Looking out over a crowd of roughly 10,000 people on the ball fields of Telluride's town park after tearing through a cover of Traffic's "Light up or Leave Me Alone," Phish's Trey Anastasio summed up the surroundings succinctly: "It's still beautiful here." Some twenty years after the band last played in the small mountain town, bassist Mike Gordon, keyboardist Page McConnell, drummer Jon Fishman and Anastasio returned for a two-night, canyon-shaking run. The band has a storied past with Telluride, as Anastasio recounted on the Tuesday night.
Back in 1988, the then-fledgling band from Vermont was eager to venture out past the Green Mountain State. Through a friend of a friend, a Colorado tour was booked and the band and soundman Paul Languidoc headed out in a rental moving van. Arriving in Telluride, however, the band discovered that the promoter hadn't actually booked any shows, so they spent the next week or so gigging around town at the Roma and Fly Me To the Moon Saloon to the same half-dozen people.
This go-round, obviously, tickets were a bit harder to come by. Even before I got to town, I was seeing people with signs asking for extra tickets at gas stations in Montrose and Ridgeway. The next day, my crew was walking past dozens of pitiful faces and fingers in the air outside of the will-call booth. We made our way in about a half-hour past the 5 p.m. doors and found our way up front to some friends who had been in line since noon. The place packed in over the next hour and a half, and people started getting testy over their tarp space.
The first set felt a bit like a warm-up, with a short version of "Down with Disease" to open and rough versions of "Cavern" and "The Wedge," but the band did connect on a few tunes like "Stash," "Possum," and Traffic's "Light up or Leave me Alone" - one of my all-time favorite Phish covers because of McConnell's boogie-woogie piano work. At set break, a lot of the crowd around us dispersed, making room for people on the fringes to come in.
By the time the lights dropped for second set, we were packed in noticeably more than first. Just as the stars started to blink into sight in the night sky, they were quickly outshone by light designer Chris Kuroda's amazing display when the band launched into the trance-funk of "Sand." Often referred to as the silent fifth member of the band, Kuroda does more visually with his array of moveable lights than just about any other band could ever hope to accomplish with even the most elaborate stage setups. Walking around the back of the venue, I could hear Gordon's thumping bass lines during "Tweezer" echoing through the streets of town, while the entire crowd boogied down in front of me.
The highlight of the set for me was a spacey version of "Piper" that went well past the original structure into a spacey and dark jam led by Fishman's thunderous fills and changes. The band pulled out yet another rare cover for their encore before the 11 p.m. curfew, this time Dylan's "Quinn the Eskimo." Last played eleven years ago by Phish, the song was also a frequent cover for Jerry Garcia. Read into it how you want, but Monday was also the fifteeenth anniversary of Garcia's death.
We walked in around the same time the following night and found our spot in the same place directly in front of the soundboard. This set opened with "The Squirming Coil," one of the band's oldest tunes and frequently used as way to end a set or a show due to McConnell's lengthy and beautiful piano solo at the end. The solo ended and Anastasio blazed into the opening riff of "Stealing Time from the Faulty Plan," another of the new songs, a gritty, Hammond-organ backed tune that has quickly become one of my favorites.
The band seemed to connect early on this night, as well, digging into fan favorites like "Ya Mar" and "Timber" before launching into a sunset rendition of the intricately composed tune, "The Divided Sky." Two cover songs back to back were the real heat of the set though, Joe Walsh's "Walk Away" and Ween's "Roses are Free" - even with a few timing flubs early on in "Walk Away."
The second set was easily the best set of the two nights. The band threw out a classic segue-filled song trio starting with "Mike's Song," but threw in a twist when the song evolved into the Talking Heads' "Crosseyed and Painless," before transitioning back into I am "Hydrogen" and "Weekapaug Groove." Anastasio turned the noodle-dancers into a mosh pit of excitement with the opening chords of the borderline-metal "Carini" that morphed into several minutes of ambient guitar feedback and synthesizer drones.
Phish closed out the last set of the extended weekend appropriately with "You Enjoy Myself" - the quintessential Phish song that blends jazz, rock, funk, silly lyrics, serious musicianship and everything else people like me find enjoyable in this band. The band came on for encore, and Anastasio humbly thanked the crowd and the town before launching into The Rolling Stone's "Shine a Light," with Kuroda's lights soaring into the mountain peaks behind us.
After the Phish shows ended the second show began all over Telluride. Outside the venue not-so-legal vendors sold burritos and T-shirts, while around the corner, even-less-legal vendors hawked black nitrous oxide balloons. Bars packed with thirsty Phish fans and dance parties sprung up wherever music and people on MDMA collided. After touring around to several bars, hotel rooms and even a disco party in a condo, I hit the rack around 3:30 while people hooted and hollered outside my window until dawn.
Critic's Notebook, Setlists and Download links after the jump.
CRITIC'S NOTEBOOK Personal Bias: I'm a complete Phish geek, with more than 65 shows under my belt and more bootleg recordings than I could ever possibly listen to. I also think Telluride is the greatest place on earth. Mix the two, and it's hard for me to have a bad time. Random Notes: Saw Yonder Mountain String Band mandolin player and Nederland resident Jeff Austin boogying down a few tarps behind me. By the Way: Phish is rumored to be playing a three night run at the First Bank Center in Broomfield the third week of October.
PHISH - SETLIST 08.10.10 - Telluride Town Park MP3 Download: 08.09.10 ($.99-$28.00)
Down with Disease Camel Walk Ocelot Light Up or Leave Me Alone Summer Of '89 Stash Cavern The Wedge Possum Julius
Sand Backwards Down the Number Line Prince Caspian Tweezer Boogie On Reggae Woman Piper Mountains In The Mist David Bowie A Day in the Life
Quinn the Eskimo Tweezer Reprise
PHISH - SETLIST 08.09.10 - Telluride Town Park MP3 Download: 08.10.10 ($.99-$28.00)
The Squirming Coil Stealing Time From the Faulty Plan Ya Mar Timber Let Me Lie The Divided Sky Walk Away Roses Are Free Limb By Limb Bouncing Around the Room Run Like an Antelope
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Party Time Mike's Song Crosseyed and Painless I Am Hydrogen Weekapaug Groove Destiny Unbound Carini Free You Enjoy Myself
Shine A Light