Trey Anastasio w/ the Los Angeles Philharmonic 03/10/12
Walt Disney Concert Hall – Los Angeles, CA
Words/Photos by Reverend Justito
Back in 2010 I wrote an open letter to Phish and the Los Angeles Philharmonic begging them to team up for a performance at the Hollywood Bowl. While we finally got to see Phish at the Bowl last summer, it was your typical two set balls to the wall affair with no sign of the Phil in sight. Thankfully my wish somewhat came true in March of 2012 as Trey Anastasio of Phish took on the Los Angeles Philharmonic for a fantastic night at the immaculate Walt Disney Concert Hall in downtown Los Angeles.
I really didn’t know what to expect as we headed from our car up into the massive structure that serves as the LA Phil’s winter home. The Phish scene was interesting on this particular evening to say the least. I would say at least two thirds of the crowd dressed up for the occasion. In fact just about every wook I saw out dressed my modest button down and jeans attire. Everyone was on their best behavior for a fancy affair in the heart of Los Angeles.
After enjoying dinner in the dining area within the venue we found our way to our seats just as members of the LA Phil began to warm up. I enjoyed one of the French Horn players practicing certain sections of Stash and I swear one of the bass players was teasing Down With Disease to warm himself up for the evening. While advertised as a prompt 8pm start time, the show finally got started around 10 after as Anastasio and conductor Scott Dunn took the stage. Opening with First Tube it was hard to sit still as the excitement and the energy of the song all hit at once. Anastasio used just a slight hint of distortion with his Ocelot electric guitar and toned the song down just enough for the Philharmonic to keep up and let everyone know that we are here and this is happening.
After a solid performance of Water In The Sky which sounded a lot like the Festival 8 version on steroids, the night’s first highlight unfolded. With Anastasio on acoustic guitar the entire time Divided Sky was a new indescribable form of beautiful. The way the string section lifted this number I came to the conclusion that this needs to be playing when I take my walk down the long tunnel towards the white light. While Brian and Robert (Phishbeards favorite Phish song for those keeping score at home) would have probably been a mood killer if this was Phish on a Saturday night, it was very enjoyable with the additional musicians.
Guyute shocked me in the sense that it was done as an instrumental. This was a perfect way for the Philharmonic to show off some more of its quirky instruments and unusual sounds they can make. I saw instruments being used that I couldn’t even name, it was great. I was equally impressed by Stash. I won’t sugar coat it, I just don’t like this particular song. Yet with the Philharmonic it took on a whole new vibe and I found it incredible. From Anastasio’s slowed down lyrical delivery to various members of the Philharmonic smiling from the synchronized hand claps of the audience this song finally felt special after hearing it for the last 16 years. Having apologized for years of promising to be back in 15 minutes and taking much longer, Anastasio stressed that there would only be a 10 minute break on this evening. His promise was correct as after a short break we were back for a second set of music.
I knew the second set was scheduled to open with Time Turns Elastic. I also know I am not alone in saying that this song can be torturous. With the understanding that the orchestral version is much longer than the Phish version I had an open mind for the music. However it was still very difficult to sit through at times and judging by the restless nature of many in the crowd I was not alone for this. I am sure you could find folks that disagree somewhere, but judging by the heckles from numerous members of my section this was the lowest point in a night of exhilarating highs.
Since I have never seen Phish perform If I Could, I was excited for the chance to hear one of my favorite tracks from Hoist. This take gave me chills it was so good. The extended string heavy outro sounded great inside the space that Anastasio admitted is the best sounding room he’s ever performed in.
If you were to ask me what the quintessential Phish song is, I would say You Enjoy Myself. It is my favorite song and I have had the fortune of seeing numerous versions over the years. With a very well behaved crowd at the edge of their seats the entire night this song was the moment the dam busted open as our minds were officially blown. You Enjoy Myself is classical music done as rock and roll. To hear it as classical music was too much for the audience. As the song builds and builds folks could no longer withhold the cheers and some even left their seats to stand. As we finally broke and crashed down into the Boy Man God Shit section many laughed as the words were replaced by horns that sounded like a wet version of the last word. For as foul as that sounds it worked perfectly and took the song to a new and exciting place. However the highlight of the song was the ending vocal jam. With the Philharmonic laying down a melody below him Anastasio walked about 10 feet away from his microphone. With the room built for sound, the sold out crowd was able to hear Anastasio sing a vocal jam along with the musicians behind him. It was an incredible way to end over two hours of music.
Anastasio of course came back out for an encore. You know I have to point out that once again the west coast got screwed as out of the four shows Anastasio did with Orchestras this summer we were the only ones who didn’t get to hear Golden Slumbers>Carry That Weight>The End. We did however get a sweet take on The Inlaw Josie Wales before we headed back to our cars in an attempt to navigate the snarled streets of downtown Los Angeles. Even with the shortest set of the tour, it was an amazing opportunity to hear the music of my favorite band in a brand new reimagined light. Now let’s have another round when the Hollywood Bowl books Phish for three nights for their annual July 4th celebration in 2013.