Phish Was Phantastic
By Peter Marcus, DENVER DAILY NEWS
We came, we saw, we conquered.
Four nights at Red Rocks were expected to be “epic.” For the first three shows seen by the Denver Daily News — they were.
Ending a 13-year unofficial ban from Red Rocks after fans in 1996 erupted in minor violence after clashing with police, things this time around went much more smoothly. Fans seem to have grown up — but not too much — and the band themselves have taken a more sophisticated, mature tone about things.
As the sun began to lower, and beautiful Red Rocks was converted into an orgy of sensations and delight, Day 1 kicked off with overcast skies and much anticipation.
The “Divided Sky” opener was almost too obvious — Phish loves to play to the crowd’s moods and the weather’s changing directions. But it set the tone, immediately delving into band leader and guitarist Trey Anastasio’s fictional saga called “Gamehendge.”
The “Gamehendge” songs were few but continued throughout the weekend, rolling into favorites like “Possum,” “AC/DC Bag” and “Punch You In The Eye.”
Fans screamed along with the band, “Let’s get the show on the road.”
Day 1 overall did a good job of setting the tone, while Anastasio worked in new songs set to be released in September on Phish’s new album, “Joy.” Fickle Phish fans have always been extra critical of the band’s new songs, but some have gone over well, like “Ocelot” and “Stealing Time From The Faulty Plan.”
But it was the classics and the tight jams by the band that had the kids howling at the moon at night. The quick chops by drummer Jon “Henrietta” Fishman really “tied the room together.” He tore it up on Day 1 during “Limb By Limb.”
“The Wedge,” “The Moma Dance,” “Horn,” “Stash,” “The Horse,” into “Silent in the Morning” and “Possum” took us into the night.
Time for lights wizard Chris Kuroda to turn it on. Kuroda painted Red Rocks with spectacular imagery, turning the surrounding rocks and waving fans into soft glows of all colors. He is known as CK5 because he is Chris Kuroda, the fifth member of Phish.
Bassist Mike Gordon in the second set of Day 1 kicked it off right away with “Mike’s Song,” into a floating “I Am Hydrogen,” right back into “Weekapaug Groove,” then over to an especially funky and deep “Ghost.”
The crowd got singing on Wolfman’s Brother,” the boys finally seduced their fans with “Billy Breathes,” and “The Squirming Coil,” “David Bowie,” and an encore of the Rolling Stones’ “Loving Cup,” capped off a great start to the run.
While the weather seemed to miraculously hold on Thursday, the sky filled with water just around when the band hit “Water in the Sky” on Friday night.
Before that, pianist Page McConnell took a stroll around the stage, microphone in hand, singing like a lounge singer to his “Lawn Boy.”
“Runway Jim,” “Chalk Dust Torture” and “Bathtub Gin” started the first set.
This time the crowd screamed, “Can’t I Live While I’m Young.”
But the water-themed songs continued as the rain came down harder and the temperature continued to drop. We screamed extra hard, “We love to take a bath!”
A 10-minute, slow cover of The Who’s “Drowned” led way to a cover of the Talking Head’s “Crosseyed and Painless.”
Certainly inspired by the energy of Red Rocks, Phish played just for the Red Rocks crowd, going deep Friday night into what is being called, “Morrison Jam 1.” Things got funky, but then Anastasio dropped the high energy with his new song, “Joy” — one of the new cuts that didn’t cut it with many fans.
“Tweezer” led way to “Backwards Down the Number Line.”
And then it happened, that crazy “Fluffhead” popped his head in again. By this time, more in the crowd were starting to feel “deranged.”
“Piper” became a cover of the Beatles’ “A Day in the Life,” a screaming take on it by Phish always leads to an intense reaction by the crowd.
“Suzy Greenberg” and then the “Tweezer Reprise” made for a slamming conclusion.
On Day 3 the sun came out. Lots were filled with drunken maniacs — by this time in the run, people are starting to feel inspired. Day 3 in a four-night run for Phish has always proven to be some of their best work. They sure didn’t let anyone down Saturday night. This show was a knock-out.
“AC/DC Bag” started it off, and then came “The Curtain,” and in came “With.”
Already tingling from the opening suddenly came the unexpected. Phish took it up a level by putting in a rare and complicated batter in their lineup — “Mound.” The song had not been played since the band returned from their hiatus seven years ago at Madison Square Garden in New York City in 2002.
“Gotta Jibboo,” “Guyute,” “Punch You in the Eye,” “Tube,” “Alaska,” and then a pounding 13-minute “Run Like An Antelope” closed out the first set on what was a beautiful night under the stars.
A cover of The Velvet Underground’s “Rock & Roll” led way to yet another ambiguous jam improvisationally designed by the greatest jam band in the world. “Morrison Jam 2” was simply a treat for the lucky 9,000 fans who scored tickets.
“Down with Disease” found its way into “Free,” which quickly became a circus.
“Esther,” another Phish rarity, popped back up after 88 shows — not played since Vegas 2000. And it was damn near flawless, despite the complicated nature of the song structure.
“Dirt” came in towards the end of second set, and “Harry Hood” finished it off, with fans — as usual — throwing glow sticks towards the band.
Another relatively rare song for Phish, “Sleeping Monkey” rocked the crowd into “First Tube” to end the show.
Spectacular! No wonder these fans do what they do to get into these shows. They’re worth it, and these days, Phish is playing their best music in 10 years — there’s just no question about it.
Distributed by Colorado Capitol Reporters