Phish at LA Forum: Heavy Things for Heavy Times
A phunny thing happened on the way to the Phorum last night. Sorry, let’s start that again.
Unless you’re a local head from Inglewood, and given the Phish demographic and that of the city, odds are you’re coming from somewhere else. A Friday night Forum show demands a level of activation energy just getting there—the traffic, the parking, and the news on NPR that I forgot to turn off in the car ride.
For this Orange County 9-to-6 working stiff, it took a white-knuckle fast break down the 91 freeway to walk in during the opening cadence of “Moma Dance,” beerless, excited, optimistic. Phish scorched the West Coast last week at the Gorge in rural Washington and three nights at Billy Graham’s in San Francisco—the best shows of the tour. Even-numbered years are great for Cali Phish, the band fully primed after a month of shows.
It took a little while to find the groove. I picked up nervous vibes from guitarist Trey Anastasio, bounding about during a dutiful “Sample in a Jar,” before dishing it to bassist Mike Gordon for a bluegrass bust out of “Paul and Silas.” That’s 103 shows since the last one for the stat-keepers.
Mike kept the ball, pivoting into “Yarmouth Road,” a reggae ballad that fell a little flat, but salvaged by a cooking rendition of “Kill Devil Falls” that got into fourth gear with the help of a few flying glowsticks, the audience goading the band to pick it up. It’s Friday night in LA and we came to party.
The “Horn” riff triggered a mad dash for beer for many in the near-sell out audience, but not me. “Horn” is a bucketlist tune that’s inexplicably missed my attendance over my 18 (!) years of Phishdom. Anastasio’s long, introspective composed solo lit up my pineal gland and put me right where I needed to be. Who leaves during “Horn”? Seriously.
Keys player Page McConnell took the spotlight with “Half the Way to the Moon”, usually not a jam vehicle, but explorations of the long chord progression by he and Anastasio delighted those with a fresh brewski.
Lighting director Chris Kuroda always floods the Forum with Lakers purple and gold, a nod to the house Kareem and Magic built. Tonight, though, whenever the jams took a darker turn, as it did in “Moon,” he doused the room in deep crimson. Apropos given Donald Trump’s nomination speech and the Munich shootings earlier in the day. Damn you NPR.
Indeed, these were “Heavy Things” to think about, so it was time get an 805 in my hands and “Blaze On” through “Run Like an Antelope” which finished the set strong.
The “Stash” betwixt those tunes seemed the unanimous Set I favorite for everyone I chatted with during setbreak, my blue Milwaukee Brewers hat a magnet for all the Wisconsinites in the audience.
Sadly, somebody annoyed the beer wench behind the bar earlier in the evening. Normally the Forum understands that good vibes mean good tips from Phish people. Her shitty attitude probably cost her counter $2,000 in gratuity. Rookie mistake.
Set 2: I always wonder why the band plays “Axilla I” when “Axilla II” from Hoist is the superior version of the tune. Just once I want to yell out, “I never understood what my body was for, that’s why I leave it laying out on the floor!” Maybe someday. I’ll have to keep coming.
At this point, I can’t tell if Phish is more cohesive, or different in any regard, from last year. This old man, he can’t tour, so my sample size is limited to their LA stop.
The new LED lighting behind the band changed up the look for sure. I see the potential, but I don’t know, my purist sensibilities draw a comparison to putting lights on Wrigley Field. I ran this through my mind during “Fuego” and “Back on the Train”—what keeps me interested in Phish? Why will I never, ever miss a local show?
Right at that moment they started “I Saw It Again.” They were doing it—reading my thoughts and soundtracking me—this happens every time. I am the glowstick conductor, the Dudamel of section 107.
People used to hate on “Prince Caspian.” A lot. Maybe I did too, I can’t remember. All that changed after the towering Magnaball rendition last summer. It’s a double edged sword—like getting really good Molly from some rando and expecting the same ride every time. Mr. PC was good enough this time, each player taking turns fuguing from the tonal center and trust-falling back into the groove.
The “Waves” upon which “Caspian” floats came next. Clever enough. I’ve been hounding “Waves” live versions since last Winter; I love the grimey opiated takes from ‘03-’04 drug years and this one took a couple dark, smacky turns. Kuroda flooded the crimson right on queue; I pondered global disaster scenarios for a good 10 minutes.
Thank heavens for “Joy” and a chance to quell my nerves with a stiff IPA. I have a few years before my kids are angsty teens; Anastasio wrote this song for his own moody offspring, and I’m sure it will hit me in the feels in about 8 years.
For now my mind is still reeling with the divided state of the nation. By the powers of telepathy they start playing “The Wedge,” with Kuroda alternating the floodlights between blue and red. DNC vs RNC. #yourlifematers. European cities getting shot up. You’re welcome in my head any time, Phish, but damn these are heavy times.
A scorching version of “Scent of a Mule” ensued—probably the energy peak of the evening—though squandered by aimless dicking around on the marimba lumina. But hey, take your chances fellas, that’s why I love you. You saved my life with “Rock ‘n’ Roll” a Velvets cover Phish plays intensely like the amphetamine Lou Reed from the mid-’70s.
Things got a little rerun in LA with the YEM set closer and Trey and Mike bro-down and vocal jam. I saw that here last year, and it signaled wind-down time, but I’m not complaining.
Phish complainers can fuck off. That goes out to everyone that left the show during the “Bounce Around the Room” encore. I saw you.
That was it—the show ran too long for Japanese bar food in Gardena (dammit). I drove back to Fullerton with the radio off and made a beast of myself at Taquaria de Andas, body still humming from the vibrations, still thinking about the year to come until we meet again. Until then, goodnight and best of luck to all of you.
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