2” (N). Then every member joined McConnell inside his mountain of keyboards and contributed to a quick tune conveniently titled “Keyboard Army” (K). Gordon soon took over narration duties and the story continued (he walked briskly past a family of four, was late for soundcheck, then ate the cat, Poster Nutbag) before the Chilling, Thrilling Sounds of “Your Pet Cat” (Y), instant déjà vu for any in Las Vegas with the band on Halloween, to take over.
It appeared that the story had come a to close, until Trey said that one day Jimmy wondered “How did I get here?”. The savvy crowd was erupting even before the band sprang into the Talking Heads’ “Once In a Lifetime” (O), the perfect pick despite a few blown choruses. It all came to a special close with the debut of The Brotherhood of Man anthem “United We Stand” (U) followed by a heart-warming speech of gratitude by Anastasio.
It felt like something truly special had come to an end. For loyalists willing to pay a price, however, the Phish story rolls on. Anastasio hits the road with his solo band in October and Phish just announced their first three-night resort event on the Riviera Maya in Mexico January 15-17, 2016.