Saturday 07/28/2018 by bertoletdown


Phish posted up today for a pair of shows that conclude tomorrow, in the shadow of the construction of a $4 trillion NFL stadium, for a team that three people in L.A. will ever really care about. Surprisingly, it’s the first multiple show run ever for Los Angeles, a city that has exchanged a lot of love with the band over the years, and tonight’s crowd greets the band with waves of encouragement as it slices into a nifty little “Chalk Dust Torture,” the second of the tour.

© 2018 Phish (Rene Huemer)
© 2018 Phish (Rene Huemer)

I’ll confess to being a little confused as to why Trey seems so intent to make “I plug the distress tube up tight!” a big applause line of late. Is that just me? Like “fetch” in Mean Girls, I just don’t think it’s ever happening. Nevertheless, this lil’ fireplug of a “CDT” is sharply delivered and primes the pump for an extended dance workout on “Everything’s Right.” The band seems committed to establishing the jamming bona fides of much of its newer material this tour, and resistance is likely futile. Remember when you said “Blaze On” was too cheesy? Thought so. You may never sing along unironically with “Everything’s Right,” but if they keep using it to stage emphatic improvisations like this, it won’t be long before even the most curmudgeonly curmudgeons are lining up at the trough for seconds. No twists and turns in this jam; just pointed rock ferocity. We are two songs and twenty minutes into this show and all systems are GO.

Having established this much momentum, it’s now time to squander some of it with “Rift.” To be fair, Page plays this version pretty well, but Trey does not, and the difficult truth is that it’s been many moons since the band has been willing to invest the kind of work in this song that it would take to play it properly. That’s too bad, because it’s really good. It’s among a handful of tunes that should be shelved until the band misses them enough to give them proper care and feeding.

But fret not, because here comes “Wolfman’s Brother,” dressed up all slinky. Phish settles into this version, getting nice and comfortable, batting some ideas around but in no rush to linger inside one for too long. Page is especially active tonight and the first few minutes of the “Wolfman’s” jam go down in his house, for those keeping score at home. Trey eventually takes over, building to a well-earned peak with long, languid single-note phrases as Fishman flirts and feints with double-time at the climax. Fish keeps on swinging through a lively “How Many People Are You,” at one point succumbing to an impulsive “Woo!” of his own. I love the odd figure he plays on the ride at the beginning of this jam; it’s delicate and yet at the same time it holds the entire band on its back.

It’s awkward to listen to Trey wrestle with “Horn,” making its simple opening riff sound nearly impossible to play and holding the song seemingly at a distance from himself as he tries to remember it on the fly. It sort of comes together by the end, but not quite, and the end of Trey’s solo is marred by the strange phasing problem that’s been plaguing him all tour. To be specific, there are moments when he strikes a string with the obvious intent of producing a sustained note, but right after the attack, the note just dies. There must be something more than this!

© 2018 Brandy Davis
© 2018 Brandy Davis

A rollicking “Water In The Sky” follows, setting up a sloppy intro to an otherwise perfectly placed “Twenty Years Later.” Guys, that’s not how this song goes. Before too long, they find their way back, and begin to gingerly unwrap this jam, holding it at a distance like they’re afraid it’s going to burst forth and latch onto their faces. This song has such limitless potential, but tonight ain’t its night, and this version fizzles to its finish.

For a set that began so confidently, things have slid rather sideways by this point. In a situation like this, it’s nice to be able to whip out the “Sand” riff. Always keep one handy. Trey reaches quickly for his new Phwarus pedal (I know that’s not what it’s called but it sounds like a phaser, a wah, and a chorus box had a baby--someone please share knowledge in the comments), and things get interesting quick. This is is a strictly type-I, tension-and-release affair here, but that doesn’t mean it’s without its share of melodic and rhythmic wizardry, and Trey’s tone cuts through cleanly as he summits this “Sand” jam.

What feels like a really long set break is interrupted by a “Blaze On” that goes a little dodgy in its first few minutes but snaps right back into form as the jam train leaves the station. The rhythm section finds its way to a seductive Latin groove where they linger for a minute or so, and then the whole band huddles musically to consider its options. Mike insists on “Down With Disease” and his bandmates yield the floor.

The “Disease” jam is pretty standard fare until just after the 7-minute mark when the band finds another gear. Trey unspools a long, sustained note while Mike thunders away beneath him, and page slides from the piano to the organ to thicken the atmosphere a bit. At the 10-minute mark, Trey has retreated and is now nearly inaudible as he listens for ideas--saying less now, hearing more. The playing throughout this jam is very interactive and attentive and conversational, if still free of any epic peak. While age may be claiming their youthful chops, Phish will never stop being a special band for as long as they commit to listening to each other so actively.

© 2018 Phish (Rene Huemer)
© 2018 Phish (Rene Huemer)

The second “Simple” of the tour follows. If you haven’t heard the Gorge version from last weekend, you should. It clocks in at almost 15 minutes and features some of the most compelling improv of the tour thus far. This version doesn’t quite scale those heights, burdened as it is by cringingly shaggy vocals at the onset, and a flagrant clam from Mike during the “skyballs and saxscrapers” section. But seven or eight minutes in the band finds a home in the minor, exploring a delicious and dark motif that sounds more “Twenty Years Later” than “Simple.” This theme gives way to about a minute of ominous, nebulous space from which a “Ghost” appears.

Page takes the wheel for the first five simmering minutes of this “Ghost” jam, and the feel of Trey’s playing is correspondingly textural and patient when he takes over. As he coaxes his fingers up the neck and the song toward its pinnacle, it feels like the whole room becomes an instrument resonating with connection, each of us little saturated power tubes in its sleek chassis. I know that’s a pretty syrupy and arguably half-assed simile but let me have a moment. Nothing peaks like a good solid “Ghost.”

After a perfunctory run through “Bouncing Around The Room,” we catch a bit of a curveball with this late second set “Mike’s Song.” The F#m jam sets up nicely with a greasy groove and lively tempo behind it. Trey appears to be playing through an effect here that makes his guitar sound like an organ, which his organist already has six of, so I’m a little confused by that and I wonder if Page is as well. But soon Trey sounds like a guitarist again, and he leads the charge up a well-worn hill to a familiar destination. It’s not a remarkable “Mike’s” in any sense, but there were many potentially worse calls in this slot and we’ll take it.

A somewhat truncated but always lovely “Slave to the Traffic Light” tows this very successful second set back into port. A tentative take on “Sleeping Monkey” doesn’t bother the crowd, who belts out the final chorus so loudly that Trey is taken aback, setting up an energetic outro. I’m an unabashed “Monkey” fluffer and always glad to hear it. The expected capstone “Weekapaug Groove” begins at Fare Thee Well tempo, the tiger-by-the-tail versions of the ‘90s waving mockingly at us in the rearview mirror. Slowly, patiently, the pace builds, and Trey finishes the evening’s final statement with a dextrous flurry of biting notes low on the neck.

There was an elephant in the room tonight named 7/22/16 and I am glad to report that whatever sour taste was left in the mouths of Los Angeles fans a few years ago has been replaced by deliciousness and promise. The second night at the Forum could revert to Saturday Night Special form, or it could be a statement show, especially if the crowd is in the game as hard as they were tonight. “Tweezer” also wouldn’t hurt. See you there.

© 2018 Phish (Rene Huemer)
© 2018 Phish (Rene Huemer)

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, comment by TwiceBitten
TwiceBitten Good review. I thought last night had so much heart. I’ve done the entire tour and I had the most fun at this one. I will say that you should listen to this Mike’s and compare it to practically any standard 3.0 version. There was a lot more going on there than you may have realized. Tweezer tonight...?
, comment by JMart
JMart Good point on Trey's guitar dying. It's like he hits the string with purpose and nothing comes out. It just goes 'plink' and...dies. I don't get it. Ditto for the intros of songs and the singing. Shaggy. This band is supposed to be about attention to detail, a professional touring band. We can get into a big long argument about what we owe the band and what they owe us for our $60 (!), but I'm willing to argue that we should be able to expect them to properly execute the songs they've been playing for 25+ years. Still, every show has its moments. Sand was fantastic. I would bet Tweezer and 2001 are in the on deck circle for tonight. Have fun, LA.
, comment by ucpete
ucpete This one was a tale of two sets for me. The first set, as noted, Trey had real difficulties finding his tone (and often times, finding the note he intended to play). His confidence seemed to take a dive after the first couple songs, and he resorted to using the whammy on almost every single jam like it was Leg 1 Summer 2010. HMPAY? was an unmitigated disaster - no one in the band knew how to play it, and Mike didn’t even know the words - and 20YL wasn’t much better. Loved the Sand peak, but overall I felt this first set was below average.

As soon as I finished bitching about the first set, the band shut me right up. Last night’s second set was great, and Trey was locked in and knew exactly what he was going. Funny how that works. Overall it made for a slightly above average show.
, comment by ucpete
ucpete To @bertoletdown’s down question about the “Phwarus,” I’m not sure exactly what pedal setting Trey has at that point, but he’s been using his Leslie speaker a lot more this tour, and that’s where the chorus-like effect is coming from.
, comment by 339mike
339mike Encinitas’s own Beigel tru-tron 3x is part of it? with the envelope and filter flipped around up/down, hi/low Image
, comment by Phrederick
Phrederick Your take on Rift is spot on.
, comment by HenryHolland
HenryHolland for a team that three people in L.A. will ever really care about

If you mean the San Diego Chargers of Inglewood, sure. If you mean the Rams, now that they've returned from the midwestern cesspit their mobbed-up prostitute lounge singer owner moved them to, they'll sell the place out. Hopefully , there'll be World Cup matches there in 2026 and it'll probably be where the closing ceremony of the 2028 Olympics is held.

Good review, I enjoyed watching the stream last night. Agree that the setlist and performances in the first set could have been better, enjoyed the second set a lot.
, comment by OrangeSox
OrangeSox Thanks for taking the time @bertoletdown! I'm really happy for everyone in LA getting a solid show and still having another on the docket. The Forum seems like a very appropriate spot for a two-night stand, but i can picture a sizable contingent of San Diegans missing their visit. The tour is a condensed beast with very little time to spare, though, and the band is under pressure to tighten up and iron it out.

Along with all your other more technical observations and questions, I really liked your description of that stalling note Trey keeps finding ("there must be something more than this" lol). And, the attention to the difficulty the band is having with their compositions is warranted. The concern for Trey's playing in Mike's newer material was certainly not helped by last night, either.

All the same, that show was an absolute blast! The show's 2nd set is RICH, a team of songs strung together that would stack up well against you could string, and set one adds two more solid members to the club of 1st set jams this tour. This show fits in well with the trajectory of a nice start to Summer 2018, despite a few underlying things...

@TwiceBitten mentioned the Mike's, and i want to echo that. It's got spunk. And, it's got a nice tease of Cream's "Strange Brew" at about 4:45 that drives some of its power. There's actually at least two other places where that tease pops up, too, in Sand and Ghost, both times quite effectively., and i look forward to the next one!
, comment by bushwood_a_dump
bushwood_a_dump "It’s among a handful of tunes that should be shelved until the band misses them enough to give them proper care and feeding."

That says it! I've been trying to convey that without sounding troll-y or negative. I mean, is nothing sacred??
, comment by pikkle
pikkle Trey used the organ effect a few times and there was even a segment of "dueling organs" between Trey and Page. Page and Trey both seemed to be digging it.
, comment by hdorne
hdorne The sloppiness this tour is really starting to grate on me. If you’re going to charge $100 for a ticket, practice your songs and make sure they’re sharp before you play them. That’s called professionalism. I love this band with all my heart, but come on.
, comment by HenryHolland
HenryHolland I got in to Phish in 2003 via the Bittersweet Motel documentary. Being a huge ELP, King Crimson, Yes and Gentle Giant fan, I glommed on to their prog stuff like The Curtain With, Fluffhead and Divided Sky immediately. When I got in to the live recordings thing, it was 1993 and 1994 that I liked most (and still do) because that kind of stuff was still played a lot and they nailed 'em most of the time.

Now, I get it, they're a part-time band, the days of constant 8 hour practice sessions are long gone. Short of them becoming a full-time band again, that's not going to change. However, when they botch stuff that even I can play like Horn, it's a little depressing. Yes, Trey flubs suff, but so do Jon and Mike. Jon will lose the pulse and do a fill that doesn't fit and it throws the rest of the band off. Mike will not play a part right, it throws Trey off. Etc. etc. Their voices are rougher now too, Page especially can't hit the notes he used to.

Another thing that's different from the 1993/94 stuff is that they play some of the songs at a slower tempo, almost if they're slowing it down a bit to cut down on the mistakes. Stuff that they use to rip through like the instrumental break after the vocals in Reba now sounds tentative and cautious. Oh well, still love them, I'd have gone to the two Forum shows if I wasn't completely broke.
, comment by Wilsonwasframed
Wilsonwasframed This was a fun show overall. It was like they were warming up prior to Sand and then were locked in after that. This gave me high hopes for a fiery Saturday show(that, unfortunately, completely failed to deliver).
, comment by fronwewq
fronwewq @HenryHolland said:
Yes, Trey flubs suff, but so do Jon and Mike. Jon will lose the pulse and do a fill that doesn't fit and it throws the rest of the band off. Mike will not play a part right, it throws Trey off. Etc. etc.
Agree, this also seems like a more recent phenomenon to me. Fishman's always been so steady during the 3.0 era even when Trey hasn't been at his best, but lately I'm hearing several slightly botched fills or odd crashes that interrupt the rhythm each show. Strange to hear, since he's been a groove machine for so long.
, comment by Grimble
Grimble March 93, two glorious shows in Los Angeles...vivid memories 25 years later
, comment by MOstGhoSt
MOstGhoSt i enjoyed this review. i also enjoyed this night at the forum.
i also enjoyed “the elephant in the room”

my buddy marco was with me at the forum 7/22/16 and we were both present this night for a do-over. i think things went very well indeed. we refered to tonight as the reverse of the curse. it was all wonderful. - moSTgHoSt
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