By Andy J. Gordon

Southern California live music fans had difficult, but enviable choices to make this weekend. Coachella was raging in the desert. For hardcore jam fans, the Skull & Roses festival was up the coast in Ventura featuring several bands playing Grateful Dead music including headliners Oteil & Friends and Phil & Friends. Back in Los Angeles at the historic Hollywood Bowl, Phish settled in for a three night residency to conclude their Spring 2023 tour. We caught the first night of Phish at the Bowl on April 21 and the huge, festive crowd enjoyed a marathon session of their classic improvisational music.

This was the band’s first Bowl show in almost ten years and the venue is ideal for the dance happy, retro hippie Phishheads vibe. The open air facility with large walkways and chill staff allowed many to boogie in the aisles the entire show. Glow sticks flew through the air while smoke wafted into the starry sky. It helped that the recent chilly weather was replaced by an unexpected heat wave that produced comfortable temperatures right up until the closing notes. The Bowl show offered some stunning visuals as the celebrated Chris Kuroda produced light show matched the mood of each song. The sound was loud and clear for most of the night.

That sound quality matched the tight performance of the quartet. Trey Anastasio, Page McConnell, Jon Fishman and Mike Gordon were all in sync, producing several memorable sequences. The first set featured some eclectic choices, but included excellent versions of
“Party Time,” “Everything’s Right” and Shuggie Otis’ “Strawberry Letter 23.” “Everything’s Right” ran close to twenty minutes with extended Trey and Page solos. Son Seals’ “Funky Bitch” provided Mike with the rare opportunity to take over lead vocals.

Check out the gallery of photos from this night by Andy J. Gordon here.

The second set included more fan favorites. “Sample in a Jar” opened the session followed by Mike’s thundering, distinctive bass line that drew huge applause and launched the band into an epic “Down With Disease.” Page and Trey demonstrated some beautifully intricate interplay during the long psychedelic jam. During “Mercury,” Fish continued the trippy vibe with some improvisation on his marimba lumina, a type of electronic, midi controller xylophone.

The sequence of songs that concluded the show was representative of the unique qualities that the band brings to its fans. “Mercury” transitioned into “Blaze On,” drawing loud cheers and a massive relaunch of flying glow sticks through the crowd. The song’s structure transitioned into another spacey jam that eventually segued into “You Enjoy Myself.” Is there another band on the planet that incorporates coordinated trampoline dance routines and beautifully harmonized a cappella singing? Not likely, but Phish pulled it off flawlessly. The fun Picture of Nectar song “Cavern” ended the show and put big smiles on the faces of Trey and the audience members.

After forty years (is that really possible), starting at the University of Vermont, Phish is still going strong. There have been hiccups, hiatuses and other bumps along the way, but in 2023 the band is revving on all cylinders. Their opening night show at Hollywood Bowl secured their place as one of the best live bands still out touring. Their recently announced twenty three stop, Summer 2023 tour includes seven nights in New York’s Madison Square Garden and will keep the band on the road through at least early September.

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Photos courtesy of Andy J. Gordon ©2023

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Phish Hollywood Bowl, April 21, 2023

Hollywood, CA

SET 1: The Moma Dance > Sigma Oasis, Party Time, Strawberry Letter 23, Everything’s Right, Shade, Funky Bitch, A Wave of Hope

SET 2: Sample in a Jar > Down with Disease[1] > Mercury -> Blaze On[2] > You Enjoy Myself, Cavern

ENCORE: Drift While You’re Sleeping

[1] Unfinished.

[2] Lyrics changed to reference “Bowl.”

Check out the gallery of photos from this night by Andy J. Gordon here.

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