Phish headed to Syracuse, NY on Sunday for a one-off show at St. Joseph’s Health Amphitheater at Lakeview. While Syracuse has never been a common stop for the band—this marked the third Phish show in the city this century—it will always hold a special significance to the group as the home of drummer Jon Fishman, who became the de facto star of the show as the quartet rounded out the final weekend before its impending seven-night Madison Square Garden takeover.

As Trey Anastasio reminded the crowd during an encore rendition of “I Didn’t Know”, Fishman—clad in a birthday-girl Lisa Simpson-designed, home team-appropriate orange and blue dress—was born and bred in the Syracuse area. He summered on Skaneateles Lake. He went to Jamesville-DeWitt Middle School (as in Moses DeWitt, the judge and soldier for whom the Syracuse suburb was named—who knew?).

“He graduated last in his class,” Anastasio grinned, “Was told by principals and teachers that he was never gonna get anywhere. And here he is today, dressed in Syracuse colors, about to suck for you.”

“I’m about to suck!” Fishman affirmed.

“…as was predicted by all of your teachers when you left tenth grade,” Trey continued through spurts of laughter, “and they said, ‘You’re gonna suck!'” Fishman beamed, “I am fulfilling their dream.” And suck, he did, asserting that he is still the world’s foremost vacuumist some four decades into a career that started a stone’s throw from the scenic amphitheater on the shore of Onondaga Lake.

As for the rest of the concert? It most certainly did not suck. Quite the contrary, in fact. With engines primed after a couple of weeks on the road, Fish and the Phish turned in a Sunday performance in Syracuse that will likely fall in among the tour’s top shows when all is said and done.

Set one got started with yet another “Happy Birthday to You” (repeats much?), this time for the aforementioned donut dress designer. Phish never looked back, carving out an engaging first set with energetic runs through “Free” and “Steam”, a nostalgic “McGrupp and the Watchful Hosemasters” (just the third of the 2020s), a well-played one-two of the mellow “Evolve” and the snarling “Stealing Time From The Faulty Plan”, and a funky strut through “Meat”. “Walk Away” may be the most consistently satisfying pump-up song in Phish’s cover playbook and this run through the James Gang kiss-off anthem was no exception, striking the Syracuse crowd like a rock and roll cannonball. That’s the good stuff.

The coursing “Theme From The Bottom” that came next could have closed the set if Trey, Fish, Mike Gordon, and Page McConnell had chosen to ride that swelling wave. Instead, they took a quick exit to “Kill Devil Falls” and sped toward that waterfall with abandon, picking up momentum as they rode the breakneck groove through blues-rock tree lines and contoured central New York mountain peaks on a show-stealing, set-closing, 19-minute joyride. Go back to this “Kill Devil Falls”, for sure.

Phish – “Kill Devil Falls” [Pro-Shot] – 7/23/23

When perennial closer “Suzy Greenberg” got the call to start set two for the first time in… *checks*… 20 years (!), Sunday’s second half seemed destined for greatness. When that led into the opening notes of “Tweezer”, such predictions became certainties.

Between this nearly 28-minute stint in the freezer and the 21-minute rendering of 2023 debut “Oblivion” that followed, fans were treated to just under 50 minutes of inspired Phish groupthink: “Tweezer”, a “darker” song by nature, highlighted the lighter, flowing, melodic inclinations of 2023 Phish as it cycled through distinct motifs, repeatedly pushing things further even as the ride reached some passable potential landing pads; “Oblivion”, the new guy at the jam vehicle cafeteria table, leaned back on a relentless Fishman and the versatile sound palette of Page McConnell as the foundation of its moody trek into the shadows.

After “Miss You” finally allowed the “I guess I’ll hold it ’til this jam ends” crowd to scurry to the bathroom, a laid-back, smokey “Wolfman’s Brother” picked up where the “Oblivion” jam left off, reverberating as it bounced on deep-sea currents from the Gordon-manned low end. A rousing “Possum” did what rousing “Possums” do to round out the six-song set.

While the foursome got its encore jollies in via “I Didn’t Know” and the show eventually wrapped with the obligatory “Tweezer Reprise”, this encore offered more than just novelty factor. “What’s The Use?”, most often utilized as a bridge between jams thanks to its feathered sonic edges and magnetic simplicity, got a rare a la carte presentation in Syracuse for its first encore duty since 2019. You’d think it might be jarring to hear a pre-fabricated “segue song” on its own, but damn if this one wasn’t as spellbinding as ever, a master class in feel and dynamics.

It’s hard not to get the feeling that there is a lot of fantastic Phish coming our way this week. With two nights at The Mann (Tuesday, Wednesday), an extended stay at the Garden (many days) on the horizon, and the band sounding like this, right now is quite a time to be a Phish fan. The gang takes Philly next. Safe travels.

Click below for a selection of videos from the Sunday night Phish show in Syracuse, NY. Scroll down the check out the full setlist.

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Phish – “Oblivion” (Partial) – 7/23/23

[Video: Fred Rutherford]

Phish – “Possum” – 7/23/23

[Video: grad Gd]

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Setlist [via]: Phish | St. Joseph’s Health Amphitheater at Lakeview | Syracuse, NY | 7/23/23

Set One: Happy Birthday to You > Free, Steam > McGrupp and the Watchful Hosemasters, Evolve, Stealing Time From the Faulty Plan > Meat, Walk Away, 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

Happy Birthday was performed for Lisa Simpson (she had made Fish’s “Syracuse colored” dress for the evening and was in attendance). Trey and Page teased That’s All in Tweezer. Page teased Long Tall Glasses in Possum and Hold Your Head Up after I Didn’t Know.