Tuesday 08/09/2011 by bertoletdown


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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, comment by Fluffyfluffyhead
Fluffyfluffyhead too tired to ramble... KURODA!!! meeeeeellllt....
I love the Phish! good show and goodnight.
, comment by He_looks_too_much_like_Dave
He_looks_too_much_like_Dave um Quinn the Eskimo was definitely not played in Charlotte...i think you mean Alpharetta
, comment by johnnyd
johnnyd Thanks for the review. The setlist speaks for itself, and your descriptions definitely added some meat to it. But an important question needs to be asked:
Did you, you know, get to completion?

, comment by lumpblockclod
lumpblockclod I thought the DWD/Julius bookends were possibly a nod to Hoist being recorded in LA. But who knows, of course. Nice review, Chris.
, comment by bertoletdown
bertoletdown @He_looks_too_much_like_Dave said:
um Quinn the Eskimo was definitely not played in Charlotte...i think you mean Alpharetta
I meant SBIX, and fixed it, but nice catch.

, comment by joechip
joechip Nice write up. The photos do look amazing, must have been quite a spectacle.

First impression on listening is that the Carini> Crosseyed> Twist> Piper is an outstanding segment. It's nice to see that major key shift coming back in Carini, it made for a few great versions on Fall Tour and this one fits right in with those. Nice to see some exploration in Crosseyed. I think the Piper was a keeper, it wasted no time getting into abstract territory, forgoing the usual frenetic shred-jam. Could have gone on longer in the same vein, the Mike's riff was indeed inserted a bit crudely. Wouldn't go as far as saying Joy ruined the set but it does sound a bit jarring in juxtaposition, it's a big step down in energy from the peak of Mike's...

From the AUD it seems like the H.Bowl was a challenging sonic environment to say the least. The recording confirms your impression of the sound dialing in somewhat around Back On The Train.

I love what's going on in this Tube and a lot of the other recent ones, just wish it would get stretched out once in a while. I like Number Line as a first set closer personally too.
, comment by Live_Eels
Live_Eels The setlist stagnation for the first 3 shows is a bit concerning (as it has been in much of the first leg as well). Here's hoping they get all their Possums, BDTNLs, and Character Zeros outta the way by the time they get to the Bay - but continue the "overplaying" of C&P.
, comment by phisherman
phisherman this setlist reminds me of CMAC '10. odd breakout of "i am the walrus" in the second set somewhere towards the middle end that had everyone happily wondering what the hell was happening. i'm looking forward to seeing what they do in tahoe (wish i was going, this years telluride), and hope they have plenty left in the tank for when they visit us in Denver!
, comment by kidrob
kidrob spot on review. chris kuroda just killed it. when he finally ignited the bowl during GBOTT, i was excited. The boyz dominated C & P, but Chris just took off from here. I liked Joy's placement, it makes the haters stay and find out how great a song it is, but i would not have minded for one more upbeat song before Weekapaug, which was just phenomenal with the 50 ways sandwiched inside, and it brought the crowd into a frenzy. Agreed with the encore. I always love Julius, but I would like to see it more in the first set, and stealing time just doesn't do it for me as an encore (head scratcher there), and it is quickly becoming my least from song from joy when i used to love it. No this is not my favorite show, but i had an ear to ear smile from beginning to end, and the venue is absolutely spectacular. Seeing a Phish show is better than seeing no Phish show.
, comment by sohappy
sohappy I was at the show. Joy was poorly placed. Everyone sat down. Amazing show, but come on, lets call a spade a spade. BDTNL and Joy can sit on the shelf forever and nobody will care.
, comment by TennesseeJed
TennesseeJed I thought "Mikes > Joy > Groove" was interesting. Joy is not a tune I would ever look for as a highlight, and this isnt one, but it fit in much better than I expected. As a one time thing, it actually sounds better than it looks on paper (or computer screen).
, comment by goodguy
goodguy Great time! Met some cool pholks in the lot, we were one of the first there at 2:30... Saw the madness happen in front of us.
The show was great! DWD opener was rockin some would call the first set boring but I call it solid.
2nd set was awesome! Loved every second of the night minus the wife and I not feeling well at showtime. Once the music started we were able to shake it off and rage on the Page side!
, comment by phisherman
phisherman yeah, i've been trying to like the stuff off of joy, but to be honest it is a much better sounding studio album. ironically, my favorite tune from the album is Paige's little diddy "i've been around". good stuff, corny and fun.
, comment by iandisoftheworld
iandisoftheworld why is he singing "whichever you choose" instead of "what ever you do" in Cavern? I know he said at fest 8 he hates telling people what to do....
, comment by tristan
tristan @sohappy said:
I was at the show. Joy was poorly placed. Everyone sat down. Amazing show, but come on, lets call a spade a spade. BDTNL and Joy can sit on the shelf forever and nobody will care.
Just for the sake of a healthy debate, isn't there a point in every show where most of the crowd sits down? Sure I would've preferred a Hydrogen or a Simple here, but Joy isn't awful. There are plenty of songs that are legitimately painful to listen to, and far more cringe-inducing. Also, it may not vary much from version to version, but I thought the solo was gorgeous - one of the better renditions of this tune IMO, not that I've ever really dissected it or listened on repeat to try and pin down a "best ever" candidate.
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