On August 5th, 2013 m’lady and I woke up early, wiping sleep from our eyes following three consecutive nights of San Francisco Phish. We arose in the luxury of the Hyatt at Fisherman’s Wharf and wandered zombie-like to the restaurant for excellent made-to-order fluffy omelettes. After a relaxed breakfast we packed up and called the valet. Our car certainly stood out amongst the parade of shining Beemers and Caddys that were arriving at the ornate front entrance to the hotel. It was packed to the roof with camping equipment and dirty laundry and in very, very dire need of a good washing, but it sure looked like it was having more fun than the other cars! We loaded in our suitcase, guitar, mandolin, cooler, and beach bag and hit the highway with the windows down.
We had one final show in this half-summer Phish tour to go and it promised to be a doozy. The drive to Los Angeles was fast and pleasant along wide highways that arced through endless tracts of semi-desert that reminded me of the opening segment of M*A*S*H (which was shot in the area). When we got to LA I somehow pulled off the highway and landed us directly in front of our destination, the Hollywood Bowl. In no time at all we found our weird and wonderful accommodations for the night, the Magic Castle Hotel.
The Magic Castle Hotel is a medium-low grade hotel built atop a mountain directly across from the iconic Hollywood sign. It sports a nice pool and an oddly huge, centuries-old pagoda that had been brought from Asia a century earlier, and you reached the hotel by driving up a road that began behind the Magic Castle. The Magic Castle is not a chintzy restaurant nor a children’s playhouse, it is in fact an actual castle and it serves as the meeting place and headquarters for international card-carrying magicians. The place has hosted the world’s greatest illusionists for decades and continues to do so, which is pretty darn nifty.
Also nifty was the free shuttle offered by the hotel, a surprising feature given how inexpensive the room was (also surprising was how big the room was, with a full kitchen and a twenty-foot balcony replete with a million dollar view). Our driver even let me bring a beer for the drive, and he dropped us off at the front door of the Hollywood Bowl with a promise to pick us up whenever we were done.
When we had left Canada three weeks earlier my PTBM* tickets for this show had not yet arrived so I had to have them switched so I could pick them up at Will Call. The lady in the booth gave me a miniature heart attack when she told us that there was only one ticket on our order but we got it worked out soon enough. Unfortunately our replacement “ticket” was basically a diner receipt but no matter, we were still in the proper seats: 5th row dead centre.
This was my first visit to the Hollywood Bowl and I had been wanting to see a show there since I first saw that famous Bugs Bunny cartoon that has the wascally wabbit conducting an opera singer in the iconic venue. Before the show I wandered and marvelled. The concession stands are top-rate and there’s even a wine shop. M’lady and I bought some drinks and semi-upscale grub and sat along the perimeter of the walkway to eat.
In the venue itself much of the seating was in boxes of course, each with four moveable director’s chair-style seats and two fold up tables and waiters who busily rushed food and drinks to happy customers. How civilized. The cheap seats to the side and behind the boxes were hard wooden pews. How quaint.
Down in the very front where we were seated there were no boxes – just regular folding chairs – but there was still wait service. The gentleman in front of me ordered a bottle of wine to his seat while the guy beside me ordered one of the largest hamburgers I’ve ever seen. White-cloth-on-arm, yes sir no sir service, and all the while in front of you sat that shell, that bandstand to define bandstands, the world famous Hollywood Bowl.
Of course seating doesn’t always matter so much; when the show started the 20,000+ in attendance were on their feet and we all stayed there throughout. The first set was rolling along well when I noticed roadies setting up two extra amps beside Trey – there was going to be a sit-in! Here in LA it could be anybody! I was pretty excited at the possibilities.
In the end there was no guest-star. Rather, Trey’s amp had crapped out on him and the two amps were set up on the fly to get him through the night. While the roadies were busy plugging things in and setting dials the band gathered around Fishman’s drum riser and together the four of them performed an impromptu and very rare drum jam.
Aficionados might notice that for the rest of the show Trey’s tone suffered slightly and his sustain was nonexistent. That’s okay because the real star of the second set was Chris Kuroda, Phish’s masterful light man. He lit up that bowl with a constantly morphing colourful swirl of unbelievable creativity. The eye candy was just so over-the-top that the lights were bound to steal the show no matter what the band did. Rainbows, pulsating tunnels, Olympic rings, at times I felt like I was standing on the lip of a cosmic psychedelic wormhole to the future. The guy’s work is absolutely unparalleled in the lighting business and the stuff he does when faced with a unique space to work with is always incredible. (For further examples see the the suspended balloons at the ’09 comeback shows in Hampton or what he did with the treeline at Festival 8 in Palm Springs.)
For the encore we left our seats and found a spot near the back so we could appreciate the venue from a wider perspective, an exercise that proved that the visuals looked fantastic from everywhere.
After the concert we were walking to a nearby hotel and found our way blocked by a caravan of Mexican women selling bacon-wrapped hot dogs smothered in fried onions and green peppers from hand-pushed carts. They were all yelling “hotdoghotdoghotdoghotdog…” and seriously had my attention when m’lady grabbed my hand and gave me a pull. “Come on,” she implored, trying to weave us through the carts. “I’m starved and we’ve got to find something to eat!”
I pointed out that we were standing in the middle of a flock of people selling delicious-looking bacon-wrapped hot dogs smothered in fried onions and green peppers. She said she didn’t want a bacon-wrapped hot dog smothered in fried onions and green peppers and so I told her I was happy to join her wherever she wanted to go, but only if she would wait a moment while I got myself a bacon-wrapped hot dog smothered in fried onions and green peppers.
It was the single greatest hot dog I had ever eaten**, but it was relegated to the number two spot as soon as I bit into my second bacon-wrapped hot dog smothered in fried onions and green peppers. M’lady ended up ordering one and it was undercooked. Hers was terrible.
A few minutes later we arrived at our friend’s hotel which was Phishhead ground zero, snake charmers in every other room and no one daring to be quiet. We visited for a while but soon found it difficult to follow the conversation. As we left our friend’s room a lady across the hall appeared. She was clearly an accidental booking; one of those unfortunate souls who innocently books into a hotel that is playing host to something she doesn’t understand.
For just the briefest moment she looked at me with eyes searching for a kindred spirit, like “Dear lord, can you believe what’s going on here? Let’s put up a united front with the hotel manager!” But in an instant she realized that I too, even with white beard of long and greying hair of short, yes I too was one of “them”.
Aside from the subtly different styles of raging parties that could be heard as we passed each floor on the way down to the lobby it was a very quiet elevator ride.
We called our hotel and in no time our personal shuttle arrived. Back at our place I found a wookstack dog party in the room next door so I forced myself onto them for an hour or two before bidding everyone good night. Then I enjoyed a final nightcap with m’lady on our spacious balcony overlooking the diamonds of Hollywood glinting below us.
The next day started with a swim in the glorious pool and a call to the manager to arrange for a second night’s stay. We had planned to start heading north but instead we stuck around LA and touristed through the world-famous Chinese Theatre, the Hollywood Walk of Fame, my first In & Out burger (delicious!) and dinner reservations at the very fancy Chinese restaurant that sat just above our hotel, the Yamashiro.
It was a good Phish tour.
*Phish Tickets By Mail, which is Phish’s own ticket pre-sale service. They sell a percentage of the venue’s capacity and always issue colourful, artist-drawn hard-copy tickets.
**I had not yet experienced the glory of the Icelandic hot dog.