Friday, July 31, 2009

Phish Finally Returns to Red Rocks

By Pauly
Denver, CO

It's been 13 years since the boys from Vermont threw down at Red Rocks. For many Phisheads (not too mention scores of Colorado locals who were unable to see their favorite band at their favorite venue in the Denver/Boulder area), the ban at Red Rocks was utterly devastating. Red Rocks Ampitheatre is the most amazing outdoor venue in the world. Sure there's the Gorge or Deer Creek, but nothing compares to Red Rocks and the spiritual energy and natural beauty carved out of rust-colored mountain side.

Phish made a triumphant return during the first of a four night run. The Hampton reunion was a magical moment and I was happy just to hear them play again even though everything sounded too tightly rehearsed. The first leg of summer tour was the first time that Phish opened up and displayed traces of the exploratory and improvisational jamming that brought them notoriety. On a couple of nights, I caught glimpses on Phish 1.0 and it made me realize just how many average shows they churned out during the less-than-stellar Phish 2.0 years. Alas, they were back to old form.

Now that they had a full leg of a summer tour under their belt, the boys shook out the cobwebs and we ready to kick off a four-night stand at Red Rocks. I tried not to over-hype the shows and went in with very low expectations. I found it was better to downplay a concert/festival because that way the event will always surpass my expectations.

The Joker secured us spots on the Basics Fund party bus. We headed downtown for a quick bite at Great Wall before we wandered into Sancho's for a few cocktails while we awaited the arrival of the party bus. The bar was packed for a Thursday afternoon with plenty of Phish on the jukebox. The yellow school bus finally arrived and Charlie checked us all in. He introduced us to the driver... Larry... and said that Larry was a bad ass and that we were in good hands.

There were about 24 of us who stumbled onto the bus and I knew more than half the crew including the Joker, Nicky, Jonas & Katie, Wildo, the Charlie Sisters, and friends of friends from Wyoming. The Joker dragged his cooler onto the party bus and Jonas mixed together a few cocktails. We were able to smoke up freely, since anything goes on the bus, and Larry took off like a bat out of hell. We sat in the last few rows and we felt every little bump as Larry sped down the freeway on the way to Red Rock. He got us there in record time and we pulled into the Lower North parking lot at exactly 5pm. That's when Larry the driver disappeared.

The Joker headed off to sell Lost t-shirts and we wandered around scoping out the scene. Nicky had never been to Red Rocks before, so we wandered around a bit. The boys were in the middle of their soundcheck and Jonas excitedly grabbed my arm.

"Dude, that was a sick jam from Trey in the middle of Billy Breathes."

I also heard them noodle around with Time Turns Elastic before soundcheck ended. I bumped into some folks that I knew and we eventually made our way inside around 7pm. The patdown was super light and the line up top was only like a dozen or so people in front of me. Talk about smooth. Unable to get a spot for a the entire group, we spread out in different areas. Nicky and I decided to head up near the top where there was more space to groove and it was a lot closer to the bathrooms. The Joker joined us and the lights went down shortly after 8pm. Phish was finally back to Red Rocks.
7/30/09 - Phish Red Rocks Ampitheater, Morrison, CO

Set I: Divided Sky, Ocelot, The Wedge, Poor Heart, Moma Dance, Horn, Stash, The Horse > Silent in the Morning, Possum

Set II: Mike's Song > Hydrogen > Weekapaug Groove > Ghost > Wolfman's Brotha, Limb by Limb, Billy Breathes, Squirming Coil > David Bowie

E: Loving Cup
Iggy remarked that Phish was like church music because it looked like everyone was at a religious revival, something he noticed at his first shows when he noticed everyone's arms thrust towards the heavens during Divided Sky. For many fans seeing Phish for the first time, they were in sheer ecstasy. The sound dropped out for a bit at the beginning and that would be the only technical difficulty the entire show.

Ocelot was the only new tune that they played, when I sort of expected two or three to be played every night. It's one of my favorites from the new tunes, but the jam out was much weaker than the versions we heard last leg. The Joker bailed mid-way and grabbed a batch of Supreme Nachos.

The Wedge is one of my all-time top Phish songs dating back to 1993 when I caught my first ever live version. I haven't seen too many Wedges since then. They only played it five times during the 2.0 era, yet this was the third time I caught The Wedge this summer. Sweet.

And just when they started getting things cooking, it was time to spice up the stew with some Mile High funk and Moma Dance. The Joker and I went nuts and luckily there was plenty of space for us to get down. I was very critical of Fishman's playing at Hampton and during the initial shows in June, but he really pulled it together during the Great Woods > Camden > Asheville run. The sensational news is that he's back in the driver's seat. It took him a little longer to gel than it did is bandmates, and now, Fishman is the strongest he's been since the reunion. Only good things can come from this revival.

Horn was quick, yet tasty, and Stash took plenty of twists and turns during an 18-minute version. I was dying to take a leak and gave in right after they started the jam as I made a sprint towards the Visitor's Center. Jonas noted that they delved into some Type II jamming and I caught the peak of the post-Stash jam before Phish switched gears and mellowed out the crowd with Horse > Silent. They closed the set with a juicy version of Possum, which threw me for a loop. It was around the 1 hour 15 minute mark and I figured they were good for one more tune like Character Zero or Cavern, yet they ended the set after Possum.

I was pretty hammered the first set, probably the most inebriated I had been since Bonnaroo. I made an effort to see most of the first leg relatively sober so I had a much clearer perspective of the music. Depending on the party favors, I often say I liked a show much better than the reality of the situation. Yeah, it's the drugs talking. But for the first set, even though I was pretty far spun, I thought that it was slightly above average. My personal highlights were Moma and The Wedge, and they last bit of Stash had several interesting moments. However, I knew that first set was just the first of eight epic sets that Phish was going to play.

But the second set... blew me away.

Three members of Phish took the stage as Trey announced Mike Gordon, not once, but twice as he stepped out from the shadows and took a bow. And then they promptly ripped into Mike's > Hydrogen > Weekapaug. Mike was the MVP during the first part of the second set and things got a little peculiar during Ghost. As the Joker explained, they didn't exactly build up to a crescendo, and instead the jam took lots of sharp turns. Jonas noted that Trey had been patient most of the night and he deferred to Page and Mike during Ghost. I sorta labeled it "faded funk" with the heavy-legged ass-shaking grooves. At one point, they teased something from Fatboy Slim. I thought I was hearing some weird stuff, but Scotty B confirmed it.

To cap off the marvelous forty-minutes of infused fury, the boys ended their monster sandwich with a heady Wolfman's Brother. Page really stepped it up and that was some of his best playing of the night.

The first half of the second set was so delicious, that I had zero expectations for the rest of the show. It was all gravy. Fishman shined on Limb by Limb and I knew Jonas was pumped to hear a rare Billy Breathes. This was the first version in the 3.0 era and it was only played two other times since 2000.

I'm always on the fence about Coil. The first half was a Pauly Takes a Piss Song because I couldn't hold it any longer. I returned for the last half because I didn't want to miss Page's savory solo. I thought that they were going to end the set with Coil, but they hooked us up with a fatty Bowie, and a much cleaner version than the flubbed trainwreck in Burgettstown.

I love Loving Cup because Page always tears it up. I wondered if we'd get a nice one-two punch with the encore, but they only played the Rolling Stones cover and quickly left the stage. The first show was over and it was time to go home. I was happy that I got to see this show with my girlfriend. She went to Hampton but had to sit out the entire first leg of summer tour because of work. She was more than pleased with her first ever Red Rocks experience.

We headed back to the lot, but the bus was empty, Larry the bus driver was nowhere to be found. Eventually each member of our group made their way back to the bus... but Larry the driver was still AWOL almost an hour after the show started. In the meantime, the Joker broke out the cooler and served up brews while he chased an ocelot around the lot and heckled the crew in the bus next to us for not having a nitrous tank.

One of the guys from a different bus said that his driver and Larry left the lot to get some grub but the police would not let them come back into the area until everyone left. Larry the driver was not the slimmest of guys in the world, and if you know Red Rocks, you know that even the fittest of people have a tough time legging it out up those steep inclines. Larry the driver had to huff it from the entrance to the upper lot. Drenched in sweat, Larry the driver finally stumbled into the lot with a sad limp as the entire crew jubilantly cheered him on as he made the last steps over the gravel. Everyone hopped on the bus and Larry the driver sped off like he didn't even miss a beat as the Charlie Sisters danced away as Michael Jackson's Rock with Me blasted over the sound system.

One down. Three to go. And it's only going to get better.

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