Phish at The Forum

phish-at-the-forum

photo credit: Steve Rood

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It took less than five-and-a-half minutes in Phish’s return to the Los Angeles area to transform a mid-tour stop at The Forum into a multi-starred entry in the log of unforgettable shows.  No sooner had the opening “A Wave of Hope” crested, and the first arpeggiated notes of “You Enjoy Myself took their upward turn, did the capacity crowd respond in a full-throated rejoice to the early surprise.  Out came the trampolines.  Out came the glowsticks.  The legend of a mystical Sunday show was being conceived in real-time.

The 25-minute YEM typified much of the color and atmosphere of the band’s improvisational trips through the first set.  As though reaching altitude, then exploring parallel lines, (rather than the more peaking crescendos that would come later), the progressive rock quartet opted gladly for the groove.  It worked especially well when “Simple” dissolved into “Waiting All Night,” with guitarist Trey Anastasio’s vocal phrasing matching drummer Jon Fishman’s inherited tempo, reshaping with more intent the otherwise hazy mood piece.

Mike Gordon’s bassline announced “Maze,” and another uproar from the sold-out mass, giving plenty of spotlight to keyboardist Page McConnell midway through, before Anastasio ramped up the octane.  “Fee,” with a megaphone-enhanced Anastasio, held tightly to script, giving way to the slinky “Steam.”  It was here, and in the ensuing, set-closing “Run Like An Antelope,” where the four seemed to loosen and relax; a palpable sense of abandon bloomed in “Antelope,” portending a monster of a second half, lurking in the shadows of intermission.

After the churning instrumental bop of “Cars Trucks Buses,” again it was the second hitter of the set that delivered the blast.  And what a blast, as “Tweezer” morphed from its throbbing, angular creep into a flowing stride that ignited a raucous “L.A. Woman.”  A complete, mojo rising rendition, The Doors classic, last tackled in 2003, then segued into “Say It To Me S.A.N.T.O.S.” for a dozen strong minutes of pressure-cooked Kasvot jam. 

With “Tweezer” as a recurring marker, Phish moved through myriad shades and tone; tranquilizing on “What’s the Use?”; frenetic on unfinished excursions with “Birds of a Feather” and “Chalk Dust Torture”; playful on “Boogie On Reggae Woman” (perhaps a nod to another L.A. legend, Stevie Wonder, no stranger to famed nights at The Forum).  The darkening strokes of “Carini” again brought the crowd to a froth, dovetailing into the gripping, descending spiral prog of “Mr. Completely,” and a final, resolving “Tweezer Reprise.”  After an a cappella “Grind” and its updated math proved a telling denouement, the exhale of “Bathtub Gin” acknowledged the inevitable descent back to Earth after this Sunday night flight through the ether.

Phish’s history at The Forum began in 1996 with a performance of the national anthem at a Lakers basketball game.  The band’s first proper show came on Valentine’s Day in 2003.  In the 18 years since, the venerable arena has been home to a handful of solid performances from the group, but nothing nearly as enjoyable or enjoyed as this matchless October gem in the City of Lights. 

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