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. KWL Says:

    I actually know one of Jon Fishman’s dad’s patients. And a PT’er hooked him up with tickets to the show! (thanks, Cortez!!)

  2. Neemor Says:

    BOB, IMO….the large majority of people that complain about these recordings never did a Maxell through the mail recording deal, never had to deal with 5th gen Aud’s of a show that happened in some little corner of the world five years ago by some band you were just trying to soak in….

  3. sumodie Says:

    So no one at the show has any idea about why the house lights were turned on at the beginning of set II? Miner noticeably omitted it commenting too I see.

    I think it helped to inspire the zany madness during the first part of set II, for better for worse (for better, imho).

    I posted a long fractured take on last night’s show at the end of the comments’ section yesterday.

    Gotta run for now but will be back later.

  4. Prince Nabby Says:

    @Grateful Cub. You speak the gospel truth on page 2, brother.

    Someone asked about Trey’s playing this fall. Well, there a couple of things going on.

    First, he ditched the digital whammy, aka whale call, pedal for the most part. That means that he’s playing with his fingers now, not his feet. Hampton and Summer I, when the whammy pedal was engaged during a song, it stayed on for the rest of that song, and it was used on almost every song. Sometimes it was amazingly apt and aptly amazing; other times it flopped horribly. I think it was something of a crutch for Trey, but that’s just my opinion. The whammy is now used sparingly, which means that Trey is shredding again, bending strings with his fingers, working lots of different rhythms as he vamps with, say, Page.

    Second, he has tweaked a lot of his tonal issues to his satisfaction. I’m not a big gear head, but I know that getting the settings on his compressor and tube screamers to play nicely with the languedoc and his amp set up is sometimes a challenge, and I noticed earlier in the year that he was having a hard time getting his sustain to not break up in Divided Sky, Coil, YEM, and others.

    Thirdly, Trey began life as a drummer, and he has an incredibly percussive style as a guitarist; his sense of phrasing is impeccable. A lot of that went by the wayside until this tour, when he seems to be able to riff at any speed, fast or slow, and still suggest a rhythic pattern that adds to the band rather than just sitting on top of it.

    Lastly, the man is obviously practicing, and enjoying doing that. We all talk about when the band is feeling IT, but what I think Trey is feeling right now is JOY. You see it in his beatific, muppet-like grin, and you hear it in his absolutely inspired playing. For me, this makes all the difference in the world, and I don’t care *what* they play so long as I get that euphoria coming through the speakers at me. Nuff said.

  5. fat bastard Says:

    prince does his homework too. good insights dude. again, anyone hear the vultures jam saturday night? i cant place it

  6. Locust the Lurker Says:

    “what I think Trey is feeling right now is JOY. You see it in his beatific, muppet-like grin, and you hear it in his absolutely inspired playing. For me, this makes all the difference in the world, and I don’t care *what* they play so long as I get that euphoria coming through the speakers at me…”

    Halleluya, brother.

  7. Neemor Says:

    Nicely done, Nabby.
    Well said.

  8. marcoesq Says:


    [i] Thirdly, Trey began life as a drummer, and he has an incredibly percussive style as a guitarist; his sense of phrasing is impeccable. A lot of that went by the wayside until this tour, when he seems to be able to riff at any speed, fast or slow, and still suggest a rhythic pattern that adds to the band rather than just sitting on top of it. [/i]

    You think that’s why fish has matched his playing for year’s with trey instead of with mike? Most band’s drummers correlate their playing with the bass players to make the percussive grooves but as mike has pointed out numerous times, “fish followed trey’s playing for years and after the talking head’s musical costume in ’96 he started matching my playing to create that groove-type playing”

  9. marcoesq Says:

    guess I didn’t code that quote properly 🙂 How do you do italics again? I dont feel like going all the way to last week’s lesson

  10. Neemor Says:

    I’m pretty sure Fish is unique in that he plays the song, doesn’t just lay a groove.
    Typically, I’ve always thought it was imperative that the drummer and bass dovetail to create superb funk jamming, and maybe that IS the case, ‘late 97 through ’00, Mike and Jon may have been more able to depend on one another as Trey and Leo were off partying…
    Now that the full band is back, Fish can rely on Trey and therefore links up with the predominant groove instead of just Mike….
    I might just be making this all up….

  11. Prince Nabby Says:

    @marco — I’m a guitarist, not a drummer, so I really can’t speak with any authority to Fish’s MO, but people for years commented on the fact that Trey was obsessed with Fishman and spent many of the early shows facing him and playing off his grooves rather than Mike’s.

    I didn’t catch the Vultures jam, FB, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t there. I was sort of in a fugue/dance-state for most of Saturday 🙂

  12. Neemor Says:

    ” lol

  13. Mr. Completely Says:

    great posts re: this show. thanks for the pointer back to your post last night @sumodie, very interesting stuff

    re: grading on a curve – I think most of us were fairly up front about that, putting the quality of the shows in context, thru the summer. As is often true @albert put it well a few times when he said things like “this is great for this point in their progression, but if they were still playing this way a year from now, I’d be disappointed.” I think that nails it.

    I think hitting the home run at 8 – 2 unique sets plus at least a couple of huge straight Phish sets – has reset their confidence. These last few shows have had an aggressive, “Now We Are Going To Destroy Your Fucking Minds, Bitches” attitude that has been lacking. It’s not essential for every top shelf Phish show, I like the blissful-jamming mode too, but this kind of aggression and swagger is a big part of their identity.

    Is there still room for growth or change? Sure. I definitely hope they get into some more stretched-out dance grooves, and longer stretches of open improv, the 3-to-5 phase extended jams; and multiple open jam segments in second sets.

    But I’m a little baffled at the idea of last night’s show being “controversial” even given the well known blockheadedness of certain segments of the online fanbase….


    FWIW re: earlier discussion I dislike the “type I/II” terminology, for me it’s “open” and “closed” jamming (more descriptive), with “funk jams” and “ambient/space jams” covering the other spaces. YMMV, whatevs

  14. Mr. Completely Says:

    I have surface knowledge at best of early phish but it’s apparent to me the dynamic was originally Trey and Fish chasing each other around the stage, with Page and Mike running as fast as they could to keep up

    Fish still plays off the lead instrument as well as any non-jazz drummer I’ve ever heard, he seems to be very good at staying in the moment and keeping his ears open so he can be responsive

  15. Mr. Completely Says:

    ^^^^ big part of the reason I consider Fish to be the best drummer in rock history

  16. Stupendous Says:

    Couldnt a funked up version be Type I aswell as Type II?
    And isnt the ambient/spacey jam automatically a Type II?
    Sorry I was just surprised at seeing that theres more than 2 types….

  17. TheDropper Says:

    If you have yet to see this…watch

  18. fat bastard Says:

    i thought fishman was driving the bus all weekend as we hung out the windows! he was everywhere!

  19. Neemor Says:

    That’s weird, Mr. C.
    I always keep Neil Peart at the top of that list, never really think about Jon in that “best of” light….but I don’t know now….

  20. Robear Says:

    Mr. C, I prefer your terminology as well, re: jam labeling.

    They are making a nice, natural progression from show to show, this tour.

    ‘Phish Destroys America, Part Deux’

  21. c0wfunk Says:

    “I’m pretty sure Fish is unique in that he plays the song, doesn’t just lay a groove.”

    this was first said of ringo – the way he would change his parts with the chorus and verses revolutionized pop drumming. A drummer who just sets up a groove and never changes textures bores me to tears, especially when playing with them. Fishman is a master at this..

  22. Mr. Completely Says:

    funk jams are almost always closed/contained (“type I”) but usually don’t peak the way a normal contained Phish jam does, just a normal vamp thing like other bands do (with phishy twists)

    ambient/space jams are by definition open (“type II”) but are a distinct subtype

    there are a lot of sub-classifications etc once you get into it, none of which matter

  23. Stupendous Says:


  24. Locust the Lurker Says:

    Listening to last night’s Bowie right now. Wow. What a way to get things going!

  25. GuitarPicker420! Says:

    @neemor – Neil Peart is definitely unique as a songwriter / drummer, but I wouldn’t put him in my top five of rock drummers. Not to start a big discussion, but I have always thought that Fishman was the most talented member of the band, but then thats just me.

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