Phish is not a band of equals. Not now, as the quartet returns to action after a two-year hiatus. They are all fine players, at times capable of striking passages of rock, jazz and folk, but their celebrated improvisations hinge on the creative whims of just one player: guitarist Trey Anastasio.
At least that was the case Friday at the band's three-hour Valentine's Day concert at the Forum. Phish's musical energy during long instrumental sections rose or fell on the strengths of the guitarist. When Anastasio left spaces open for the others, too often the response was more noodling than focused inspiration.
In the '90s, Phish led the still-growing "jam band" movement, but like others from the same genre, the group was always at its best when taking off from a well-structured song. And Phish music is most charming the deeper it slips into bluegrass, as it often does on the just-released reunion album "Round Room." At the Forum, the song "Walls of the Cave" was typically country-fried, almost sounding like an outtake from the Band, even after a long, bewildering intro dominated by keyboardist Page McConnell and drummer Jon Fishman.
Other songs, particularly "Prince Caspian," which closed the night's second set, were focused with energy and emotion, with explosive playing from Anastasio and lyrics that were little more than a mantra of "Oh, to be Prince Caspian afloat upon the waves." Phish was also capable of moving re-creations of old songs, from a version early Friday of "Cover of the Rolling Stone" (originally by Dr. Hook & the Medicine Show) and an emotional, near-perfect take on the Rolling Stones' "Loving Cup," which closed the concert.