After two excellent performances at Dick's Sporting Goods Park on Friday and Saturday, Phish played long and hard at Dick's last night for the third, and final, show of their first -- and now legendary -- Labor Day Weekend run. Before Friday, who would have thought that Phish would take Dick's for strong, playing song after song, show after show, largely with passionate precision, bringing multiple jams (regardless of length) to often spine-tingling climaxes? Masters on their instruments, and accompanied by a genius light designer in Chris Kuroda and a top-notch crew, Phish rarely cease to amaze their fans. And amaze, for the most part, they did.
While Sunday night's show featured nothing as majestic as the short-but-extraordinary "Tweezer" from Saturday night, nor a setlist as original and inspired as Friday's "S"-songs show, it nevertheless was very well-played, featuring effortlessly smooth flow, and thrilling versions of numerous tunes. Put simply, Sunday night's show helped to secure the Dick's Labor Day run among the finest three-show runs in recent years.
Rather than strain credulity by applying a cornucopia of well-worn adjectives to the songs performed last night that were ordinary and customary versions, this "recap" focuses on the show's highlights and lowlights. It was written after receipt of comments from several Phish.Net working group members who attended the show (including @sausagemahoney, @ZZYZX, @jraras, Elayne, Marcie and @Bizarro_Jerry). If you suspect this perspective will bore, or annoy, you ad nauseum, do us both a favor, and read no more. No hard feelings.
After Fishman took the stage last night wearing a dress with X's instead of Zer0's, Phish opened with the first "Maze" since 12/9/95 Albany, a show that is among the "top 100" shows in Phish history (were anyone ever bold enough to create such a list). Fine as it was, it was not as inspired as either the "Back on the Train" or the "Bathtub Gin" that followed soon after it. Although relatively short, "Gin" raged in a way that made one reflect on the handful of best-ever versions that came before it. It was a spectacular, inspired version, perhaps the chief highlight of the show, that is absolutely "must hear," even if it is arguably not as fine as the Bethel "GoldenGinTeca" from earlier this year. Nevertheless, It alone makes last night's show worth downloading. Do not ever be fooled by either the brevity of a jam or the setlist of a show. Gems on the level of last night's "Gin" should not be overlooked.
Last night's first set also featured the debut of "The Way It Goes," a wonderful song by Gillian Welch that Mike sang. (This song appears on Gillian Welch's new album, "The Harrow & The Harvest.") It was followed by "Halfway to the Moon," a Page original that, like "Beauty of a Broken Heart," deserves to be played far more often than it is (even if Trey doesn't -- yet -- play it to its potential). The first set also included the first ever "Halley's > Tube," a combination that begged to be improvised-on mightily but, unfortunately, was not. And as grand as a "Roses > Chalk Dust" first set closer might appear on paper, these versions were rudimentary.
Fishman's wardrobe change at setbreak appeared to make a difference. He returned to the stage to begin the second set in his traditional Zeroman mumu, and the second set (albeit a bit short) eventually proved to be up there with the most exciting sets in recent years. No joke. An energetic, blistering "Rock and Roll" set-opener gave way to -- of all things -- a sudden, obviously unrehearsed, sloppy, abbreviated version (two verses) of "Come Together." It was the first and only version since 12/8/95 Cleveland, 537 shows ago. The "Twist" that abruptly followed "Come Together" proved to be an entertaining version, with "Low Rider" teasing that did not quite reach the level of noting in the setlist proper, but was nevertheless great to hear.
"Piper" needs to be heard to be believed, especially by fans of The Modern Lovers, and their song "Roadrunner." This song was arguably teased in last night's "Piper," if not also vocally hinted-at by Trey (who wouldn't sing, and never sang, "Radio On"). This "Piper" is among the finest versions in the last decade to be sure. Page even uses his theremin for a brief time during the jam. Quite a treat for everyone at the shows and watching the webcast. This "Piper" screams "DOWNLOAD ME," and you should listen to its screaming.
Following "Piper" was a perfunctory, but still lovely, "Harry Hood," which preceded a "Roggae" that, while no 8/5/11 Gorge version (arguably best-ever), was nevertheless still a magnificently sublime, "top" version of the song. If you're new to Phish, and you dig "Harry Hood" and "Roggae," please, I beg you, listen to all versions on the "Hood" jam chart, as well as all versions of "Roggae" noted in its song history. These gorgeous tunes deserve as much of your attention as you can possibly spare, and they will not disappoint. Listening to them will give you a greater appreciation for the improvisational skill of Phish. Guaranteed.
The set closing "Ghost Forget > Walls" combo is a lot more powerful and aggressive than it may appear on the setlist. Trey attacks "Ghost" with a punchy machismo not often encountered in "3.0." This version is almost entirely about "Guy Forget," the first version since 10/1/2000 Phoenix (199 shows ago) and, appropriately, in the final few measures of the "Ghost," Trey remarks: "And now you all know who the ghost really is, the ghost is Guy Forget." The "Walls of the Cave" that follows, concluding the set, is strong and fiery. And although the "Backwards Down the Number Line" encore may have disappointed some of the more hard-core fans in attendance, it was nevertheless well-played, and its spirit warmly trumpeted the friendship and love that infuses fantastic Phish shows -- like this one.
In sum, Phish delivered at Dick's. All three nights. While there has certainly been too much rebarbative "rip cording" of jams in recent months, which occasionally will make even an "It's All Hood" fan wince, there is no question that Phish has performed quite well, and consistently so, this year. Hopefully, the rumors are true about a benefit show in a few weeks to raise funds for relief from Hurricane Irene, which wrought severe damage to Phish's exquisitely beautiful home state of Vermont. (One of only a handful of "must-see" U.S. states, in my opinion.) Regardless, no one wants to wait too long for another Phish show. Keep the love flowing Phish's way and, hopefully, the positive vibes will bring the band and its fans ever closer, and harmoniously, together. Meet you at will call?