[we'd like to thank Willie Orbison, @twelvethousandmotherfker, for writing this recap for the blog - ed.]
When you think about the fact that this Soul Planet of ours has been around for about four and a half billion years, it’s nothing short of a gosh darn miracle that we’re living in the time of Phish. This wasn’t – and won’t always be – the case. So, perhaps it’s important to remember on nights like this, while we sift and scrutinize, that Phish shows aren’t inevitable. They don’t just happen. They are precious and rare events that deserve to be celebrated for the simple fact that they occur. We could have been living in the time of the ancient Egyptians. Or in the Dark Ages. Or in some future hellscape where the only music is made by computers.
Instead, we’re here. Now. And Phish is on tour. And that is a wonderful thing.
That said, last night’s show was kind of a dud. Which was a bit surprising, considering the momentum that’s been building throughout the early stages of this tour. But as my esteemed colleague @bertoletdown mentioned in his recap of night one, it seemed like this evening was going to go one of two ways: either the band was going to build on what, to my ears, was one of their best-ever LA shows, or they’d play an enjoyable Saturday night rock concert for the hard working people of one of this country’s major metropolitan areas.
What we got was the latter. And while it’s literally pointless to be disappointed with a Phish show, it’s a testament to the greatness of this band that we approach each show with the expectation (assumption?) that our minds will be blown and our lives forever changed by exploding moments of improvisational genius.
But, of course, that’s not always the case. Phish, despite ample evidence to the contrary, are human, and they, like we, are subject to the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. Shows come together like dreams, like water, from a collective source that can’t ever be explained or understood. The magic, and the joy, is in the mystery. For better or worse, we’re all in this together … and dammit do we love to take a bath.
So, let’s get into it.
The night started in typical Los Angeles fashion with an ungodly amount of traffic. On Shakedown and getting into the venue, lanes were clogged by rubbernecking locals, creepy nitrous hustlers, kangaroo bike cops, and an overwhelmed venue staff whose main job over the course of the two-night run seemed to be getting in the way.
But as far as arenas go, the Forum is actually awesome.
Despite its size, the room feels and plays intimate, which I think stems from simplicity of the architecture. Unlike, say, Madison Square Garden, everything is open. There are no tiers or luxury boxes, no scoreboards or ads. It’s just you, the band, the lights (holy shit, the lights), and the music. As it should be. So, when the band ambles on stage and the crowd’s energy crescendoes into that place where anything seems possible, it’s hard to escape the feeling that everything is indeed right.
Except they played that last night. So, here comes “Julius.” Which, ya know, maybe isn’t the opener I was hoping for, but who cares? We’re here! It’s a unique placement for a fun song with some Los Angeles history. So, by all means, Phish, by all means …
Following it up with “Suzy Greenberg” kept the mood light and upbeat while establishing a kind of “encores for breakfast” theme that, while certainly different, didn’t exactly inspire confidence in what was to come. However, it is pretty funny to play “Suzy” in LA, the land of people who, though artists they may be, geniuses they are not.
“Suzy” gave way to the tour debut of “Timber Ho!,” which for my money is always welcome. This particular cool mule grooved along nicely, including a sweet “There Is a Mountain” tease at the 3:30 mark before dumping its load at the feet of another tour debut and relative rarity, “Soul Shakedown Party.” A Bob Marley and the Wailers original, “SSP” rarely disappoints, though it tends to reach its fullest potential in Phishdom when used as a flavorful cool down song. Here, the reggae vibes felt a little forced, a little jukebox-y. Though, I’m not complaining.
Now, there are two ways to look at what came next. The quartet of “Kill Devil Falls,” “555,” “Your Pet Cat,” and “Tide Turns” might not be IT in the eyes and ears of Phish fans – in fact, just seeing the names of those four songs in a row might cause people to take a pee break from reading this recap – but you know what? That’s fine. People need to pee.
But another way of looking at it is that these four songs are a testament to the fact that Phish is still a vital, dynamic band. Each one of these songs comes off of a 3.0 album (I’m including Chilling, Thrilling Sounds of the Haunted House in that category), and they each in their own way represent a step the band has taken on their way back from the break-up to the mountaintop of the Baker’s Dozen.
“Kill Devil Falls” speaks to Trey’s recovery, and is the quintessential groaner that we forget actually kicks ass by the end. “555” is one of those catchy, bass-heavy Mike songs that has given him the confidence to be more creatively assertive and, in turn, help shape the way the band jams today. “Your Pet Cat,” along with all of the Chilling, Thrilling songs, to me, represents the wild originality of the band and their unique ability to create their own musical language and universe. That Halloween ‘14 concert was an absolute watershed moment and set us all on the course toward the Baker’s Dozen. And finally, “Tide Turns” is just a lovely little song. Will you have to unmelt your face after hearing it? Um, no. But sometimes it’s good to remember that the tide does turn…
Speaking of which, a “No Men In No Men’s Land” > “Bathtub Gin” couplet to close the set helped wash away some of the angst and confusion that was settling in after an otherwise underwhelming opening frame. They weren’t all-timers by any stretch, but “No Men” got us back on our feet and “Gin” sent us into setbreak with a smile.
Of course, there was a word on the lips and flatbrims of many on that warm outdoor concourse during setbreak, and that word was “Tweezer.” Thanks to the Phishy brilliance of @zzyzx, I was aware that the last time they played “Mike’s > Slave,” as they did on Friday night, the following night gave us the famous "Tahoe Tweezer." So, obviously, that’ll happen again, right? Lightning always strikes twice – isn’t that how the saying goes?
Apparently not. But we got an “average-great” second set (which may be the dumbest, most unfair, but totally accurate way of describing Phish) with a tasty “Gotta Jibboo” and a powerful “Fuego” leading the way. It seemed after “Fuego” that the show’s defining moment had arrived – which way were we going to go? Was there a “Tweezer” in the offing? Were we to remain tied to our Soul Planet or were we gonna achieve liftoff? Sadly, some days it’s just not worth gnawing through the straps.
But that’s not to say it wasn’t fun. “Birds of a Feather” flew by before giving way to the silliness of “Meatstick.” In combination, these two songs (and maybe the show as whole?) seemed to be a commentary on the chatty presence of the Saturday night LA date crowd – which reminds me, “Meatstick” is about sex, right? Like, I’ve heard the story about Tom and Trey eating the weird sausage in the European hotel room, but… come on.
Anyway, “Soul Planet” was next, and I’m not gonna wade into the debate of whether it’s a good song or a bad song or the worst song anyone has ever heard, but I’ll just say if Phish wants to play music – any music – I’m gonna listen to it. Happily. Also, I think Trey should open a shoe store called Sole Planet.
The tour debut of “Wingsuit” followed and took us all on a brief journey through the clouds before “Cavern” brought us back to terra firma with a thump. Compared with the liquid flow of Friday night’s second set, this one left us all a bit thirsty, but I will contend that any night spent with Phish is a night well spent – even, EVEN, if they encore with “Sparkle” > “Character Zero,” which, sure, may not be ideal, as they might be the first two songs I’d list if you asked me which songs I didn’t want to hear. But you didn’t. And it doesn’t matter, anyway.
Because this tour is only just getting started. And though I’m getting off the bus after this incredible week of West Coast Phish, I know there is some monumental music out there on the eastern horizon. So, enjoy it, everyone – Saturday night specials, included.
I’ll see you in Vegas.
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And I love me a Character Zero, and Sparkle is always welcome. The latter reminds me of the Palace Theatre shows in Albany, NY, and that's a good thing.
As you say, the highlight of the two-show run was, of course, set two the night before. Unimpeachable. And that second set was better than any set played at BCGA, but I really enjoyed those shows too.
I really didn't like Trey's lyrical flub in Cavern, or the way he ad libbed in the wake of it. But I'm hardly perfect myself.
As for the song selection, Phish seems to always want to play from the same group of songs when in LA(Blaze On, Fuego, NMIML, BDTNL, DWD, KDF, 555 etc...). These songs almost ALWAYS appear in Forum shows(plus maybe too much of whatever new stuff they want to test out). The 2nd set was particularly unsatisfying this time around. Oh well, they can’t hit a home run every time up. Night 1 was still a lot of fun and it’s great to have 2 local shows for a change!
how do you not at all mention the fantastic improv of Fuego and Soul Planet??
That said, the rest of the show was pretty rocking. I am convinced once a listener's or reviewer's "tide turns" in their head on one song they can't clearly hear the rest of the show. That is the hardest part of being an open minded Phish fan. Keep an open mind, the entire way through, and your night will be different. LA traffic, crazy lot scene, and how you feel going into the the show should not affect how you hear each song individually. I streamed BG night two and thought the first set was the worst I have listen to in years, but I read reviews of amazingness. It's all arbitrary. Come hang with our crew next time and I bet your review sings a different tune. Peace and love.
The jamming was on point, and many times in the evening I boarded the mother ship and took a journey into the musical universe and returned back to my seat. (No, I was not on anything) Many songs on my wish list were played including Jiboo, Wingsuit, Julius, Suzy, HMPAY, Sparkle. Was not on my list but was blown away- Soul Planet (love the Motown feel in this song) and a sleeper hit was KDF, what a rocker!! My Saturday night date (my wife) was dancing hard until her cute shoes gave her a blister, then it was dancing not so hard.
As far as a venue goes this is one of the best arena's to see music. Totally redone just for music and it has an acoustic slap-back that is "rock n' roll". With that, I think there is much lost in the streams or recordings because the band is tuned to the room and that has the potential to be misinterpreted through the transmission.
Thanks, Phish for an amazing 2-night run, see you in CO!!
Yes there were some jams (kdf, fuego, and soul planet), but it didn't really seem like they were locked in to each other and the hose was on for the majority of the show. There are jams pretty much every phish show, save that grand prairie show that doesn't get any love over here. I had no problem with song choices all night, it just seemed disjointed and lacking flow and relistenable jams compared to every other show so far. Soul planet jam was definitely the highlight , and I even preferred the completely butchered cavern to standard ones!
Forum1, comparitively, was at all times straight fire, more jambient than ambient, served with copious helping of face melt>rockthe house calling forth organic crowd integration with easily avoided of that uncomfortable set hazard moment when the arena stumbles against its will-power into woos of tweezer's past... The Fabulous Forum; two different and solid shows...beauty lies in the eyes and ears of those in attendance...the couchers might as well be watching high def porn, and complaining about bad sex...
the new phish world order is in real time ... 3.0 material matures, finding new landing spots and subtle arrangement modification...by proxy the entirety of the canon, flexed placements, this 2018 tour seems to be the 3.5 mule segueing between two eras...Perhaps the BD was the penultimate of 3.0 era, and as Bill Belichick once said, we're onto...4.0.
Can't wait to do it again soon!~
While your experience is indeed your own, which can never be taken from you, I feel bad that you had such a negative experience at this show. I am not sure your Phish history, and I will not check your "stats" to validate or invalidate anything you've written, but Phish has had a historical tendency of flubs, odd-looking setlists (on paper), and jams that seemingly come out of nowhere. In parallel, Phish has had a historical tendency where parts of the fanbase will seek out the inlet of negatives, amidst an ocean of positives. This is prevalent, in, literally, every year of Phish, and I would argue is the reason (minus flubs, but again, that is a normal part of the live music experience for a band that plays well over 200 songs in their "regular rotation") that fans see dozens and hundreds of shows -- to capture those positive moments that may not jump out "on paper."
Having said that, here is my take on the show, offered as a purposeful counterpoint to your experience.
Julius was a smokeshow. Jukius of late tend to feature more Page than Trey, but this was the opposite. A throwback version where Trey attacked the guitar and added a handful more measures of peaks. The Forum EXPLODED about 6 minutes into the song when we collectively realize Trey was "gonna go GIT IT!" And boy, did he ever git this version. Suzy was a textbook perfect follow up the surged with energy. Amplifying the rush that Julius ignited the fuse for what was a total dance party of a first set (minus one song, we'll get to that later). Timber was an absolutely treat. Fish's rolling toms and Trey, again, taking a defined lead role made this version the second of already two standout versions of songs (Julius being the other... so far). A near-perfect execution of one of Phish's historically great cover songs. Speaking of cover songs, Soul Shakedown garnered a thunderous applause from the crowd, who at this point is nearing total nakedness. A half funk, half reggae take on the Marley classic was the most enjoyable placement and performance.
Kill Devil Falls, for me, was the highlight of the first set. This version is a blitzkrieg of scale climbing and tension and release, again, with Trey taking a forward role in captaining the band in a version which explodes with joy and celebration. *this version* is why I, personally, go see Phish. This is exactly the type of playing and energy I am looking to capture. Moreover, Trey veyr clearly teases the same, blissful lick from BGCA Carini in the mid jam, as the tension is building. This is noteworthy because this lick signals confidence and conscious direction by the band and bandleader. 555 was played well enough, not my fav, but fit as a nice cool down. Ypur Pet Cat was a delightful dose of funk, perhaps just a minute too short, but acted as a primer for... oops. Tide Turns was the one "huh?" placement of the set, as it seemed we were primed for blastoff, but alas, Phish does what they want, and not 4 minutes later we were swept up in a sea of funk with NMINML... this is what YPC was buliding to. A rather normal, funky version slinks and struts its way with all sorts of shuffle before drifting into a thunderous, albeit, again "normal" Bathtub Gin. Reader, when I say, "normal" I use it not in a pejorative sense. Normal Phish is GREAT Phish. And Great Phish, 2.28.03, Magnaball, 11.17.97, ect... are so few and far between, that THAT (those shows) are the ultimate treasure of tour. And like all treasure, they are hard to find. Point being, there is absolutely nothing wrong with normal Phish, as it makes great Phish that much more special and unique and scarce.
Jibboo came out swinging. Lounge jazz be damned, as this version quickly, furiously took on a 2.20.03 Jibboo maneuver can raged through 11 minutes of climbing, peaking brilliance. Easily, the favorite version I have seen, above 12.31.17 and a handful of others. Fuego. Wow. This... THIS is GREAT PHISH. This is what I was talking about in my aforementioned paragraph. This is our treasure. Beautiful builds a la 7.2.97 Stash. Patient peaking a la 7.4.14 Fuego. Dreamlike melodies a la 7.21.99 My Left Toe. This version is a pinnacle moment in a short tour (so far). The chance they took to patiently stretch out Fuego, and let it unfold like ancient origami, so delicate, yet so complex, is astounding. I cannot overstate how transcendent and important this version is.
Birds was a short, fiery version that, ironically, acted more as a cool down than a heater, despite being red hot. No complaints here after that Fuego jam. Meatstick, I thought, was going to get jammed out into ambient groovescapes a la Gorge Wombat, but despite it being a very normal version, it set the table for an electric Soul Planet.
SOUL PLANET! Those listening closely will notice that Phish, *completely* changed key and pace as soon as the ending chorus of the song was done. This very well could be Soul Planet -> Jam. Unreal how well-rehearsed that sounded and was executed. This jam was snappy and peppy. Happy and energized. Slightly staccato and borderline bliss. A forage through lush green forest and bright blue water. A jam that, like Fuego, took time and patience to develop. To have two, no three, jams of superb quality in one set, especially considering said jams come from rather "non traditional" jam songs, is, again, the reason we go see Phish. You really never know what they are going to do, or how they are going to do it. Check your expectations at the door. Buy the ticket, take the ride.
Wingsuit kind of surprised me, as I was anticipating a homerun type of closing combo - but who am I to judge, especially considering my preceding sentence. Still a cerebral, patient song evolved into a scorching solo. Cavern made me laugh. Sure Trey had a senior moment, but he also has forgotten the lyrics to Cavern, in LITERALLY EVERY YEAR ITS BEEN PLAYED. I judge not.
Sparkle was, to me, an obvious nod to the hilarity of Cavern, and I love when the band can laugh at themselves. Zero destroyed. I mean just razed the arena. Having seen the song a dozen+ times, I can say with absolute certainty, that this was my favorite version I have experienced -- Trey came full circle and ended the show as on fire as he was form the very first song, through KDF, through Jibboo, Fuego, and Soul Planet.
The rich really do get richer.
It used to be that a great 1st set would get overlooked if a 2nd set was thought to lack sufficient quantity of type II jamming. Now, a strong but not epic type II outing is a baseline expectation. If combined with a great first set and/or a lot of setlist candy, a typical night of jamming can earn a lot of 5 star votes these days. There are fewer pure 'songfests' with hardly any jamming and therefore fewer truly 'dud' shows IMO. Forum II had just enough improv to pass muster but it didn't have a great first set, rarities, or buttery segues and it did have a normal amount of flubbing.
But that Fuego!
Along those lines, I can stand next to a dude when the Forum is on Fuego, full of energy, with golden hose pouring from the stage and bouncing around that amazing room - but he might be tuned out, spaced out, tripped out, not receptive, not digging it - and he misses my wave. Taking into account how you listen, what you expect versus what you get, how you analyze it and in what context, how long you've tried using your vocabulary to speak about Phish - these things all matter. I like critique! I like to THINK. I like to share in the groove, too.
I was worried about this show - I almost skipped it, after I definitely missed the wave watching the free webcast from San Francisco. Fell flat for me - had trouble finding a silver lining, an impetus to drive my ass 90 miles to LA and back after the show because of an appointment on Sunday. But I did it, cause I've seen enough to know that you just gotta get there. And it was REALLY GOOD, with sound and light filling the venue up to the nosebleed section where I took it in. After 5 years of only seeing shows at DICKS, it felt really intimate actually...!
My vocabulary has been neglected of late - I don't pretend to speak of "Major Type II jams" or "Phish 3.0" - I suppose I ought to learn, being a Rhetoric major in my youth - but it doesn't matter. After 27 years of this, I am pretty good at catching the wave that takes me where I want to be. But afterwards, I can break it down with the best of y'all - and I love this space where we can dork out and speak up! Thanks for that.
I used to live in a ski town, and would hear how visitors would describe how awesome the skiing was after a recent storm. The Orwellian like adage "any skiing is good skiing, just some is better than others" holds true, and yes it was good. But with the aid of seeing the mountain over a long period, and really seeing how magical the place can become, from a comparative point of view, maybe that small little storm didn't really quite get to that threshold of transforming the place in to magic. In this analogy, it is the exuberant visitor that is having a better time than the jaded local with marginal conditions.
In that vein, the enjoyment is all internal - makes me think of "Zen mind, beginners mind," and the newb is the master (case in point, my first show, which flipped the switch for me is in the bottom 2% of shows I've seen rating wise. It still flipped the switch). But as far as comparative critique, recognizing the difference between those moments that truly stand out vs those small storms or average-great shows (or insert your analogy here) is key to seeing the greatness when it makes that transcendent jump.
Or maybe, can I still have fun?
he sits in his seat and his synapses burn
thoughts follow his delusional expectations the moment comes slowly undone
cant the tired minutia wait til he's alone
can he pretend to have fun?
couch jade critiquie should have some kind of surgeons general warning associated with it...listening so a show on unrregulated personal audio randomness via an iphone transmission via someones pants pocket and feeling compelled to share a show analysis is a special form of sociapathic narcissism
#didnt go / dont post