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. c0wfunk Says:

    not a big fan of the type terminology myself, it leaves too much out .. how do you describe that possum from saturday night for instance? Or the julius from last night? Defies typing – agro space blues maybe the best I can come up with.. I was just going with the flow of the topic. As I said, the drowned last night is a good little example of all types, in pretty prototypical fashion, and all in the span of what 15 minutes? I love phish that flows rapidly between feelings and styles and that is what these shows have been full of..

    Early phish jams, before they found the funk, were almost grooveless because of the way fish and trey would chase each other, it was hard to sustain any kind of feeling. I love those almost classical sounding tweezers from 94 and 95 as they were learning to escape the structure of that song and the monster started running about. For a while they had forsaken that entirely in favor of the groove. Then it crept back bit by bit as the funk assimilated into the collective.

  2. Type III Jamming Personality Disorder Says:

    I personally am not a big fan of deliberating over classifying jamming styles, hence the ironic choice of my user name here. I think the practice has its place but I’m just not one to worry about whether they are able to get into a particular type of jamming or not. It’s not going to ruin my show if they don’t get into Type II, III, VIII, or whatever so long as they open The Hose and spray it around liberally.

  3. Mr. Completely Says:

    @Neemor it’s not a fair competition

    any musician that is a high level improviser is IMO inherently superior to anyone that isn’t. Period.

    You still have to have the technique of course. But Fish’s technique is always solid and often superb.

    However simply improvising successfully in an ensemble provides a 1000x score multiplier in my book. So the only other rock drummer I know of that even qualifies is Kreutzmann and his peak era of 1971-74 just didn’t last as long as Fish’s has at this point.

    King Crimson became more improvisational over the years, so I should listen to more of their live stuff (w/Bruford and whoever) before passing judgment I guess.

    Not sure who else is even in the discussion.

  4. Robear Says:

    ‘Patiently awaiting the Colonel’s review of Cincinnati…..’

  5. Neemor Says:

    I imagine that is someone were to break down Phish jamming into a “tree” or branch-type chart, I’d probably lose interest and never listen to them again.
    Maybe so, maybe not.

  6. marcoesq Says:


    I would concur but by saying that he is the most “consistently” talented member of the band, whereas he is usually “on” most of the nights. We also tend not to scrutinize or even notice his mis-steps as much. Red is obviously much more scrutinized on a daily basis but those two are just so ridiculously good at what they do

  7. msbjivein Says:

    WOW!! What a Weekend! Great write ups Mr Miner!!! Last night looked like a really good show. CINCY was awesome! Had a shit ton of friends at that show. Sorry I didn’t make the haufbra Haus get together. I was late as shit to the show Fri. Walked in right when Chalkdust started. Didn’t find my crew til after the show. By that time it was to late for me to get to the gathering. I’m glad everyone had a Phun weekend. Can’t wait to see what happens over the next couple weeks!! Bring on Miami!!!

    I HAVE 2 lower sec 100 12-29’s to trade for 12-31’s!!!!! Anybody?
    msbjive at yahoo dot com

  8. ThePigSong Says:

    So far I’ve enjoyed the SBDs that I have from the last couple nights. At home Mike’s testing the structural integrity of my apartment, I can even hear his lines on my earbuds.
    I know that I have a poorly trained ear, am I missing something?

  9. Mr. Completely Says:

    I have always thought that Fishman was the most talented member of the band, but then thats just me.

    Not just you. I know a lot of folks with the same opinion. I sometimes agree.

    For years he was certainly the best relative to his instrument (in the improvising context I just described). However Mike has claimed similar status over the second half of the band’s career to date. He’s moved himself into that “best on his instrument” conversation…

  10. msbjivein Says:

    oops my email is msbjivein at yahoo dot com

  11. Fusco Says:

    A few pages back someone was asking about BBFCFM. I was up front last night and when they dropped in to BBFCFM, it turned into headbanger’s ballroom up there. Very funny moment. Also, a little ways into the song, trey and mike started fiddling with their mic stands, trey dropping his down to face his guitar for feedback and mike raising his so that he was singing straight up into the air. Red actually was on his knees for a good chunk of the song too. Good times.

  12. Neemor Says:

    Improvising in an ensemble gets the 1000X multiplier.
    But so should improvising a twenty-five minute drum solo on spinning stage with laser lights. (Neil Peart.)
    Just sayin’.
    I guess it’s just nice to hear Fish’s name up there in the lights!
    I love that man.
    Whose father is he on this board? I forget….

  13. Locust the Lurker Says:

    Thanks, Fusco. I remember at one of the Townsend shows when they played BBFCM the entire dance floor erupted into a giant mosh pit. If I remember correctly, part of it even collapsed. Everyone was looking out for everyone else, though–a very communal dose of headbanging mayhem.

  14. Neemor Says:

    “However Mike has claimed similar status over the second half of the band’s career to date. He’s moved himself into that “best on his instrument” conversation…”
    I thought this, too…but then I heard one of the mixes from Festival 8 (I almost called it Live Eight!) that was just Mike turned all the way up…nothing else…during a Melt.
    And it really had a strange staccato unrhythm to it….
    I guess all the members come together to play the music, sort of a greater than the sum of its parts thing….which I think is grand.
    I’m glad they sound so good right now, this next couple weeks is going to be throwdown style.

  15. Mr. Completely Says:

    “Neal Peart couldn’t drum his way out of a paper bag”

    good stuff starting about 1:55

  16. butter Says:

    what a cool lookin, old school show. would have loved to be at that one. Looks like it would have been my favorite first set of 3.0. (haven’t spun yet) RR 3 with the return of Curtain With and Mound, Jiboo, PYITE, and Antelope is my favorite that i attended.

    BBFCFM??? are you kidding me, right in the heart of a second set. i think i’ll go for a bass heavy audience recording of this one.

  17. Mr. Completely Says:

    I haven’t even said OMFG BBFCFM YEAH BABY!!!!

    WHY DO I WANT TO KILL YOU?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!!?!?!?!??!!?!?!?!!!!!!????

  18. halcyon Says:

    Sitting here wishing I was still living in the northeast with the ability to catch some of these shows … Sigh

  19. GuitarPicker420! Says:

    @neemor – re:25 minute drum solo – I don’t call that improvisation, I call that masturbation.

  20. Neemor Says:

    GP, it was in lieu of s setbreak.

  21. Neemor Says:

    In other words, band leaves stage, NP sits there and beats the living shit out of his drums, never loses beat, keeps it interesting….band comes back on stage, finishes show.
    40 songs, 25 minute drum solo.
    For Peart, no break.
    Either absolutely amazing or coke on IV drip….you call it.

  22. GuitarPicker420! Says:

    Seastones was in lieu of a setbreak too, still masturbation by another name. Sorry, don’t mean to dog him. He is a solid drummer, although I find he doesn’t “swing” enough for my taste, always right on the beat, no matter the time signature, which is all well and good, but I prefer drummers who are a bit more playful.

  23. halcyon Says:

    Staring out my window hearing the sounds of a military jet flyover and I saw a hawk flying at the same time, for a minute I thought the hawk was making the sounds of the flyover…..whoa! I need more coffee this am.

    Always loved hearing BBFCFM….face melting zaniness!

  24. msbjivein Says:

    GP420, If you were serious about jammingn hit me up so I can get some music from you. I would love to make that happen sometime after Thanksgiving.

  25. Neemor Says:

    We’re talking about RUSH, here……
    if not Canadian, would be considered one of the top five bands of all time by many.

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