Keenly Aware That We’ve Broken Free
The Forum, Inglewood, CA
Indoor shows have a different vibe. Something about CK5 getting the full use of his lights and the way the sound system resonates and just the party atmosphere of the crowd makes a summer indoor show a treat. After a hot day in the low-90s and sun, it was a treat to step into the cool air conditioning of the LA Forum, a lovingly restored arena that is truly one of the nicer venues I’ve seen Phish in. With carpeted concourses, and an exterior vaguely reminiscent of the Hampton Mothership, this is a venue made for Phishy times.
Thanks to some brilliant iPhone subterfuge, we managed to get all four of our crew down to the GA floor as the lights went down. The boys walked out on stage and instantly caused a small riot to erupt in the Forum as Laura Olsher’s recorded voice informed us that we have been selected as the first astronauts to explore the planet Mars. I’m not sure what it is about “Martian Monster” but man, it gets people pumped! What a way to start a show, with a huge surge of excitement through the crowd and an intensely funky dance party.
Riding on that wave of energy, the band dropped a surprise second slot “Down With Disease.” It was clear that this was going to be a party tonight. Sure, it’s Saturday night and you expect some more party, “poppy” tunes, but this was no typical bro-fest “Sample” and “Bouncin'” night. This was a Saturday Night Special but for Phishheads. A wonderfully blazing type I “Disease” followed and peaked in glorious fashion, even including the rare vocal reprise at the end.
“Waiting All Night” and “Heavy Things” cooled everything down, but then the energy got right back up with a well-placed “Axilla” to get everyone’s blood pumping hard again. Another Bend repeat in “555” gave us a little more funk before two beloved first set tunes delivered nicely, “Limb by Limb” and “Ya Mar.” During the “Ya Mar” we got our taste of the first shenanigans of the night. Mike and Trey have been having some BFF moments throughout the tour, where Trey will walk over to Mike and they’ll play alongside each other or facing each other. This time, during the “Ya Mar” jam, they lay down on their backs while still jamming and bicycle kicked their legs in the air! What will this band not do? Their dorkiness is just so lovable, too.
The set closed with two higher-energy-than-normal versions of “Fuego” and “Walls of the Cave.” “Walls” especially had some nice huge peaks, and around this time I noticed Bill Walton, the lovable giant of the GD world, doing that thing where he extends his fingers out wide, almost like he’s a giant net absorbing the energy. Thanks for gracing us with your positivity and love Bill, we’re glad you had a good time. See you at Magnaball?
After taking “Blaze On” deep the previous night at Shoreline, the emergence of “No Men in No Man’s Land” to open the second set could only be harbinger of good things to come. Like “Blaze On,” this tune seems to betray much of the Grateful Dead sound that Trey absorbed for GD50; in this case, it sounds just like a May 1977 “Dancin in the Streets.” As some intrepid internet sleuths have realized, there’s also a Phishy precedent for this song, as it seems to have grown out of the 1/3/15 Miami “Disease” jam.
Either way, when Trey turns on the auto-wah effect for his solo, it’s resemblance to the late 70s disco funk of the Dead is undeniable – my friend and I kept singing the turnaround riff for “Dancin” over the jam and it fit perfectly. After a brief return of the vocals, Trey goes back to his usual tone and, like the previous night’s “Blaze On,” starts to move beyond the blues/funk/rock soloing that he stuck to for the Bend debut, and moves into some modal territory, quite befitting of a second set opener primed to jam. This isn’t a jam that is going to peak, it seems to instead go out and stay the course of dance funk with smaller arrival points along the way.
A final return of the vocals seemed to signal and ending, but just as they did the previous night on “Blaze On,” they start a brief outro jam that gets nice and quiet but is still propelled strongly by Fish and Mike, with Page on Fender Rhodes. In many ways, it seems like a mirror image of the previous night’s “Blaze On” jam, in fact. Trey locks into a nice strummed groove around 11:30 as everything is winding down into a nice psychedelia. It seemed like this might have been the starting point for something bigger ahead, but instead Trey started introducing some big distorted strums, and as Fishman peters out, Trey lets the space linger just a bit before jolting everyone into action with a huge “Carini.”
The emergence of “Carini” as a huge energy push and a major second set jam vehicle is one of my favorite song histories of 3.0. I love how the crowd goes apeshit anytime those chords start up. This tune has really grown into its own in this era, however this version didn’t really blow up in the jam. Trey settles on a major chord and effects a key change from Mike, and we get one of those blissy “Carini” jams that seem to crop up about 50% of the time this song comes around.
The beauty in this jam is that Fishman gradually speeds up the rhythm until finding his way into the “Tweezer” tempo, and Trey just starts playing descending pull-off riffs until one of them finally sticks, a perfect buttersegue -> “Tweezer.” This was a truly seamless segue, always a blast to hear them pull off, and the 1-2 punch of “Carini”->”Tweezer” was quite a spectacle to hear. Trey and Mike continued their shenanigans of facing each other in a duet, but this time, it really affected the sound. The jam started off very subdued, with Page on Rhodes and Trey noodling around. As Trey and Mike faced off, Mike started getting much more active as a “lead bassist,” and Fish dropped out to let Trey, Mike, and Page do their thing. But it’s Mike who really shines on this one.
Trey starts doing big strumming motions on his guitar, and Mike answers with big bass strums!! Strumming the bass!! Badass. Fishman matches with some big cymbal crashes, and this little interlude seems poised to launch into the next jam segment. But instead Trey finds himself playing the same note over and over again, which for some reason he decides he should turn into the opening of “My Friend My Friend.” That’s OK, I love this song, and if you’re gonna ripcord a “Tweezer” jam, might as well be with a gorgeous, well-liked, rarely-played composition. Plus the high energy and dark intensity of the second half of the song already matched the vibe of a show that included an “Axilla,” blazing first set “DwD,” and blowout “Walls of the Cave.”
“Roggae” came next in the breather spot, and I will always gladly hear this song. Such a treat, such a beautiful tune and jam. Trey was especially active during the jam with more of the long melodic lines that he’d practiced so much for GD50. One of the things I’ve realized is that the modal, moderate tempo jams are where the GD50 influence is perhaps most audible. Trey’s practicing for jams like “Dark Star,” “Bird Song,” “Wharf Rat,” and “Half Step” are clearly audible in “Wingsuit,” “Slave,” “Waves,” “Roggae,” and “Reba.”
“Number Line” may have been a disappointment to some here, but I was happy with the call, especially since it was Kuroda’s birthday. But even more so because Trey absolutely killed the solo on this. He moves into the highest register of his guitar early, and then builds the energy back up with great circular riffs that finally end with a big fast strumming fest, again more of the style from GD50 of fast strumming to cap a jam. And then the “Slave.”
Ahhh….”Slave.” So perfect to end this blistering high energy show. The jam was nothing exceptional for “Slave”s, which is of course to say that it was amazing and exactly what you want out of the song. Slow, methodical build to the raging peak. And more really fast strumming at the end way up high on the neck.
What no one was expecting was that Phish would come out after a nice long 80 minute set that had a “Tweeprise” encore looming (so we thought) and drop a monster encore. So naturally, they gave us a “YEM” encore. Boom. Place erupts yet again, high fives, general mayhem. Trey has some serious difficulty getting through the opening arpeggio section, missing quite a few notes. The pre-nirvana space was slightly longer, with some great long droning tones, and then the rest of the composition progressed as normal.
But when the jam started, things started getting out of hand. Trey and Mike continued their silliness after the tramps segment with Trey walking over behind Mike, and then putting his guitar over Mike’s head! He then reached under Mike’s arm and started playing his guitar, which was in front of Mike and on top of his bass, while he was standing behind Mike! Amazing to see, and even more amazing to hear because he didn’t skip a beat.
But then, to up the ante, Trey moved his left hand to Mike’s bass neck, and Mike started playing Trey’s guitar neck with his left hand. And then they switched hands! So now Mike was strumming Trey’s guitar while Trey played the neck, and Trey was picking Mike’s bass! Unbelievable, and still they managed to peak the jam! Many of us know Mike to be a highly capable guitarist himself, but we’ve never seen Trey on bass before.
After this solo peaks, Trey takes off his guitar to start dancing, but instead reprises his antics from Vegas and moves over Fish’s drums to play the toms while Fish concentrates on the snares and high-hat. Page and Mike engage in a big duel, which is fantastic, and then Mike walks over to Page and they start playing each other’s instruments, with Mike doing a halfway decent job of playing the clav! Insanity. Vocal jam and no “Tweeprise” and we’re out.
What was really remarkable about this show was not only the playfulness, but the consistent high energy from start to finish, even sustained through the slower tunes. The band seemed locked into not only each other, but into what the crowd wanted and was feeling, and that’s what makes the best Phish shows.