The Dick(‘s Sporting Goods Park). The Phish. Labor Day Weekend. End of tour. Echoing the Alpharetta2 (6/15/11) webcast: StormTeam17 reports heavy winds, lightning and sandstorms pre-gig. Think “S”!
Lights @ 8:17 MDT, a stock “Sample” opener, briskly into a “Sparkle,” “The Sloth” combo that keeps the energy high and allows band and crowd alike to settle in before the first catch-your-breath moment. “Sweet Virgina” provides the first deviation from script, their fourth ever performance (the first in 84 shows, 12-5-09 Charlottesville) and third since the Halloween ‘09 cover of Exile on Main St. in its entirety. Then the second-only Phish performance of “Suskind Hotel” kicks the tempo up in a welcome nod to those that have been clamoring for more Mike songs in the repertoire. “Suskind Hotel” was awesome, with strong hints of “Birds of a Feather” in the jam and a “CYHMK” in the ending. A strong presence on the 2006 GRAB tour (as well as the Mike Gordon solo repetroire), this one is a keeper!
A chill interlude with “Strange Design” is next, followed by a mini-band-conference. The first open door to jam territory, “Stash” takes the stage, with a powerful if compact tension-release segment and satisfying if mature conclusion. “Sneaking Sally” goes double-penetration on the “S” (and up pops the wife!). A vocal jam with a strong outro including Mike going low on the Akai Deep Impact bass synth effect and a strong closing jam, the clear improvisational highlight of the first set. Then... wow, “Sparks!” Which when you think about it has a strong resemblance to “Scents and Subtle Sounds” (that seems sure to come!). This was Phish’s first performance of The Who’s classic since 11/29/96 (463 shows).
Then “Scent of a Mule”, “Stealing Time from the Faulty Plan” sees Phish continuing to play like they give a shit, and with the second “Birds of a Feather” jam of the night! Special commendation for Hiding a Song that Does Not Begin with ‘S’! to “BOAF.” “Shine a Light” is up next, followed by “Split Open and Melt” to take this unique – and, frankly, ass-kicking – set around the home stretch. Perhaps it was the soccer stadium, among such a smart, sassy, secular and spectacular assemblage. Not content with the previous 13 “S-” song in the set, “The Squirming Coil” ends a spectacular and serendipitous set (see 11/15/96)! Stay tuned! We’ll be back... “shortly!”
“Sand!” Woo-hoo, and an “S” taboot! Simple and compact but all power, this jam stays within a happy box but crushes all in its path before giving way to “Simple.” Short but efficient and awesome! Then a full segue into “Steam.” Lots of fog-based stage theatrics on this one... cool, but borderline heavy? You. Make. The. Call. Sweet outro jam though, with (more) “Birds of a Feather” (predict a monster version in the rest of the weekend run) and “Tweezer Reprise” themes.
So shall we swing into “Soul Shakedown Party?” Then another pure “->” into “Seven Below.” Great Trey-led groove that included brief hints of “Manteca” and/or “Golden Age” before dissolving back into space... then deep space, stunning type-II and the clear jamming highlight of the set. A rote but fun “Suzy Greenberg” follows, giving way to the at-this-point inevitable “Scents and Subtle Sounds” (sans intro) for the “s” trifecta!
A sublime “Slave to the Traffic Light” follows that was so perfectly placed that it could have easily ended the set and sent the kids home happy, but the band clearly had other plans. The first “Horse”-less “Silent in the Morning” since 12/13/99 (251 shows) is followed by “Sanity” that one expects will close the set. After a short conference we are treated to an a cappella “Sweet Adeline,” the first since 8/1/99 (285 shows). So many great “S” songs to choose from still on the table we are treated to yet another bustout, “Sabotage!” The first since 11/21/98 (318 shows), the “mature” Phish demonstrate that they can still kill the rocking closer in powerful fashion. Wow.
This gig will obviously be remembered for the “S” theme, but this is a classic “sum is greater than its parts” gig. This show was far from “gimmicky” – sure, the premise is contrived, but the entire show had outstanding flow. While there is no signature monster jam, judicious and well-balanced improv was sprinkled throughout, with highlights residing in “Sneaking Sally” and “Seven Below.” There are widespread reports that the “S” theme referenced Scott Nowak, a green crew member who recently passed away. Apparently, however, this was a coincidence.
This was a straight-up outstanding show, brilliant in planning and execution. Here is the thing about Phish “3.0”: when they give a shit, they destroy everything in their path. Do they give a shit every night? You decide... but on this night? Yeah, that was a straight-up winner. One down, two to go... get some rest, folks!