Phish made its return to The Forum in Inglewood Saturday night, their second show there in the span of nine months, a one-off evening in a string of two dozen concerts starting in the Pacific Northwest, down though California, across to Texas and the South, then up through the midwest before turning back East for the Magnaball festival in upstate New York.
For those keeping score at home, and many do, the Forum show is the one to beat this year–and might be for a while to come. The bar has been set, and it is a high one.
If you are wondering if Trey Anastasio's performance in the Grateful Dead 50th anniversary reunion converted any Grateful Dead fans, the answer is yes–I talked to three Phish first timers checking out the band in the wake of Fare Thee Well.
The new Forum suits Phish well and vice versa; the staff knows that if you take care of the fans, the fans will take care of you. One bartender told me with a knowing grin they were ready for Phish this year. The Forum knows how to make money, which means they are quick with your pour, and a cool $20 fee for parking. Pro tip: Uber is your friend.
Traditionally Los Angeles gets a solid but straightforward showing from Phish. Perhaps because this was the first weekend night in recent years the band provided some extra oomph and has a few tricks up its sleeve.
Phish wove a quiet tribute to Los Angeles throughout the entire show. It started right off the bat with an out-of-leftfield opener, "Martian Monster," a song from Sound of the Haunted House, a 1964 Disneyland Recordings LP of scary stories that the band learned for its 2014 Halloween performance.
Lighting director Chris Kuroda doused the stage in Lakers purple and gold at least a dozen times at different points in the set. "Slave to the Traffic Light" seemed apropos for Los Angelenos, especially ones who passed through USC to drive to the Forum as I did. A line from "Roggae" about 'when all the stars turn around' took on a special meaning in the entertainment capital of the world.
These types of unspoken hints, scents and subtle sounds keep me coming back to Phish. The more you know the band the better it gets. I got to explain all of this to my sixteen-year-old cousin who accompanied me to the show (another first timer), trying to cram nearly two decades of Phish experience into a day at the beach. I think he understood some of it–even though he was, without a doubt, the youngest person in the audience besides little kids there with their parents.
I explained to him during "Down With Disease" that when I was his age, my classmates picked the outro line "This has all been wonderful, but now I'm on my way" as their senior yearbook quote. And that Phish fans are more like Republicans in more ways than they'd ever cop to. They are rich, they are overwhelmingly white, and have a youth problem.
Say whatever you want about Phish fans though, they are the best listeners of any rock crowd. Give them that. And they had plenty to listen to at the Forum.
There are several standout moments I look forward to hearing again once the digital download becomes available. In the first set, check out the compact exchange of solos between Page McConnell and Trey Anastasio on "Heavy Things." McConnell would be red-hot all night long, wheeling around in his bullpen of keyboards and leading fire jam sections in "Ya Mar" and "Slave."
Even though it wasn't a Mike Gordon night in the sense they didn't bust out the Mike trilogy, Gordon gets my MVP vote. His tune "555" has evolved into a can't-lose set one momentum builder. Gordon's best came at the beginning of set two, driving some heavy, filtered low-end through a promising new jam called "No Men in No Man's Land" which flawlessly transitioned into a relentless "Carini."
The "Carini->Tweezer" transition makes this show destined for LivePhish lore. Tweezer was neither properly started nor was it finished–the best jam of the evening featured a dream-like Anastasio/Gordon duet before bounding into "My Friend, My Friend"–which leaves open some interesting prospects about how Phish might reprise "Tweezer" when they take the stage in Austin on July 28.
The other big surprise featured "You Enjoy Myself" in the encore slot, and another Mike and Trey bro-down, with the Trey holding his guitar in front of the bassist and playing it around his back, followed by Dada vocal jam and strobe light freakout.
All said it was a hot three hours of rock n roll that left me wishing I could follow that circus to Texas and beyond. It asserted that, that while couch tour is awesome in so many ways, you just have to be there. Perhaps as a younger man. If life were easy and not so fast…