On The Download: Phish At Hollywood Bowl (August 8, 2011)

Good times. Good people. Great music.

A cliche at best for any concert at any venue in any city on any date, but if the groove fits…

Such was exactly the case on Monday night as Phish rocked the Hollywood Bowl in front of a raucous sold-out crowd of 18,000 dancing, singing and smiling LA fans.

Full disclosure #1: As a jam band-loving college kid in the mid to late ‘90s, I often ventured out on the road with friends to see Phish play all over the West Coast. And while my willingness to travel for any concert has waned as the years have gone on, my adoration for the rockin’ four-man quartet from Vermont hasn’t dwindled one bit.

Having said that, it’s been quite a while since I’ve seen the boys play live (at best recollection, the last time I was at a Phish show was Las Vegas in September 2000), but as I sat in the middle of a packed-to-the-rim Hollywood Bowl on Monday, it had the feeling of visiting a long-lost relative who embraces you with a warm hug.

Full disclosure #2: I’ve lived in LA for about eight years now and this was my first time at the Bowl as well. And yes, I’ve heard cries of “sacrilege” from my LA brethren. Now, I see why. Amazing venue. Sad I haven’t been there sooner. I vow it won’t be long before I’ll be back again.

Back to the music. The band – who have had their fair share of ups and downs over the years, including a nearly five-year hiatus, which ended in 2009 – looked as fresh and as focused as I had ever seen them. But for as good as they looked, they sounded even better.

Frontman Trey Anastasio’s guitar was crisp. Bassist Mike Gordon’s thumping accompaniment – and at times leading-the-way bass lines – could be felt coursing from vein to ventricle. Keyboardist Page McConnell was a technician tickling the ivories all night in typical Page fashion. And drummer Jon Fishman – in his customary muumuu – manned the drums (except for when Trey briefly took over!) with precision and a smile – and even a few jogs around the stage.

The first set was riddled with perennial classics, from the show-opening numbers “Down with Disease”/”Cavern”/”Possum” to a pair of regular rotation Phish covers in The Talking Heads’ “Cities” and Frank Zappa’s melodic ”Peaches en Regalia” – the boys showed they were in top form and ready to make their first trip to the iconic Hollywood Bowl a real treat.

And the fans gave the love right back.

During mid-first set number “Wilson,” a chorus of nearly 20,000 strong belted out the title right on cue throughout the song, as if to put the rest of Hollywood – and surrounding LA suburbs – on notice that Phish was officially in town and making their presence felt.

A seamless transition into the Trey riff-rockin’ “Axilla” kept the crowd jumping and dancing with excitement before “Split Open and Melt” and “Backwards Down the Number Line” closed out the energy-fueled first set.

Following a brief set break, the band came out and showed everyone right off the bat that the intermission hadn’t cost them any of their fire.

A burning “Carini”>”Crosseyed and Painless” (another Talking Heads cover)>”Twist” (not one of my favorites, but musically no complaints)>”Piper” picked up right where the boys left off – and then some!

Note for note, riff for riff, groove for groove, funk for funk, solo – whether brief or extended – for solo – the band sounded as sharp as I can ever remember.

Fan favorite “Mike’s Song” kicked the vibe up yet another notch before launching into hands-down one of my all-time favorite performances of its set-list counterpart “Weekapaug Groove” (with a brief and not necessarily needed “Joy” interlude between the two classics). I didn’t really dig – or need – “Joy.”

As a special treat for the LA crowd, the band busted out a first-ever performance of the Paul Simon classic “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover,” with Fishman on the mic. It was fun, lighthearted, upbeat and the crowd absolutely loved it.

Eventually making their way back into “Weekapaug” (a predictable yet very pleasant treat), before capping the set with a rousing “Character Zero,” and yet another fan-fave cover of Bob Dylan’s “Quinn the Eskimo,” the band had the venue stomping their feet, clapping their hands and belting out the “Quinn” chorus with smiles beaming ear-to-ear to put a fitting lid on an electric second set.

With an encore of “Stealing Time from the Faulty Plan” into the jazzy “Julius” – Phish put on a venerable clinic in rock that pushed all the way up until the venue’s 11 PM curfew.

As the throngs of fans made their way out of the Bowl, emotions were high, smiles were big and the usual chatter of “[Fill in the name of any of the 25 songs they played] was so sick!” filled the air. As the band – and a large sector of fans – hit the road and made their way to Lake Tahoe for the next night’s show, one sentiment was clear – how soon ‘til the boys come back to LA one more time?

Full disclosure #3: Whenever it is, it won’t be soon enough… and I’ll be there again!

-- Eric Anderson

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