As one of your resident jaded vets, it takes a lot for me to classify something that happened at a 3.0 Phish show as “best ever”. But even after a year has passed to contemplate, I think the encore at the third night of 2015’s Dick’s run still sits atop the leaderboard for best encore of all time.
I experienced it, like all good jaded vets, via a live stream from the comfort of my home while following along with people I barely knew on Twitter. And let me tell you... that was fun! Slowly putting the pieces together in real time while simultaneously being surprised by the band around every corner was something to behold.
It moved me so much that, at the time, I decided to catalog all the reasons why it did. I quickly jotted down some notes, totaling 25 separate and distinct reasons. But time passed, and I never published it, so I am resurrecting it as a way of previewing Phish’s 2016 Dick’s run, their 6th three night stand at the Denver-area MLS stadium.
Twenty Five Reasons The 9/6/15 Encore Was The Greatest In Phish History
1. Many may have forgotten this piece of trivia, but the set break was particularly long (over 50 minutes rather than a more typical 40). It had the effect of pushing everything in the seond set later, indicating a quickie encore. In actuality, they probably spent a little extra time in the practice room.
2. There was no acrostic setlist prank on the first night. Friday night was the traditional night for crazy antics, but with so much fun had over the previous four years (The S Show, the FUCK YOUR FACE Show, the reverse MOST SHOWS SPELL SOMETHING, The LUSHINGTON Show), perhaps — like their shift away from covering others’ albums on Halloween — they had just run out of ideas and given up on such things.
3. “Tweezer Reprise” opens the encore. Of course it does. “Tweezer” hadn’t been reprised during the second set. There’s the expected quickie and see ya down the road. Still the best two minutes in rock and roll.
4. But, wait… is that the tell-tale “Ooom Pa Pa”? The band was clearly saying “screw the curfew” with this song choice and maybe, just maybe, it was a way to acknowledge the lack of setlist pranks and the special nature of Dick’s.
5. In a summer with its fair share of highlights, the band had not tackled “Harpua” once. Increasingly rare these days, it’s a signifier of, if not a great show, a special one.
6. Trey advises that people writing down the setlist need only to record “Harpua” once. That’s kind of a strange warning, but a few songs later, we’d get it.
7. The narration begins and Trey references Jimmy as an “East Coast guy who moved to Colorado.” That’s probably like 50% of the audience at Dick’s! He also “welcomes” the crowd (over three and a half hours into the show), references the classic “We Love Dick’s” refrain, and mentions edibles and vapes to the delight of locals and tourists alike.
8. By the time the band launched into “After Midnight” it actually was after midnight
9. Trey identifies “After Midnight” as an Eric Clapton song, and not by it’s author JJ Cale. Oh, Trey!
10. “NO2” features a callback to the Oxygen tank that Jimmy needed because of the Colorado location.
11. The song they chose to represent K was “Keyboard Army”, a tune that was essentially on nobody’s radar, was a gimmick during a tour 20 years prior and then never played again. Classic.
12. It was actually one of only five K songs the band has ever played. Two of the five have only been performed once!
13. Once fans figured out that the encore was being used to spell something, the band could have just said “THANKS”, but they decided to go for the full “THANK YOU” and the accompanying two extra songs. They truly don't give a fuck about any curfew.
14. “Your Pet Cat”. While technically not a bust out, it was so new and so relatively rare that I’m sure most people in attendance had never seen it live. Treat.
15. That song is actually about a cat, so it actually makes sense within the context of the “Harpua” narration. He even introduces the Thrilling Chilling sample, by questioning... "how long have people been keeping cats as pets?"
16. Mike narrates. Now that’s a rarity. Having been present during the 10/31/95 and 7/20/13 performances of “Harpua”, I know what a rush his off-kilter storytelling can produce.
17. Despite all these back bends to work the right songs / letters into the encore, the “Harpua” narration actually kind of makes sense, which is not a guarantee these days. Charming.
18. With everybody knowing that an 'O' is next, Trey casually drops the spoken line "how did I get here?”. Ho. Lee. Shit.
19. Okay, so vowels are definitely hard to come by in these spelled out sets. For O, “Once In A Lifetime” graces the Phish stage for only the second time ever, after it debuted at Halloween 1996. It’s the one song from Remain In Light that most people actually knew before the performance, yet had stayed out of the rotation for 19 years afterwards. Yes, it’s a little rough, but man…
20. Hearing it made me feel just like the E for "Emotional Rescue" did in the FUCK YOUR FACE show. It was the band’s acknowledgement that they have a long, crazy history that can sometimes be absent from modern performances. But sometimes, like us, they remember. It also contains the “a dooogggg” line from “Harpua”.
21. Trey’s comments in the intro to “United We Stand”, addressed directly to the crowd, were actually kind of poignant. He even acknowledges everybody on couch tour.
Of course, the four people on stage play the biggest part in keeping this whole saga going, but it's about us, not them. It feels honest, and after a spectacular summer, came at the exact right time.
22. The final vowel, U, was “United We Stand”. A debut. At once familiar and foreign, it tugged right at the emotional core of Trey’s previous address.
23. I’m the last guy that tries to impart meaning from the lyrics of the songs that the band chooses to play, but in this case, as an expression of gratitude and community, during a set that literally spells THANK YOU, the words definitely seem to capture the relationship between the band and its fans:
For united we stand. Divided we fall
And if our backs should ever be against the wall
We'll be together, Together, you and I
24. In a summer where the band continued to shy away from covers, their final encore featured three of them. Score one for us old school covers fans.
25. All of this just brought back all the great feelings that made me fall in love with Phish to begin with. The type of “the more you put in, the more you get out” symbiosis that carried me through so many shows in the nineties. I thought this would be a near universal feeling of wonder, joy and togetherness amongst fans.
Not so. Check out this YouTube comment.
I guess even the best ever can’t please everyone!
On to this year’s Labor Day Weekend tradition.