Live review: Phish at Hollywood Bowl
The reunited quartet thrills followers with favorite originals and covers including songs by Paul Simon, Bob Dylan, Talking Heads and Frank Zappa.
Paul Simon once counseled on the 50 ways to leave your lover, but his advice was irrelevant to the 17,000-plus people congregated on Monday night at the Hollywood Bowl. Phish fans will never desert the legendary jam band, as they have proved through decades of devoted worship.
Nearly 30 years since they first formed at the University of Vermont, the inscrutable improvisational quartet still has the ability to surprise, unveiling their first ever performance of Simon’s ’70s classic, alongside renditions of Bob Dylan’s “Quinn the Eskimo,” Talking Heads’ “Cities” and “Crosseyed and Painless,” and Frank Zappa’s “Peaches En Regalia” — the last, a tacit tribute to the local roots of the similarly eccentric icon.
Indeed, Phish hadn’t played “Peaches” in Los Angeles in roughly a decade and a half, a significance not lost on the band’s acolytes who had flocked to Los Angeles from all parts of the continent. Often described as a cult, Phish fanaticism has become a full-blown religion since the band reunited 17 months ago in Hampton, Va.
Following a half-decade hiatus, a new generation has cropped up to bolster the stalwarts who have memories and mythologies attached to nearly ever number in the group’s estimable catalog. Consider them a funkier, funnier Pearl Jam, or maybe the J.R.R. Tolkien of jam.
Whatever your feelings about Phish’s music, you can’t deny the almost supernatural connection between band and fans.
The Hollywood Bowl has rarely been as ebullient as it was on Monday, with both organic and artificially enhanced happiness washing over the crowd. Glow sticks were practically a renewable energy resource. The stage was lighted up like a great sphere of psychedelic light and the audience was a blissful wall of encroaching energy.
During “Wilson,” thousands of voices chanted the titular name like the loudest episode of “Dennis the Menace” ever heard. Dance moves spotted included: the funky chicken, the Abercrombie and Phish flail and the raver dervish. They were all there: Deadhead burnouts and college kids, hippies in feather boas, investment bankers hearkening back to a more experimental epoch, and all points in between.
Naturally, the band trotted out set list staples such as “Cavern,” “Split Open and Melt,” “Weekapaug Groove,” and opener “Down with Disease.” At one point, drummer Jon Fishman ran circles around the stage, pumping his fists, resembling a cross between the wrestler King Kong Bundy and Keith Moon. As always, Fish wore a muumuu.
There were a few slow moments, particularly on the newer material that tends to recast the crew as a classic rock guitar band. And though they’ve often been wrongly branded as white bread jam rock, at their core, Phish’s members craft a cosmic slop as ferociously funky as anything you might hear outside of a Funkadelic show. The linchpin is bassist Mike Gordon, whose danceable gurgling riffs allow frontman Trey Anastasio’s guitar solos room to breathe and safeguard against extreme indulgence.
By the time curfew kicked in at 11p.m. and the house lights came on, the audience looked at one another dumbstruck, aware that they had been part of something rare. And then they started finalizing plans to make it to Lake Tahoe for the next night’s show.
-- Jeff Weiss
Photo: Trey Anastasio, left, Jon Fishman, Page McConnell and Mike Gordon were students in Vermont when they founded Phish 16 years ago.
Credit: Danny Clinch