Tonight marked Phish’s first Los Angeles appearance since Valentine’s Day 2003. That’s an awfully long time for our little town – which boasts a lot more Phish fans than many may assume – to wait. It was worth it.
Words serve poorly when trying to describe the Hollywood Bowl. For an audience it is an eyeful, and a constant inspiration, and for a band it presents certain problems. It creates a lot of space that wants to be filled. It has spirits and mythology. And for much of the first set tonight, the P.A. wouldn’t warm up.
The star tonight and the artist who did the most homework and blew the most minds was Chris Kuroda. He had a more developed and busy palette to paint on and couldn’t fit in his complete rig (I will defer to a host of deeper experts on the topic of concert lighting to elaborate). Both because of and in spite of these limitations, he wound up on everybody’s lips as the show let out tonight. Remarkable work start to finish.
The music proper started at 7:33, a curfew-conscious call.
“Down with Disease” stayed within itself as the front-of-house sound simmered and stalled a bit. “Cavern” followed, the first of several Gorge repeats, and it sounded to most within my earshot that Trey once again sang, “Whatever you choose,” with some emphasis. A straightforward Possum birthed a somewhat truncated “Cities,” and then the first Southern California “Peaches en Regalia” since 12/1/96 at Pauley Pavilion. Frank Zappa appeared several times at the Bowl, including the debut of his Grand Wazoo Orchestra in 1972, and Phish’s reading of “Peaches” was capable and well-placed in the set.
After a relatively tame “Kill Devil Falls” and a gee-I-forgot-about-this-tune “Lawnboy” came the expected “Tube.” But it was “Back on the Train” that finally ignited the band’s afterburners, at least a bit, along with the troublesome P.A. With Phish finally feeling their shredded oats, it made sense that Phish decked up punchy takes on “Wilson” and “Axilla,” and both of these elicited huge response from the crowd.
“Split Open and Melt” offered the first highlight that could be argued to be on par with the memorable moments from Gorge I. The steam-dream vocal bridge was particularly delicate and wonderful, and bled into a jam that moved quickly into the boundary zones, careening about a lot both rhythmically and harmonically. Fishman was especially influential throughout this “Melt” jam, moving from pulse to pulse with practiced ease. Oohs and aahs all over the place when this one was done.
And then Phish played “Number Line.” I love this song, by the way; I just felt it might have been a bridge too far. Tough call, though, and your mileage may (and probably does) vary.
Set break chatter most certainly revolved around the crowd’s appetite for exploration, and the second set did not disappoint. From the first hungry chords of “Carini” it was pretty apparent that the band had come back out with a renewed sense of purpose, as Mike directed a major key turn that found Phish painting with primary colors not usually present in the song.
“Crosseyed and Painless,” which some have argued suffers from overplay these days, took a good four or five minutes to come un-tethered, but by the time it was through, it had seduced even the die-hards. First blush, I think you could map this one north of Burgettstown ’03 but south of Big Cypress, and closer to the former in terms of its approach.
“Twist” was as short as any I can recall – perhaps it was a nod to the version they played on Leno ( :: rim shot :: ). I was told in the cab home that the “Piper” was longer than recent versions have been, relatively, but it doesn’t stick out in my mind as a tent-pole jam. “Mike’s Song” was surgical and hot and built to a wonderfully groovy and Zeppelin-esque peak.
I disagree with the Chad parade behind me on the way out of the venue who insisted that “Joy” was poorly placed and ruined the set. First of all, nothing ruined this set. Secondly, better here than in the encore, no?
Sandwiching “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover” inside “Weekapaug Groove” came off pretty much exactly as you’d expect on paper – a bit burpy, but with high entertainment value, featuring Fishman flamming away on a mini-kit at the center foot of the stage as he crooned. The crowd shone as the clear MVPs in a genuinely spicy “Character Zero,” singing the outro in key, in harmony, and in time. Hams.
“Quinn” was special, among other reasons for our friends Grant and Gill, parents of one Quinn, who I know have been crossing some fingers for it. This sharp and soulful version may fall short of the noteworthy SBIX rendition but not by much, and served as a strong capstone to a very solid and occasionally adventuresome set of Phish.
I don’t have terribly flattering things to say about the encore choices, as I might have made different ones, but both were capably played and had a bit of mustard. “Julius” seemed very appropriate given the “Roman ruins” aesthetic of the Bowl, and others have noted that the "DWD"/"Julius" bookends were meant to recall Phish's L.A. stint during the recording and production of Hoist.
Special night at the Hollywood Bowl tonight, and some distinct momentum as we press on northward to Tahoe.
The Sierras beckon!
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March 27, 1993
25 years ago
Set 2: Buried Alive > Halley's Comet > It's Ice > Bouncing Around the Room, Chalk Dust Torture, The Man Who Stepped Into Yesterday > Avenu Malkenu > The Man Who Stepped Into Yesterday > Mike's Song > I Am Hydrogen > Weekapaug Groove, Hold Your Head Up > Cracklin' Rosie > Hold Your Head Up, Poor Heart > Golgi Apparatus
 Beginning featured Trey on acoustic guitar.
 Fish on trombone.
 All Fall Down signal in intro.
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