[We thank user @VermontCowFunk for recapping last night's show. -Ed.]
Wow. Phish played an absolute barnburner of a Sunday show last night, gracing Jon Fishman’s hometown and a great lakeside venue with fiery, energetic, and creative playing. 10 shows in to summer tour, the rust has been shaken off, new songs are being woven into the mix and jammed out, and much fun is being had on stage. While only Phish’s ninth show in the Salt City and the first since 2016, the stars aligned last night, and the band treated around 15,000 fans to almost three hours of fun last night.
My friend Chris (@flippingbackward) and I left Burlington Vermont Sunday morning to drive to the show, and after a very weird summer weather-wise so far, it felt great to be on the road under smoke-free blue skies. Rain’s been too present of late, causing serious flooding in Vermont and upstate New York, as well as an early ending to an earlier show, so it was a relief to have a dry forecast in store for Sunday. After the obligatory meal at Dinosaur BBQ, we parked at Destiny Mall, wondering if that name foreshadowed a potential bustout, and biked four miles on a bike path along Onondaga Lake, with no sign of the three-eyed fish that graced a very cool poster for the show, and quickly found our way on to the lot, which hosted a relaxed and friendly pre-show scene over quite the linear series of lots. Shakedown was busting with energy in the late afternoon sun and, asking for a friend, do the nitrous vendors always wear Phish T-Shirts? Time quickly slipped by, and we entered the venue almost painlessly thanks to some very friendly and efficient staff (although I did hear others had a hard time getting in) and quickly found ourselves at the top of the lawn, looking over the lake with a breeze cooling everyone down a bit; spirits were high, and pushed higher by a food vendor blaring some studio Phish at the top of the lawn (never heard that before). We made our way down through the lawn to some great seats in the 100 level, cognizant of the relatively early start times at some recent shows and were in place ready to go by 7:30. Or at least we thought we were ready…
The band took the stage around 7:40, looking pretty darn clear cut by, well, any standard, and a little hometown banter led to a quick happy birthday for the seamstress who made Fishman’s Syracuse-color themed dress (Go Orange!), before the band launched into "Free" to get things going. In what would be a pattern all night, playing was tight, energetic, and upbeat, and it felt like Fishman took the three other guys aside before the show and said, “don’t make me look bad in front of my home town fans.” Page jumped out with some low crunchy notes on the synthesizer, and we got a short major key Free jam, with Kuroda’s red LED bars providing a swirling backdrop. The band transitioned smoothly into a rare 2 spot “Steam” that led to our first climb, via a tight micro-jam, to a Trey-led peak. The dark lyrics of this song contrasted with the bright sounds captured during this "Steam" jam and the great vibes amongst the appreciative crowd. As an aside, although I lived in Ithaca for two years, this was my first central New York show and people were fired up that Phish chose Syracuse as its only one-night stand of the tour (I heard a few folks say, “I can’t believe the band is in Syracuse!”)
After Steam, the opening guitar notes of "McGrupp" spilled over the crowd, and I was delighted to hear this rarity (doesn’t quite qualify for the” bustout” title as it was played in Mexico). As Trey cracked up singing the “looks too much like Dave,” line, I noticed Tom Marshall a few seats over with a big smile on his face and I wondered how many inside jokes these two packed into the lyrics of this and other tunes. Trey did some signing one octave higher than normal during "McGrupp," as he is wont to do these days, and I found myself missing the original version. No worries though as Page hopped onto the piano and led the band through a crisp mini-jam, and I realized that the sound was extremely well balanced, and I could easily hear each individual band member do their thing. Nice! They nailed the re-entry to the lyrics, and switched gears into "Evolve." Page and Trey were having a blast with the lyrics and the band felt raring to go, quickly moving into a pleasant major key jam. With four solid opening tunes and crisp but slightly restrained playing, it almost felt like the band was working hard to keep their sound in the box, for now, as if they wanted to wait at least until the sun went down to really get cranking. Kuroda may have been thinking the same thing, as he had yet to use the light rigs to their full potential through the first four tunes, just heightening the sense of anticipation for what was surely coming.
But wait, there’s Trey rolling up his sleeves and firing off the opening notes of "Stealing Time from the Faulty Plan"…Would this be the first set one tune that gets taken for a walk? Not a long one, but we were treated to some great ensemble playing with Mike and Fishman laying down a great foundation for Page and Trey to trade some licks on organ and crunchy filter respectively. The welcome opening funked-out guitar licks to "Meat" followed, and Mike stepped up wearing a snazzy red shirt to kick it off. Great vocal harmonies and Fishman used his cymbal to great effect, and we even got some short breakdowns featuring Mike and Page. The gritty funk of meat transitioned into the explosive "Walk Away," which last appeared just over a year ago, and Paige was all smiles as he powered through the lyrics, laughing off a minor flub, and getting us into the jam. I noticed a “Trey is a Jedi T-Shirt” on the lot, and he lived up to that status in this great version of "Walk Away," treating us to some hose, nothing too crazy, but you could feel the latent energy building. The lights also burst into prominence on this one, and the momentum was building as the sun finally set and the band moved into a fluid "Theme from the Bottom" with precise finger-work from trey and some soaring piano fills from Page. The band seemed to be finding lots of things that they’d like to try, as there was no shortage of musical ideas being tossed around on stage.
And those ideas found a worthy vessel for the first extended jam of the evening in a set 1 closing "Kill Devil Falls," and the approach of major-key Trey-led jams seemed to be working well tonight. Ealy on, Trey and Page synced up to push this jam forward, and an early sustained note from Trey launched the jam into a great melodic journey in a manner that reminded me of how Page’s crazy synth lick at 21 minutes in during the 5/26/2011 Bethel "Waves" got that jam going. This one was a journey replete with fast-paced jamming with some deliberate compositional shifts building to three separate peaks full of fast shredding from Trey, Page standing up midstream to bang out some notes on the clavinet, spinning LED light bars, a late earth-shaking bass bomb from Mike, and a smoking conclusion to the jam with Trey landing on a pretty descending riff that sounded both familiar and new. This 19-minute "KDF" had the crowd jumping up in the air and waving their arms, and as the band walked off for setbreak, my thoughts were “tight first set, best kill devil falls I ever heard, and we’re in for something special tonight.”
Set break flew by as cooler evening temps trickled in and suddenly the lights were off again and the perhaps home-town favorite "Suzy Greenberg" led things off. More strong playing from Page, who was perhaps trying to make up for a small snafu at the last Syracuse show when his Keytar malfunctioned (and he did, with any chip knocked off his shoulder). After reminding "Suzy" that the future holds neurology and not sociology, the opening riff of "Tweezer" echoed over the amphitheater. Wasn’t expecting that as it had been played recently at Alpharetta, but yes please!
This "Tweezer" unleashed the pent-up energy that the band had been carrying all night, and once again, Page and Trey were feeding off each other, trading ideas or one pushing the other forward and onward, telling a story with multiple chapters, including some "Weekapaug"-like jamming. The theme of tonight’s show was high-energy, positive, major key jamming, what I call “Workout Phish,” and a few twists and turns with serious locomotive effort from Fishman and some bright strobes pushed the band back to the opening notes, but they weren’t done. More summer, feel good phish was in store, and the band was throwing idea after idea out. One standout section was when Trey hit on a riff that channeled “That’s All” by Phil Collins, and used that groove to launch, yet again, into more hose. We hit the song’s opening riff a second time, and the band turned to a synth-led almost “industrial framptonesque” sound, that was one of the few forays into a heavier, gooier sound, almost like the band was probing the sludgy depths of Lake Onondaga just behind the venue in search of something (but, the lake is actually much cleaner now thanks to an impressive recovery effort). But Trey hit a high, almost horn-like note, pulling us up from the depths, and the band kept things light and worked through a patient ending to fantastic "Tweezer" and a goose-bump inducing segue into "Oblivion," which is my favorite of the new tunes.
Whew…Hardly time to reflect on what a great "Tweezer" that was as "Oblivion's" thought-provoking lyrics and Page’s “Star Trek” synth effects carried this tune forward. The boys clearly had more gas in the tank, and Trey started us off on a patient, low note driven jam, and Mike took advantage of some space to use the entire length of his fretboard to anchor this jam. Page switched from organ to synth for some laser sounds, and the jam took on a calmer, almost meditative middle section. But the band was in Syracuse to shred tonight, and quickly began firing on all cylinders to rediscover their Sunday 7/23 A-Game of major key, upbeat Trey-led jamming. Trey settles in on a great set of riffs (with some inspiration from Duane Allman and Eric Clapton permeating through), Mike rounding out the bottom with such a full soundscape, and somehow delicate but powerful playing from Fishman to bring this raging masterpiece to a close. Best "Oblivion" ever!
After that crazy 1-2 punch to start set two, we all needed a breather, and a well-placed "Miss You" took the three spot. Lots of power and emotion in this song, and I always feel like Trey is connecting with the audience when he performs this song. Fishman’s playing underneath Trey’s solo was precise, and we all caught our breath. The crescent moon was rising and perhaps in response, the band launched into what felt like a rare fourth quarter "Wolfman’s Brother." A night of pulsating, anthemic rock needed some funk to give us the full Phish experience, and the "Wolfman’s" jam started out as a relaxed funk groove which is always welcome to these “cow-funk” friendly ears. But the evening’s energy was too strong, and after some sneaky trey licks, the band picked it up into a faster, harder groove, and dialed in a strong climax to Wolfmans. The energy carried over into a fast but not frenetic "Possum" with typically strong playing from Page on piano, amazing lights (did I mention the strobes were crazy bright,) and set two came to a rocking close.
What could top off such an amazing set of music? Apparently, the only appropriate choice was a vacuum solo weaved into a fun “I Didn't Know,” and Fishman showcased the full range of the electrolux, with some vibrating low notes that rivaled Mike’s earlier bombs. Given a chance to speak to his local fanbase, Fishman demurred, letting his playing do the talking for tonight, and the pulled one more trick out of their bag, starting up a perfectly placed “What’s the Use.” While we did get one ballad in “Miss You,” we hadn’t had much delicate, emotive jamming tonight, and this “What’s the Use” put forth a layered sonic landscape that allowed the band to tread some new ground 2.5 hours into the show and this tune wrapped up in a triumphal manner, a capstone to a great night of music. But wait, of course we’re not going out like that, and things wrapped up with the requisite but welcome best three minutes in rock and roll. "Tweezer Reprise" found Trey strutting all over the stage, Fishman pounding away, and all too soon the band took their final bow, and we were left, in a thoroughly thrilled state to mull over the musical marvel the band layed down.
Exiting the venue was a breeze, and we grabbed our bikes, and quickly made our way down the hill and hit the bike path and home. Smiling ear to ear as we rode along the lake and cooled off under a light breeze, the thought crossed my mind that even though this was just a one-night stand in Syracuse, the band somehow packed two nights of ideas and creative jamming into this Sunday show, and that I hope more hometown shows are in store! See you in Philly!
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