112209 Phish, Syracuse, NY

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On November 22nd, 2009 I continued my new-ish habit of seeing way more Phish concerts than most people I’ve ever known, albeit way less than most of the people I was starting to meet.  This time the show was in Syracuse, a near-enough stop on their fall tour to warrant a quick in-and-out drive from my house to the US of A, and I had a really great time.

At the time I was developing the time and money-consuming hobby of buying gig posters and I remember joining the merch line immediately upon entering the arena and shelling out $50US for an El Jefe print that everyone around me was a) dissing as a piece of crap, and b) buying at a furious pace.  The print features a topographical map that shaped the band’s name out of a string of lakes, reminiscent of the nearby Finger Lakes, and I quite like it.  Not only that, I’ve still got it, whereas a lot of the prints I accumulated back then have been sold at a steep enough profit to pry them out from my portfolio.  I’ve always thought if I ever own a cottage I’ll get this one framed and put it there, but then again I say that about a lot of my posters, and (just like my house) any cottage I ever buy (unlikely as that may be) will certainly have it’s own wall limitations.  

Getting to the show itself, it was a cool venue with lax security and Phish opened with David Bowie, which all foreboded good things.  I’m a fan of any of their songs that contain orchestrated composed sections of off-kilter weirdness, which is a big, big part of Bowie.  So right there, good start.

Then early in the set we got a Sparkle, a fave of mine that I find many of their fans have no time for, and Lawn Boy, a song I was just coming around to fully appreciating.  The set ended with one of my all-time favourite guitar melodies period: Stash*, but rather than concentrating on the glory of the song I was heavily distracted by a random fellow standing in front of me when his party caught up with his limitations and he totally, completely melted before my very eyes.  I assure you this cosmic blip was not at all my doing – I was completely sober in anticipation of the drive home –  but I assure you it was both disturbing and distracting.

And then, about twenty minutes into the second set the house lights inexplicable turned on all at once, creating a blinding visual feedback to light-man extraordinaire CK5’s brilliant symphony of luminescence, though it was a fun reminder that we were seeing our favourite band in a piddly little pee-wee hockey rink.

Halfway through the second set the karmic ship had righted itself and the band played as if I was picking the songs.  Theme From The Bottom, Maze, Character Zero, First Tube, I mean, this was favourite after favourite after favourite…  Sure, there was no YEM or Harry Hood, but where would they have fit them in?  Oh right, they could have put them in the encore.  Instead:

e: Good Times, Bad Times

Take that!

So I bounced out of the room with my poster tube held tight in my sweaty grasp and m’lady and I walked through the crisp autumn evening to the car – safely and legally parked in a nearby parking garage – and by midnight we were already fifteen kilometres into an easy-peasy three-hour trip home.  I was probably smiling the whole drive.

Except at the border.  No smiling (or sunglasses, or hats) when you’re crossing the border**.  Remember that.

*Okay, guitar players.  If you haven’t heard this song youtube it and tell me that’s not a (whole bunch of) ridiculously delicious guitar line(s).

**This was a rather odd and social border crossing.  The Canadian border cop asked, “What kind of music does Phish play?” “Rock music,” m’lady and I answered in unison.  “They seem to draw a pretty wide range of people,” she continued.  Clearly we weren’t the first to arrive during her shift.  She asked several more questions, all of which pointed to the obvious fact that she was quite perplexed as to why she was previously unaware of a band that had so many people crossing the border to see.  In the end she did say that she thought she had heard of them, but her eyes told me that she was lying.

Eyes can be vary revealing during border crossings.  Remember that.

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