After making a dynamic opening statement on Thursday, Phish continued to deliver the (sporting) goods on Friday by uncorking a 24-minute “Sand” at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park. The second of four shows of the summer-ending run featured a number of standout jams, with the band saving one of the best for last.
Last year, Phish for the first time extended its annual run at Dick’s in Commerce City, CO from three nights to four, with the tradition continuing in 2023. That extra day has already paid dividends in giving Trey Anastasio, Jon Fishman, Page McConnell, and Mike Gordon an extra cushion of comfort. Like four-night engagements for New Year’s Eve or the band’s Mexican getaway, time is on their side, providing ample opportunity for extensive improvisation and deep catalog dives.
That ease of comfort was immediately apparent in the opening 13-minute “Wolfman’s Brother”. In contrast to the explosive starting gun of “Carini” that kicked off the run the night prior, this “Wolfman’s Brother” eased in the sold-out crowd as Page smacked the clavinet and Mike slapped the bass. Ultimately moving past the “easing in” jam, Trey propelled the intensity with sharp leads as Fish egged him on with hard strikes of the toms.
Phish – “Wolfman’s Brother” [Pro-Shot] –9/1/23
Following Thursday’s show which was heavy on more recent 3.0 (and even 4.0) compositions, Phish loaded Friday’s setlist with older classics. The first set was particularly first set-y and was dotted with singalongs like “Sparkle”, “Back on the Train”, and “Bouncing Around The Room”. Friday marked Page’s first turn on lead vocals, with the keyboardist piloting back-to-back songs on “Halfway to the Moon” followed by “Bouncing”. The first set also witnessed an appearance by the one-time rarity but now increasingly common possessed doll “Esther”.
On the improvisational side of things, Phish loaded up the first set with a trio of 1.0 heavy-hitting vehicles in “Bathtub Gin”, “Stash”, and the set-closing “David Bowie”. The first of the pack, “Bathtub Gin”, opened into a light, airy jam that set the mood of a cool Colorado night following a scorching day that swelled to 100 degrees.
“Gin” also introduced a theme that would run through these one-time improvisational behemoths. Though these were once the most reliable jam vehicles, like any ride that has been going for 20 or 30 years, they have lost a bit of their longevity and can’t make it as far. Truncated takes on these still all-time classics felt all too brief and left a hunger for more. Luckily that hunger would be more than satiated in the remainder of the show.
Dimming the lights for set two, the members of Phish kicked off their shoes to stick their feet deep in the “Sand”. The preceding rant about 1.0 reliable jams that have lost their longevity notwithstanding, the cut from 2000’s Farmhouse is at least from this century. And with this less-lored song came a certain air of comfort where there weren’t decades of expectations for all-time great renditions, but that’s exactly what audiences got.
Starting off shimmery, it soon opened up into a full-bodied, playful jam with Page on Rhodes and Mike dropping bass plunks that fit perfectly into the groove like LEGO blocks. Rather than dominating the early part of the journey, Trey lofted above and rode the breeze of the band below him. As the intensity began to build, lighting director Chris Kuroda lit up the stage like the 4th of July as Trey added pyrotechnics of his own. Constantly evolving, a dark, dirty, heavy, and sticky low octave and organ groove took over before the band crossed the finish line with a rollicking finale before reprising the song’s scripted groove.
Phish – “Sand” [Pro-Shot] –9/1/23
Before fans could process what they just observed, Phish led right into “No Men in No Man’s Land”. The alien and ambient jam was not of this world, a cosmic and calming foil to the explosive “Sand”. The band re-entered the Earth’s atmosphere at fantastic speed for a transition into “Llama” before “Mountains in the Mist” finally allowed the audience to take its first collective breath of the past 40 minutes.
With the wobbly introduction to “Scents and Subtle Sounds” came the flood (quite literally) of memories back Wilmington, NC where back in July Phish’s concert was forcibly canceled mid-song due to severe rain and lightning storms. It should be noted on Trey’s permanent record “I didn’t want to stop, they stopped me.”
For those of us, this writer included, this “Scents and Subtle Sounds” was the long-awaited payoff after only seeing the beginning verses back in North Carolina. The drenched denizens of Phish Wilmington who made the trek to Denver (and didn’t see the Pennsylvania show immediately following NC) were finally given their closure so that we may wrap up our summer tour with a sense of peace.
But the sentimentality wasn’t quite finished as Trey crooned out the first lines of The Rolling Stones‘ “Shine A Light” for the set two closer. A song of triumph, this Exile On Main Street classic got me through COVID much like Phish’s Dinner And A Movie webcasts. It was truly a full-circle moment as I went from listening to this song on repeat while being forced to distance myself from everyone I know and love, to three years later singing it at the top of my lungs along with a 27,000-capacity crowd and my best friend. If this was a movie that would be the feel-good ending just before the credits roll.
However, it wasn’t time to roll credits just yet. How do you finish an objectively top-shelf second set? Evidently with experimental free-form rock. After a quick shout-along to “Wilson”, “Split Open and Melt” turned the collective consciousness inside Dick’s to puddy. Every time you thought the jam couldn’t possibly get any crazier, it did, and just as the psychosis was about to set in after 17 minutes Phish brought it back around for a big finish and turned on the lights for all of us to attempt to reassemble the pieces of our shattered psyches.
Phish continues its 2023 Dick’s run tonight, Saturday, September 2nd. Following Saturday’s show, join us at Denver’s Cervantes’ Masterpiece Ballroom for a late-night performance by The Phunk Sessions [grab your tickets here]. For a full list of Live For Live Music‘s 2023 Dick’s late-night events, head here.
Related: Phish Dick’s 2023 Late-Night Guide: The Phunk Sessions, Steely Dead, Magic Beans, More
Below, check out the full setlist and a selection of photos from Friday night’s Phish show at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park courtesy of Kit Tincher. For a full list of upcoming Phish tour dates, head here. Subscribe to LivePhish+ to listen to every show on the tour and browse an archive of live Phish recordings. To order your LivePhish webcasts for any of the band’s upcoming summer shows, head here.
Phish – “Stash” – 9/1/23
Setlist: Phish | Dick’s Sporting Goods Park | Commerce City, CO | 9/1/23
SET 1: Wolfman’s Brother, Sparkle > Bathtub Gin, Back on the Train, Halfway to the Moon, Bouncing Around the Room, Stash, Esther > David Bowie
SET 2: Sand > No Men In No Man’s Land -> Llama, Mountains in the Mist, Scents and Subtle Sounds > Shine a Light
ENCORE: Wilson > Split Open and Melt
Phish | Dick’s Sporting Goods Park | Commerce City, CO | 9/1/23 | Photos: Kit Tincher