With night one’s hit-&-miss prank in the books and the band liberated from the need to spell something, it’s back to business as usual for night two. When you’re talking Phish Dick’s, of course, business as usual can prove to be unusually potent. Let’s get right to the action.
“Buried Alive” christens the first set. As seldom as this tune gets trotted out, I always seem to find myself surprised by how tight it is. “AC/DC Bag” makes a predictable appearance next, and doesn’t distinguish itself from the other rote, hemmed-in versions in recent history. “Bag” needs a second set jailbreak as badly as any tune in the repertoire.
“Wolfman’s Brother” is straightforward but scorching, per usual. Mike takes a turn next with “Yarmouth Road,” a tune whose lyrics still elude me a bit. Still, it brings a vibe to the party that’s hard to quarrel with, and the Dick’s crowd sops it up with a biscuit.
Now Trey hoists the megaphone for the first “Fee” of 2013. I have a deep and abiding love for this clever song that easily survived its overplayed period, so it feels like a genuine treat to catch one these days. Trey engages Page in a delicate exchange of harmonics in the outro, which decays and fades elegantly before making way for “Halfway to the Moon.” This song has grown into its big boy pants this summer, and tonight’s version is lovely and impassioned. In retrospect, perhaps it was also a nod to the Denver altitude.
“The Wedge” is a more obvious nod to the venue’s Rocky Mountain-adjacent locale, and perhaps a bit rocky in its execution. A 5-minute “Halley’s Comet” is phoned in, but the ensuing “Bathtub Gin” atones. What this “Gin” lacks in sprawl and exploration it makes up for in fire and focus. Fishman merits special mention for this version for the unusual and urgent groove he finds in the latter half of the jam.
A clumsy “Bouncing ‘Round the Room” does little to salvage the set’s glitchy flow. “Gumbo” features a very unusual little jam at the end, with Fishman dropping out to make room for some very Gershwinesque grand piano lines from Page. A typically emphatic “Run Like an Antelope” closes the books on an average-great first set that leaves much headroom for the second.
“Chalk Dust Torture” gets the nod, and delivers the goods with what is arguably the first pilgrimage-worthy jam of the run thus far. It is not immediately apparent that this version is destined for greatness; the band takes its sweet time shoving off into type-II territory, with Mike making the first foray around the 6-minute mark, and Trey and Page following him into the major around 7 minutes. At 10 minutes, Fishman hits the reset button with a brand new beat, Mike voices his approval with a few hits on his fight bell, and the band slips deftly into a dense, Talking Heads-style groove that could easily pass for a “Crosseyed” jam. At 13 minutes, the hose kicks on full blast, with Mike laying down a thick bed of space bass in support of a positively pornographic exchange between Trey and Page. For the next six minutes or so, the band churns through idea after idea, seemingly without effort, resurfacing in a calypso theme. Trey introduces a simple phrase -- just three staccato E chords -- which the band and audience interpret as their cue to woo. And then it’s over.
Whatever your take on the woo, this “Chalk Dust” is some serious juju, and eminently Dick’s-worthy. Hear at all costs, etc.
Hilariously, Trey starts “Light” in the wrong key, but quickly realizes his mistake and the band course-corrects without restarting the song. Around the 7-minute mark, Fish deconstructs the groove, briefly quoting “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover” on the snare. A minute later, with the band failing to agree on a direction for the jam, Trey pulls the ripcord in favor of “46 Days.” While it would be grossly unfair to measure this year’s Dick’s “Light” against last year’s Dick’s “Light,” the story of this jam is one of unmet potential.
“46 Days” plays by the rules, likewise a too-brief “Steam” that spills into a “Free” that’s well played -- but no cause for a letter home. “Joy” commits a setlist felony next with inexplicably awful placement. I actually like the song quite a bit, certainly more than most, but deep in a second set it’s simply a floater in the punchbowl. “2001” concludes a six-song sequence without any real improvisation, and seemingly performed by a different band than the one that played the “Chalk Dust” that preceded it.
Yes, obviously, anybody expecting a Tahoe “Tweezer” redux is setting himself up for disappointment. But this version contains only about 120 seconds of interesting music at the tail end, where it gets interesting right before it gets kneecapped in favor of a standard reading of “Backwards Down the Number Line” that ties a bow on set two.
Bluntly, tonight’s show is All About The “Chalk Dust” -- which stands shoulder to shoulder with the PNC “Crosseyed,” the Hollywood Bowl “Hood,” and other outstanding also-rans for jam of the summer. See you back in the band’s corner tonight, where I’ll be pulling for them to put all the pieces together and slay Night Three.