In the Vermont band’s biggest and most impressive L.A.-area show to date, on a cool Sunday evening at Irvine Meadows, improv-jam rockers Phish took nearly the length of their first, 65-minute set to get warmed up, with a series of brand new and otherwise obscure tunes, before catching fire with an inspired second-half program that’s sure to have the group’s rabid fans talking for some time.Following the well-received opener “NICU,” a 6-year-old, unrecorded track, the quartet (Trey Anastasio on guitar, Mike Gordon on bass, Jon Fishman on drums, Page McConnell on keyboards; they all sing) set a mellow and experimental tone during the first set, with such new band compositions as “Heavy Things” as well as at least one Anastasio solo tune, leaving the quietly animated Gordon, as well as some in the crowd, appearing less than thrilled with the song selection. But the pace and the energy began to pick up an hour into the sold-out show with “Stash,” a fan favorite with a long, Grateful Dead-like intro that included one of the evening’s many chances for audience participation. Most of the dancing attendees knew just when to clap during the ambitious number, which lit into a long jam built around a fixed chord progression. First set closed with a laugh with the four-part barbershop harmonies (they just can’t resist) of “Hello My Baby.” Guitarist Anastasio, who sings lead vocals on many of the genre-hopping songs (he also writes the concert set list), and whose inventive and biting style bears influence from Jimi Hendrix, Carlos Santana, Bob Marley and Jerry Garcia, was the star of the show’s second set (which followed a 30-minute break). The pretty strumming of encore “Guyute” (from last year’s Elektra album “The Story of the Ghost”), the eclectic strains of 1990′s “The Squirming Coil,” and the stretched-out, magical six-string work of “Wading in the Velvet Sea” were among the many “Trey-lights,” though as usual, all four members delivered impressive performances. Technically speaking, the evening’s involving and dramatically executed light show was nearly as diverse and surprising as the music that it enhanced, while the show’s sound was next to spectacular when measured against most outdoor amphitheater shows.
Irvine Meadows Amphitheatre; 15,416 seats $28.50 top
Presented by Avalon Concerts. Reviewed Sept. 19, 1999.
Band: Trey Anastasio, Mike Gordon, Jonathan Fishman, Page McConnell.