As we lead up to Phish’s upcoming three-night run at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park in Colorado, I thought it’d be fun to speculate about what the band might bust out during what has now become an annual (and infamous) run of shows in the Denver metro area.

Two years ago the band opened up a new approach to their setlist antics when they played a set made up entirely of songs starting with the letter “s.” And then last year, they upped the ante by morphing their setlist shenanigans into the “acrostic” variety, spelling out the name of their old-school tune, “Fuck Your Face,” in an amazing opener for their much-hyped 2012 Dick’s run (setlist here).

Setlist gimmicks aside, last year’s run featured the band seriously at the top of their game. And given their most recent exploits at the Gorge, in SF, Tahoe and LA, one can only expect hope they can bring the heat at Dick’s like they’ve been doing for the last two summers.

Of course, we wouldn’t be obsessive Phish fans if we didn’t add some fuel to the fire and speculate on what they might try to pull off at this year’s Dick’s run (we couldn’t help ourselves last year, so why stop now?). While I could potentially see Phish attempting to put the kibosh on their setlist gimmickry this year, previous precedent suggests the band’s willingness to extend their hyjinks a bit further (I mean, this band rarely holds back when it comes to inside jokes, spoofs and shenanigans…remember all those attempts at the Meatstick dance craze?).

As such, I thought it’d be fun to speculate about the other possible setlist games they could play in 2013. Here’s my take…forget spelling out song names or using a single letter of the alphabet. Why not push this out into fully thematic set lists? Instead of spelling things out, they could organize sets around themes and concepts and really tap into their enormous songbook and list of go-to covers.

When you think through the band’s songbook, some pretty obvious themes jump out that could be a lot of fun to play around with….

Aquatic Theme
They could go with an “Aquatic” or “Ocean” theme with songs like A Song I Heard the Ocean Sing, Drowned, Theme from the Bottom, Waves, Wading in a Velvet Sea, etc…

Or, they could do an all-animals set with Birds of a Feather, Camel Walk, Fly Famous Mockingbird, Llama, Lizards, The Horse, Run Like an Antelope, The Sloth, Vultures, among many others.

Hell, the band could even just do an entire set of dog-themed tunes since they’ve got plenty of those too: Dog Faced Boy, Dog Log, Dog Stole Things, Harpua, and Runaway Jim (and how about a Shaggy Dog for a nice, old-shool bustout?).

Or, how about songs with a Scientific theme? They could go with Foam, Golgi Apparatus, First Tube, Tube, Frankenstein, I Am Hydrogen, Steam, etc…

They could also do food-themed songs too, which would certainly make for an interesting mix: Meat, Meatstick, Gumbo, The Mango Song, Manteca, Sugar Shack, and Taste.

But, if we want to take it way out out there, we could go even further and get into some more interesting themes and concepts. Check these out:

States of Mind or Being
Buried Alive
Silent in the morning
I Didn’t Know
If I Could
Split open and Melt
Crosseyed and Painless
Cry Baby Cry
Instant Karma!
Emotional Rescue
My Mind’s Got a Mind of its Own

Kill Devil Falls
Yarmouth Road
Highway to Hell
Life on Mars?
La Grange

People (proper nouns):
Buffalo Bill
Suzy Greenberg
Rocco William
David Bowie
Brian & Robert
Frankie Says
Ginseng Sullivan
Harry Hood
The Inlaw Josie Wales
Letter to Jimmy Page
Jennifer Dances (ha!)
Mike’s Song
Colonel Forbin’s

Backwards down the Number Line
Bouncing Around the Room
Get Back on the Train
Ha Ha Ha
Punch You in the Eye
Boogie on Reggae Woman
Burnin Down the House

As you can see, once you open things up and let the imagination run wild, then the possibilities are pretty endless, especially with Phish’s 30-year catalog of songs to pick from.

Now I’d obviously love it if they took it this far and did something similar to this concept — and it sure is fun to speculate about all the possibilities — but it’s really not what they play as much as how they play them. I would much rather the band scrap the setlist games entirely if it means we can get more improv along the lines of the Tahoe Tweezer or the Hollywood Hood. So if they can match the improv intensity from last year’s Dicks or from some of their recent West Coast shows, then we’ll really be in for a treat. What other themes would you conjure up? Leave your ideas in the comments!

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