As soon as one stepped foot into the War Memorial in Syracuse, NY, a palpable Phishy energy took over. Upstate New York, an intimate minor-league hockey arena, 8,000 fans, and an elderly security team that might as well have been ghosts, it certainly didn’t feel like 2009, more like 1994 – the last time the band played at the venue. This retro vibe laced the entire night, as the band responded with a super-charged, two set affair that carried a ferocious energy from the “Bowie” opener through the “Good Times, Bad Times” encore, including a handful of bust outs along the way.
Initiating the crowd with a rare “Bowie” opener, the band clearly meant business. Playing off the miniature-sized venue, the band brought out one of their oldest jams to the forefront right away. Opening with a piece of improv for the first time this tour, Phish set an ominous tone to the show with a dark, explosive opening. Moving through an delicate beginning in which Trey and Page’s cohesion shone, the band gradually built the jam into some nasty “Bowie” grooves. Since Detroit, everything has taken on a new life with Trey’s creative guitar playing; his licks and phrasing have been impeccable thus far, pumping a new energy into every improvisational dip.”Bowie” provided a perfect example of this, as Red’s precision and passion injected a noticeable intensity into the opener; an intensity which his band mates were more than ready to match.
A furious run through the first “Julius” of tour kept the musical intensity right on going with some full-on blues rock, whose musical feel spilled over into one of the first set highlights in “Kill Devil Falls.” Once the composed song ended and the jam got underway, the band took off into a collective build over a the straight-forward groove. Getting creative with a head full of steam, Phish cannonballed into a smoking version of the song. While not getting completely type-II, the band still built something more than the generic jam that permeated more than a few summer setlists. The next point of interest came with the second appearance of “Funky Bitch” since the band returned for this go-round – and only the third since 2000. With active participation from all members, a mini-series of dance grooves emerged in the middle of the first set.
Though Phish played an engaging opening frame, they left the most exciting part for last. Closing the set with a sinister exploration of “Stash,” Phish blew the roof off the joint with a menacing bookend to compliment “Bowie.” Morphing into maniacal musicians, the band slowly molded the jam from its eerie opening, through a period mellower patterns before taking the it out into more abstract territory. Without ever losing their sense of urgency, the band came together in period of ordered chaos and simply crushed it. Seamlessly rejoining the the song’s ending build, Trey continued his personal assault on any eastern arena he sets foot in. Playing like a different guitarist than this summer, he is only one factor that points to the band getting their groove back in earnest this fall. An absurdly intense peak left the crowd aghast at the psychedelic jaunt as they gathered their personal belongings for setbreak.
As we sat thinking what might transpire in set two, the calls of “Crosseyed,” “Drowned,” and “Twist,” flew through the air, and before we knew it two of these three came to fruition. “Drowned,” Phish’s ubiquitous summer set opener, and “Twist,” their prodigal song, both came together in the meatiest portion of the show. Combining with “Piper” and the ultra-bust-out,”Big Black Furry Creatures From Mars” in a scintillating run of music, Phish didn’t allow anyone to catch their breath until well into the set. After slaughtering “Drowned’s” composed jam, the bombast gave way to sparser psychedelic grooves that saw Mike lead the way with a galloping bassline – though you’d never hear it on the official soundboards which are back to being all Trey and Page since the band moved indoors. Getting into a percussive groove similar to portions of Cincinnati’s “Rock and Roll.” Trey began to play a funked out lead over top of the music before switching to rhythmic chops and then outright soloing as the the band moved through the multidimensional jam. After breaking down their music even further into a chunkier portion, Phish faded into an ambient outro, and the opening licks of “Twist” emerged from the sonic murk.
A song that was long overdue, its return to rotation came as a short version that merged with “Piper” in a flowing segment of songs rather than as a huge jam vehicle. Navigating the song’s composed jam more than proficiently, the moment the “Twist” would finally break form hung before us with no end. And just as Trey wrapped up the the structured jam with a heavy guitar kick, he abruptly slid into “Piper” instead of elevating to the expected type-II reverie. Though similarly concise, “Piper” did get beyond its structure, moving into an up-tempo musical chase. Flowing cohesively at a break-neck pace, the band got back into a percussive rhythm, this time led by heavy organ work and shorter guitar licks. Resembling the middle part of the “Drowned” from earlier in the set, Phish definitely had their fast pace rock grooves going last night. As they built into a increasingly tense musical plane, Fishman crashed in with a heavier beat and the band sped up into the first appearance of “Big Fat Furry Creatures From Mars” of this era, and it fit in perfectly with the upstate, old-school vibe. A particularly maddening version, the mere appearance of the quirky metal classic stamped Sunday night’s set as indelibly special. Which is far more more than can be said for the token three minute “Tube” that the band decided to play in honor of Fishman’s lyrical acumen in his home town.
But after the non-stop musical mania of “Drowned > Twist > Piper > BBFCFM,” the rest of the evening petered off on the explorational tip – much like last the second night of Cincinnati. Highlighted by ripping versions of “Theme,” “Maze,” and “First Tube,” the rest of the set, while blistering, remained wholly within the box. A raucous “Good Times, Bad Times” put a strong ending on a relentless show. An energetic show to the core, Sunday’s excursion provided a throw back Phish experience for all, and another piece of confirmation that the band is loving life and only getting better.
I: David Bowie, Julius, Sparkle, Kill Devil Falls, Lawn Boy, Heavy Things, Funky Bitch, Sample in a Jar, Boogie On Reggae Woman, Let Me Lie, Beauty of a Broken Heart, Stash
II: Drowned > Twist > Piper > Big Black Furry Creature from Mars, Tube, Theme From the Bottom, Maze, The Horse > Silent in the Morning, Character Zero, First Tube
E: Good Times Bad TimesTags: 2009, Fall '09