Hollywood Bowl

August 8, 2011

Better than: A night of bowling, In 'N Out Burger, some beers and a few laughs.

I'll refrain from any further Big Lebowski allusions, but there were quite a few El Duderinos getting their groove on in the aisles of the Hollywood Bowl. Sure, you always get your fair share of aging hippies at a Phish show, but tonight it seemed like the old outnumbered the young, recalling a simpler time, before crooked visors and pharmies ruled the scene.

The mood was upbeat and fun, without the drone of “Doses, headies, molly!” providing a constant nagging soundtrack. Of course, drugs were present, but they weren't omnipresent, and being the diligent sober journalist, I was actually able to walk to my seat without spun-out loonies and cracked-out tour rats crashing into me.

In Phish years, it's been ages since the jam-rock stalwarts played Hollywood, and this also marks their first appearance at the Hollywood Bowl. Just after 7:30 pm, the band — Trey Anastasio lead guitar/vox, Mike Gordon bass, Jon Fishman drums, Page McConnell keys — took the stage, looking healthy and well-groomed, save for Fishman in his, um, customary dress.

Now, at this point, I find it counterproductive to review the show in typical, journalistic fashion. I hate to say it, but Phish shows are completely about the vibe, and are subjective to fan experience, song preference, venue and the crowd. It seems silly to quibble, for example, about Trey coming in late during opener “Down With Disease,” or Page's solo during “Weekapaug Groove” being too busy.

Naturally, fans had a lot to quibble about during the early 2000s, when hiatus, break-ups and drug problems consumed the act, dooming many performances to uninspired, noodle sessions. However, with the band in full-tilt boogie since reforming in 2009, the group is tighter and more focused than ever.

Therefore, the ingredients that comprise a good Phish show fall back on subjectivity: Were you surrounded by good people? How was the light show? Was there room to dance? Did they play some rarities?

In the end, it boils down to: Did you have fun? Well, I certainly did. Here's a quick recap, in Phish language, for those who missed it.

“Dude, I'm peaking” moment: “Wilson” > “Axilla”

Obligatory “let's pretend newer material is awesome” moment: Group crowd swaying during “Backwards Down the Number Line.”

A fan favorite, but “pretty lame tonight” moment: “Split Open and Melt.”

“Um, I'm kinda freaking out” aka “I might need to sit down moment”: spooky “Crosseyed and Painless” jam

“Homoerotic Trey fantasy” moment: “Character Zero”

“Dude, I'm seriously peaking right now” moment: Tie: “Piper” glowstick war or damn near perfect “Mike's Song”

Bathroom break aka “Wading in the Velvet Sea” moment: “Joy”

Might convert first time Phish concertgoers into true fans: “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover” cover or “Julius” encore

Critical Bias: Being sober at a Phish show.

Random Notebook Dump: The well dressed, middle-aged Jerry Springer doppelganger in front of me has been doing key bumps of blow all night.

Set list below.

Set list:

First Set: 1) Down with Disease, 2) Cavern, 3) Possum, 4) Cities, 5) Peaches en Regalia, 6) Kill Devil Falls, 7) Lawn Boy, 8) Tube, 9) Back on the Train, 10) Wilson > 11) Axilla, 12) Split Open and Melt, 13) Backwards Down the Number Line

Second Set: 1) Carini, 2) Crosseyed and Painless, 3) Twist, 4) Piper, 5) Mike's Song, 6) Joy, 7) Weekapaug Groove, 8) 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover*, 9) Hold Your Head Up, 10) Weekapaug Groove, 11) Character Zero, 12) Quinn the Eskimo

Encore: 1) Stealing Time from the Faulty Plan, 2) Julius

*Phish debut

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