While I’d never recommend to anybody that they make spontaneous plans to visit Dallas, necessarily, the argument for jumping onto Phish tour amassed another body of evidence with last night’s show at the L.A. Forum.
We are four shows into the summer swing and the band is deliberate, playful, and right where they belong – namely, deeply engaged with one another. Trey and Mike’s onstage bromance – manifested in lots of face-to-face interplay and even a little instrumental spooning – flowered further last night.
Photo by @tweeprise
For Mike’s part, I’m not sure if I’ve seen him as scrutable, engaged, and outwardly happy on a Phish stage in quite some time. As for Trey, it is hard not to conclude that his experience preparing for and playing in the Fare Thee Well celebration has reinvigorated his guitar playing, and in ways that nobody predicted.
The old, tired saw on the Grateful Dead and Phish, of course, goes like this: Phish brought precision and chops to the jam rock idiom that the Grateful Dead weren’t capable of. In fairness, that may have been sort of true a while ago. But none of us are exempt from the taxes of time and age, so in recent years precision and chops aren’t always on the menu when it comes to Phish. Yet in immersing himself in the riffs, techniques, and tones of Garcia’s playing, Trey has somehow rediscovered his Inner Anastasio. He is nailing the tough changes in a way that suggests it really matters to him, cheerfully volunteering for duty as Phish’s leader, prowling the stage, stoking a furnace of creativity, and assertively micromanaging the flow of jams and sets.
Photo by @tweeprise
The Forum crowd was electric and loud right out of the gate last night. The band took the stage to cacophonous roars, conspired for a few seconds, and then charged headlong into “Martian Monster,” which easily vaults into frontrunner status for Least Anticipated Opener of Tour. I confess that I still have trouble understanding where the scripted parts of that song end and the improvisational bits begin (if there are any, really), but I also don’t care very much. I’d take it over the expected perfunctory “AC/DC Bag” seven days of the week and twice on Saturday. A perfect audible.
The crackling energy carried over into a concise but ultra-fiery “Down with Disease” that featured a carefully constructed and gratifying return to the “this has all been wonderful” theme. “Waiting All Night,” a song I genuinely love, didn’t hang together particularly well, however, and precipitated a trough of sorts that encompassed “Heavy Things” (hot-ass organ), “Axilla” (LOUD-ASS organ), and “555.” Trey relished “Limb By Limb,” spinning up melodic gems en route to a scorching peak, but these gains were surrendered by a tossed-off “Ya Mar” that probably sounded like a perfectly reasonable call at the time. Band just couldn’t really play it for shit.
Photo by @tweeprise
Fortunately, there’s “Fuego.” Phish played it in the same room not even a year earlier, so I think a fair number of the fans in attendance were surprised to see it pop up again last night, but it refocused the set, recharged the crowd, and poured the foundation for a powerful and dramatic “Walls of the Cave.” While not nearly as exploratory as the last Forum “Walls” (2/14/03), it sent us into the long set break with cottonmouths and knees of jelly.
“No Men In No Man’s Land” opened the second frame right where the first left off, and I spent much of this song watching the throng of dancing dervishes at the back of the floor who were emphatically in it to win it, at any cost. It is easy-breezy to get sucked into this quicksand groove, and Trey’s new Mutron pedal (thanks again, Fare Thee Well!) turns out to be the express train to my cerebral pleasure centers. Various band members seemed to hint at “Ghost” as the “No Men” jam began to fragment, but set that aside for a businesslike run at “Carini” and “Tweezer” (both versions the first of the tour).
Photo by Dave Vann © Phish From the Road
It’s at this point that I’m probably expected to complain in calibrated fashion about the fact that the “Carini” -> “Tweezer” sequence was short and not especially adventurous. Yep, those two statements are factually true, and it’s also at least arguably true that “My Friend, My Friend” intruded upon the “Tweezer” just as it was starting to cook. But I didn’t mind a bit at the time, and even in playback it was a fun fifteen minutes. Moreover, there was nothing at all to complain about whatsoever in the following three tunes – neither the boiling tension of “My Friend,” nor the timely caress of “Roggae,” nor the machine gun fusillades of “Backwards Down the Number Line” (played in honor of Chris Kuroda’s birthday, or so I am told). The expected “Slave to the Traffic Light” closer – and the first L.A.-area “Slave” since Pauley Pavilion in 1996, strangely enough – found Mike and Trey toe-to-toe at center stage trading licks as they ascended to a deeply satisfying climax.
Photo by @stim_buck
Finally: Be it resolved that Phish should always encore with “You Enjoy Myself.” I always want to be sent home by “YEM,” and to be sent home with this unique and spirited version was especially sweet. By now you have seen the photos of Trey and Mike making the human guitar pretzel, which was certainly a nifty little parlor trick. The music produced during this section was not nearly as compelling as the “drum + bass” passage that followed, which was thundering and melodic and just plain huge. I’m told Bill Walton made it to the rail to get down to this “YEM,” but I suppose I couldn’t pick him out of the crowd...
There’s lots of good news in the emerging arc of this tour, fans. Phish’s playing is consistent enough right now that three of the first four shows could support arguments for best show of tour so far, and Bend I gets a pass because it was the opener. Devotees of the long jam will probably lean Shoreline, and devotees of the unusual setlist will probably lean Bend II, but devotees of the carefully assembled start-to-finish show may find their bliss in last night’s Forum gig. [Discuss.]
Phish Summer 2015 – Setlists & Recaps
07/21/15 Setlist – Recap – Bend 1
07/22/15 Setlist – Recap – Bend 2
07/24/15 Setlist – Recap, Recap2 – Shoreline
07/25/15 Setlist – Recap – LA Forum
07/28/15 Setlist – Recap – Austin
07/29/15 Setlist – Recap – Grand Prarie
07/31/15 Setlist – Recap – Atlanta 1
08/01/15 Setlist – Recap – Atlanta 2
08/02/15 Setlist – Recap – Tuscaloosa
08/04/15 Setlist – Recap – Nashville
08/05/15 Setlist – Recap – Kansas City
08/07/15 Setlist – Recap – Blossom
08/08/15 Setlist – Recap – Alpine 1
08/09/15 Setlist – Recap – Apline 2
08/11/15 Setlist – Recap – Mann 1
08/12/15 Setlist – Recap – Mann 2
08/14/15 Setlist – Recap – Raleigh
08/15/15 Setlist – Recap – Merriweather 1
08/16/15 Setlist – Recap – Merriweather 2
08/21/15 Setlist – Recap – Magnaball 1
08/22/15 Setlist – Recap – Magnaball 2
08/23/15 Setlist – Recap – Magnaball 3
09/04/15 Setlist – Recap – Dick's 1
09/05/15 Setlist – Recap – Dick's 2
09/06/15 Setlist – Recap – Dick's 3
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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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