Have you ever been to a Phish show you hoped would never end? Well, be careful what you wish for because you just might get it. On Saturday at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park in Denver, CO, Phish delivered an astoundingly over-the-top six-song encore for the band’s penultimate show of the summer tour.
A pair of spirits hung over the air in Commerce City on Saturday following the death of singer-songwriter Jimmy Buffett earlier that day. While the band delivered no direct tribute to the leader of the Parrotheads, many speculated that the encore selection (one of them, anyway) “The Mango Song” was an homage to the “Last Mango In Paris” singer who enjoyed a good tropical fruit.
Additionally, since the weekend-opening “Carini”, the spirit of departed fan Frenchie has become an indelible part of this Dick’s run, with Trey dedicating the song to him. September 2nd also marked the one-year anniversary of when Frenchie boldly introduced himself by storming the field in nothing but his boots during a rain evacuation that left the floor empty and tens of thousands of fans in the concourse admiring the man’s spontaneity. We of course then learned of Frenchie’s terminal condition which claimed his life earlier this year, with Phish paying homage to the “naked dude” during the band’s 2022 New Year’s Eve 40th-anniversary time machine gag.
And of course, the recent loss of Trey Anastasio Band saxophonist James Casey to colon cancer still weighed heavy in the hearts and minds of the Phish community.
As if to continue the musical cacophony that ended the preceding night with “Split Open And Melt”, Saturday’s show began with the slow descent into madness “Fluffhead”. This opening salvo would prove the lengthiest excursion of the evening, ultimately stretching past 21 minutes after all was said and done. Trey Anastasio, Jon Fishman, Page McConnell, and Mike Gordon‘s jamming was aggressive and intentioned, a theme that would run throughout the evening.
Phish – “Fluffhead” – 9/2/23
Singalongs “My Soul” and “Cavern” propelled the set early on, teeing up another weightier, intricately composed song to rival “Fluffhead”, “Reba”. Easing back the throttle into the open-ended section, Page provided broad brush strokes on his Wurlitzer as Trey dotted the landscapes with lighter notes from the high end of his guitar neck. As was the case for much of the show, deep dives of experimentation were largely shelved in favor of keeping with a brisk pace that powered the concert.
Mike Gordon got his first shot at lead vocals of the weekend with “Mound” ahead of a brief soar through the air on “A Wave of Hope”. A first set highlight and idyllic encapsulation of the short-but-sweet improv style of the evening arrived with “Taste”. The song’s inherent upbeat build broke open beyond Page’s twinkly grand piano as Trey caught fire to drive the song onward and upward to a satisfying little peak. Finishing out the first frame, Trey damn near stepped right through his wah-wah pedal on “Ghost” for an incendiary sendoff to the first set.
Dipping back into the well of songs, Gamehendge favorite “AC/DC Bag” got the second frame started off with a jaunty groove. The band took flight early, clearing the runway and taking off to catch a momentum that would propel Phish through the long night ahead. As Page laid the undercurrent on his Rhodes, Fishman kicked up the winds that eventually blew straight into a hard cut to “Chalkdust Torture”. Trey took the jam by the horns here as he picked out prickly leads over Fishman’s rough-and-tumble drumming.
Phish – “AC/DC Bag” – 9/2/23
Keeping up the pace of what would prove to be a non-stop set of continuous segues, Phish eased back the tension into “Ether Edge”. Saturday marked only the song’s second-ever live airing, following its debut at the summer tour’s opening run in Huntsville. The sweetly sentimental number ultimately tapped back into that inertia to develop into a rolling jam that caught a smooth transition into “46 Days”. Throughout several of the night’s jams, specifically “AC/DC Bag” and “Ether Edge”, the band was able to maintain the integrity of the prior improvisation by carrying the groove over into the unique musical DNA of the next song, masterfully linking one composition to the next.
But it was the final two songs of the second set that produced some of the biggest highlights. Sci-Fi Soldier standout “The Howling” arose from its vaguely “2001” funk energy to ultimately possess the sold-out, 27,000-capacity crowd as they tapped into their inner wolves by howling at the moon. Of course, Trey’s low-octave explorations are nothing to gloss over, but the significance of this “The Howling” didn’t come from anything the band was doing onstage, but rather the palpable hum of tens of thousands of fans howling at the moon and resonating through the Dick’s structure.
After accessing fans’ inner wolves, the band brought the set to a fiery finish with a “Piper” that, instead of building slowly into the intro, took its time on the back half for a rare respite in a set that had been pedal-to-the-metal the entire time. Unable to hold themselves for long, Phish was inevitably once again possessed by ever-building momentum that steamrolled the entire show to break out through one more glorious peak to wrap a conspicuously brief second set.
Returning to the stage just past 11 p.m. local time, it was almost as if the entire crowd was caught off guard, surprised that it was already time for the encore. It appeared at first that Phish was going to wrap things up with “Theme From The Bottom”—not exactly an exclamation point, so there’s probably one more in the can, right? One more? How about five more!
A tropical excursion with the first “The Mango Song” of 2023 brought to mind “Bubba” himself, Jimmy Buffett, in what seemed like a classy if indirect way to end the show. But then Trey started chugging out the gruff power chords of “Don’t Doubt Me”, which felt like the firm exclamation point the band had been searching for. Nope.
With a segue into “Evolve”, it was obvious that there was still more to come, as Trey’s quarantine diddy about evolution also isn’t exactly a high note to go out on. It felt like, one after the other, Phish was looking for a a way to put a bow on the evening, missed it, and then just fired up another song. Then along came “Golgi Apparatus”, a closer if there ever was one.
But wait, there’s more.
Once Trey’s riff to “Run Like An Antelope” came firing through the speakers, the sheer farce of the six-song encore truly became apparent. This was Phish playing as intentionally as the band had all evening, and almost vindictively challenging the fortitude of its audience. Well, hopefully, we proved ourselves as we stuck it out for the long run. A heart-pounding climax to “Antelope” finally delivered the long-awaited exclamation point that had alluded the marathon encore which—all told—contained as many songs as the second set. The Phish concert that would never end, finally did.
Phish closes its 2023 Dick’s run and the summer tour tonight, Sunday, September 3rd. Following Saturday’s show, join us at Denver’s Cervantes’ Masterpiece Ballroom for a late-night Paul Simon dance party hosted by Bone Diggers [grab your tickets here].
Related: Phish Dick’s 2023 Late-Night Guide: The Phunk Sessions, Steely Dead, Magic Beans, More
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Setlist: Phish | Dick’s Sporting Goods Park | Commerce City, CO | 9/2/23
SET 1: Fluffhead, My Soul, Cavern > Reba, Mound > A Wave of Hope > Taste > Ghost
SET 2: AC/DC Bag -> Chalk Dust Torture > Ether Edge -> 46 Days > The Howling > Piper
ENCORE: Theme From the Bottom > The Mango Song, Don’t Doubt Me > Evolve, Golgi Apparatus > Run Like an Antelope
 No whistling.
Reba did not contain the whistling ending. Chalk Dust was unfinished. Mike teased Merrily We Roll Along after the soundcheck’s Fast Enough for You.