As the kickoff to the second leg of their summer tour, and as a precursor to the sold-out three-night run at the legendary Bill Graham Civic Auditorium in San Francisco beginning on Friday, many Phish fans were wondering if Wednesday night’s show in Long Beach would serve as a march-through-the-paces, glorified tune-up session for their highly anticipated NorCal run.
But if Wednesday’s show was meant to be a rehearsal gig, the band can go ahead and stop practicing – because the show was sharp & filled with energy, exuded both by the Vermont quartet on stage and the nearly sold-out crowd inside Long Beach Arena.
As fans trickled into the venue, buzz was building for Phish’s second LA show in just over a year (the band put on a rockin’ show at the famed Hollywood Bowl 53 weeks prior) — and it wasn’t just because Justin Bieber & Selena Gomez were in attendance. Yes, THAT Justin Bieber & Selena Gomez.
The lights went down, the crowd went wild and Phish launched into fan favorite “Suzy Greenberg” (an atypical show opener) to kick off the night.
In the blink of an eye, the arena – which had still been welcoming some late arrivals just moments before – was instantly packed and filled with the sweet sounds of singer/guitarist Trey Anastasio, bassist Mike Gordon, keyboardist Page McConnell and drummer Jon Fishman.
Throughout the 10-song first set, the band treated the crowd to a slew of up-tempo tunes, including the Talking Heads’ popular cover “Cities,” old standards like “Stash,” “Guelah Papyrus” and “Rift,” a rare “Cool It Down” (a track the band has brought out a few times recently, but only seven times total since 1998), complimented with a rousing rendition of the pleasantly surprising “Kill Devil Falls” and an unbelievable “Bathtub Gin.”
A first-set closer of Bob Dylan’s “Quinn the Eskimo” was the perfect upbeat capper to the 70-minute toe-tappin’ extravaganza.
For everything rockin’ the first set brought, the second set was its more melodic, free-form jamming, improvisational, no-lyrics-for-10-minutes-at-a-time-in-spots distant cousin – yet, every bit as pleasing.
As the band returned to the stage a few minutes after 10 PM following their set break, they unveiled a lengthy cover of Velvet Underground’s “Rock and Roll” to kick things off, much to the delight of those in attendance, before transitioning into what one fan called “a raging ‘Ghost’” and right into “Limb by Limb.”
A little steam left the building during the band’s relaxed “Dirt” (a song most folks used as a bathroom/drink/find a chair and sit down break) but that was soon swept away with a good old fashioned, exuberant “Harry Hood” and right into second-set ender/Led Zeppelin cover “Good Times, Bad Times” (a song some fans will suggest has been a too-often occurrence in years passed, but still a welcomed addition to any set for me).
The band stepped away from their instruments with smiles beaming and offered a series of grateful bows to all sides of the arena, before briefly disappearing from the stage to close out the second set.
Moments later, and with smiles still in tow, the foursome returned to their posts to end the night with a “Julius” encore and a “thank you” from Trey before the house lights soon came back on and sent 10,000 fans on their way.
While there seems to be debate about some of the song choices amongst fan board chatter, one thing that doesn’t seem to be up for discussion is how great the band sounded – Trey’s guitar was crisp, Mike’s bass resonated within the halls of the arena and the veins of the crowd and Fishman & Page’s musical accompaniment – and at times, lead — was spot-on at every turn.
No trampolines. No vacuum cleaners. No gimmicks.
Just a real solid 170 minutes of rock and roll. Oh, and Justin Bieber & Selena Gomez. Yes, THAT Justin Bieber & Selena Gomez.
-- Eric Anderson
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