Phish

July 22, 2016
The Forum
Los Angeles, CA

Review by Shawn Perry

I got into Phish in the late 90s and went on a five-year binge of 15 shows. It's only been four more times since. Not a lot by Phishhead standards I suppose, but plenty for someone who is gainfully employed and lives in Southern California. Phish doesn't do the kind of business here that they do in New York and Boston, where they routinely sell out three- or four-night runs. So the quartet maintains a ying-yang relationship with the region.

People were giving their tickets away in the parking lot at the Forum show in 2003. But tonight and last year, as I recall, there were fingers in the air. They were attached to “phans” in need of tickets, typically obtained for free, but if there was a squeeze, the ones with cash would prevail.

I stumbled into the Forum around 6:45, well ahead of the scheduled 7:30. The place was virtually empty aside from a small congregation of 50 or so hearty souls assembling in front of the stage, positioning themselves for the ultimate sonic blast and energetic vibe and intimacy that grips the open floor once the members of Phish step up. It was after eight when the risers and loge filled up, the floor swayed like a wild tremor, and the lights came down.

A group of red-glowing, devil-horned followers filled one small section on the floor; spinners and spastic dancers occupied the pockets in the back. Without so much as an introduction, Phish walked out and immediately slipped into the easy groove of "The Moma Dance" to kind of feel out the room. Who can resist when drummer Jon Fishman, sporting a dress or nightshirt or smock or whatever you want to call it, accentuated with donuts, takes the lead?

“Sample In A Jar,” one of my favorite Phish treats, was next and it changed the flow from funk to punk…sort of. If only the masses knew what that one was all about. It was a nice switch over to Mike Gordon’s “Yarmouth Road” where the bassist willfully sailed through the reggae-flavored verses without so much as taking a breath. Or so it seemed.

The pace was swift with more songs and less lethargic jams, which isn’t exactly a bad thing, but in 2016, you have to be mindful of your audience, especially in an attention-deficit town like LA. Even so, I was more than happy to hear more favorites like “Heavy Things,” “Cavern” and a somewhat barren, yet just as hopeful “Joy.”

It’s so easy to call Phish the successors to the Grateful Dead crown, given the similarities like ever-changing setlists, extended jams, poor record sales, and massive concert receipts thanks to a warm and fuzzy following. Like the Dead, they are a self-contained organization who had MP3s of the Forum show online and for sale by the time I got home. You’re damn right I bought it.

There’s something unusually cosmic and progressive about how Phish weave their music. “Scent Of A Mule,” in all its weird and wonderful formations, roamed through numerous pastures, bolstered by Page McConnell's (with help from Fishman and guitarist Trey Anastasio) wild turns on the synths. “You Enjoy Myself,” the last number of the main set, suspended itself through long stretches of ethereal instrumental passages, serenaded by Anastasio’s ample picking and sweeping arpeggios. After a good seven minutes, the vocals came in with four simple words: “Boy,” “Man,” “God” and “Shit.” They were followed by an incomprehensible disco-flavored chorus that translates to “Wash uffitzi drive me to firenze.” A simple case of lyrics taking a backseat to the music — more in line with the thought process of Frank Zappa (whom Phish has covered) than Jerry Garcia.

The three-song encore of Stevie Wonder’s “Boogie On Reggae Women,” a festive “Bouncing Around The Room” and “Golgi Apparatus,” another Zappa-like romp, brought the set to a late-night close. I got a little restless during the hour-long break, but it was well worth the wait. If only I could have made the next night in Chula Vista, the last show of the tour. The last time I saw Phish down there, I managed to get fairly relaxed on a dozen comped shot cups of vodka-heavy mudslides.

But the Forum may be my one and only Phish show of the year. Wait a minute, they just added a string of dates over Halloween in Las Vegas, so you never know. Those pesky hiatuses they used to take are long over. If only I could get on the train and ride along. Maybe next year.

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