Phish wrote the final chapter of their 2013 summer tour in the picture-perfect setting of the Hollywood Bowl on Monday night in Los Angeles. Tailoring their performance to the Hollywood audience, the guys covered four different bands, tightened up their jams and played a more straightforward show than we’ve grown accustomed to in the past week. But just when one thought the guys might pack it in early, leaving their final show with no timeless music, they dropped one of summer’s most profound statements in a 22 minute, free-form version of “Harry Hood.” In sculpting a unique flow to the second set and switching the improvisational focus from the beginning of the frame to the end, Phish threw us a curveball in their final outing of the season.
Before delving into the concert, let’s discuss the Hollywood Bowl for a moment. On my last visit, I sat far too close to the stage and totally missed Chris Kuroda’s lighting theatrics. This time, I had a perfect view in a lower box and—Holy Shit! That was the most hallucinatory Phish experience of all time. Upon realizing this during the “AC/ DC Bag” opener, and then again after dark, I made a point to keep my eyes open far more than usual last night in order to bask in the psychedelic eye candy. I have no idea how Kuroda set up his lights to do what they did last night, but god bless the man, because that was absolutely fucking outrageous!
OK—the show. A solid first set favored rotation songs throughout, though the place really seemed to perk up when the guys dropped “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” to close the half. The unquestionable highlight of the set, however, took place in “Scent of a Mule.” For the Mule Duel, all four members moved to the drum kit—and things got weird. Extremely weird. Mike held his bass above his head for Fishman to play with mallets, while he adjusted the fingering on his strings—an incredible collaboration. Trey and Page employed different elements of the drum kit to add to this abstract collage. Essentially, the band was playing “Drums” and “Space” simultaneously! And then my buddy hatched a theory. The Grateful Dead played from 1965 to 1995—exactly thirty years. To commemorate the 30th year of their own career in which they are surpassing their forefathers, Phish will cover a Dead album for Halloween. And it will blow everyone’s fucking mind. Don’t miss it.
After San Francisco’s monstrous third show, someone asked me how Phish could top Bill Graham in LA. I suggested that they wouldn’t even attempt to do so, but rather play a tasteful show with one incredible jam, a prediction that—eventually—proved to be spot on. Just when it looked like they would leave the idyllic Southern California evening without any long-form risk taking, out rolled “Harry Hood.” Phish had only opened up “Hood” twice before and the versions were separated by just a week in the Summer of 2003—Charlotte (7/25) and Camden (7/31). Charlotte has long been hailed as the most successful exploratory “Hood,” but after last night’s spiritual rite, the it now has competition. For the first half of last night’s “Hood,” it felt like we were on course for a solid—though standard version. And then, in a single moment, the course of the jam changed in full. Taking the always linear jam completely sideways, Trey led the band into uncharted waters and on to unparalleled glory. “Harry Hood” carries an inherently cathartic vibe, thus when the band puts a magnifying glass on the jam and blows it wide open, things necessarily get sublime. Kuroda painted this instant Hall of Fame version with an array of patterns against the band shell, creating a surreal visual field to compliment the holy music.
On this west coast run, Phish has been feeding our souls nightly with musical ambrosia; infusing our beings with a magic from the dawn of time. When it felt like we might go into the night with a show far to fluffy to conclude such a special tour, the band dropped a jam that stands up to any of summer—and it came out of “Harry Hood,” making it so much more special than if sprung from a conventional jam vehicle. The band—via Page—has made no bones about recognizing the what has gone down during these west coast shows. It is not every day that the stars align for a week of music like we witnessed from The Gorge to Hollywood Bowl. And to punctuate one of the most special weeks in the their career, the band dropped a sacred improvisation that absolutely matched the majesty of the moment.
The bulk of the second set was filled with a largely, flowless mélange of jukebox mini-jams—a quasi-appropriate concept for the metro audience. The band seemed primed to bookend the tour with stellar versions of “Golden Age,” when Trey stepped into a minimalist, wah-based texture. What felt like the foundation to a much larger jam, however, wound up aborted for an unspectacular “Birds of a Feather.” Each time the band started up a song, one thought it would be the single jam of the night. Would they open up “Sand” for the first time since Dick’s? Nope, they played a smoking version that remained anchored in groove. Would they blow out a mid-set “Disease” to cap a tour filled with outstanding renditions? Nope, but they did showcase intense creativity in a compact type II wonderland that still had plenty of legs when Trey bailed for “My Friend.” And that brings us back around to Mr. Hood…
What an incredible summer it has been! From Bangor to Los Angeles, Phish has taken the country by storm with new music in a way that they haven’t since 2003—and some would say even longer. Happy, healthy and on top of their game like no time in their past, Phish is now. Be grateful for any shows you caught in the past, but don’t let your connection to those memories skew what is happening today, because it’s nothing short of breathtaking. Thirty years into an illustrious career, Phish has stayed true to their ethos and has recommitted themselves to creating the most groundbreaking improvisational music this world has ever seen. And the best part about 2013 is that Phish will build on this momentum at Dick’s and then—Fall Tour! Things are only getting better, folks. Things are only getting better.
I: AC/DC Bag, The Moma Dance, Sparkle, Stealing Time From the Faulty Plan, Lawn Boy, Wolfman’s Brother, Roses Are Free > Scent of a Mule, Ocelot, Cavern, While My Guitar Gently Weeps
II: Chalk Dust Torture, Golden Age > Birds of a Feather, Sand > Down with Disease > My Friend, My Friend, Harry Hood > Character Zero
E: Loving CupTags: 2013, Summer '13, The Moment