Retro-Phishing: Sunday In Syracuse

11.18.09 (M.Stein)

11.18.09 (M.Stein)

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.

11.18.09 (M.Stein)

11.18.09 (M.Stein)

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.

11.20.98 (M.Stein)

11.20.98 (M.Stein)

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.

11.20.09 (M.Stein)

11.20.09 (M.Stein)

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.


11.20.09 (M.Stein)

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.

11.20.09 (M.Stein)

11.20.09 (M.Stein)

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 Times

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618 Responses to “Retro-Phishing: Sunday In Syracuse”

  1. Mr.Miner Says:

    The house lights were unintentional actually..but very cool IMO

  2. Mr.Miner Says:

    FYI- that kid was brought out at setbreak. Lights had nothing to do with him at all.

  3. sumodie Says:

    @PrinceNabby: Exactly!

    I’m consciously avoiding using ‘best’ (not saying you are advocating its use either) -the term ‘best’ doesn’t do justice to the varied types of ‘best’ phish experiences, be it songs, sets, shows, even pre/post show adventuring. RR2 set II, Gorge 1, Hartford, and F8’s Exile, acoustic set, and Sunday set III -these seem to be the most revered sets/shows in 3.0, yet they all are amazingly good for different reasons.

    And now I’ll add Syracuse to that list, for reasons that have little in common with those other shows, stylistically speaking. Call me demented, I don’t care, maybe I just forgot how good evil Phish feels 8)

  4. Mr. Completely Says:

    Has there even been a sub-par “Tweezer” this year besides MPP?

    Gorge Tweezer never really elevated, just kind of went in circles, pleasant circles, but still…and then faded out with the sunlight. It was pretty, but nothing like these other versions.

  5. BrandonKayda Says:

    One thing I am really enjoying – every single show on Fall Tour has had a 15min+ jam somewhere…the gods are hearing us. The bustouts have been incredible as well.

    Phish is moving into another realm with these shows, absolutely ecstatic

  6. Mr. Completely Says:

    I wouldn’t find the fact that Alaska is in rotation odd at all if some of the other tunes were too. I agree with albert, I like it in a first set, it’s fun and groovy and silly and clever. But the absence of some of the other tunes, and the fact that still others have yet to be developed the way it seems like they could, makes Alaska stand out in an odd way.

    It’s not the only rotation question mark for me. I think Windy City’s a better song than Broken Heart, and Only a Dream has way more live-performance potential than Sugar Shack, I think…


    can’t take that rotation stuff too seriously, hopefully they continue to play what they’re interested in…

    I’m sure in 1969 there was someone complaining about hearing the Eleven at every Dead show.

  7. sumodie Says:

    FYI- that kid was brought out at setbreak. Lights had nothing to do with him at all.

    Agreed, he was brought out at setbreak, but I feel that event precipitated someone on the venue staff feeling the need to turn on the lights to keep the spinners calm.

    Those lights were not on due to a malfunction -no way, not the way they all came on, then just some, as if some staff member was showing his/her disapproval/concern at what went down at setbreak.

    I really keep harping on these events as I feel they impacted set II to make for a most unique evening (at some kid’s unfortunate expense I’ll admit).

    Anyone hear solid info as to why the lights came on I would love to know -thanks.

  8. Mr. Completely Says:

    Brandon, you should be ecstatic, you and all the other younger fans who haven’t been or are just getting to shows this year – this implies you will have a peak Phish era of your own to enjoy.

    Make the most of it

  9. BrandonKayda Says:

    Thanks Completely.

    I need to get to a show sometime next year for sure. More importantly, I need to get friends that like Phish to increase my chances of going and to share the experience. I swear the mention of Phish and/or Grateful Dead around here gets you labeled in a half-second.

    But yeah, I really need to go to a few shows sometime. Maybe Phish will come to DC in the Spring?

  10. gus Says:

    hey wait Brandon, you may have answered this before, but I don’t know the answer: have you been to any shows this year/will you be going to some?

  11. albert walker Says:

    don’t want to downplay night 1 cinci
    but night 2 is the fire

    this psych jam at the end of RnR is the goods
    it’s all about the jam, not the song it started from!

    I loved both nights. But night 2 they are just on. Some of the tightest Phish since they’ve been back.

    Just getting into the Ghost now on my first listen

  12. Snigglebeach Says:

    I doubt the lights had anything to do with dragged out guy. Prob just a bank of switches that once pushed was not easily disabled. The fact that they went out in sections then came back on before going out. Some half-wit venue guy dropped a joint, hit a switch and did not even know which one they hit, so they had figure it out.

  13. gus Says:

    also, another question: what guy are you talking about that got dragged out? what happened?

  14. sumodie Says:

    @Brandon: Would it help to start talking with your folks now about getting to a show? Then maybe you could figure out how far away you might be able to go to see Phish. I mean, Merriweather wasn’t too far was it -just bad timing? Just thinking out loud…

    Anyway, I concur with others, your enthusiasm has been very refreshing.

  15. Robear Says:

    Anyone have a good Aud. source for 11/21/09? I’m giving ‘Tweezer>Light’ from 11/20 a re-listen, after reading recent comments.

    Awesome ‘Stash’ from ‘Cuse. Raising the bar. Haven’t listened second set yet.

  16. albert walker Says:

    also on the Rainy Day Women tease

    Trey plays those licks at the end of Alaska every time
    did it at RR also

    not really a tease. just a common phrase to play over a blues progression and the Alaska melody.

  17. BrandonKayda Says:

    Gus: No, I’ve never gotten the chance to see Phish live yet. There is always other stuff going on around here, mostly either school or work related, that prevent me.

    But I’ll go see them hopefully next year if I’m lucky. I wouldn’t mind that at all 🙂

  18. Mr.Miner Says:

    They lights were a mistake. They were def trying to get them off the whole time. The kidz were alright…

  19. sumodie Says:

    @aw: love reading about the enthusiasm for both Cincis. I finally have time to give night 2 a listen.

  20. Mr.Miner Says:

    Agreed with r and r > ghost > if I could. Rest of the set was well played Saturday night fare.

  21. BrandonKayda Says:

    Sumodie – Now really isn’t a good time to ask. My dad is working about 14 hour days now, so not exactly the best time. Sort of stressful right now.

  22. Mr.Miner Says:

    Night 2 cincy better overall show, but no set they have played yet can touch set 2 night 1 IMO….that was all jam and no ham

  23. albert walker Says:


    1st set through If I Could was for me 2009 Phish in high gear

    also Suzy had some of the best Page grand chops of the summer

    They do miss a break in Ghost right before the break but besides that just sounds so effortless

  24. Mr. Completely Says:

    I haven’t listened to Syracuse yet…listening at home I would have a hard time picking between the Cinci shows…probly go with Saturday just for the Split, which is pretty much exactly what I want a Split to be: Hard groove > smooth morph to utterly disjointed (but not merely spacy) weirdness and then sharply back again. The only thing it lacked was a sledgehammer shred on the return to groove a la the Friday Possum…but that is setting the bar comically high…

  25. tubeopener Says:

    Does anyone know what the deal was with all the guitar switching first night Cincy? I’ve never seen him switch guitars four times in a set. It was cool to see Page’s green guitar though. But what happened?

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