Hollywood Bowl – Los Angeles, CA
Words/Photos by Reverend Justito
I witnessed my first performance at the Hollywood Bowl in 2003. Sitting there under the stars, I knew that the historic venue would be the perfect place to see Phish work their magic. I’ve even discussed for this very website how great it would be to see Phish perform at the venue with the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Having spent two days at the Gorge with the boys, I pulled into the venue with my pal God Frank expecting the madness and energy level that was present all weekend in George, Washington. Much to my shock (and as I look back, delight) the place was as mellow as you could get. With this being God Frank’s first show, I wanted to find him a solid Shakedown Street so he could have the full experience. In our 45 minute walk around the stacked parking lots of the Hollywood Bowl, there was very minimum vending going on. A few glass pieces for sale, some hippie crack but that’s about it. I couldn’t even find a beer for sale. With no real party that we could find, we decided to head into the venue and wait for Phish to make their eagerly awaited Hollywood Bowl debut.
Around 7:30 pm, the band took the stage to a solid but mellow round of applause. From the second that sound began coming from the P.A. I knew we were heading straight into a “Down With Disease” opener. As far as “Disease” goes the playing was fierce especially the guitar work of Trey Anastasio, but this was no doubt the quickest version of the song I have heard. The band brought the jam right on down into an early set “Cavern.” I have to admit I was shocked to hear this one as it was just played opening night at the Gorge. Yet as a fan of the song, I had no complaints and was glad God Frank got the see the Anastasio and bassist Mike Gordon perform their leg kick dance.
For as shocked as I was for the “Cavern” repeat “Possum” really threw me for a loop. Having just seen it open the previous show, you can now put me in the camp of spoiled snobs who agree that the band is playing this one too much. I decided to use it as a piss break knowing I will probably catch it again at Outside Lands. When the band broke into the Talking Head’s jam “Cities” my first thoughts were of Berkeley 2010. With phans in front of me still wearing their Price is Right name tags (I believe they said the episode will air November 8th) I was hoping “Cities” would see another Plinko jam in the great state of California. While the mini jam coming out of “Cities” was tight, I think the band knew it had to take the energy up a level thus busting out the third cover of the Frank Zappa classic “Peaches en Regalia.” Once this made its appearance at SuperBall IX, I knew the band would pay tribute to Zappa at the Bowl.
I pointed to God Frank in excitement as the Chairman of the Boards himself Page McConnell headed towards the front of the stage for “Lawn Boy.” I loved when McConnell played up to the crowd asking us how we were doing. I had called a “Tube” opener, so fine I was off 7 songs? You knew they had to bust this one out with The 101 freeway behind them. Following “Tube” came “Back on the Train” which I felt had the best jam of the entire first set.
“Wilson>Axilla” was straight up ass kicking rock and roll and I loved every minute of it. After a tasty “Split Open and Melt” with a jam as laid back as the crowd, the band gave me another piss break (and 4th Gorge repeat) “Backwards Down The Number Line.” I will just say this about the set I closer. When I walked to the bathroom, there were folks around but not a hard walk. It was hard to walk back from the bathroom because so many people were filling out of the Bowl. As far as the first set goes, it felt as if Phish had to get comfortable with the venue and it showed in songs like “Disease” and “Cities” but once they became acclimated it was on like Donkey Kong.
If you have read my thoughts on the Gorge, then you know I feel the band has been kicking set II off with the second song. Not the case on this night as the hairs upon my arms began to rise as that thick opening riff from “Carini” drifted from the stage and over the surrounding hills. My first 3.0 “Carini” the jam was hard hitting as it should be, but what made it great is what it eventually became. I have chased “Crosseyed and Painless” for as long as I can remember. With “Cities” in the first set I figured I missed the Talking Heads original yet again. Wrong, I saw it live and in person and it rocked hard. Drummer Jon Fishman sounded great on the vocals and the energy very well could have blown the band shell off of the stage.
Once again not stopping between songs “Twist” was the confirmation that I needed that this was indeed a Phish crowd and not a Los Angeles crowd. With everyone front to back Wooing on mark, we may have just set the record for the mellowest Phish crowd of all time. There was even a major lack of glow stick wars over the course of the night. I looked for one during “Piper”, and where a few went up, it was more of a glow stick operation versus a full blown war.
So I got the Mike’s Grove that thenaturalstoner wanted so bad and it ended up being the highlight of the show. After a solid take on “Mike’s Song” the band wound down into “Joy.” I like “Joy” a lot so if I had to have a breather in my second set this one is fine with me. Nothing special musically on this one, just an important reminder to focus on what makes you happy. “Weekapaug Groove” followed “Joy” with Gordon straight up abusing his thumb with ferocious slaps against his strings.
I don’t think anyone in the house could have guessed what would go down next. Anastasio dropped his guitar and took to the drum set as stage hands quickly assembled a small drum kit in front of Gordon. From there Fishman took to the small kit and the band busted out a funky first time offering of the Paul Simon song “50 Ways To Leave Your Lover.” I can’t lie, I have somehow managed to go 32 years without hearing this song, but it didn’t matter. I was just glad to see Fish to debut a new song where he gets to take center stage.
Like a fool I turned off the camera right as the band launched into “Hold Your Head Up.” Where this song usually sandwiches a front of the stage Fishman appearance, I guess we learned it follows a Fishman front of stage with drum kit appearance. Regardless, it was an absolute blast to finally see Fish take a victory lap around the stage.
After another Character Zero, the band closed the second set with a cover of “Quinn The Eskimo.” I was excited to finally see it performed live and looking around the Bowl you could actually feel a little energy coming from the crowd. For an encore, the band opened with “Stealing Time From The Faulty Plan.” Solid version no doubt, but I am not sure I like it as an encore. For the 7th and final Gorge repeat, Phish closed the night with “Julius.” I reached for my phone to call Phishbeard knowing how much he loves the song. I suppose since Raphael Saadiq beat them to playing it at the Bowl they kind of had to play it right? Solid version and a great way to send people out to a Highland Avenue shakedown of Bacon Wrapped Hot Dogs.
I have to think the first Phish show at the Hollywood Bowl was a success. Sure, there were a lot of repeats from the Gorge, but with so far to travel between dates I have to assume those who made all three are limited. As I mentioned earlier, I was glad that the crowd was respectful. Hollywood Bowl is the perfect venue for Phish in Southern California and I would like to see a lot more shows with them there in the future (starting the rumor now for three night run in fall of 2012).
Hope everyone in Tahoe has a blast. We will see you in San Francisco Friday night for Outside Lands.