I love waking up in my own bed knowing that I'm going to see a Phish show later that night. It's only happened one other time in 3.0... last summer at the Hollywood Bowl. I hadn't officially moved to San Francisco yet so Golden Gate Park didn't count as a "local show." Even though I crashed with family back in NYC during the MSG holiday runs, it's not quite the same.
I moved back to LA just before the summer began. Although I live closer to the Hollywood Bowl, I'd rather see Phish at Long Beach. For one, it's an indoor show and I prefer the sound of indoor venues. Plus, Long Beach has a chill parking lot scene, unlike the Bowl where parking is sparse and everyone has to hike up the hill to see the show. But most importantly, the Bowl is a beacon for music industry types, scensters, and other L.A. douchebags. They're there to be seen and spend too much time yapping to each other. They're not the type of people who would fight weekday traffic on the 405 just to see a "jamband" play a show in Long Beach. As a result, the tour opener was devoid of scensters... with the exception of a random appearance by Justin Bieber and his "girlfriend" Selena Gomez. More about Bieber later.
My girlfriend and I pulled into the main lot around 4:20pm. Mr. Jack Straw and his wife had just arrived as well. We hung out in the back corner of the lot in beach chairs and soaked up the scene. A cool ocean breeze occasionally washed over the blacktop and I could count a half a dozen cars blasting different Grateful Dead shows. That was the most obvious difference between East Coast and West Coast shows -- what you'll hear on car stereos in the lot. Deadheads are a plenty out here so you won't be bombarded with the K-fried untz-untz of a random Bisco show pulsating through the lot.
A small Shakedown popped up in the middle of the main lot. It was tame compared to most of venues on Phish tour, and unfortunately, a handful of watchful po-po cased out Shakedown. A couple of security teams navigated the lot on bicycles and three obvious undercover policemen in tie-dyes patroled the lot. But for the most part, the vibe was super chill. All you had to do was take a whiff and you cold smell plenty of California's finest medicinal marijuana wafting around. Much more pot toking in the lot than booze swigging.
On my way into the show, I ran into Fink. His crew was in the middle of a 10-day bachelor party for "The Wookie." Those guys were raging hard and reached stage four schwillyness before the show hadn't even started! Fink was rambling on about how much he missed the Olympics. I knew what he meant. I got used to betting on Team Handball and Basketball every other day that I woke up on Monday jonesin' for some action. Fink was gushing about the women's gymnastics team.
"Dude, we're old enough to be their fathers," I joked.
"Yeah, but who cares," he explained. "The were amazing! Those 15 and 16-year olds train for 16 hours a day and work their entire lives for that one shining moment."
Yes, normally middle-aged men watching little girls prance around in their underwear is a cause for an alarm, but once every four years it's morally acceptable to engage in that aberrant behavior. America, fuck yeah.
I have GA tix all three nights for the San Fran shows, so I didn't mind being up in reserved seating for Long Beach. We had third row off the floor. The venue reminded me of Hampton, but it was kinda old and it felt like we zapped back in time 15-20 years. The squeaky chairs looked like the original chairs that were installed. The bathrooms were tiny and lines snaked around the cramped hallways. The venue housed around 10-12,000 people with a massive floor space. By the time the lights went down, only 75% of the floor and 100 level was filled up, while 50% of the upper level was... empty.
I wonder if Phish walked onto stage at 8:16pm and saw some of the empty seats in the upper deck and decided to play something rocking early on to get everyone fired up? That's the only explanation I could come up with for a Suzy Greenberg opener. That's a tune the band goes to late in the first set or somewhere in the second set to interject life into the crowd.
Cities and Kill Devil Falls could have been five-minute wonders but the band stretched both out just a bit (KDF a little more so). Somewhere in the middle of KDF the band had shaken off its rust and were back where they left off at SPAC. Sometimes it takes a full set (maybe more) to get back into game shape, but in this instance, it only took a couple of songs.
I'll gladly hear anything from Velvet Underground's "Loaded," so I was pleased with another Cool It Down. The last time I caught it in Deer Creek, it was 105 degrees and I was sweating my balls off. This version was much breezier and included a little extra Gordo hot sauce during the last 30 seconds of the song. Why didn't he start playing that juicy groove minutes earlier?
Before the show, Mr. Jack Straw had mentioned he caught 20+ Phish concerts but had never seen a Rift, Maze, and Sparkle. That was a little strange, but I told him one of them was coming. He got a Rift tossed into the middle of the first set.
With the exception of Bouncin' (a perennial Pauly Takes A Piss Song), three out of last four songs stood out as the highlights of the set... Stash, GIN, and Quinn the Eskimo. Both Stash and Gin clocked in at 10 and 11 minutes respectively. Page led a Thelonious Monk-inspired dissonant jam-out of murky and swampy Stash.
Photo courtesy Dave Vann and Phish
My girlfriend mentioned that Trey wanted to ripchord the Gin jam about 2/3 of the way through, but the band vetoed him! Trey wanted to rush back to the melody, but Gordo stuffed him. Yeah, they stuck it to Big Red and carried on with the jam a little longer. Good to see the guys gang up and deny a ripchord moment.
Quinn the Eskimo has gotten plenty of air time in 3.0. It's a nod to Dylan, but for me it's a bridge between both the Grateful Dead and Phish. It's one of the few songs both bands covered, and Quinn was the song that hooked me on the Dead. I saw my first Dead show at MSG when I was 15 years old and the vibe I felt that night would resonate with me the rest of my journey. One of the coolest moments in my entire life was hearing 20,000 Deadheads scream "When Quinn the Eskimo gets here, everyone's gonna DOSE!"
The second half of Quinn had a savory "chase-up-the-ladder" jam, a term that G-Money loved to describe elements of Phish's jamming. They could have extended the Quinn-fiesta a few more minutes but Trey cut it short and they took a bow. The first set felt shorter than 75 minutes.
By setbreak word had gotten out that Justin Bieber and his entourage were raging up near the soundboard. Once @bizarchive kangfirmed it, I knew it wasn't a prank or bad inside joke. You know the old saying, "Never trust a Prankster"? Well in the modern era, you can never trust a Phishead on Twitter! They'll say almost anything to stir up the pot. Myself included.
Bieber and his lady friend hung out backstage. Had this been 1977 and Dead tour, someone from the crew would've dosed Bieber and his entourage. But these days, backstage is much mellower than the infamous nights of hell-raging wild rumpuses at the "Betty Ford Clinic" backstage.
Like most Phishy chicks, Bieber loved the pretty lights from CK5 and developed an instant crush on Page. I dug reading the tweets about a giddy Bieber in the second set... apparently he embraced the concept of a glowstick war. The limp-wristed Bieber hurled glowsticks with the glee of a fifteen-year old girl.
I'm convinced that the meeting between Bieber and Trey influenced the second set. Musicians always like to one up each other. Best example was the Monterrey Pop Festival. The Who had seen Jimi Hendrix smash his guitar during gigs in London, so when The Who ended their set, Pete Townsend destroyed his axe much to the bewilderment of the crowd. This was an era without YouTube so no one in attendance at Monterrey had seen those shocking theatrics. Hendrix came on a little later (actually the Dead were scheduled to play in between The Who and Hendrix) and not to be out done, Hendrix on a head full of Owsley acide decided to not only smash up his guitar... but he'd also lit it on fire. Whooooosh!
I had a feeling the Bieber presence lit a fire under Phish's ass and during the first half of the second set, the Vermont quartet produced one of the trippiest moments of 3.0. This was a sober show for me so for most of the second set I kept saying, "Shit, I wish I had some shrooms!"
What seemed like a run-of-the-mill Rock and Roll set opener morphed into a small thermonuclear detonation and Phish blew up a hole in the space-time continuum. I don't know if they were trying to cajole all of the Deadheads in the crowd, but the Rock and Roll jam delved off the deep end of exploitative space. The Long Beach Bieber jam went so far out there, that I thought I was on acid. It made me wonder if Phishy psychedelia was an artistic statement and bold response to the bubble gum pop that Bieber was churning out? Or maybe Trey was trying to steal Selena Gomez away from her boy-toy Bieber?
"This is how a real man plays the axe, Sweetie."
Regardless of who the band was trying to impress, they definitely knocked this jaded vet on his ass. I was digging every moment of the jam that had evil undertones. At one point, CK5 busted out purple search lights during a Gordo-led charge. It was as though the band and CK5 were trying to find a way out after getting locked up in another storage-like ambient jam. I heard plenty of teases like 2001 and even Halfway to the Moon. I had no idea what the band was going to pull off... but they kept pushing the boundaries of the jam farther and farther out before Fishman punched his way out... and cleared a path for Ghost.
Charlie Dirksen commented that this Ghost was his favorite since Albany 2009. I couldn't agree more. That silky Seven Below > Ghost was my favorite jam in 3.0... but the Rock and Roll > Ghost might have eclipsed that highwater mark. During Leg 1, almost every show had elements in the second set that I call "twenty minute deliciousness." It's when Phish opens up a jam and goes balls to the wall. I wish they did that more often, but I'll take whatever I can get.
Maybe Phish wanted to scare the shit out of Bieber? One thing is for certain, Biebs was loving the glowstick skirmish that popped up during Ghost.
It was going to be difficult to top Rock and Roll > Ghost, so I just relaxed the rest of the show. Limb by Limb is fun because it gives Fish a chance to show off his drummer chops and he sounds like a couple of African drummers. The Afro-Caribbean grooves of Limb was an interesting contrast to a sinister Guyute. I didn't enjoy Guyute as much as I should have mainly because I was starving at that point and all I kept thinking about was eating a bacon sandwich. Sometimes music conjures up bizarre images. For me, this Guyute was stirring up bacon sandwiches.
An uber-mellow Dirt gave Fish a chance to catch his breath before embarking on Harry Hood. Parts of the beginning seemed rushed, but the boys made up for it in the second half. I figured Trey was going to unleash some rock and roll guitar riffs, so I had picked GTBT in my phantasy pool with the G-Vegas boys. Phish closed the second set with a thunderous Good Times Bad Times.
"OMG, the girl next to me is all McKayla is not impressed," joked my girlfriend. The girl next to my girlfriend was in a bad mood all show. She bitched to her boyfriend that she hated all of the "jamming" in the second set. She looked miserable with her arms crossed just like that wacky McKayla is not impressed meme which flooded the web last week. I spent most of the second set watching all the people dance behind the soundboard on the back of the floor. Plenty of space to dance and everyone was getting down. Happiness is infectious. I'm a sponge. I soak up the vibes of whatever is around me. When I walked out of the show, I forgot how much I missed floating around in a sea of thousands of happy people. I felt sorry for McKayla girl sitting next to us. Even at the worst Phish shows I ever saw (Coventry and Vegas 2004), I still had a balls out fun time.
Anyway, GTBT ended the set and we were treated to just a single encore... Julius. Usually Julius closes the set and GTBT is the encore, so it was a nice curveball.
Anyway... this will always be known as the Justin Bieber show. Even though he didn't sit in with the band, Bieber showed up and checked out Phish and it's hard not to think his presence at Long Beach had a positive effect on the evening. I betcha Biebs covers Bouncin' on his next tour.
Fink said something like the tour openers have been all heat the last few years. I agreed but hated to thrust that lofty expectation onto this show, so I went in with zero expectations. It worked because I was blown away with the first half of set two. Rock and Roll > Ghost shall get tons of airplay from me over the next few weeks. Nonstop loop.
Phish kicked off Leg 2 of their summer tour on a hot note. Long Beach did not disappoint one bit, especially because I love seven-song sets anchored by heavy jamming. That why I chase Phish all around the country...for visceral experiences and to be transformed to another world during far-out beyond-the-weird jams when Phish slingshots us into the darkest corners of the cosmos. Bieber too.
One down. See y'all in San Francisco.