The venues on a Phish summer tour have become somewhat predictable. They’ve nailed down their favorite outdoor spot in nearly every region of the country, but not in Central/Western New York. They’ve bounced between Darien Lake, CMAC and Watkins Glen, never visiting the same place in consecutive years. This year, the Lakeview Amphitheater in Syracuse opened up, and Phish decided to give the shed a whirl in it’s inaugural season. Will it become a regular stop on Phish’s summer tours? Only time will tell, but they sure seemed to enjoy their first run of the place.
The venue sits on Onondaga Lake, once the most polluted lake in the country. After decades of remediation it is just now re-emerging as a viable natural resource for the city. The opening of the amphitheater is just one of the signs of the lake’s renaissance.
The band’s first set song selection was even more unpredictable than their New York venue choices. A rare take on their jazzy instrumental “Landlady” got things moving as the sun began it’s descent over Onondaga Lake in the background, but it would “Blaze On” for a little longer.
As if anyone in the audience weren’t already fully aware, guitarist Trey Anastasio introduced drummer Jon Fishman as a native of Syracuse, leading to a rare performance of his song “Ha Ha Ha.” That began 3-song run of Fishman-penned tunes, with his brand new rocker “Friends,” and the fan-favorite funk out “Tube” following.
The band continued to highlight its hometown hero throughout the show. Fishman was kicked out of band at Jamesville-DeWitt High School because he couldn’t keep the beat, so the story goes. One couldn’t help but wonder if he felt the need for a bit of retribution in his biggest show to date in his childhood home.
With enough imagination, every song seemed to have a connection to his Syracuse roots: past, present and future. Lyrics like “A statement from his former life,” “I’m going to be a genius anyway,” “He buried all his memories of home” and “Gonna give you one last chance to see, gonna shrug demands off of me” spoke directly to his mentality. Other songs like the beautifully rendered “Winterqueen,” just referenced the city known for it’s brutal winters. The bust-out of “Destiny Unbound,” played on this night with a punchy exuberance, could be in reference to Destiny USA, the mall that sat just a couple of miles down the lake shore. Or maybe, and perhaps more likely, there was no rhyme or reason to the song selection at all. We should just ask the Axis, he knows everything.
After a set stocked full with rare songs, including the second-ever “Timber,” off of their Halloween performance of Chilling, Thrilling Sounds of the Haunted House (wrapped cleverly around their long-time cover “Timber (Jerry)”) and Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “The Ballad of Curtis Loew,” the band wanted to give Fishman one more chance to shine before the break. They were set to close with Edgar Winter’s drum-heavy prog-rock anthem “Frankenstein,” though keyboardist Page McConnell had some issues with his keytar, so they instead pulled one more rare treat out of the bag, closing with Jimi Hendrix’s “Bold As Love.”
The second set featured songs about water and waste and worms and monsters, perfect for a venue sitting on a quasi-toxic lakefront. But more importantly, it featured a non-stop, near-70 minute ride through their repertoire, The set-opening take on the Who’s “Drowned” plumbed multiple themes in a short period of time, dredging up anthemic rock, spaced-out funk and melodic noodling. With that exploration complete, they parsed their discoveries song by song. The normally adventurous “Twist” was contained as a straight ahead rocker, the oft-amorphous “Piper” was kept tight and punchy, and “Simple” swam around beautifully before slowly dissolving.