Phish has just wrapped up a fall tour celebrating their 30th year, and the Phish organization was kind enough to grant me/Buffalo Rising a media and photo pass to cover their Rochester, NY concert on 10/22. I continued on, for my own enjoyment, to the next three concerts of the tour.
As a long time fan, who has traveled to every conner of our great country to see them, I can honestly say that, they are playing with all of the intensity, creativity, joy and craftsmanship that they ever have, only, now everything is more harnessed and mature.
Early on the band was extremely talented, but the guitarist and “leader,” Trey Anastasio, was still head and shoulders above of his bandmates. In thirty years, Page McConnell has become the fan favorite, sometimes stealing the show with his beautiful melodies on the Grand, right through to the complete funk throw downs on Clav. “Page Side” has become the place to gather. Mike Gordon may have stepped into the lead or at least toe to toe with Anastasio, as far as creativity, and Jon Fishman is the comedian and entertainer, with uncanny abilities on the kit and the occasional vacuum solo.
Together they have become a unit of improvisational masterpiece, they have grown and evolved as musicians, and they have always stayed on the cutting edge as far as light show, technology (web casts, downloadable live concerts) and thriving as a non-mainstream touring band.
The Phish crowd for the most part are creatives from all social classes, generally a warm, giving group of people that also know how to let loose and have a good time. This proved to be true again, when, at the start of my trip, free tickets were being passed between friends and acquaintances gearing up to hit the road.
Rochester was a fairly straight-forward show. A good friend described it as being, “predictably awesome” and I would have to agree. The setlist didn’t stray to far from the standard – no extremely exploratory type II jams, as they’re referred to by fans, no real rarities, but some tight quality rock. Starting off with a fairly routine but rocking show starter, “AC/DC Bag.” The real meat of the first set came about half way through. This segment offered the back and forth, guitar to keys jamming of the high-speed bluegrass/rock, “Scent of a Mule,” then a step into the darker side with “Timber(Jerry)> My Friend, My Friend” to the excitement of long time fans.
The second set opened up with Talking Heads cover, “Crosseyed and Painless,” a regular in Phish’s repertoire and a common second set opener. This one topped out at just over sixteen minutes and contained one of the best jams of the night, reaching for the inner-stellar before dropping into another jam vehicle, “Light.” The second set flowed along nicely with a lot of standard but precise playing. Just the type of playing that keeps you on your toes. The real excitement of this band is that they are known for taking chances, and if you are familiar with them, you know that on any given night they have the ability to create magic. Sometimes they connect, sometimes they don’t, but when they are on you will witness transcendence. Of course you have to be willing to believe, and I definitely do! To cap off the second set they threw, “You Enjoy Myself” on the table, an early composition, consisting of intricate composed work, followed by a funk improvisation segment, that ends in an improvisational vocal jam, like you will find nowhere else in the world of music.
Though I was thoroughly pleased with the Rochester concert and the next three, I couldn’t help but wonder why Phish has not come back to Buffalo in such a long time. Have we not welcomed them? Have they not chosen us? Or, do we not have the right size venue here? The last time that Phish played in the city of Buffalo was October, 19th 1996, in a place we still called Marine Midland Arena. The quarter back of the Buffalo Bills was still, the beloved Jim Kelly, albeit his last season in the NFL, and the Bills were in the midst of going to the playoffs eight times in the nine seasons. Between the pipes for the Buffalo Sabres, was the remarkable Dominick Hasek. It seems like a lifetime ago. In that time Phish has played, Rochester three times, Darien Lake four times, Canadaigua, Syracuse, Utica, but not Buffalo
The concert in 1996 was a real rocker with a great set list that would make even the most jaded old school Phish-heads happy. I feel like we’ve been waiting ever since. Although Phish is a band that inspires thousands to get in their cars and follow along for the tour, by constantly changing set lists and always ready to surprise, with a song that hasn’t been played in ten years, one of their top notch covers, or an extended experimental jam that explores the depths of soul and space, it is always nice to see a hometown show. And Buffalo is a great place for Phish. We welcome creativity and we welcome community, of which the Phish scene does not lack either.
What must we do to bring Phish back to our city. As far as the venue goes we have a few options. The arena is possibly just a bit too large, but if Phish played here on a Friday or Saturday night, I think it would be sold out or very close to it. Another viable option is the Outer Harbor. Although I would much rather see them play at an indoor venue, this might be a perfect fit as far as the capacity and the setting. A third and reaching option would be an intimate concert at Shea’s and possibly a two or three night run to compensate for the limited seating each night.
In the collaborative spirit of Phish I would love to hear some feedback on what other people think out there. If we can generate enough support, we can move forward with possibly a Facebook page dedicated to bringing Phish back to Buffalo. I would be open to some suggestions, if maybe we want to make it about other bands as well that we would like to see, in Buffalo. Maybe with our voice and the help of local promoters we can make the music scene here even better than the thriving entity that it already is.
I was able to capture some great shots of the light show in Rochester and I added some other crowd shots from the following nights on my iPhone as well as a few from the road. Please take a look, enjoy, and share this article to spread the word!
Words and photos by Joe Janiak