Wednesday 06/26/2013 by bertoletdown

REVISITING HOLLYWOOD BOWL

Summer 2013 marks Phish’s second visit to the Hollywood Bowl, a beloved concert destination for artists and patrons tucked squarely in the heart of America’s pop-cultural capital. L.A. is my home, and the Hollywood Bowl is my backyard venue, so when we decided to run a blog series on summer tour venues, I called "dibs" quickly. It's a special place, and it's my humble pleasure to tell you about it.

The Hollywood Bowl debuted as a proper venue in 1922 and evolved organically over the decades, hosting larger audiences and shedding its iconic band shells from time to time for sleeker and more acoustically pure upgrades. While its location in Hollywood’s heavily trafficked Cahuenga Pass (along the 101 Freeway) is conspicuously urban, the experience of attending a show at the Bowl is more akin to a retreat: once you’ve climbed the hill from the busy street below and passed through the gates, you enter an open, manicured, meditative space designed to minimize sensory friction between audience and performer.

The focal band shell, especially when properly lit, has a certain Georgia O’Keefe aesthetic that inspired Pete Townsend to liken it to “a massive vagina” when he performed there with The Who a few years back. But most artists lucky enough to play there are properly reverent, and conscious of the musical giants who have delivered legendary performances on its stage, from Frank Sinatra to Leonard Bernstein to The Beatles.

If anything, I left Phish’s 2011 Bowl gig feeling as if they had been too reverent, and come up a hair short of by trying to deliver “a very special evening with Phish.” The playing wasn’t poor, but it was decidedly safe, and the muffled sound during the first set didn’t help matters much, either. In fact, the most powerful impression wasn’t musical at all but visual; Chris Kuroda’s jaw-dropping light show made dramatic use of the shell and the surrounding forest in a spectacle of tech craft and artistic adaptation.

While it’s always a good idea to keep expectations in check, anyone who would mistake past for prologue doesn’t know Phish very well. Having cleared the novelty hurdle in 2011, and with Trey having since performed with the L.A. Philharmonic (who makes their summer home at the Bowl), it’s a good bet that this year’s engagement will be noticeably looser and more confident.

While you can find a wealth of helpful information at http://www.hollywoodbowl.com/, here are some tips.

GETTING THERE

Plan ahead. Driving to the Bowl and parking at the Bowl are probably not your best option, because it’s spendy, and because you’re likely to get stacked in (unless you pay even more for VIP status).

If you must drive, there are neighborhoods within walking distance where parking is “discouraged but legal." Hint: consult your favorite digital map and let your eye wander south and east.

You can take the Metro Red Line to Hollywood and Highland, too, and then walk about a half mile north on Highland to the venue.

There’s a $5 shuttle bus that runs from the North Hollywood Metro station and drops you right at the door.

There are cabs as well, but taxi service is hardly abundant in Los Angeles, so you’ll need to call them, not hail them.

PARTYING THERE

The Hollywood Bowl encourages patrons to bring food and alcoholic beverages to its regular season events, but alcohol is not permitted at leased events like Phish. You can bring alcohol to the picnic areas just outside the gates, but if you are caught trying to sneak alcohol into the amphitheater you will be asked to discard it or finish it. Food and beverage vending is diverse and plentiful inside, but also predictably pricey.

Security at the Bowl is hardly omnipresent or draconian. They’re not looking for reasons to eject people, so don’t give them one. About the only way to get tossed is to spoil someone else’s experience, or to try to escape into the bushes for some sexytime (an offense for which I watched an amorous couple get ejected from a Police concert a few seasons ago).

Bottom line: as long as you act like you’re in modern day Southern California and not ancient Rome, you’ll do fine.

STUFF TO SEE AND DO

Shun the tourist traps. Don’t waste your money at Universal Studios, or waste your time on Hollywood Boulevard expecting to see a real live movie star (you won’t).

If you’re here for a few days, get to the beach. There’s Venice for wook-watching, Santa Monica for rides and games on the Pier, and Malibu/County Line for surf breaks.

The Griffith Observatory is a phenomenal way to spend an afternoon, and it's very close to the venue. The planetarium show “Centered in the Universe” is legitimately mind-blowing -- and a moderate, hour-long hike from the parking lot to the top of Mt. Hollywood rewards you with staggering 360-degree views that stretch for 60 miles on a clear day.

Speaking of hikes, my favorite in the L.A. metropolitan area is Sandstone Peak, the highest point in the Santa Monica Mountains. From the 3,111 foot summit, you can see from Catalina Island in the south to Ventura in the north. The drive to the trail head will take you an hour or so from Hollywood, but it's worth every minute. Google it, and you’re welcome.

I will stick around in the comments and answer any questions I can... have fun!

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Comments

, comment by Fluffyfluffyhead
Fluffyfluffyhead Kuroda's band shell swirling during Melt was the visual highlight for me.

and Fish on the kit center stage.. that was fun!
, comment by lumpblockclod
lumpblockclod I definitely think there's something to the "too reverent" theory. I felt the same way after Royal Albert Hall in '97. I'd actually put Radio City in the same category. Now obviously they played the Radio City Ghost there, which is a goddamn masterpiece, but it's a masterpiece in its smoothness, slickness and subtlety. It's literally a perfect version of the song, completely befitting of its surroundings. So I think Phish may deliver a great show at the Bowl, but it will be a certain kind of great show. That's my theory anyway...
, comment by bertoletdown
bertoletdown I'll also note that the L.A. Department of Transportation just issued a cease and desist to disruptive ride services like Uber. Not exactly sure what that will look like August 5th but do not plan on using those apps to get from A to B.
, comment by ColForbin
ColForbin I'm just gonna put this here:

, comment by Bulletproof
Bulletproof @ColForbin said:
I'm just gonna put this here:

Highlight of the show, for sure!
, comment by bertoletdown
bertoletdown Inside the venue, until that BOTT, the house volume was like a jazz show, as anybody who was there will testify. It warmed up really nicely during the BOTT, but the damage had been done to the first set.

Very much hoping that they're a bit more aggressive with the sound right out of the chute this time. The neighbors can take it -- I know because I've been one.
, comment by Phart_Door
Phart_Door Not sure if it'll be the same this year, but in 2011 I took a round trip shuttle from the federal building near UCLA to the Bowl. Cost seven bucks and was incredibly convenient.
, comment by Just_Ivy
Just_Ivy Having gently broken in this venue last year, I think you're right about the increased chance of Phish "having their way" with the yonic Bowl this year.

This is a "bucket list" venue for me, personally. Looks amazing!
, comment by kevinbossick
kevinbossick The author has removed all of the text from their comment
, comment by kevinbossick
kevinbossick Hollywood Bowl has a new sound system that was just put in for this summer. The last one has been operating since 2004. Hopefully we won't have the same problem that effected the first few songs. See you there. I'll be the one with the tye die.
, comment by funkbeard
funkbeard I caught a Wayne Shorter celebration there a few years back. One of the high points for me by far was the duet with Herbie Hancock.

Herbie sat down at the piano, and layed down one chord, and all the crickets throughout the amphitheater went into super-chorus chirp mode. What an amazing sound! Later, during the same improvisation, a police copter decided to fly overhead. Herbie and Wayne picked up the tempo and tried their best to make music of the disturbance.

Back in '84, I was singing with the San Francisco Boys Chorus, and we performed one of Mahler's symphonies with Michael Tilson Thomas conducting. During the quiet movement, we had a similar police copter experience, and Tilson Thomas snapped his baton, strutted off stage pissed as hell, and we waited 40 minutes or so until it blew over, they found a new baton, and we resumed the show.

Back to the Wayne Shorter event. Carlos Santana was one of the many many guests during the second set. The first note he played was standard rock star volume, so loud that the guitar sound physically blasted your chest with its thick wave of sound. Then they turned him way down, way way down to that place where he resonated beautifully with orchestra (full orchestra), amphitheater, and everything.

I imagine that if Phish challenge themselves, they can find those points of resonance in soundcheck, and make the crickets of the Hollywood bowl chirp their hind legs into bliss. One show more than any other where I really hope they bring the Coil!

Hopefully, they don't do that generic L.A. thing and attempt to rage harder than they can play. Phish is better when they're being themselves, bringing something so much more to the table. I keep thinking of that flow brought during the Starlight Amphitheater show last year. Lucid like a dream, music so colorful you can almost taste it, and strangely nourishing in quality. Ah, Phish! Rock and roll at its finest.
, comment by bertoletdown
bertoletdown Great stories and such a well written comment ^
, comment by Blackeydsloth
Blackeydsloth @kevinbossick said:
Hollywood Bowl has a new sound system that was just put in for this summer. The last one has been operating since 2004. Hopefully we won't have the same problem that effected the first few songs. See you there. I'll be the one with the tye die.
Look for me I'm the one with a beard
, comment by bertoletdown
bertoletdown I'll be the one with no uvula.
, comment by phunguy
phunguy I enjoyed all of these, thanks guys!
, comment by thehurricane
thehurricane Well written piece, its another one of those venues where you don't have your traditional lot where everyone parks. just some stacked parking which is a fraction of the people in attendance. I wont park in it cause I dont want to be stuck there, my advice is to acquire a hotel that is walkable or a short cab ride away. There is an actual liquor store inside that sell beer and wine and it is not cheap. You also don't want to be sitting past the middle section where the super seats are, terrace or garden boxes are where you want to be, if you follow this formula, you will have a truly amazing phish experience
, comment by Fluffyfluffyhead
Fluffyfluffyhead That "generic LA thing" wasn't there last year in Long Beat-ch.
Let's hope for the same this year.
, comment by bertoletdown
bertoletdown @Fluffyfluffyhead said:
That "generic LA thing" wasn't there last year in Long Beat-ch.
Let's hope for the same this year.
It's not an L.A. problem. Phish has played scorchers in L.A. Pauley '96, Greek '98, Forum '03, and to your point, Long Beach '11.

Walking onto the Bowl stage is intimidating for musicians. I loved Steye's Radio City analogy.

High hopes, low expectations...
, comment by Danjo
Danjo I got a hotel at the Hilton Garden Inn on Highland Ave. It looks like that is about as close as you can get to the bowl. Is that walking distance, or do I need to get a ride? It looks pretty close, but you never know.
, comment by bertoletdown
bertoletdown The Hilton Garden Inn is very walkable.
, comment by ebolabrews
ebolabrews About the lack of a parking lot scene...
I live in LA and I've been several rock shows at The Bowl over the years and the park is the place to be for preshow libations and entertainment. In 2011 the park just across the street was going off like wild Shakedown Street, the tanks were out in the open, balloons were flowing, handles of hard liquor in the open, beer, wine, blunts, bongs, etc.....and the fellas in Blue were just strolling around amused by the silly hippies having fun. Of course, you should use your best judgement and read the scene like you would anywhere. However, if it looks good you can let your hair down and party like its 1999
, comment by HenryHolland
HenryHolland I went to the Bowl show in 2011, funny moment before the show started. I was sitting in the first section of benches, dead center. A security guy comes up to near where I was sitting and asked for our attention. "I know y'all are gonna be smokin' your weed" and we were all "Oh no sir! We would NEVER do that, no sir!". He laughed and told us that if we lit up in our seats, they'd have to bust us, if we wanted to puff, go to the cheap seats at the top. You can take the escalators up, it's nice.

The Bowl will be my only Phish show this tour, I'm hoping they don't play it safe like last time and that they have the sound sorted out from the get-go.
, comment by thebuzzman
thebuzzman I don't know about the being too reverent but what I am concerned about is where it falls in relation to the shows before and after the bowl. I felt last year that Long Beach was adversely affected overshadowed by how excited they were to play the San Francisco shows. And with the bowl this year falling in between San Fran and Dick's for heaven's sake I'm really worried what that may mean for us again here in LA.
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