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Phish celebrates jam-packed Syracuse homecoming by sucking…

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Phish fans were packed like sardines Sunday night at the Lakeview for a three and a half-hour performance from the legendary jam band, their first Syracuse show in seven years.

The show was something of a homecoming for co-founder, drummer and Syracuse native Jon Fishman, who would end the night with one of his famous vacuum cleaner solos (more on that later). But as the band took the stage at 7:40 p.m., the spotlight shifted to Lisa Simpson, Fishman’s longtime dressmaker who designed the drummer’s iconic “donut dresses.” Phish began the first set by singing “Happy Birthday” for Simpson, before diving into an eclectic run of jams, including “Free,” “McGrupp and the Watchful Hosemasters,” and “Stealing Time From the Faulty Plan.”

The fans were feeling every note, and an inspired cover of James Gang’s “Walk Away” revved up the energy even further. Phish closed out this first set with an epic, 15-minute performance of “Kill Devil Falls,” but the best was yet to come.

As lights came on between sets, the true size of the crowd came into view. Many of these fans happily stood well beyond a vantage point of the stage itself, content with hearing the superb jams and watching the performance on the large live screens adorning the Amp’s roof and flanks. As one fan in the lawn said, “We’re here for our ears, not for our eyes.”

True, most fans probably came for the music, but they nonetheless got to experience some of the best light displays ever to grace the venue. A backdrop of LED lights zig-zagging around the stage accented the music, while a complimentary row of big flood lights of varying colors shifted up and down to its own rhythm, altogether resulting in an utterly unparalleled light show.

Fans sported glow sticks in their hair and wore tie-dye shirts and hats, creating a colorful ensemble befitting the vibrant music emanating from the stage. As if inspired by the kaleidoscopic display, even the clouds took on a cotton candy pink hue as the sun set over Onondaga Lake.

As darkness set in and the second set began, the psychedelic lights hit full tilt. An impressive rendition of “Suzy Greenberg” kicked off the second set, but the 23-minute performance of “Tweezer” that followed was the true highlight. As the band twisted through different grooves and took turns soloing throughout this twisting, marathon jam, fans all around the venue threw handfuls of glow sticks. Colorful balloons of unknown origin – each containing LED lights strobing every color of the rainbow – bounced from fan to fan, further accentuating the colored lights streaming from the stage.

When “Tweezer” finally resolved, Phish played a couple relaxed, shorter tracks, including a touching performance of “Miss You.” The rest was short-lived though, as the band roared back with the energetic “Wolfman’s Brother,” the perfect set up for the southern-style “Possum,” a crowd-pleasing showstopper that had the whole audience chanting the song’s chorus.

The band members then left the stage, only to return three minutes later to perform an a capella version of “I Didn’t Know” … with a twist. Lead guitarist and singer Trey Anastasio stopped the song to tease Fishman, saying, “This is a special moment! Syracuse native, spent his summers on Skaneateles Lake, went to Jamesville Dewitt High School, graduated last in his class, told by principals and teachers that he’d never do anything, dressed in Syracuse colors. And he’s about to suck for you, as his teachers predicted!”

And then Fishman soloed on a vacuum cleaner with an eclectic spectacle of blowing and sucking that resulted in a range of noises that were good, bad, cool, and above all, weird.

Phish fans have a penchant for unexpected moments like this, but the band had a better finale in store. After ripping into a heavy, hard rock-style blues groove, Phish finally brought everything full circle by reprising the main section of “Tweezer,” the song they had introduced over 90 minutes prior.

Few bands can play one set as sharp as Phish, let alone two and an encore. The band’s enduring showmanship and virtuosic talents have attracted fans since 1983, and will undoubtedly continue to impress and astonish for the next 40 years, too.

Set One:

Happy Birthday to You

Free

Steam

McGrupp and the Watchful Hosemasters

Evolve

Stealing Time From the Faulty Plan

Meat

Walk Away (James Gang cover)

Theme From the Bottom

Kill Devil Falls

Set Two:

Suzy Greenberg

Tweezer

Oblivion

Miss You

Wolfman’s Brother

Possum

Encore:

I Didn’t Know

What’s the Use?

Tweezer Reprise

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