Much to the chagrin of Phish-heads everywhere -- but to the surprise of no one who has followed the rising fortunes of this Vermont quartet -- Phish, the little free-form band that could, has reached arena-level status, even here on the West Coast.

Much to the chagrin of Phish-heads everywhere — but to the surprise of no one who has followed the rising fortunes of this Vermont quartet — Phish, the little free-form band that could, has reached arena-level status, even here on the West Coast.

At the nearly-full Pauley Pavilion, a mix of faithful and newbies noodle-danced for nearly three hours as Phish did what it does best, playing effortless-looking and -sounding improvisational jams that began in the form of a song, but that soon flew off into magical experiences even the band members seemed unable — make that unwilling — to control.

As usual, the show, which was split into two sets, was a one-night-only blend of songs from the band’s six studio albums, as well as a few non-album tracks and cover songs.

The evening began with a rusty version of Frank Zappa’s ’60s instrumental gem “Peaches en Regalia,” and included such live staples as “Down With Disease,” offered here as an extended prog-hippie jam, the reggae-flavored “Reba” and the bluesy, endless crowd fave “Tweezer.”

The other covers played were a show-stopping version of the Beatles’ “A Day In the Life,” “Johnny B. Goode” and encore “Highway To Hell” by AC/DC. (Who else but band leader Trey Anastasio would tackle John Lennon and the late AC/DC singer Bon Scott in the same set?)

Phish still hasn’t crossed into the mainstream, as MTV and commercial radio have yet to find a song to latch onto. But inspiring, sustaining shows such as this one will only, inevitably, lead the group — perhaps kicking and screaming — into a mainstream that neither deserves nor understands them.

Phish

Pauley Pavilion, UCLA; 12,771 seats; $25

Production

Presented by Bill Graham Presents.

Cast

Band: Trey Anastasio, Mike Gordon, Page McConnell, Jon Fishman. Reviewed Dec. 1, 1996.
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