Peaking at the Greek
Greek Theatre - Los Angeles
September 29, 1995
First Appeared in The Music Box, December 1995, Volume 2, #11
Written by Mike Indgin
For starters, the ten mile drive from Venice Beach to the Greek Theater in Los Angeles during Friday rush hour was more stressful than my entire three-hour journey to San Diego the day before. However, my stress was soon relieved when we found our friends in the front row of the first section behind the orchestra pit (about 15 feet away from Page McConnell's side of the stage). My wife and I took the two seats next to them, and joy of joys, the seats were never claimed.
Outside, thousands of ticketless miracle seekers swam through the crowd frantically searching for that elusive extra, in sharp contrast to last night's scene in San Diego which wasn't even sold out.
Phish opened with the big city rocker AC/DC Bag. It soared, as did most of the jams on this night. Next came Sparkle and Divided Sky, with the band using the tunes they feel most comfortable with to overcome their large L.A. venue jitters. Once these three tunes were performed flawlessly, there was space to try something more risky, namely McConnell's beautiful new tune Strange Design (also known as Companions on some set lists). The melody and words to this one can't be better. The only way it could be improved would be to include a longer jam. Next came the unnamed instrumental that has popped up on numerous occasions throughout the tour.
Then, could it be? Yes, another first set You Enjoy Myself. It was long and funky, and the crowd really seemed to enjoy the trampoline antics. This went into one of the wildest vocal jams I've heard, with a vocal tap dance jam that had Trey Anastasio jumping around as if he was actually tap dancing. (By the way, Anastasio was ON the entire night. At one point he was flailing around so much his glasses went flying off. That kind of unbridled intensity is why I love this band.) This segued into a vocal helicopter jam complete with spinning propeller light effects. Sweet Adeline and Suzy Greenberg closed out the first set, making instant Phish Phans out of every Los Angelino that was seeing the band for the first time.
The second set began in fun fashion with the 2001 Theme which discoed into the highlight of the whole show (besides Fishman's surprise). I'm talking about an absolutely amazing Maze. It's hard to describe what these boys are able to pull off when they're on like this, so I won't even try. Then came another of my favorite new songs, Free. This one has the potential to be one of the all-time best Phish songs. I love the words, the melody, and the catchy riff that cycles throughout.
Next, I got my first Ya Mar, an always welcome party tune. Billy Breathes followed, which I guess Anastasio is pushing, but had me heading toward the restroom. I got back in time for the sonic meltdown of Split Open and Melt, featuring the most spaced-out jamming of the night. Then Fishman made his way to center-stage with his trusty vacuum in one hand and lyric sheets in the other. "I don't really know the words to this song...but that isn't the point," he said in humorous defiance. What followed had every single person at the Greek laughing hysterically: his murderous rendition of Aerosmith's Cryin'. There wasn't a dry eye in the house as he belted it out with much feeling and even more disregard for professional musicianship. He botched the second half, throwing his crib notes in the air, but this just added to the hilarity of it all. A short Hold Your Head Up vacuum solo followed before they closed it out with The Beatles' A Day in the Life. For an encore, we got Chalkdust Torture, then it was off to the parking lot where my friends all echoed the same sentiment: "Now I see why you like this band."
One phinal note on the Phish Phenomenon to the uninitiated: Don't turn to Phish as a replacement for the Grateful Dead. No one could ever replace the Grateful Dead's soul, magic, or special place in history.
While they may mirror some of the Grateful Dead's business practices and have a similar fan base, musically Phish has its own kind of magic, their own youthful energy, positive outlook on life, and willingness to take it to the edge, every night, every show. They have succeeded on their own strengths. They're taking the right turns, and they're on the right path.
So for all you journalists out there saying Phish is the new Grateful Dead: Don't put undue pressure on the boys from Burlington...All good things in all good time.
Billy Breathes is available from Barnes & Noble.
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Copyright © 1995 The Music Box