After last year's decidedly fun Hollywood Bowl show, which was capped off with a nigh-legendary “Harry Hood,” I was chomping at the bit to get to another show. I was actually excited to hear that Phish's LA area show this year would be in the Forum (home of the Lakers and Kings for many years), because as cool and beautiful a venue as the Hollywood Bowl is, I've always been told by my longer-tenured Phish friends (i.e. all of them) that indoors Phish is a much different experience. So were they correct? We shall see...
Photo by @stim_buck
A very sharp “46 Days” immediately got the almost entirely full Forum out of their seats (I was in the back, so I could see the whole venue easily, and while there were a few patches of empty seats higher up top, the entire lower section and the floor was packed with writhing, shimmying fans), and “Tube” - accompanied with loud cheer at the "freeway in Los Angeles" line - kept the crowd moving as well. One cool thing about the live experience, among many, is watching the band interact and signal each other, and I got to see that in “Tube” as Trey turned to Fish and called for him to move into the bluesy stomp that precedes the final verse. “Train Song,” which is something of a rarity these days, came next, and the harmonies were done quite well (glad to see Mike can still sing this, even if “Drowned” is somewhat beyond him these days), and then came the first surprise of the night - a first set “Ghost.”
Photo by @stim_buck
Now, if I do have one criticism of 3.0 (I do have a few, now and again), it's that there seems to be some sort of invisible barrier that separates Set 1 from Set 2 these days, and if a Set 2 jam vehicle crosses over into Set 1, it becomes more of a Set 1 "get the people going" song than a Set 2 "improv launching pad." Case in point: “Ghost” on 8/30/13, a very fine and compact version, did not venture beyond its usual boundaries at all. And this first set “Ghost” matched that to a tee, as it served as a “Kill Devil Falls”-esque way to get the dance party back on track after the “Train Song” breather, although I'd never say no to the regular “Ghost” jam and the band gave it the energetic treatment you'd want from a first set song. “Sparkle” (my first repeat from last year) and “Sample in a Jar” came next - your intrepid reporter will admit that he got a soft pretzel and bottled water during Sample, but could hear it perfectly fine in the foyer, and can safely report that it sounded exactly like “Sample in a Jar.”
But “Sparkle” and “Sample,” much like a jet plane testing its brakes before takeoff, were the appetizer to the first main course of the night - “Divided Sky.” The further along I've come as a Phish fan, the more I've come to appreciate songs like this, and “Fluffhead,” and “The Curtain” (either “With” or “Without”) - songs with nary a lick of Type-II improv and that are mainly differentiated by subtleties in the playing, but are remarkable compositions and contain moments of absolutely heart-stopping beauty. As Page's swirling organ part led into Trey's solo moment, I thought about how humbling it was to hear this song, a song Phish has played at some dude's pig ranch, university lounges, some of the Northeast's most famous clubs, on Halloween 1994, during the first night of Lemonwheel, and now in front of my face right at this moment. Then came the pause, nonstop cheering from the crowd, a gigantic smile on Trey's face (I could see it even all the way across the arena), and an absolutely *crushed* version of “Divided Sky.”
Photo by @stim_buck
“The Line” came next - I stayed to listen because I really like the song, and it was quite the juxtaposition to see people dancing furiously and what felt like a quarter of the crowd streaming to the restrooms - and then Page's showcase in “It's Ice” (cool to see a spotlight on him while he wailed on his clavinet), during which time I saw a young teenager about ten sections away dancing his ass off, full spin-move-doing-the-Robot-in-the-Soul-Train-Line-in-the-70s dancing that you just know he's feeling the effects of today. It was great to see. A ferocious “Kill Devil Falls” came next (see what I mean?), and then the second first set highlight in a massive "Classic Gin" Type-I “Bathtub Gin,” replete with hilarious “Low Rider” and “Long Tall Glasses” teases, that built up to a frenetic, double-time close (it's kind of hilarious to see Fish, such a compact fellow, just hammer away on the skins). So that's a heck of a way to end the first set.
Setbreak: I heard a lot of whistling of “Low Rider” in the men's room.
Set 2 opened with two Type-I dance vehicles, first a well-played version of Fuego standout “555,” then “Backwards Down The Number Line,” which nobody in attendance seemed to have much of a problem getting down to. In person, I was a bit perplexed by the song selection, although in hindsight “Number Line” makes sense as a tribute to one of Mike's daughters (apparently he was wandering around the lot with his daughter, and he informed a few lucky fans that it was indeed her birthday), which, if so, is more a nice touch than the apparently continuing campaign to make “Number Line” The Most Hated Phish Song In All of Fandom. But we hadn't gotten deep yet, and it felt like it was time for the band to stretch their legs.
And that time came, courtesy of the fog of noise that Mike coaxes out of his bass every time they play this song, with “Down With Disease.” The initial jam out of the final verse was kept at a low boil, with Trey playing something that sounded like “Under Pressure” while Page picked out some lovely notes on the organ. Trey shifted to some stabbing chords as the band kept the groove going, searching for the next avenue to explore, which seemed to be coming as Trey worked out the hair metal power chord sequence he'd hit upon in the 7/26/14 “Ghost,” but then Page took over and started playing a repeating, atonal riff that both Trey and Mike picked up on. Suddenly, things got weird and off-kilter, mid-90s style, as the jam seemed to be eating itself; Trey started going to the effects, Fish played around with his beat, and a dissonant wave of noise emanated from the stage. Phish doesn't go very dark anymore, so when they hit this kind of darkness it's always worth hearing. Then comes the magic moment - that roar you can hear from the crowd is Kuroda hitting the "star" lights on the ceiling of the Forum while switching off his own light banks, lighting up the Forum like a huge planetarium, as the band latched on to a 2.0-style groove and Mike found himself a new filter. I've included a picture, which gives maybe 25% of the insanely cool effect those lights had:
Then, with Mike dinging away on his fight bell and Page moving back to the clavinet, Trey remembered the power chords from before, and all of a sudden we're back in the ‘80s as the band moves as one towards a *furious* peak. Maybe this is attendance bias, but as cool as the 7/26 Ghost is, this jam (thanks to Trey dropping the chords and soloing his ass off) is a total improvement on it, especially with just how massive and powerful the energy built up on stage got. The jam cycled down, Page tickled the ivories, and “Fuego” kicks in. I don't think I can say enough about that “DWD” - it delved into the darkness and burst out into brightness, Trey got himself a nice little showcase, and you could just feel the band's palpable chemistry throughout. “Fuego” was quite nice (especially when it devolved into another spacey piece of business, as the band continues to work the lessons of 1999 and 2000 into their current arsenal), as was the “Twist” that came next (although, as “Twist” is my favorite Phish song from a composition standpoint, it's pretty easy to tell when “Twist” is going to move into Parts Unknown and when “Twist” is going to stay in the pocket), and a perfectly placed “Bouncing Around The Room” gave the crowd a chance to relax a bit and sing along. Hey, I'll take a “Bouncing” in the late second set over “Wading in the Velvet Sea” or “Gotta Jibboo” any day.
And then, with another neat little flurry of effects before the song proper, came the Fall tour debut of “David Bowie,” and this is a strong version given a little extra oomph (as @fracai noted in his show review) by Trey's Echoplex (which he utilized to very nice effect at certain points in the show). “Character Zero” (my second repeat from last year) closed out the second set proper, and with the crowd urging them to return, they came back to give me my third repeat from last year - an encore-slot “Harry Hood!” I certainly wasn't expecting them to give me another Hollywood “Hood” - I wasn't even expecting one of the outside-the-box “Hoods” like Eugene's or Randall's or Philly's - but what I did get, a "typical-beautiful" “Hood” that spiraled upwards to a lovely peak and Trey sustaining one note for an extended period as the star lights came on again and the crowd went bonkers, was more than enough to satisfy me at that point. “Grind,” charming and goofy as usual, ended the evening.
Final thoughts? A quite good show to keep the fires stoked after Santa Barbara's damn good second show. Make sure you catch the “Divided Sky” and that super-fun “Low Rider Gin” - and the “Down With Disease” is absolutely not optional.
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