Forwards Up The Number Line
Concerning the Baker's Dozen, which is most likely?
1991 continued to roll on through the Georgia Theater in Athens, GA. The first set was absent from my recording but the second set was still a treat. Picking up with "Golgi", "Landlady", and "Reba," I was pulled in to the crescendo just before the peak. The "Jim" was rowdy and the recording ended with a solid "Bowie", "Oh Kee Pa> Suzy."
Jumping forward a full week to 3/8, Tuscaloosa was getting down to the Vermontet. "Golgi", "YEM", "Fluff> Stash!!" This set came out and went 4 for 4 with 4 RBI's. The second set of this gig wasn't available, but I was excited it didn't cut out until after a rare appearance of "Dave's Energy Guide," from within a "Tweezer."
The following night, Phish played at world famous, Tipitina's in New Orleans. The show began with more compositional elements than a Long Island Iced Tea. The rarely sung, "Carolina," brought their vocal harmonies directly into focus. From there, "The Landlady," gave way to "YEM," and the crowd was rapt. "My Sweet One," benefitted from an extended intro. My favorite section of the show was, "Coil> Buried Alive (w/ Popeye tease)> Jim> Papyrus," which they topped off with a set peaking, "Bowie." The resolution of the set saw Fishman take the helm for a bit, and a decent, "Lizards."
3/13 took place at one of my regular haunts, The Boulder Theater. I found the idea of seeing Phish in the BT astounding. Wasting no time, the band began "Fluffhead," to kick off an adventurous show of blistering effort. At times the abundance of notes and ensuing dissonance challenged the band and listener alike, but for the persistent, a reward. It seemed the band felt more comfortable taking risks in the shadows of the Flatirons, and the jams were technically more demanding than in other shows in the same era. I particularly enjoyed, "Melt."
The Ides of March ushered Phish to Englewood, CO's Gothic Theater. Another local gem in the Front Range. The opening "Llama," seemed to have a little extra pepper, driving the song forward with fervor. The "Stash" jam had more scales than Debbie Wasserman Schultz. It also featured a tease of that old circus music riff (which research revealed to be titled 'The Entry of the Gladiators'). The "AC/DC Bag" was particularly vigorous for the era. The rest of the show was above average but ending a show with "Hood", "Torture", "Coil", and "Jim," almost felt like stacking the deck.
On the 16th, the band took the highway to the great divide (70 west) to Breckinridge. The venue had rugs on the wall (per Trey's comment) which made for a good sounding room. The band took advantage by laying down one of their most highly energetic shows of the time. I'd go into the highlights, but there were far too many. If you need something to go on, note the short but vigorous "Llama." Trey just opened a can of whoop-ass throughout. I guess to summarize... listen to this one.
Following the Breck show was a trek further west to Aspen's Wheeler Opera House. While the energy was a step down from the previous night, I think the venue wasn't as conducive to Phish's vibe. It didn't stop them from throwing down a "Weekapaug" with a vengeance. The management had the band inform the crowd that the front 2 rows were shakey platforms over an orchestra pit and if the crowd really wanted to dance aggressively, they should move back. "Esther," had an unusual beginning with multiple false starts woven between quotes of "The Entry of the Gladiators." The result was an even further deranged circus. It was a well balanced and executed show, but didn't have anything else that was particularly over the top. Just good, solid Phish.
After a week of Rocky Mountain tomfoolery, the Number Line continued north to Steamboat Springs, CO for 2 nights at the (now long-defunct) Inferno. Kicking things off was a "Llama," with a layered intro. On the whole this show wasn't very notable, though I did notice that the shows were oddly appropriate for the towns in which they were performed. Breck was youthful and exuberant, Aspen was a tad more formal ("don't dance so hard over the orchestra pit"), and Steamboat felt more relaxed and comfortable.
The second night, March 23rd, was another sturdy show, but I enjoyed it more for the setlist than the playing. I was excited to hear, "The Curtain", "Forbin's>Mockingbird", "Take the A Train", and "Uncle Pen." My co-worker was NOT excited to hear "Contact," and "BBFCFM,"... his 2 least favorite Phish tunes.
On March 28th, the band was in Santa Cruz, and from the sound of the banter, it was their first California show. They easily navigated through several of their monster compositions and peppered in enough improvising to make MacGyver a fan.
Heading up the coast to San Francisco, the boys landed at The DNA Lounge. Though first set wasn't available, my recording began with "Possum," and it sounded like they were fairly dialed in by this point. "Foam," put Fish's rhythmic domination on display from the intro. I have to mention "Rocky Top> Fluffhead," as it was completely unexpected. "Tweezer," had moments where Trey launched Gilmore-like lead lines. Eventually it gave way to a manic jam and deranged resolution. Not altogether spectacular, but enough to get a room full of people to tell their friends.
Wrapping the month of March in Berkeley, our protagonists opened with "Buried Alive,"... usually a good omen. "Cavern" and "Runaway Jim," were played uncharacteristically early in the show. Rare and beautiful, "Forbin's," came next before an articulate "Mockingbird." "Mike's" began with the band shouting the tune's title throughout the intro. Normally the highlight of almost any show, "Hood," lacked pizzazz. It seemed bereft of passion. Not played terribly, just not as vibrant as usual. The jam still went miles beyond my expectations of most other bands. Bouncing back hard, the "Squirming Coil," that followed evolved into a fluid, aquatic ripple by the end. Quick on it's heals, "Stash" made a return to the highly technical compositional element. The show concluded with a lofty "Antelope."
The month was a solid return to the road, spending virtually the entire time more than 1000 miles from the Northeast Kingdom of lush Vermont. As I prepare to tackle April of '91, I am in awe of the road they've taken to get where they currently stand. Thousands and thousands of hours, miles, compromises, and commitments. They really are something tremendously special and unique. Take a moment to appreciate the joy they've made for you. Their intent is your delight
Phare Thee Well
While working on February 1991, a lot of amazing things distracted me from Forwards Up the Number Line. Most notably, the birth of my first child... a boy named Lawson. SO, I apologize for the delay in posting this entry. It's been done for a while now. I still intend to see this project through. Your patience is amazing. Thanks!
With the daunting task of 1991 ahead of me, I voyaged into 2/1/91 from Alumni Hall at Providence's Brown University. Kicking things off, they hit "My Sweet One" before an ambitious "Foam." "Tweezer" gave way to it's own reprise, a move which seemed more like a key change than a segue. The energy was high, and the band sounded well-rehearsed. The show was most notable for some new material. "Guelah Papyrus" made its debut, as well as "Chalk Dust Torture." "Chalk Dust" was blazing from the jump. Another newer song was brought back after a lull in the rotation, "Landlady> The Mango Song," paired two unlikely choices. In predictable news given the venue name, "Alumni Blues" was performed near the end of the show.
2/2/91 was from another "Alumni" venue... Alumni Gymnasium at Bates College. "Oh Kee Pa> Suzy" opened the show. I have come to prefer my "Suzy's" to be preceded by "Oh Kee Pa." It's a great transition. As "Guelah" booted, I wondered how many more times I would hear "The Asse Festival" since it had been absorbed into the tune. "Dinner and a Movie> Esther" was a great pairing of tunes that became increasingly rare as their career progressed. "Stash" may have been the highlight of the set... Maybe so, maybe not. "Destiny Unbound" made another appearance, as did a lengthy "YEM." From there the show just soared through "Chalkdust","Coil", "Golgi> Mango", "Sloth", "Antelope", "Lawn Boy> Gin", "Jim", "Horn", and "Harry Hood" to close. Great show despite the obvious gymnasium reverb.
2/3 was a hometown show at The Front. Opening with "Runaway Jim," the band sounded comfortable on their own turf. "Guelah Papyrus" was precise and bouncy. "Tweezer" teetered between loose and casual to edgy and progressive. "Destiny Unbound" seemed to be a regular in their rotation for this tour. The "Reba" jam was really energetic during this period, and the 2/3 version was no exception. "Bowie" was adventurous, "Cavern" funky, "Jesus Left Chicago" ballsy, and "BBFCFM" was uncharacteristically lengthy.
On 2/7 the Crimson Commander and his band of minstrels played the Pickle Barrel Pub in Killington, VT. They came out swinging with a fun "Runaway Jim" and "Foam". The latter had a sweet jazzy piano jam courtesy of the Chairman. The set took a jovial and fluffy turn through "My Sweet One", "Landlady", and "Mango," before returning to the composition-driven material "Split." "Coil" had a Page outro that was largely unappreciated by the crowd. "TMWSIY/ Avenu Malkenu" held down the surprise spot of the night. "Tweezer Reprise" followed it's predecessor directly, and things took another turn when they played "Uncle Pen." The rest of the set was great with the exception of a botched and abandoned "Lizards" after which Trey claimed to be "so embarrassed," for forgetting the lyrics.
2/8 the band headed to The Music Hall in Portsmouth, NH. My recording began with a snippet from the opening, "AC/DC Bag," before heading into another rocking "Reba." "Buried Alive, Forbin's> Mockingbird" looked good on paper and was good in reality. "Stash" had some searing guitar. A fun energy ran through bouncy song choices such as "Llama", "Cavern", "Bowie", and "Mango." "Weekapaug" was explosive, and made for a dynamic pop when followed by the more mellow "Horn." The show had some remaining gems including a lengthy "Antelope," and an encore of "La Grange," with Carl Gearhart on horn.
The 9th opened with "Mango" before turning more aggressive for "Sloth." "TMWSIY> Avenu Malkenu> TMWSIY" was a rare treat and it created a dynamic swing in the set. "Jim" and "Foam," were both high energy, but the historic moment of this set came when Phish inserted "The Asse Festival" into "Guelah Papyrus," a move which would stick as "Guelah," absorbed "The Asse Festival," moving forward. "My Sweet One" was short. Mike's tone on "Tweezer" was round and thick. I was surprised when it took a turn for "Reba." A number of great songs were played in a crescendo leading to "Harry Hood." "Love You" was a bit out of place among "Cavern", "Coil", "Llama", and "Suzy," but it was over quickly enough. The encore of "Contact," and "Rockytop" was an appropriate musical apéritif.
In a ridiculously unusual twist, as I was preparing to listen to 2.15.91, I saw a notification that a friend had stumbled upon a video of 2.14.91! That blew my mind and I knew I had to halt my progress until I had seen the 14th. Unfortunately it took me a while to get to it. The video was grainy, and dark, but the audio quality was pretty solid. Their ambitious creative improvisation was apparent right from the gate. I was excited when "Buried Alive," hit as it usually shows up in energetic sets. It was fun watching the young quartet transition to "Reba" on a dime. After playing "Destiny Unbound," Trey informed the crowd that they just got a new tour van and they were going to give away their old "Voyager" to one lucky audience member as a Valentine's Day present. The band seemed to be enjoying themselves as Trey bounced through "Mango." "Stash" once again had the band soaring on massive jam arches. Trey fearlessly danced his fingers over frets with a seemingly endless stream of melodic ideas. Page led us through a loungey "Lawn Boy." In second set, they jumped on the tramps during "Mike's" and I was particularly drawn into the "Foam." "Runaway Jim" was delightful to watch. "Alumni" and "Destiny" in the same show reminded me I was indeed watching "early" Phish. During "I Didn't Know," Fishman came up, played a brief vacuum solo, was blindfolded, spun around, and threw the keys into the crowd. A fan caught them, was brought onstage, and was told to meet the band after the show for the title. The video cut out during the intro to "The Landlady," and left me grateful for the simple twist of fate that brought this video to my attention at the exact right moment.
Back to audio, the boys opened 2/15/91 with "Curtain> Wilson> Divided Sky," and the crowd knew it was on. The first set was sprinkled with more gold than a pan could handle... "Fee> Buried Alive", "Sloth", "Dinner and a Movie", and "Llama." Second set began with a big, old "Bowie," with teases of a Simon and Garfunkle song. I finally delved into the classical quote Page regularly plays during "Bathtub Gin," and it's Gerschwin's "Rhapsody in Blue," which you may recognize from United Airlines commercials. The "AC/DC Bag" had some group-think jamming with multiple distinct stops, and it came out of "Oh Kee Pa." Fishman sang he Syd Barrett song "Terrapin" and used his brand new vacuum which Trey dubbed the "heavy artillery." Good things were happening, obviously, since they had a new vacuum and a new van. The "Hood" was good, as was the set closing, "Torture." They played 2, 2-song encores, "Caravan, Big Black Furry Creature from Mars," and "Contact, Golgi."
2.16 kicked off with a "Sloth" opener... good omen. "My Sweet One," lightened the mood before they really dove in with "Divided Sky." There was a rare, but always appreciated "Take the A Train," I thought the pairing of "Buried Alive> Runaway Jim" was a twist! "Guelah Papyrus," preceded a solid "Fluffhead." I'm also a fan of "Rockytop" appearances. Average show for the era.
2.19.91... Fishman's 26th birthday. The show kicked off with "Llama," but the crowd really got excited for the opening notes of "Reba." "Jim" and "Bowie," were both raucous and the entire show featured "Happy Birthday" teases. After a rocking "Mike's Suite," the show veered prog for "Guelah Papyrus", "Landlady", and "Split" before "Bouncing Around the Room" settled everyone back into a groove. What happened next was unusual. Fishman came out to a sort of "Hold Your Head Up/ Happy Birthday" mashup before the man of the hour took his vacuum and sang a Syd Barrett song... "Love You." But in the middle there was a vacuum solo to "Whole Lotta Love," with Trey keeping impressive time on the kit.
2.20.91 ripped into "Buried Alive> Cavern," in an unusual but good pairing. I also liked the coupling of "Coil," and "Tweezer." "YEM," ended with a wildly vivacious vocal jam. "Magilla," was jazzier than DJ Jeff. The recording ended with 4 intricate pieces, but I'm not sure if the complete show was captured. Regardless, "Golgi", "Foam", "Divided Sky", and "Guelah Papyrus, helped the show finish strongly.
2.21.91- "Reba" openers rarely disappoint. Followed by "Dinner and a Movie" and we were cooking! The "Llama" had some great jamming in it as the enthusiastically laid the rapid rhythm. Page's keys were particularly stellar during "Lizards," and "Golgi," had some interesting nuances in the last phrase. "Cavern> Landlady> Bouncing" was an interesting twist that left me thirsty for a complete "Punch." The rare "Uncle Pen" made an appearance at this show, and the knockout "Bowie" to close second set moments before a "Suzy," encore. Leave them hungry.
2.22 came thundering out of the gate with force. "Chalkdust," had the effect of maturing the set. There was no build up. Just a set closer to kick things off for the night. After whetting the crowd's appetite with "Coil," and "Dinner and a Movie," they dove headlong into a "YEM," that left me grinning like that "Hood Kid." Smiles for miles. Especially during the vocal jam as elements of Paul Simon's "Graceland," intertwined. The "Suzy" had some amazing bass and keyboard interplay, and it was the first one I noticed Fishman scream, "Forgot my name, huh? Bitch!"
2.28... the last day of February found the Phish from Vermont in the musical holy land of Nashville, TN. Trey has recently gushed about his love of Nash Vegas, but even back then he couldn't stifle his enthusiasm. He complimented the room and the staff and said the band loved playing there. This night was an extraordinary showcase of the band's diverse talents. They offered tight compositions, scorching peaks, comic relief, rare gems, and an assortment of styles. Any show that ends with "Lizards," and "YEM," has my attention and this one was a nice snapshot of where they were at the time.
Finally... on to March '91!
Which era was your first show?
Phish finished out 1990 with a short month. The first recorded show was from the Robert Crown Center in Amherst, NH. The show started as a heater. "Golgi, Stash, Bouncing, Landlady, YEM." The "YEM" included vocal riffs on "Tell it to your Grandma," before turning into Lou Reed's "Wild Side." The fugue, "The Asse Festival" led into "Runaway Jim," and Trey really started going for it. 2nd set featured a funky "Cavern." Henrietta sang a debut, "No Good Trying," and the set ended with a big old "Bowie." The encore of "Alumni Blues" was dusted off and dedicated to the graduating class.
The December 8th recording from Poughkeepsie was missing first set, but second set came out swinging with a raging "Llama." I was happy to hear "Dinner and a Movie," and "Bouncing Around the Room" seemed to stoke the crowd. As "Antelope" began, I buckled up for what I presumed would be the set's highlight. But then they played "Tela." And the "YEM" was an 18 minute romp. Trey told the audience it would be a light month as they practiced and worked on new material. The show closed with "Contact" and a "Highway to Hell" encore. Audio could have been cleaner throughout, but c'est la vie.
On 12/28, New York's The Marquee. Looking at first set, "Jim", "Foam", "Reba", "Llama", "Forbin's> Mockingbird", "Mike's Suite", and "Golgi" were all highlights. I was surprised at the bass work Gordon added to "Foam." I wasn't sure if it was a particularly good version, or if I'd just never paid attention to his part of the song. Either way, color me impressed. The "Reba" was also aggressive and powerful. Trey just slaughtered it. Second set had a lot to live up to, but "Coil> Tweezer> Manteca> Tweezer" was a joyride in a stolen convertible. "Oh Kee Pa" stood on its own in an unusual twist. The last three songs featured John Popper on harmonica. The first was the Popper/ Anastasio penned "Don't Get Me Eribf.
12/29 opened with an uncharacteristically early "I Didn't Know," complete with Fish vacuum solo. "Llama" and "YEM" kicked the energy like Sebastian Janikowski, through the uprights, good for 3. "Esther" was appropriately absurd, and "Bowie" was another rocker. "RockyTop" was unexpected and welcome. I also enjoyed the pairing of "Buried Alive" and "Runaway Jim." "Stash" and "Jesus Left Chicago" ripped like Hulk Hogan's tank top. "Destiny Unbound" always deserves a mention, and "Antelope" was joyous.
12/31/90. Wow. We made it! Trey seemed a bit nervous and the first 2 songs seemed rushed and/ or botched. They seemed to get settled by "I Didn't Know." "Mike's" was energetic, and
"Weekapaug" had "Auld Lang Syne" phrases. They followed it up with the countdown and the real playing of "Auld Lang Syne." "Buried Alive> Possum" closed first set on a high note. Second set opened with a well executed "Golgi Apparatus." I was pleased with "Stash," and the "Coil" featured Page's ivory outro. "Jim" was fun. I loved it during "YEM" when page busted out his organ... Wait... I mean. The band ran like an "Antelope" straight into 1991. Bigger and better. All the time.
Which shows have you the most excited?
11/2/90 from the Glenn Miller Ballroom was a fun listen. Everyone was on point. I first noticed Gordo stepping out with a really cool bass line I had never noticed in "Divided Sky." Mike continued his bubbly improvisation throughout the night. Page was also in his element as he added a range of jazzy, harmonic seasonings that were remarkable. They were really learning how to play with the material as was evident in the "Asse Festival", "Possum> Buried Alive", "Mockingbird> My Sweet One", and a tease-laden "Bowie." I was certain anyone who attended that show was talking about the "Bowie" on their way home. A real step forward in the development of their improv. I also recall the "YEM" vocal jam to be more melodic than others... It reminded me of "Blackwater" by the Doobie Bros.
Their second consecutive night in Boulder saw them gracing the stage of the Boulder Theater. As a somewhat regular patron of this establishment, I found it somewhat mind boggling to consider seeing Phish in such an intimate locale. For me the show really caught air at "Llama." From there the boys seemed to be showcasing their versatility and range. "Magilla> Foam" displayed their jazzy/ classical side, while "Good Times, Bad Times" was the usual breakneck rock and roll. "Reba", "Antelope", and "Stash" were well received and "Fluffhead" closed the second set before an encore of Jimmy Hendrix' "Fire."
Heading north to the charming college town of Ft. Collins, the boys set up shop in Fort Ram. They got cooking pretty quickly as they launched into "AC/DC Bag> The Curtain> Bouncing Around the Room." They didn't let up as they launched "Llama" and a very early "Hood." I was stoked that "Manteca" was working itself into the rotation, and the teases were plentiful. From Dave's Energy Guide during "Bowie," to "Woody Woodpecker" during "Caravan," the guys were having fun mixing musical cocktails.
11/8 from the Great Hall was a unique recording in that the sound check was available also. The real show kicked off with "Landlady" before delving into an enthusiastic "Possum" with Trey shredding. "Lizards", "Coil", and "Suzy" stood out as highlights of the set. I have always loved the "Mike's Suite," and true to the formula, this one peaked with a frantic rip through "Weekapaug." I found myself recalling the odd Pink Floyd tune, "Several Species of Small Furry Animals...," during the vocal jam on "YEM." John Popper joined for "BBFCFM", "Jesus Left Chicago", and "Fire."
On 11/10/90, the boys were In-diana. The show kicked off with "Reba," and by the time we hit "Runaway Jim," Trey was lighting it up. "Buried Alive" fell succinctly into "Lizards," leaving me surprised and intrigued. "YEM" resolved to a vocal jam centered on the phrase "Now we're going to play the Asse Festival," before promptly playing it. I also got a good kick from "Llama", "Divided Sky", and "Possum."
11/15/90 was plagued by a hiss/ echo that made me happy it was a somewhat short recording. "Jim" was fun. "YEM" featured some really nice work between Page and Mike before Trey kicked it into overdrive. "Magilla" was placed nicely, "Buried Alive" was maniacal, and the closing "Bowie" was a highlight of the show, though not a standout version on the whole.
The following night the boys hit Providence, RI and the Campus Club was rocking right from the opening "Suzy Greenberg." The crowd was loud and appreciative as the foursome got cooking.
"YEM" featured some adventurous jamming. The signature soup of Phish's improvisation was continuing to coalesce into the sound we've all come to love so deeply. Mike spiced up his bass solo in the space preceding the vocal jam. The newer offering, "Llama," was well received, and "Divided Sky" was greeted with delight. "Tube", "Jim", and "Lizards," excited me. "Contact" preceded the encore of "Fire," by Hendrix. It was a great show in the tour's trajectory.
The Somerville Theater in Somerville, MA hosted another boisterous crowd. The opening "Llama" was heavy Page-raging. Trey's guitar work was similarly vigorous out of the gate, though it seemed like he took a minute to feel comfortable with it. By "Coil," he was settling in. The vocal jam in "YEM" was quite cool. It morphed from mechanical noise to chickens, then monkeys, before resolving with a sort of alarm signaling a catastrophic event. Fun. Speaking of fun, the "Suzy Greenburg" contained a "Low Rider" jam before a "Low Rider" decomposition segue into a delayed "Bowie." Worth a listen if you've got the time.
In 11/24, they returned to the fabled Capitol Theater in Port Chester, NY. The show started with a brief jaunt through "Buried Alive," always a good way to start a show, IMHO! The "Foam" unexpectedly turned for the "Mike's" suite, and was followed with "Coil> Lizards." Once again I was surprised during "Llama," when the "Buried Alive" riff made an easily-missed appearance. I was stoked that "Landlady" segued to "Jim," but the former made me miss it's context within "PYITE." One unusual thing... The "GTBT" was aborted before they were 2 minutes in. Strange.
Funny that the last thing I mentioned was "Landlady> Runaway Jim," as the Ithaca show from 11/26 kicked off with the same combo. This night has some lesser played gems. "Sloth","Paul and Silas", "Uncle Pen", and the "Forbin's>Mockingbird" suite all made their way into the evening's agenda. For me, I was most excited to hear Bob Seger's "Main Street" theme teased during "Weekapaug," and the jazzier-than-usual "Contact."
In the last recording of November 1990, Phish descended on Keane, NH. On the whole I didn't find much of this show to be unique. The fare was standard with few exceptions. This wasn't to say it wasn't good, just that it wasn't better than the others. "Coil> Jim", "Antelope", and the tremendous sustain on that one note during "Divided Sky," were my favorite moments.
November of 1990 was a slow burn for Forwards Up the Number Line and though it was a fair amount of time to get through it, I was listening pretty steadily. Just slowly. So, thanks for your patience, and I promise as long as you give me the time, I won't give up! Cheers! Hope to see you further up the Number Line.
10/1/90- Kicking off October from The Haunt in Ithaca, Phish wasted no time getting into it. "Possum> Squirming Coil" was pretty high energy for a show opener. From there they hit "Lizards" and 2 new tunes, "The Landlady" (which was explained as a portion of the "now defunct Punch You In the Eye) and "Magilla." The rest of the show was highlighted with "Stash", "Gumbo", "Jim", and "Antelope."
10/4 from the University of New Hampshire Field-house began with "Golgi Apparatus." By the second tune, "The Landlady," they were already lighting fires. The "Destiny Unbound" was fun, and "Bowie" was a relentless rollick. As "Reba" played out, I thought about the balance of composition and improvisation in the song and realized how quintessential the tune was in Phish's library. "Bouncing" left me pleasantly surprised when it gave way to "Foam." And it was an extended "Foam" at that!
10/5 at Skidmore College saw Phish entertaining in the Field House. The show didn't necessarily have any sublime jamming or must-listens, but it did feature a few rarely played tunes for the era. First, they played "Tela," which was somewhat rare even at the beginning. This version was par for the course. They also ventured through "Alumni> Jimmy Page> Alumni," a suite of music that was getting less and less regular. Also of note were "The Curtain> Ya Mar", "Antelope", and "Fee> Possum."
10/6 Phish linked up with Blues Traveler for a stretch of shows beginning at Port Chester's Capitol Theater. The venue and turnout must have been nice as Trey commented, "I have to just say, this is amazing." I really enjoyed the "Foam" from this set, and it was quickly followed by a spirited "YEM." The vocal jam had layers of synthesizers woven within and made for quite the other-worldly soundscape. "Bowie" was another highlight, but the real gem of the show was the debut of a Popper/ Phish original called "Don't Get Me Wrong." Popper's vocals and harmonica were a great addition to Phish's sound and reminded me that the H.O.R.D.E. Tour would be coming up relatively soon!
10/7 from Sayreville, NJ had the boys excited. For Trey it was virtually a homecoming show. By this show, the new material had been dispersed throughout the old, and the expanded repertoire was making for more variety within the shows. This night opened with "Divided Sky" before bounding between eras... "Uncle Pen", "Landlady" and "Magilla" offset by classics "Forbin's", "Destiny Unbound", and "Coil." I really got into the "Buried Alive> Bouncing." Also, the second set had a "Lizards" and a "Contact" encore... consider me stoked.
The following night, Phish and Blues Traveler followed the lines going south to The Bayou in D.C. Kicking things off with their Popper collaboration, the crowd sounded ready for a good time. Though it was a one set show, they crammed a decent amount of material into the time. I particularly liked the "Cavern> Reba." The "YEM" and "Antelope" stood out within the set but weren't necessary to seek out.
On the 12th they hit the Cat's Cradle. This show began with "Suzy Greenburg," and "YEM," confirming that they meant biz. Mike's bass was impressive early on. "Cavern" was a bit funnier than I expected. "Tweezer" was energetic and progressive, but not more-so than usual. I thought the "HYHU> Terrapin> HYHU" had a bit more jam to it than usual Fishman led numbers. The "GTBT" encore was always a treat as well.
After a void in available recordings, things picked back up on 10/30 in Crested Butte, CO. They battled an echo through first set, but seemed to muddle through without many issues. The show started with a tour de force of their stylistic versatility. From "Donna Jean" to "Uncle Pen," if it was anywhere between jazz and bluegrass it probably was played. "Cavern" was delivered slightly slower than usual and it gave the groove a funkier vibe. The highlight of this show was the second playing (but first recorded version) of "Llama," which ripped. "Curtis Loew", "Buried Alive> Bowie", and "Lizards" continued to stack this show with some of my favorites. "Contact" and "AC/DC Bag" were the icing.
10/31 opened with "Buried Alive," not only making it into the setlist 2 shows in a row, but technically played twice on the same calendar day as the previous night's version was played after midnight hit. The version from 10/31 was cut short and "Possum" quickly replenished the groovy music. I always enjoy "Lizards," and for some reason I liked this one a lot. Nothing crazy unique, just well executed. "YEM" was compelled by Trey's dominant fretwork. "Antelope", "Reva", "Mike's>Hydrogen> Weekapaug", and "Suzy" were all lively. They ended with "Big Black Furry Creature From Mars," punctuating the Halloween theme.
After a few months off, the boys returned to the stage at the Wetlands in NYC. I had hoped that the time off would result in some newer material, and I wasn't disappointed. The show on 9/13 was a debut-a-thon with several new tunes added to the mix. Things kicked off with the debut of "Landlady," before hitting "Divided Sky", "Foam", and another debut... "Tube." The "Asse Festival" was a segment of "Guelah Papyrus," a tune that was yet to be written. "Antelope" served as an energetic favorite before continuing the debut-a-thon. "Minute by Minute" was sung by "Zero Man" as Fishman commented that "it's no longer a donut dress." I wondered if this had anything to do with Magnaball's "The Donut Dress is Fake" message. "Buried Alive" was played for the first time with another first, "Paul and Silas." They filled in some old classics like "Bouncing", "Possum", and "Mike's" before debuting "Magilla", "Stash", and "Going Down Slow." I really enjoyed the "Oh Kee Pa> AC/DC> Buried Alive> Take the A Train> Spars> Reba." That was a string of awesome that I did not expect. They had Dude of Life sit in for debuts of "Self", "Dahlia", and "Revolution's Over" before ending the show strong with "Lizards" and "La Grange." With all this new material, I hoped they had re-written "Rift" during their time off.
The following day in Providence, RI brought the band to The Living Room where they once again hit on most of the new material. The energy at this show was bonkers. The crowd whooped and hollered ravenously as the opening "Suzy Greenberg" was played. The fan enthusiasm was undoubtedly reaching new heights. The "Tweezer" not only had the "stick in the spokes" breakdown, but it also featured an immaculately timed and perfectly coordinated band chuckle in the middle of the jam. The chuckle was unexpected and the crowd roared in approval. The other highlight of the show was the debut of one of the ultimate Phish rarities... "Destiny Unbound."
On the 15th, the fellas were at the Colonial Theater in New Hampshire. Once again the show was heavy on the recently debuted numbers. The enthusiasm from the crowd was feverish, and the initial notes of songs like "Divided Sky" and "Fee" led to loud whoops and hollers. This was a good performance throughout, but nothing was particularly over the top. "Bowie" had some teases during the intro and "Eliza" made it's first appearance. The encore of "Communication Breakdown> YEM" was a rare treat.
From the storied halls of Wesleyan University, the show on the 16th was less heavy on the new tunes. A few made it in, but it was way more balanced with songs like the "Mike's trilogy", "Reba", and "Antelope" doing the heavy lifting. I was also stoked for the "Contact" encore.
On the 17th, they returned home to Burlington and played The Front. The show was one of the earliest where Trey completely butchered the lyrics to "Cavern." The "Weekapaug Groove" was also of note as it contained an extended "Groove is in the Heart" tease.
From Somerville, the band kicked things off on the 20th with "Reba." The crowd "oohed" and "aahed" along with "Dinner and a Movie," which may have been the first time I noticed real audience participation. The show was solid beginning to end, but my own highlight had to be "Stash, Forbin's> Mockingbird, YEM." The "YEM" had my favorite vocal jam thus far. Really, quite impressive. This night marked the release of Lawnboy.
The next night was from the same venue and the show opened with "The Landlady." As they played the "Asse Festival," I remember thinking that the song sounded like a high society cocktail party where the listener just may have been dosed with LSD. The crowd was audibly enthused. The mania was really starting to happen. On this run the crowd chatter yielded a few die-hards who could name songs, sing lyrics, spout history... Phish nerds, nerding out. I particularly enjoyed "Tweezer> Buried Alive> Tweezer," which is recognized as the first "Tweeprize."
On the 22nd, Phish busted out Tela for the first time in a while, or so it seemed to me. THey also played "Wilson" which I felt had been absent recently as well. "David Bowie" featured several teases in the beginning, one of which I believe was "Chariots of Fire." They revisited the same tease during "Possum." The "Destiny Unbound" from this show featured a really fun jam. It was probably my favorite version so far of the rarity.
On 9/28, the guys went to Poughkeepsie, NY The "Antelope" that closed first set was quite good, per usual. Second set was highlighted by the debut of "Gumbo" and a great vocal jam on "YEM." The show was a good balance of new material and their well established repertoire.
The last recording from September of 1990 was from Ardmore, PA's 23 East Cabaret, and they were getting back into the flow. The new material had been peppered in appropriately and the energy was on a consistently increasing trajectory from band and fans alike. The main memorable thing from this show was the "Happy Birthday" to Trey that was sung after midnight hit and within "David Bowie." The "Magilla" was heavy on Page's jazz chops also.
It took me a long time to get back on the train... As Phish took the summer off, I took a little break as well. Now that I have waded back in to the "velvet sea" of this project, I will try not to leave you hanging. I'm sure no matter how fast I go, it isn't nearly fast enough for you."
Who got what?
Will you count yourself among those enjoying:
Mike said "No."
June 1st, 1990 from Hotlanta was indeed hot. The boys invited banjo legend Reverend Jeff Mosier to pick with them on the first 3 songs. The third was "Antelope" and also featured Oteil Burbridge on bass. It was the best "Antelope" to this point in the Forwards Up the Number Line project. Oteil simply killed it. They followed that up with a "Mike's Trilogy" that tore the roof off the motha'. The rest of the show was solid, but the top half was difficult to top.
The following night from Greenstreets in Columbia, SC got off to a decent start with "Uncle Pen," They quickly kicked things up with "Dinner and a Movie> Bouncing> Reba." "Possum" had some fun guitar work. I really enjoyed the solo in "Lizards" even though it was composed. The vacuum solo during "HYHU> Love You> HYHU" was among the best I've ever heard.
The show picked up in the midst of "Squirming Coil" on 6/5/90 at Cat's Cradle in Chapel Hill, NC. The early "Mike's trio" was enthusiastic, and left the energy high through "Suzy." "Take the A Train" led to a "Bowie" with "A Train" teases. "Dinner and a Movie> Bouncing Around the Room" was a strange pairing that worked out really well. I was happy to hear "Curtis Loew," particularly on the heals of "You Enjoy Myself." Fishman came forward to voice "Whipping Post," in the absurd way you might imagine.
Moving back north to the nation's Capitol, Phish hit The Bayou on June 7th. "Suzy> The Chase> Possum" opened the show and ended a long drought of "Fluffhead" material. Other than that, it was a pretty typical show for the tour. The "Tweezer" had the same, "stick in the spokes" planned disintegration as almost every one on the tour. Not that it was bad, just not unique.
Back in Ardmore, PA at 23 East Caberet things started with a nice fluffy "Foam," which dropped nicely into "Bouncing." I really liked the placement of the last few "Bouncing" versions of the tour. They had really been digging the newer addition, Bill Monroe's "Uncle Pen." I really enjoyed various parts of this show, but "Oh Kee Pa> Suzy", "Antelope", "Possum" portion of the show was stellar, and the "Mike's Groove" to end was wailing. Especially the "Weekapaug."
Returning to NYC's The Wetlands Preserve, Phish brought the tour's excitement home with them to the northeast. I was surprised and delighted by the "Whole Lotta Love" jam that preceded "Hood." "Oh Kee Pa> Suzy> Antelope" also knocked the dust off my work-boots. The show finished strongly with "Harpua", "Good Times, Bad Times", and "Take the A- Train> Contact."
On 6/16/90, the Vermont quartet was back at Townshend Family Fun Park in Townshend, VT. It was the second to last show before an extended break from the road that lasted into September. They played "Horn" which was fun as it was relatively new. They also took "Timber (Jerry)" for a psychedelic freak-out in the middle. "Gin", "YEM", "Lizards", "Antelope" to end the second of three sets was excellent. The last set began with "La Grange", and "Ya Mar" was dedicated as a birthday tune. They were a bit airier with "Mike's Song" which created a slightly more funky groove to it. Crunchy. The show ended with "Contact", "BBFCFM", and "Good Times, Bad Times," though I am certain no one had a bad time.
On 6/17/90, Phish wrapped up a lengthy run of shows at Boston's Wendell Studios. I couldn't tell if there was an audience, if they were attempting to record a studio album, or if it was just a radio show or something. Regardless, the sterile sounding atmosphere was hardly a distraction from some fine playing. I particularly enjoyed the soundcheck- "Dog Gone Dog," a rarity from the jump. "Suzy" seemed to have a bit more gusto than some other versions. "Caravan" was fun, mainly because I had just heard Hiromi Uehara's version (side note, check that out! As well as everything else she does!). I was excited to hear the really rare "In a Mellow Tone" which featured some really pretty vocals by Page. The "Mike's> Hydrogen> Weekapaug" was the highlight of this session, which pretty much sounded like an outtake session from a studio effort. It was still great listening.
And that was it for a while. They played a handful of shows between this one and September, but the summer of '90 was largely a time for practice. I secretly hoped that this time off was when they re-wrote the tune "Rift," as I am salivating for the updated version. Anywho... there may have been a bit of a break for the band, but not for this guy. I will commence with Fall '90 on Monday. Until then, be well, and whatever you do, take care of your shoes.
VaJonna at Dicks
Phish kicked off the next month on May the 4th (be with you!). The show was at the Colonial Theater in Keene, NH (also home to Keene College, famous from the Jerry Band "Eleanor Rigby"). The recording began with a sound check of "Carolina" and "Funky Bitch" followed by some banter. The actual show began with "Whipping Post" and the crowd was already rapt with enthusiasm. "Possum" was a highlight, and the "Metal Bagel Death" was the most unique part of the night. "Tweezer" stole the show though. It had an excellent jam and a massive slow down that was simply mind-melting. I also enjoyed that they ended with "Contact," my personal favorite encore.
On the 6th, the boys played at Toad's Place. Once again, the "Tweezer" was the highlight. The jam was accompanied by Fishman's tortured groans, and ultimately led to another huge breakdown that threw a stick in the spokes before returning with authority. "Hood" and "Esther> Bowie" were high energy. When "Henrietta" tackled "Terrapin," he played his new Viking Vaccuum, which he dismissed as "a modern plastic job" because his "Warhorse" was dead after blowing a fan. He also informed the crowd that when he puts on the dress, he becomes "Zero Man." Before the encore of "YEM," I listened to the second version of "The Jagermeister Song." Widespread Panic was also in support for this show. Due to passing curfew, the "YEM" was cut short at "Wash Uffizi, Drive me to Firenze."
Northampton, MA's Pearl Street Ballroom played host on the 10th of May, and the show was average. Several of the tunes were beginning to stretch, but there wasn't anything incredibly unique about the show. Once again the show was highlighted by "Tweezer", "Hood", and "Reba." I also enjoyed the end of the show... "Oh Kee Pa> AC/DC Bag", "Good Times, Bad Times", and "Whipping Post" to close things out.
On the 11th, they returned to Providence, RI to play The Living Room. The show was pretty typical for the era, though there were a few surprises. I liked the "Oh Kee Pa> AC/DC Bag> Lizards." The "Tweezer" was high flying once again. They also busted out "Take the A Train," for the first time in a bit. Not a bad show at all, but not a whole lot of which to speak.
Back in the hometown, The Front hosted Phish on the 13th of May. They opened with "Bathtub Gin" and immediately had my attention. "Oh Kee Pa> AC/DC Bag" was a great run up to "Dinner and a Movie." I thought "Runaway Jim" was well played, and the heavy hitters ("Bowie", "Mike's Trio", and "Tweezer") were money. "Reba" and "Possum" also added high energy jams and the encore of "La Grange" seemed appropriate and ballsy. The crowd has been getting louder and louder with each show.
5/15/90 from Hamilton College was a standout for the month. After listening to the sound check, I jumped right in to the opener, "Fee." The first set "Alumni Blues" was dedicated to the graduates, and was one of the most energetic versions I've heard. Loved it. "Melt" and "Jim" were both high-powered, and "Tweezer" once again disintegrated into controlled chaos. "Hood" was fun, the crowd was responsive, and I swore I heard Page play a quick tease of the yet-to-be-played "Cars, Trucks, and Buses." That was an idea he revisited again during "Caravan." On the whole, this show smoked. It was a fun listen from soup to nuts.
The 5/19 show from St. Paul's School in Concord, NH started very similarly to the 5/15 show, though I didn't think it had the same pepper. I did enjoy the "YEM> Lizards" but mostly because they are two of my favorite songs. I thought about how the instrumental passage after "He said he was once a Lizard too" foreshadowed Rutherford's eventual demise. That's clever songwriting. "Dinner and a Movie> Bouncing Around the Room" was fun, but the "Rift" was once again disappointing. I anxiously await the rewrite. The show finished strong with a pair of covers... "La Grange," and a searing "Good Times, Bad Times" which undoubtedly left the room happy.
Following the lines going south, the boys packed it up and hauled it down to The Library in Richmond, VA on 5/23. The show opened with "Divided Sky" and gave me high hopes for an ambitious night. During "YEM," Mike broke a string... to fill the time while he made the change, Fishman sang "If I Only Had a Brain." Usually I wish for songs to be brought back from the dead. This wasn't one of those songs. "Suzy" was sizzling, "Tweezer" was an improvisational trampoline springing them into the atmosphere. The second set was back-heavy with "McGrupp", "Take the A Train", "Antelope", and "The Mike's Trio." During Antelope, Page teased "Caravan" briefly, and my only complaint of the set was that "Weekapaug" was cut off on the recording.
The following night in Raleigh, NC kicked off with "Sloth," once again lifting my expectations for the show. First set had some expected scorchers in unexpected places. The ever extending "Tweezer" was noticeably early, and the same could be said of "YEM." The set got interesting with "Foam" and "Dinner and a Movie" before going full rocker for "Possum." The debut of "Horn" was definitely my favorite morsel from the show, and the "Hood" was... well, "Hood."
The last recording I had from May '90 was the 5/31 show at the Georgia Theater in Athens, GA. They wasted no time getting down to business as they jumped from "Possum" to a "YEM" of second set proportions. The recording didn't capture everything, but the highlight of what was available was probably the "Suzy Greenburg" which seemed to have extra zip.
May 1990 was the first full month that felt like they were really on tour. The frequency of shows, the size of the tour geography, the fan enthusiasm all seemed to have the feel of a band that had arrived. I was excited to dig in to this material as summer tour wrapped up right up the street from the warehouse. I am equally excited to dive into June. See you on up the number line.
Though recordings weren't available, Phish played a few shows dotting the journey from the Northeast to Colorado. The first show in Colorado was at Boulder's Quigley's on the 4th, and it seemed they already had a draw. The performance was another rocker, and showcased much of their versatility. My personal highlights were "YEM", "Foam", "Divided Sky (w/ Rhombus Narration)", and "Lizards." I also noted that Fishman bought a new vacuum locally in Boulder and "I Didn't Know" featured the first solo with the new gear. I was actually impressed. He used a rhythmic approach that made the solo more dynamic than most others.
Hauling gear over to nearby JJ McCabe's for the following night, they opened with "Possum." I was pleased with Trey's guitar work on "Ya Mar," and they teased "Bonanza" during the intro to a rocking "Bowie." The "YEM", "Tweezer", and "Cavern" were all highlights as well. "Tweezer" had it's typical jammy style, but a unique ending. "Cavern"" still had the old lyrics, and I was impressed with Page's work throughout.
Off to Crested Butte on April 6th, the boys brought another heater to the mountains. My guess is they burned an inch or two off the snow-base, because this show was fire. Though only part of the show made it to my recording, the second set was money. Of particular note, the playing and resulting crowd enthusiasm during "The Sloth" and "Harry Hood" were electric. Following "Hood," Trey commented, "Wow... well we'll just play that one again!" The fever was spreading. I was also happy to hear "Alumni> Jimmy Page> Alumni" which had become increasingly rare.
On to one of my favorite towns, the boys ventured to Telluride April 9th (for unnecessary purposes I'll tell you this show was the day before my 10th birthday) and played the Fly Me to the Moon Saloon. Starting the night off with newer tunes "Reba" and "Cavern," I wasn't expecting a show with such early material as well. The show was a solid progression through their repertoire including "McGrupp", "Alumni", "Sloth", and "Dinner and a Movie" before wrapping up with the new tune, "Runaway Jim" and an energetic "David Bowie."
Herman's Hideaway still dots the Denver landscape, though it's doubtful Phish will ever play there again. But on 4/18/90, they did. While the show was a sturdy, smoothly executed show, there wasn't anything that jumped out at me as spectacular. The energy wasn't quite as high as in the mountains, which probably had something to do with the vibe. Great songs were played well, but the show was largely filler. My favorite part was the "Oh Kee Pa Ceremony> Bold as Love." The "Bowie" was also worth a listen.
4/20/90 was a celebration at Ft. Collins' Ramskeller. I really enjoyed the "Ya Mar" from this show. It had some absurd lyrics about napkins. "Cavern" was still enjoying the lyric "penile erector" rather than the eventual "picture of Nectar." This show also had Page play the lick that eventually became the Nokia Piano Ringtone during "You Enjoy Myself."
4/21/90 Down to Colorado Springs for a show with a few great gems. I enjoyed "How High the Moon" as a rare jazzy treat. My personal quest to see "No Dogs Allowed" was briefly satiated when they played it in the second set. Lastly, the "Tweezer" was one of the first epic ones I've heard. The jamming was particularly advanced for this stage in it's life.
4/22/90 was just a short drive from the night before. Also in C-Springs at the Cutler Quad, they got busy with a "Divided Sky" opener before the newly penned "Uncle Pen." Another bust-out of sorts hit with "Dinner and a Movie." "YEM" briefly touched on "Another One Bites the Dust." I also felt the "Hood" was predictably nifty.
On the 25th, Phish was venturing back east by way of the University of Notre Dame. I had recently heard Trey talk about the trust factor with a band like Phish, saying something to the effect that they all know that if someone falls out of the boat, the other three will pull them back in. During "Reba" there was a moment where Page seemed to save the other three singlehandedly. The show had various highlights, but they were easy enough to guess by looking at the setlist. I always enjoy a "Contact" encore.
The 26th from Oberlin, OH began with "Possum" but quickly delved into the exploratory action with "Foam> YEM." Highlights from the rest of the show included a rollicking "Antelope," another take on "How High the Moon", "The Ballad of Curtis Loew", and the "Mike's Trio."
By 4/28 they were back in the comforts of New England, as they played the Strand Theater in Dorchester, MA. Only a portion of this show was available. The "Dinner and a Movie> Bouncing" seemed forced, but acceptable. "YEM" was a highlight, per usual. This show made me want to reiterate how bad "Rift" used to be. I couldn't wait for the re-write to finally take hold.
Woodbury, CT hosted the last Phish show of April '90, on my fiancé's birthday, 4/29. This gig was at a Ski and Racquet Club... paving the way for phans who could afford Mexico... Ho ho... jokes. Only a portion of this show existed in recorded form as well. I enjoyed the "Ya Mar" a lot. The show was highlighted by the "Divided Sky" and the encore of "Love You."
April '90 was undoubtedly seminal in their development. 12 road shows that were recorded and a handful more that weren't. They hit new areas, saw their fanbase grow, and continued to develop their craft each night.
March kicked off on the 1st in New Haven, CT at Toad's Place. This show gained momentum as it went. I felt the "Rhombus Narration> Divided Sky" was pretty high-flying. "YEM> Possum" with a vocal jam was smooth and surprising. "Lizards", "GTBT", and "Foam" were all good, but things really soared when the "Mike's Trio" hit. There was some excellent jamming that continued a steady progression of improvisational maturity. The show also ended with "Slave" and Hendrix's "Fire." Can't complain about that.
On the 3rd, Phish was at Shapiro's famous Wetlands Preserve. Roll call? I'm just curious if anyone reading this was there. The show began with a voyage through the "Mike's Trio" again. "My Sweet One" was excellent, and featured some harmonica work that could only be Blues Traveler's John Popper. From there, the show was simply ahead of it's time. The first set was thick with killers, "Coil", "Lizards", "Oh Kee Pa> AC/DC Bag", "Reba", "Rockytop" and "YEM> Possum." Second set started with a Wetlands employee running through the concert calendar as the band began the intro to "Dinner and a Movie." Second set was also well executed. The "Divided Sky" was probably my personal highlight. Either way, this show had to be important in their development and growth. NYC, John Popper, right on the edge of their heyday. Pretty cool.
March 7th found the band in New Hampshire. The show was another step towards a full sound. During the show's banter, Phish made an announcement that the cops had caught a few people smoking, and if they caught anyone else smoking or drinking, they would shut the show down. Trey also told the crowd that they had a new sound system before introducing the crew. Personal highlights included Page's work on "Caravan," a spirited take on "Bowie," and a "Gin" that touched on deeper jamming. Unfortunately my work load got pretty intense during this show, and I listened to it in it's entirety about 8 times before I got to make notes.
The following night from Saratoga Springs opened with "Dinner and a Movie," and captured my attention quickly. "YEM> Possum" was pretty awesome, especially so early in the set. The first set was indeed fire, and by the time "Oh Kee Pa> Suzy" hit, they were going full bore. Trey and Page wiped the floor with the rest of the set which included my favorite "A-Train" to date and a stellar set-ending "Antelope." Second set got cooking out of the gate with a beefy "Divided Sky." The "Gin" was another high-flyer, and it was beginning to sound like the crowd was getting bigger and more enthralled. The enthusiasm on the fans side was definitely picking up rapidly. They screamed approval at "Lizards," and continued to respond favorably through the rest of the show. From the banter, I gathered that the show was their first in Saratoga Springs, and it was sold out. Perhaps even oversold. Near the end of the show Trey praised the crowd for "generating the most body heat (he had) experienced anywhere in the world." It was obviously a good show for the band, and seemed to have established their presence in the small New York community.
Back in VT, a 3 day run at the Front kicked off 3/9. The show started with an unexpected "TMWSIY> Avenu Malkenu> Caravan" The "Caravan" portion of which featured Dave "The Truth" Grippo on sax. The show would see Grippo return to the stage for several more songs. His additions to this show were money. I am not always sold on adding horns to rock bands that usually don't have them, but this show left me wanting more "Truth" in my life. "Antelope" punctuated first set, and left me satisfied. Second set was more of the same. Each show seems to be just a hair more precise, and their ascent has been audible in the last several shows. Second set saw "Oh Kee Pa> AC/ DC Bag> The Curtain," and I was sold. "Dog Gone Dog" was a surprise. "Slave" was developing into a powerhouse. The "YEM> La Grange" included a "Frankenstein" tease with "The Truth." The show ended with a slightly different version of "BBFCFM," before Fishman took the helm for an unusually dramatic "Whipping Post."
The second night at Burlington's The Front was a shorter recording as only first set circulates. The show started with several storyline songs: "Wilson", "Esther", "McGrupp", and "AC/DC Bag." "Squirming Coil" and "Divided Sky" were probably my favorite parts of the set, though I didn't find this show to be particularly special in any way.
The final night of the three shows from the Front opened with "Contact," a song I typically associate with the end of the show. From there, the show climbed through a variety of material ranging from "The Man Who Stepped Into Yesterday" to "Roll Like a Canteloupe." I particularly liked the "Coil> Lizards." Second set had some gems as well. From a somewhat unexpected "Melt" to an increasingly rare "Harpua," (with Voodoo Chile teases) the boys bolstered the set with a combination of seldom played and ambitious rockers. The closer, "Bowie" put a nice finale on a hearty show.
Back in the Philly area, 23 East Cabaret hosted the boys, on the 16th and 17th (only the first set of the 17th was available to me) and they seemed to be in a humorous mood. Before "Esther," Trey told the crowd that the next tune was a traditional Irish number. Then he made other references to Dublin and the Irish during "Lizards." In addition to the Irish antics, they delivered a "Divided Sky" with "Rhombus Narration" intro. They also polished off the first set with a jammy "Antelope."
The end of March saw Phish heading west to Colorado once again, but this time with several stops along the way. The Phish from Vermont were expanding. On the 28th of March, they played a show at the Beta Intramural Hockey Team Party at Denison University in Ohio. They came out swinging with a "Possum" opener which was dedicated to the team's demise earlier that day. After getting loose, they unleashed the first ever full "Tweezer." I was impressed with it's tenacity for a debut. But they were just getting started. This show was chock full of debuts... "Uncle Pen", "Runaway Jim", "Cavern", and "Sweet Adeline." From start to finish, the fellas were smoking everything (PCP?). Really though, the whole show was a romp through material at a breakneck pace. Definitely a highlight of this month. At one point in the show, Trey chides the audience, telling them that "I will never forget the 1990 intramural hockey season!"
My first recording from February '90 was from Myskyn's in Charleston, SC. "Split" was good. This was the first show I can verify that Fish was wearing the muumuu. Trey mentioned the dress and asked the crowd if they thought he was wearing anything beneath it. Then they played the jazz standard, "Donna Lee." That must have been a little weird. "Slave", "Coil" and "YEM" were all performed with confidence. "Carolina" was introduced by telling the crowd they had learned the tune for this performance. "Gin" and "Foam" were both tight, and they left the crowd with "Jesus Left Chicago."
On the 9th, they hit Lancaster, PA's Chameleon Club. First set was good with great tunes like "Suzy", "YEM", and "Coil," but I didn't get caught up in the show until the "Mike's Song" which soared. Second set got cooking with "Reba" which sounded like it was from a later era. Last night after work I listened to Chicago '94, and I could tell the band was far more confident by that time. It's not that they weren't confident in February of 1990. It was that they hadn't had the 10,000 hours of confidence that made them sound, in a word, professional. The "Reba" was proof that the professionalism was developing. The rest of the show was solid, and they headed off to Ardmore for the following night.
Phish jumped right into it on 2/10, opening with "Dinner and a Movie," before an "Oh Kee Pa> Suzy." But things really ramped up during "YEM." The version had a tight and funky swagger, and the vocal jam was interesting. Second set opened with a roaring "La Grange." I enjoyed their funky take on "Happy Birthday" as well. From the sound of things, the last several shows had been a dual billing with Widespread Panic. The closed the night with "Highway to Hell."
On the 15th. the foursome found their way to The Living Room in Providence, RI (not far from Weekapaug!). I was impressed with "Suzy Greenberg" which saw Page laying down the heat, but part of that was because Page was really loud in the mix for this whole show. I thought the "Bathtub Gin" was good, and the "Weekapaug" appropriately smoked. The encore of "YEM" seemed to go a bit Floydy for a second before Mike dropped an extended bass jam to wrap things up tightly.
2/16/89 at The Paradise opened with "Fluffhead," and I was feeling giddy about Phish by halfway through. Mike was really pushing his bass playing outside the box. The enthusiasm continued through "Esther" and the "Mike's> Hydrogen> Weekapaug." I really enjoyed the show but there wasn't much to speak of in the unique category. They did end the show by acknowledging Widespread Panic again and playing a pair of southern gems... "Carolina" and "Whipping Post."
On the 17th, the band headed to the Student Union Ballroom at UMass Amherst. The show kicked off with "Possum," and by the second tune, "Gin," they were firing on all cylinders. This show seemed a bit more polished. They were making daily strides in terms of dialing in their sound and creating a truly professional sounding product. The soup was heartier, the sound was fuller, and the edges were smoother, adding depth and streamlining the sound. The high energy carried through "Sloth", "YEM", "Reba", "Coil", and "Hood" with a new found precision. Once again "Carolina" nodded to their supporting act, Widespread Panic. They ended the show with a solid "Mike's" trio. The "Mike's" opened with a "David Bowie" tease. This show was pretty solid for the era.
On the 22nd, Phish headed to Keene College... site of my favorite Jerry Band show. The "Wilson" that opened the show seemed to have a little extra pizzazz. In sports terms, the "YEM" that was up next hit a looping double that scored "Wilson" from first. An RBI from the second hitter, and Phish was already up 1-0. The recording was short and most likely incomplete, but I did get into the "Oh Kee Pa> AC/DC Bag," and the "David Bowie" opened with a "Mike's Song" tease, balancing the "Mike's" with "Bowie" tease from the week before.
The following night they headed to Haverford College in Pennsylvania. The show had a few high points including "YEM", "Dinner and a Movie> Ya Mar", and "Antelope", but things really picked up when they hit "Reba." Trey patiently waited for the jam to develop, and it felt like the band was opening things up... allowing some air in. The "Gin" that came next started with Page's cacophonous jazz piano, and displayed their ability to bend a melody around the corners of the expected time to create some really psychedelic fun. "Jesus Left Chicago" had me thinking "Jerry Left Chicago" with the impending GD50 shows. The rest of the show was solid with a romp through "Mike's and company" as well as a funky "Contact."
2/24 from the Bayou in Washington, DC began with a sound check of "Carolina" and "YEM." The band apologized for the technical difficulties and Fishman stated, "It's taking a little while for us to get rolling, but when we do, we promise to kill you." The official beginning of the show was a solid "Golgi" and by halfway through "Divided Sky" the band sounded dialed in. "Esther" was creepy as usual and somehow segued to "Possum." The rest of the show featured stable versions of "Antelope", "Sloth", "Oh Kee Pa> AC DC Bag", "Bathtub Gin", and "Contact."
Rounding out February of 1990, the boys headed to Baltimore to play the 8X10 Club. The recording opened with sound check again, and was one of the few times I have heard Trey just butcher the guitar work. They were jamming on the Allman Brothers' tune "Jessica," and Trey simply missed a good chunk. The actual show began with a reference to Nectar's gravy as inspiration for the tune "Foam." Though most of the show was fairly tame, there were some firsts. The "David Bowie" began with a clear "Tweezer" tease, though "Tweezer" was not yet a song. This show also contained the first "Rift." While I love the tune, the debut was drastically different from the eventual form, and comparatively, this version was just garbage. Had I not known the future sound, I may not have disliked it quite so much, but I was grossly underwhelmed. The rest of the show was energetic and composition-heavy. While "Possum" and "BBFCFM" did find their way into the set, it was mainly stuff like "Reba", "McGrupp", "Lizards", and "Fluffhead."
GD50: Phare Thee Well
Hello loyal reader (I'm assuming there is only one),
This weekend is the first of consecutive "Fare Thee Well" weekends with the Grateful Dead. As I have been very fortunate, I will be attending the final 3 in Chicago. I thought now would be a good time to offer some thoughts.
Jerry Garcia... what can you say that hasn't been said? Dylan called his playing "hypnotic and subtle," and I am inclined to agree with that as an excellent description. More-so than any other improvisational musician, Jerry's playing seemed to be a stream of consciousness, an ever-flowing source of melodic dribble, simultaneously brilliant and raw. I don't want you to misunderstand, I mean "dribble" in the very best way. The notes babbled like a brook and flowed into our ears like a colorful breeze.
Since his passing, the Grateful Dead torch has burned less brightly, but could be found spreading from one single entity to a myriad of musical outlets. I was never fortunate enough to see Jerry, but I have been lucky enough to see the remaining members on a couple of occasions. Most recently was at Rothbury in 2009. While that experience wasn't the pinnacle of their career, the catalog they shared was still amazing.
To be honest, that's about where my Grateful Dead story almost ended. I had listened to them less and less over the years since Rothbury, and when the rumors of GD50 first began to swirl, I counted myself among the "meh" crowd. But then something happened. The real announcement captured my attention and I said, "What the hell? I might as well try, might as well try." I decorated an envelope, sent it in with more money orders than I like to think about, and waited. When the ticketmaster on sale date was a week away, I still hadn't heard a thing. On Wednesday night at midnight, I climbed into bed to go to sleep and my phone dinged. It was confirmation from GDTSTOO that I had indeed been awarded 3 nights of GA Pits. It was at that exact moment that my excitement for this really began to soar. I guess I was trying to keep my hopes in check until I knew for sure, but since that moment, I have fallen in love with the Grateful Dead for the second time.
My excitement for the next two weekends is just overflowing. The Grateful Dead have an important place in American Music History, and I am completely honored to be able to attend what will undoubtedly be an amazing final chapter.
70,000 strong, "No our love will not fade away!"
We All Love Dicks
Fasten your safety belts, we are off!
Though they had apparently played some shows by this point, 1/20 was the first show of which I had a recording. The show kicked off with the debut of "Carolina" barbershop style. From there the band wasted no time getting to work. "Sloth" began to build energy, and "Bathtub Gin" followed, setting things up nicely. "YEM" was ardent, and it lead to the very first "Squirming Coil." While the "Coil" was good, it wasn't nearly at it's potential yet. They also debuted Duke Ellington's "Caravan" as well as "Bouncing Around the Room" at this show. "Antelope", "Tela", "Suzy", and "Hood" were all highlights as well.
On the 26th the show opened with "Antelope" at the Tree Café in Portland, ME. "Tela" and "Divided" exemplified the beautiful compositional element of their writing. They debuted "Communication Breakdown" by Zeppelin at this show, repeated it the next two nights, and shelved it. If you are a fan of the song, give it a listen. Vocal and guitar work were impressive. Other favorite moments were the "Coil> Split", "Reba", and "Foam."
The following night at the Front featured a very heavy "Wilson." Worth a listen if that's your thing. During "Reba" I had the thought that maybe Reba worked for Monsanto. Overall the show was good, but "La Grange" was the only tune that went next level. There were a couple of moments of brilliance in the ZZ Top tune. On the whole the show didn't offer anything spectacular.
January 28th kicked off with "Suzy" and "Split" was quick on it's heels. A bit further into the set there was a second stab at "Metal Wilson" which might be better than the previous attempt. The "Run Like an Antelope" was spirited, and colorful. Things were gelling even more. During the "Bouncing Around the Room" I had a realization that made me feel pretty dumb. I had never realized that the "Never-ending coral maze" was a play on words with "never-ending choral maze," highlighting the overlapping vocals of the song. As I'm sure you have had "a-ha" moments, it added some depth to the song for me, and though this "a-ha" moment was late in the game, it made it that much more satisfying. The rest of the show was solid with bizarre vocal jamming on "YEM," a solid "Mike's Groove," and the tease-heavy version of "Big Black Furry Creature from Mars."
The last show of January 1990 was at The Haunt in Ithaca, NY on the 29th. While the show was a high energy run through some of their sharpest material, the recording was an audience recording, and the audience was recorded as much as the band. From various drunken screams to a kid saying "Man, that's STRONG!," the set was filled with distractions. One can only guess if whatever was "strong" was a stiffly mixed drink, or some hallucinogenic substance. It was a shame the recording wasn't cleaner, as the crowd was enthusiastically responding to the music being played. The fever was spreading. Phish was clearly on the upswing by this point.
The Finest in the Nation
Does Reba work for Monsanto?
At the end of a decade, I felt it was appropriate to summarize, reflect, and generally hypothesize. From what I have heard, the 80's were the basement. The foundation. As the decade progressed, the band laid down a base of songs, acquired a fan-base, solidified their musical trust, and established a small (but enthusiastic) community. The 90's were a time when they built the work we have come to know and love. I found myself wondering throughout the 80's, how many people were at these shows? Did the crowd have a sense that they were seeing the youth of a powerhouse? From the sounds of NYE '89, some people knew they were embarking on quite the journey.
My favorite 3 shows from the 80's would be Ian's Farm from '87, October 1st and December 8 of 1989. "Colorado '88" and 8/26/89 from Townshend Family Fun Park were runner's up. Obviously the 90's were a much more prolific era, but these shows were excellent to get a glimpse of the beginning. I had a lot of fun listening to the band progress, and at the end of the decade, they sounded prime to explode.
So... BOOM! THE 90'S...
Boston's Paradise Rock Club hosted Phish on December 1st, and the band started things off with "I Didn't Know," complete with vacuum solo. I enjoyed the "YEM> Oh Kee Pa," partly because I wasn't used to hearing "Oh Kee Pa" as an outro rather than an intro. "Dinner and a Movie" had a novelty to it that has maintained throughout the decades. Not my favorite song, but it always seemed to be a surprise. As usual, "Gin" and "Hood" were also pleasing. I felt "Walk Away", "Mike's Trilogy" and "Possum" were the strongest songs of the show, and the overall presentation was solid. More and more, the band seemed to be shaping the shows into a larger expression rather than a string of unrelated songs.
On Sunday, 12/3/89, The Front in Burlington hosted the boys again. The first set from this show was sterling. I really enjoyed the "Reba" which was airy, groovy, and yet aggressive in some sense. "Divided Sky" was money, and the "My Sweet One> Antelope" was a progressive build that kept me enthused. Ending the set with "Lawn Boy" and "Frankenstein" showed their versatility once more, and the "Frankenstein" was fun as the vocals-only, psychedelic wash compensated for their lack of Edgar Winter's synths. Second set kicked off with "TMWSiY> Avenu Malkenu" which had a pretty uncharacteristic flub. To their credit, they were not derailed, and they continued wobbling for a moment before pulling it back together. Continuing along the Gamehendge narrative, they plowed through "AC/DC Bag> Esther" before bleeding into "Oh Kee Pa"> Suzy." All tolled, they had played 6 songs without a break, and got second set off to an ambitious start. Trey and Page both had some exceptional moments within the string. "Split" had me enthralled. The jam was gritty and had more swagger than Kanye (I hear he also loves Phish Dicks!) "In a Hole" was a complete U-turn from where we had left off, and I felt it robbed the set of it's high-octane vibe. Once it got cooking, we were back on track, but the initial hit felt like hitting a wall at 80 mph. Fishman singing "Love You" was a rarity, and the "Mike's" trilogy was once again lively.
On December 7th, the foursome ventured south of the Mason Dixon to the 8X10 Club. Having grown up near Baltimore, I have been to the establishment on a few occasions. They opened with "I Didn't Know" to a somewhat bemused audience. The nervous laughter made it on to my recording. But by halfway through "YEM" I think everyone was on board. The "AC/DC Bag" was rocking, as was the "Mike's" trilogy. I enjoyed the fact that "Divided Sky" had a "Rhombus Narration" attached, "Walk Away" had balls, but that's par for the tune. "Lizards" seemed to be robust as well. It wasn't particularly different from other versions, but it seemed to really have good tone. "Antelope", "Possum", and "Golgi" ended the show with some high energy tunes, but "Lawn Boy" and Sinatra's "Undun," added a quirky lounge vibe.
12/8/89... The Phish from Vermont played the Withey Hall Dining Room at Green Mountain College. My recording opened with "Split" though it appears the show really began with "Oh Kee Pa> Suzy." No matter. "Split" began what I felt was the musical equivalent of football's "hurry-up" offense. With no time to huddle, they forged through a set that perpetually flowed with ambition and attitude. "Who Do? We Do!> AC/DC Bag" was some hot stuff with the latter adding some incredible shredding from Big Red. "Gin", "Antelope" and "Hood" were consecutive fire, and the rest of the set smoked as well. From a "Tela" request to a joyous "Slave to the Traffic Light," everything seemed to be coming up Milhouse. Even the "I Didn't Know" had a vacuum solo where Trey introduced Fishman as "Moses Heaps, Moses Brown, Moses Dewitt, Marco Esquandolas, J. Edgar Hoover, and J.P. Mooney" before chiding Fishman to "Suck that thing, brother! Suck it!" "YEM> Possum" was bonded with a peculiar vocal jam, but it worked. The show ended with Hendrix's "Fire" and I had to agree that pretty much summed it up. Another top 5 80's Phish show in my opinion. Just balls to the wall throughout.
12/9/89 from Huden Dining Hall at Castleton State College had a composition-heavy first set ranging from the opening "Dinner and a Movie" to "Foam," the technical poise was surprising for the first part of a show. "David Bowie" was the highlight as was often the case in "Bowie" shows. "Lawn Boy", "Bathtub Gin", and "Golgi Apparatus" rounded out the first set. When they returned, Gillespie's "A Train" left the station. The first "Fluffhead" in a while followed, and had the crowd hooting and hollering. The theatrical depths of "Esther" created more dynamics to the show. Second set was highlighted by the "Mike's" which was aggressive at times. The "Contact" had a "Lowrider" tease, and "Big Black Furry Creature from Mars" featured a "Popeye> Brady Bunch" theme tease. Good stuff.
On December 15th, Phish ventured to the Big Apple to play at the Ukrainian Home II. The show got cooking for the "Mike's" trio, but was on full out attack by the "Weekapaug." Another excellent take on "Oh Kee Pa> AC/DC Bag" was stellar, but was quickly outdone by a Page-heavy "YEM." The "Good Times, Bad Times" was highlighted by Trey's exemplary guitar playing. "Antelope" was preceded by a short "Lizards" tease, but the real surprise hit with "Funky Bitch." I was driving to work listening, and was not expecting to hear the inimitable harmonica of Blues Traveler's John Popper. This version was proper, and if it hadn't been for a subpar recording, I'd recommend it to everyone. Popper remained for "Jesus Left Chicago," and I was really pleased with the show. To leave them wanting more, they closed with "Contact" and "Bowie." Not bad at all. The seeds were being planted for the H.O.R.D.E. and beyond.
The quartet returned for their last Burlington show of the year. Opening with "The Curtain," they seemed to be trying to make the most of a short set. Given the shorter show, I felt most of the material was pared down a bit, and though they played a "Mike's" trio, they only really let loose on "Lizards" and "Possum." Not a bad show, but not a particularly notable one either. Trey encouraged everyone to come to Boston for their New Year's Eve show, which he said would be a special one. He also informed the crowd that the event was "creative formal."
On 12/29, Phish embarked on a 3 night, 3 city, New Year's run in the Northeast Corridor. In Ardmore (Philly), PA the band kicked things off with a "Rhombus Narrative> Divided Sky." The Bahamian vibes of "Ya Mar" must have felt a little odd in late December, but the recording was pretty clean, and I enjoyed it more than usual. "Lawn Boy" was introduced as "another song about green lawns." The "Mike's" trio was probably the highlight of the recording, which was missing second set.
12/30, the boys ventured northeast on 95, stopping at the seminal NY club, The Wetlands Preserve for the second of their 3 night, 3 city, New Year's Eve run. My recording picked up with the second set opener, "Gin" which gave me a (potentially) incorrect perception that they came out of the gate swinging. Regardless, by "Split" it was on. Page was great on "Suzy Greenberg," as well as "My Sweet One." The encore was a lengthy one, occurring after the stroke of midnight. As it was officially New Year's Eve, the band introduced the "Mike's Groove" with an oddly timed "Auld Lang Syne." Trey's phrasing was unique, and very different from the triumphant versions they have played later in their career. When Weekapaug ended, I was excited. Just one more show left in the 80's.
The New Year's Eve show began with an excited introduction from Boston's World Trade Center Exhibition Hall, "Welcome once again to the World Trade Center, 1990 is almost upon us. I want to introduce to you, the definitive band, perhaps, of the 90's... PHISH!!!!" And off they went with "I Didn't Know," complete with one of my favorite vacuum solos to date. "YEM" followed and it was apparent they weren't fucking around. The flow from "YEM> Oh Kee Pa> AC/DC Bag" was phenomenal. It got me thinking about the fact that exactly 10 years later, they would be hosting Big Cypress at what was the pinnacle of their career (so far!). From the World Trade Center Exhibition Hall, to one of the largest millennium parties on the planet in 10 years. Wow. The countdown was done with no accompaniment, and though there was a brief "Auld Lang Syne," the year really kicked off with "Run Like an Antelope"... foreshadowing at it's finest. The second set began with a blazing "Mike's> Hydrogen> Weekapaug," and the crowd was audibly impressed. Their rowdy cheers could be heard after several strongly played pieces. "Split" was excellent, and the "Fee" that followed continued the flow. When the set ended with "Divided" and "Golgi," the band and crowd all sounded giddy. The encore "Contact" was apropos, and I exhaled. I had listened to every (available) recorded Phish show in the 80's.
Phishing for Answers
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Play it Leo
November touched off with "Bathtub Gin" at what sounded like a college organized party. The first set "Mike's" trilogy was excellent. I listened twice and am convinced they were teasing the "Weekapaug" during the "Mike's," making me feel crazy as "Hydrogen" hit. "The Curtain> Reba" was a new recipe, and "SOAM" was powerful. "You Enjoy Myself has always been a favorite of mine, and this one had a vocal jam focused on the phrases, "Don't Lock it", "On bagels and lox", and "Put it in your locker." It also went into the setlists as "YEM> Kung" marking the first "Kung" ever, and was followed by a "Rhombus Narration" and "Divided Sky." The encore of the show was another take on "Highway to Hell," and I really was over the novelty.
The next night Phish headed to The Tree Café in Portland, Maine. "Forbin's> Mockingbird" opened the show. "Bathtub Gin" was a welcome tune, and "My Sweet One" kept the mood light. Things really began to pick up with a motivated "Split Open and Melt> Bundle of Joy> YEM." The "YEM" was full of inspiring moments, and the vocal jam at the end was fairly tame, which made it a little less abrasive. I was also excited for another "Punch Me In the Eye" which followed "You Enjoy Myself." "Reba" was getting tighter, and the "David Bowie" was excellent. I danced around the warehouse and had to remind myself to get some work done. It also segued into "No Dogs Allowed," which left me smiling. The show rounded out with "Oh Kee Pa> The Sloth" which was pretty surprising, and the encore of "Foam" was not only well played, but also well received.
11/9/89 marked a rare occasion where the soundcheck ("In a Hole") was available. The show started off without much craziness, but "The Curtain" made an appearance, reminding me that they hadn't played the tune much lately. "YEM" and "Take the A Train" both included teases of Edgar Winters' "Frankenstein." The "Oh Kee Pa" lead to "AC/DC Bag" in a turn of events. Another curveball hit when they threw "Who Do? We Do!" between "McGrupp" and "Punch." "Lizards" followed before the show closed out with "Mike's Groove" and "Highway to Hell."
11/10/89 pleased me from the gate. The "Split" opener was followed by "Oh Kee Pa> Suzy," and they really seemed to be cooking with gas. "Rocky Top" made me ponder weather Phish bluegrass is "real bluegrass," but determined it was just Phish's version of bluegrass. There was some slick picking going down for sure. There was not a whole lot of note until the "YEM" which I thought had "Use Me" by Bill Withers teases, if so, it was brief. When the vocal jam began, Trey worked in a falsetto "Under the Boardwalk" as well as "My Girl." Unique, yes... awesome, no. The end of the vocal jam set up the segue into "La Grange" nicely though. "Harry Hood" was solid as usual, but not a must-hear. I really enjoyed Page's contributions to "McGrupp> Who Do? We Do!> Clod> Sloth." The "Fluff" section was money, and the transition to "Sloth" was super tight. I could have done without "If I Only Had a Brain," but it did contain a vacuum solo where Gordon took over for Fishman's vocals. "Possum" and "Harpua" were pretty solid, pairing two songs that operated on the fringes of Gamehendge. Per usual, Trey's narration was drawn out and silly. After another gratuitous "Highway to Hell," they dropped the best "A Train" I've heard them play. Nice work all around. Seriously. Capping things off was a lengthy "Run Like an Antelope." The best "Antelope" I'd heard recently too. So, that was a strong ending to a show that showed a lot of dynamics. Ups and downs and in-betweens.
11/11/89 from the Patrick Gymnasium at UVM opened with the "Oh Kee Pa Ceremony" and stalled for an instant before jumping into "Golgi Apparatus." The sound quality was inferior, and I glanced at the setlist to see how long I would have to endure. Fortunately the set was a shorter one, and I tried to listen beyond the muffled tone to get an idea of the playing. The Companion informed me that this slot was opening for beloved northeast jamband stalwart, Max Creek. While the show was fun, and contained fun songs that were well played, the sound quality knocked this one out of the list of shows I'd recommend. Unless you are listening to them all, just skip this one... Unless the debut of "Frankenstein" is something you need to hear.
They headed off to Northampton, MA to play the Pearl Street Ballroom on November 16th. The show opened with "Mike's> Hydrogen> Weekapaug" and was smoking by the "Groove." "Suzy" and "My Sweet One" were rhythmically awkward, and made me wonder if perhaps Fishman was inebriated. The "You Enjoy Myself" launched "Frankenstein" which was more listenable than the first run. "The Sloth" was tight once again, and the "AC/DC Bag" that followed was raucous. "Tela" started and I smiled. For some reason that song always pleases me. The show wrapped with "Bowie" and gave me pause. Though it wasn't a perfect "Bowie," Fishman was doing some work on that kit. It reminded me how intricate and complicated the tune was.
Though they had played other shows, the next recording in my collection was 11/30/89 and wrapped up the month of November. The show from Boston's Paradise Room began with "Bathtub Gin" before hitting a really solid "Divided Sky." "Ya Mar" was interesting as "Leo" was called to play the piano, guitar, and drums during the jam. "Oh Kee Pah> AC/DC Bag" was vibrant and literally got me out of my seat to get down. Once more, "Antelope" was excellent, and the debut of "Lawn Boy" followed. And yes, it was just as sexy then as it is now. "Frankenstein" was solid, but it was apparent that the band's equipment has improved over the years. The versions these days have a sonic clarity that high end equipment allows. For the equipment on hand, they did a mighty fine job replicating the musical monster. Second set was going smoothly until the train wreck that was "Undun." Beyond that, the second set was full of fun songs like "Split", "Suzy", and my personal favorite, "Contact> David Bowie." Closing things out were "In a Hole" and "Golgi."
As November unfolded I noticed that the overall quality of the shows was increasing slightly, and there was finally some real enthusiasm from the crowd. Quite a bit of hooting and hollering, which was a welcome development. With only one month to go in the 80's, I felt that the band was done laying the foundation. Now it was time to build.
As I listen to these shows at work, I am often distracted by my job. I know... unfair. But, the point... I have committed to actually listening to these shows for real, so I often find myself listening to a show multiple times before I consider my work done. That was/ is the case with 10/1/89. After 3 listens I had gleaned that the show was pretty epic in several ways, so the last time, I really focused in. The opening "Alumni" was scorching. "McGrupp" kicked off the real craziness. From the highly compositional "McGrupp" the band tackled a segment of "Fluff's Travels" called "Who Do? We Do!" which segued into "Golgi Apparatus" and began an evening of surprises. "Harry Hood" led into another "Fluffhead" passage called "The Chase." "The Chase" dropped succinctly into "Wilson," which transitioned into "Foam" and really showed a diverse side of the band. "Ya Mar" brought a peaceful island vibe to the show. "Oh Kee Pa" maintained the pleasant air before sliding into it's usual "Suzy" intro. "Suzy Greenberg" actually transitioned into the first "Antelope" I had heard in a few shows. It was notably rocking. "AC/DC Bag" maintained the full tilt energy, and "My Sweet One" reminded everyone this was a lighthearted affair. What followed was a primitive debut of "Reba" and my mind danced away with excitement. Though the composition sounded incomplete, it did go for an extended jam that was fun to listen to. "Dinner and a Movie" once again led to a piece of "Fluff," this time "Bundle of Joy" which transported us to a smoking "Possum." "YEM" went into "If I Only Had a Brain" as sung by Fishman... through a vacuum. "Contact" was particularly funky. Page and Mike got down on the jam in the middle. "Split Open and Melt" layered in even more complexity, and "Lizards" capped second set with near perfection. The encore was another debut... AC/DC's "Highway to Hell." Great show. I'd qualify it as top 5 shows from the 80's.
10/7/89 at Bates College in Maine opened with "Golgi" as Phish often did in the 80's.First set was pretty mellow until "La Grange" revitalized the set and "Makisupa" managed to remind me of the epic Bethel one because of the "house" jam. "Alumni" had some dirty bass bombs as it transitioned into "Letter to Jimmy Page." I was excited to see "Good Times, Bad Times" in a position other than encore. "Dinner and a Movie" was solid, and transitioned into "Bundle of Joy> Possum" once again. "Happy Birthday" was sung overtop a funky bass-line and sent out to Jennifer Spencer for her 21st. Page was stellar through the "Lizards" jam and Trey added the melodic counterpoint. The "Bowie" had an extended intro which teased Steve Miller's "Fly Like an Eagle." When it got cooking, it was another amped up "Bowie." "Contact" was once again greeted with recognition and crowd enthusiasm. "Highway to Hell" made it's second appearance, and didn't seem to have the same kind of novelty as the first time. Not that they didn't play it well. Trey killed the solo and the overall execution was on point. Ending with "YEM" was a good way to leave things on a high note and the song clocked in at around 17 minutes.
On October 13th, Phish was in Fishman's hometown of Syracuse, NY to play at Clement's Brew Pub. "McGrupp" was a rare opener, and put me on my toes. "The Divided Sky" followed and was solid. During the brief rest in the song, an overzealous fan screamed "Play Harry Hood!" The second playing of "Reba" was very similar to the first, complete with the manic "Bag it, Tag it" section. "Mike's Song" was the first Phish song to draw me in, and this particular one was smoking... especially for how early it was. Page and Trey were both spectacular. Bringing the vibe back down to a comfortable orbit, "Hydrogen" was as beautiful as ever. That serene, ethereal tune was what gave the beginning of "Weekapaug" such power. Given the energy of the "Mike's", I expected the "Groove" to come out with a little more gusto. It was smooth, just not the raucous madness of which it was capable. When Trey did finally go off, he hit on the "Flintstone's Theme" before soloing. "Alumni Blues" had Mike working the low end like a bully on a see-saw. Page added some honky-tonk piano that would have brought any piano bar in the country to their feet. After numerous requests for it, they dropped "Contact" and appeased the unruly bastards. Ho ho. In the end, I was happy they had. The jam was sweet, Trey's repetitive lick weaved in and around Mike's bass, as Page just dominated the organ. "Lizards" was typical in all the best ways. If Page is your guy, this was a good one. Mike's meandering jazz bass led the band into "David Bowie" without the normal warning of Fishman's hi-hat. Other than that, it was a fairly standard "Bowie," though it did drop into a key change and resolved to "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot."
The next day at The Barn, Hobart College in Geneva, New York was strange because the recording started with 50 seconds of "AC/DC Bag" before picking up at "Divided Sky." the first highlight of the set, "Split Open and Melt," ripped. "Fee" was notable because Trey forgot a lyric and then mentioned it at the end. "Alumni" was energetic, and "YEM" had a fun vocal jam. As "Makisupa Policeman" began, Trey told the crowd that the authorities were there, and that no beer should be allowed in The Barn. Without missing a beat, they launched into "Good Times, Bad Times" off of "Makisupa's" heals. "Anarchy" took up all of 20 seconds before launching into another version of "Highway to Hell." "Possum" ended the set, and "Harpua" ended the show with narration about a security guard named Jimmy.
10/20/89- My recording began with the last 59 seconds of "Harpua" before segueing into "Bundle of Joy" from "Fluff's Travels." The band plowed forward through more Gamehendge material with "Forbin> Mockingbird," all before taking a breath. "YEM" was fun, and though it ended in a ludicrous vocal jam, the sudden drop into "Oh Kee Pa" caught me off guard. While I'd grown accustomed to hearing "Oh Kee Pa" lead to "Suzy Greenberg," this one dropped nicely into a slightly reworked version of "Reba." Second set began with "No Dogs Allowed" (tied with "Prep School Hippie" for my own personal ultimate bust-outs). Dave Grippo and Russ Remington sat in for a good chunk of the show starting with "Split Open and Melt." As usual, the "Harry Hood" was good for a serotonin flood, and "Swing Low" was deeply layered like a Tarantino flick. The debut of the comical "In a Hole" was at this show and ended the horn segment. With a double encore of rocking tunes, "La Grange" and "Slave to the Traffic Light ended the show.
The following night found them back in The Front for the second night. Things really started to pick up with "McGrupp> Who Do? We Do!> Foam," which was excellent, the "AC/DC Bag" was raging, and "Lizards" was as fun for me as ever. "Dog Gone Dog" was a bit peppy, and cruised by at quite the clip. Trey's laugh cracked me up, as it snuck into the mix often back in this era. Before the first set closing "David Bowie," Trey reminded everyone about the upcoming Halloween show where they'd be joined by Ninja Custodian. During "David Bowie" the words "UB40" were replaced by "Ninja Mike", and "Ninja Magoo" alternately. Second set picked up when "Suzy Greenberg" touched on "Lowrider." "Wilson" had an extended vocal drum jam before the "Blatt Boom." "Possum" was performed with humor. Worth a listen for a chuckle. "Reba" was performed in it's interim form. Though it was similar to it's final form, it still had the aggressive "Bag it, tag it" jam. "The Sloth" was a nice change of pace. During "You Enjoy Myself," Trey's guitar sounded a little out of tune for a bit. When they got cooking, Page sprinkled in some sweet organ, and they were off to the races. Mike brought things back around with a couple of extended bass bombings before returning to "Wash Uffiizi, Drive me to Firenze." The ensuing vocal jam was bizarre and somehow lead perfectly into "Highway to Hell" to close the show.
10/22/89 began with the last 2 minutes of "La Grange," before Trey took us to Gamehendge and played a solid "Forbin's> Mockingbird." The "YEM" that followed with energetic and once again had an extended Cactus-bomb before returning to the composition. The vocal jam was absurd, and quickly moved into "The Oh Kee Pa Ceremony" and it's typical tag-along, "Suzy." "Rocky Top" clocked in at under 3 minutes before they played a sturdy version of "Split Open and Melt." The Gamehendge portion of the show was "Tela> Divided Sky" which would have sent me home from this show happy. Not that it was super special, but that would have made me happy just to hear "Tela." What followed was "I Didn't Know" featuring a really good vacuum solo by Fishman. It was really quite good. "Good Times, Bad Times" was particularly jammy, and Trey elevated it to lofty heights. If you've read my previous articles, you already know how much I love "Hood," and this one was nice because of the honky-tonk fill Page dropped right before the "Thank you Mr. Minor" lyric. "Reba" was full of enthusiasm, and though it still contained the weird "bag it, tag it" jam, it was more dynamic than the previous versions. At the end of the show, "Undun" featured a loungey performance by Fishman that was ultimately dismissed as "not entertaining" by Fishman himself before launching a trombone solo. The recording ended with 5 seconds of "Antelope."
On to the Wetlands! 10/26/89 found Phish back in New York City at the iconic club. Starting things off with "Oh Kee Pa," I was surprised "Suzy" didn't follow. Instead, a quick rest and into "Golgi Apparatus." The "You Enjoy Myself" that came next was one of the first where Trey just unloaded on that one note... you know the one. At least you would if you heard this version. When "YEM" transitioned into "Fee" and then again to "Divided Sky," the crowd applauded with appreciation. "Mike's> Hydrogen> Weekapaug" contained some nasty bass by the Cactus and closed first set. The second set opened with a "Who Knows Jam> Dinner and a Movie." The transition was slick. "Who Do? We Do!" from the "Fluff's Travels" suite was used to intro "AC/DC Bag," which was a high octane jaunt. "Reba" was also propelled by dynamics and compositional complexities. It's transition into a short and pungent "Walk Away" was unexpected. While I was extremely happy to hear "Bathtub Gin" in this show, Page's piano work at the beginning was subpar. Trey still added melodic lines that bent around the corners of measures and phrases, staying with a theme, but throwing things into a state of controlled chaos. They wasted no time launching into "Sloth" on "Gin's" heals. Once again usurping a piece of "Fluff's Travels," Phish played "The Chase> Possum" and maintained the high energy. "PYITE" was introduced as a "fresh tune" called "Punch Me in the Eye." I was excited it was back in the lineup. "In a Hole" followed before "Gull Swerves and the Rest is Everything Else," a poem by Fishman. I was thrilled to see another appearance of "No Dogs Allowed," one of my favorite rarities, and a song penned by Trey's mom. The tune was from a musical he wrote with his Mom called "Gus the Christmas Dog." The show concluded with a raucous version of "David Bowie" which had hints of "2001: A Space Oddity" during the intro.
As I embarked on the final show of October 1989, I reflected on the month. For some reason my work got pretty busy and I ended up listening to much of this material repeatedly before finally feeling like I had really heard it all. So, I was relieved in a way that the final show, a Halloween concert, was finally here. Once we got into the meat of the show, the "YEM" was an assault. In a good way. You know, with "whackadoo" vocal jam that segued into "AC/DC Bag." While I've had my fill of "Bags," it was cool to hear. Then again when it segued into "Divided Sky." The shows were being framed a little bit better to create a cohesive show instead of a collection of songs. "Bathtub Gin was fun, and Page was a little more active on the intro this time around. Trey played demented lead lines of disappearing meter while maintaining melody and ultimately syncing up rhythmically. The result was twisted and entertaining, and has become the basis for lots of Trey's "Gin" solos. This particular "Gin" transitioned into "Possum" and the boys were off on a speedy trip down the road, possums be damned. For "David Bowie" the band handed out boxes of macaroni and cheese as percussion shakers for the crowd. As usual, "Bowie" was a lengthy exhibition of jumbled timing and joyous rock and roll. "Reba" was becoming a pretty impressive piece of their arsenal. Though it still had the bizarre "bag it, tag it" jam, it was getting closer and closer to it's current form all the time. For a Halloween show, much of it was somewhat mundane. Rounding out the show was "Contact> Antelope" and while I enjoyed all of it, the "Antelope" was cut off, leaving me hanging in the midst of a stellar jam. Boo.
October of 1989 was a good month. In fact, 10/1/89 was possibly my favorite show I've listened to so far in this project. With November looming, Phish were going out running like an antelope out of control.
September 9, 1989... "Foam"-ing from the gate, the recording featured far better content than quality. The crackling hiss of a recording that had been transferred from source to source obscured fidelity and left me dreaming of the soundboard era. While I didn't care for the quality of the recording, the playing was entirely different. The band deftly maneuvered through the ambitious tune and set the bar pretty high for the evening. Once again the "Oh Kee Pa Ceremony" preceded "Suzy Greenberg," prompting me to wonder if I'd ever actually heard it lead to anything else. After some thought I figured I must have, though "Suzy" definitely was its logical conclusion. Page got loose on "Ms. Greenberg" dropping some stellar organ and kicking things up a notch. "Divided Sky" had an added ethereal element because of the slight echo on the recording. Overall, it was executed well, and maintained the show's intensity. In the middle some feedback threatened to derail the whole thing, but it was quickly adjusted and they forged ahead. It was kind of strange hearing "Divided" without the lengthy pause that has become a staple of the tune. As you'd imagine, hearing a LOT of the same song eventually began to wear on me, and one of the first tunes I was having issues with was "AC/DC Bag." The funny thing was, from the time I started to get bored with the song, they have pretty much killed it every time. This "Bag" was no exception. With a catchy tempo, Trey denominated his fretboard with an erratic precision that made me think of Jackson Pollock. While "McGrupp" robbed the show of some momentum, it had the "rarity" effect as my serotonin was quick to remind me. Page once again stepped into the spotlight, sprinkling jazzy clusters of ear-candy on top. The Page rage continued into "Bathtub Gin" and was the first version with the jazz key jumble that came to signal a "Gin's" potential. Trey also began bending the melody in different directions and timings during the jam. This particular "Gin" was a definite stepping stone in their development of the song. Following that was "PYITE," and also caught me off guard with the lack of crowd involvement... There were no "Hey's" at the time. Otherwise, still excellent... Still one of my favorite Phish songs to this day. "Wilson" was introduced with narration explaining the connection to "Punch." The debut of "My Sweet One" came next and was credited to Fishman. "David Bowie" closed the first set, and began with a few guitar teases over Fish's rapid hi hat. The ensuing groove made me want to dance around the cabin of a Boeing 737. That would have made more sense if you knew I was taking Warehouse Tour on the road for a week. As of the time I typed this, I was about one hour from landing in Ft. Lauderdale. Anyway, it was tough not to get out of my seat and show the plane how to party. The jam reminded me of the Flecktones sitting in on "YEM" from Le Transbordeur (7/9/97... Currently my favorite "YEM" of all time). For an early "Bowie" this one was amongst my favorites. It had all the components I looked for: lengthy jam, little resemblance to the composition, high flying energy, sustained tension and release, magnificent peaks, virtuosic chops, and a general linear flow to the song. Then they brought it all back together with familiar licks as they Tokyo-drifted the jam into a parking spot right outside Bennington College's front door. After a brief intermission, the quartet resumed with "Ya Mar," which excited me with it's Bahamian flavor as we approached Florida's coast. As they delved into second set, I was excited to hear what else was in store... A very good show so far. "Ya Mar" lead to "YEM" and heightened the energy once more. Where some "YEM's" tended to lose me at the vocal jam, this one gained my favor as it slowly crept into a rousing "Alumni Blues." From there into "Split Open and Melt," I was downright stoked on this show. Damned shame the recording wasn't a bit more crisp. While "Melt" wasn't a top ten version, it was far from a bad one. The unexpected drum solo in the middle was uncharacteristic and gave this take it's unique flavor. It finished strong and provided an awesome ramp that lead to one of my favorites... "Harry Hood." In a show like this, anything less than "Hood" would have been a disappointment. After a week in the sun and a smooth flight, I approached the second set closer and encore as our plane descended back into the shadows of the Rocky Mountains. "Walk Away" closed out the set and injected some rock and roll liveliness into the end of the show. The "Possom" encore was typical, but after everything else, seemed a fitting cap on the performance.
9/14/89 at the MacPhie Pub on Tufts University campus opened with "Oh Kee Pa" and I could sense "Suzy" waiting in the wings. Sure enough, "Suzy Greenberg" bounced to life, springing from the final note of "Oh Kee Pa" like Greg Louganis off a high dive. "YEM" maintained the exertion as I danced around the warehouse. "Foam" kicked it into technical mode, and seemed a good choice to play before "Forbin's> Mockingbird." As the first notes of "La Grange" entered my ear, I flashed back to the bar band I had seen last week in Florida... they opened their show with "La Grange" and looked like ZZ Top to boot. "Fee" was still a fan favorite, and you could tell the fans liked to sing along. First set closed with a blistering "Bowie." I would have given this show a better review as it sounds like the playing was tight, BUT there was a glitch in my recording that alerted me to the fact that this file had come from a scratched CD. Secondly, it was missing second set. If the recording was better, it would be recommended listening. As it wasn't, you can probably skip this show.
On the 21st, Phish went to Northampton, MA and played the Pearl Street Ballroom. The "Golgi" opener sounded distant and slightly echoed in my recording, and I willed the recording to get better as it went. "Ya Mar" delivered with a more listenable fidelity and some excellent guitar work by the Red One. Once again "AC/DC Bag" was an energetic romp. "My Sweet One" was humorous and tight. "Fee" began quietly, and the crowd's whistles and screams were actually louder than the band for a time. "Alumni> Jimmy Page> Alumni" sizzled, as it tended to do. As "McGrupp" swept us away for a jaunt to Gamehendge, the vibe seemed to become more intimate. It dawned on me that by this point they were already trying to manipulate the dynamics within their sets. That manipulation added to the tension and release of the show. They were and are masters of it. What followed was fun... "Who Do? We Do!> David Bowie" an unusual pairing but to excellent effect. Page tickled the ivory in an uplifting progression before things got heavier and ultimately gave way to a smoking "Bowie." "Divided Sky" threw another curveball into the mix when it transitioned into "The Chase> Dinner and a Movie> Bundle of Joy> Possum" The epic string of song segments in unexpected places was definitely unique. "Possum" smoked and the show came to a close on a high note. With just a few months to go until 1990, I felt the band was really ramping things up. Each show was inspiring and fun.
Shine that Thing in My Face, Man
August '89 kicked off with a wedding on 8/12. While a lot of the first set was missing, the show picked up with "Blue Sky" by the Allman Bros. The crowd seemed appreciative, and when the band launched "Suzy", the room seemed to rejoice. "AC/DC Bag" and "Ya Mar" were both enjoyable. The band remarked how much they enjoyed playing "Rocky Top" and got 'grassy for a bit. Little Feat's "On Your Way Down" was next before a couple of jazz tunes, "Night and Day" followed by "Blue Monk." It was interesting to hear the band catering to a wedding. "I Didn't Know" was next and featured Fishman on the 'bone. "You Enjoy Myself" was rocking. I was going to take lunch, but had to wait until it was over. "Possum" was sturdy. "Icculus" incorporated the wedding into the story line, and "Antelope" polished off what must have been an amazing wedding. Unfortunately the encore was missing... the debut of "Oh Kee Pa Ceremony"> "Contact." Congratulations Drebbers!
8/17/89 found the boys back on home turf at The Front in Burlington. The "Ya Mar" to open the show set a very chill vibe. "Suzy Greenburg" followed and Page got fancy on the keys. "McGrupp, The Sloth, Rocky Top" showcased their versatility. "Hood" followed and Trey was hypnotic and liberating. "Hood" has yet to disappoint me in this project. You can feel good about Hood. "Mike's" was a bit sluggish. By the time "Weekapaug" hit, the energy had built to a satisfying jam. "Walk Away" fit the mold, and "AC/DC Bag" preserved the vibe. "The Mango Song" was still pretty new to the repertoire, so it was still exciting to hear. Trey plugged the upcoming Townshend Family Fun Park gig, luring people with promises of mini-golf, camping, swimming, and live music. "Fee" was good. "YEM" as well. "The Lizards" was a treat per usual. Next, my first recording of "The Oh Kee Pa Ceremony" lead into a vigorous "Bold as Love." The debut of "Punch You in the Eye" caught me off guard and my excitement once again crested. Shit was about to go down. With only minor variances from the ultimate form, this version seemed to swing for the fences with it's first at bat. "Possum" was doing a nice job keeping me interested. With so many of them throughout their career, I was surprised I didn't hate the tune already. Somehow the fellas kept it just entertaining enough to appease me. Nancy came out to sing "Halley's Comet." There was a narration at the beginning of the tune, which lead up to Nancy's announcement that he would never sing "Halley's" in public again. My suspicions were that Nancy may have had a head full, because his demure approach sounded like paranoia and trepidation. Eventually he got back on track, but it was agonizing for a short time. Then it seemed to fall apart and come back stronger than ever. Just strange all around. When the tune broke for "Alumni," the effect was like when a drunken guest gets escorted off the stage. "Contact" tiptoed it's way in and had some silly adlibs. "Antelope" wasted no time in gallivanting off into the wild. After a pretty run of the mill "Golgi," the show ended strong with "Fire" by Jimi Hendrix.
8/19/89 found the boys at Dartmouth College. Opening the show with a short but sweet "Oh Kee Pa Ceremony" that dropped into "Suzy" in a way that was so familiar, I was certain I'd heard this show before. "The Man Who Stepped Into Yesterday> Avenu Malkenu" was a pleasant surprise. "AC/DC Bag" followed, and though they were playing it a bit often for my taste, they were killing it pretty much every time. "Punch" has always been a favorite of mine, so I was glad to see it appear on the scene, though from what I read they shelved the song later in 89. It didn't return for a few years. "Rocky Top" and "Bold as Love" were average, though still tight. "The Mango Song" was also refreshing. I was glad that the repertoire was expanding. The many avenues of variety were opening up. "The Lizards" was quality, and what happened next was unexpected. "Mike's" dropped into "Split Open and Melt," forsaking "Hydrogen" and "Weekapaug." They dialed it back a bit and dropped the jazz standard "Take the A Train." "Divided Sky" was nice and "Gin" finished the recording off, though probably not the show.
8/26/89 was exciting to hit for a variety of reasons. With the exception of "Colorado 88," this was the earliest live recording officially released by the band. The sound quality alone was worth my excitement. I was also looking forward to this show because of a conversation I had with an old friend. As one of my readers, he noted how I thought ZZ Top was an unexpected influence. He mentioned that the "La Grange" from this show was one of his favorites, and was (in his opinion) one of Trey's first pushes to establish himself as a force on electric guitar. As
"Fluffhead" opened the show, I was all anticipation. Moving into "Gamehendge" material quickly, they climbed through "Forbin's Ascent" and into "Mockingbird." An early "Hood" followed and really got the show cooking. "Melt" and "Divided Sky" were both brawny. "YEM" was on point, "Possum" also. "The Andy Griffith Theme" provided an intro to Hendrix' "Bold as Love." "Ya Mar" had the same effect on me that Marley has had. I wanted to have a cold beer, burn one, and sit in the sun. Following the tropical temperament the band introduced "Slave to the Traffic Light" as a tune written by Pete Rose. "AC/DC Bag" had it's usual impact. "Donna Lee" was a nice take on the jazz number and contained a circus theme tease. "Funky Bitch" had some pizzazz, and was probably my favorite version of the tune thus far into their career. "Foam" and "Bowie" added the heavily compositional element and closed out the second set. Third set began with "The Man Who Stepped Into Yesterday> Avenu Malkenu." While neither were particularly spectacular, both were played fairly well. A few minor flubs were easy enough to ignore. "Malkenu" was credited to Pete Rose and God. There were mumblings about other songwriters, and ultimately I heard the name "Dude of Life" and they started "Suzy." Page got all Jetsons-y on the organ, adding an extraterrestrial feel to the jam. Though the jam was fun, the song was fairly concise. Same with "Dinner and a Movie," which clocked in at under 4 minutes. The middle section with a slower tempo had Trey chuckling for some reason or another. "Antelope" started and I settled in for what I expected to be a fun ride. After the "Rye, rye, Rocko," Trey introduced Fishman as "Marco Esquandolas" and a trumpet solo followed. It was definitely more for the novelty than the skills. "Contact" pleased me. I always found it so entertaining that such an elementary song has such a funky middle section. "The Lizards" wrapped up the third set, and I was very satisfied with my journey to the Family Fun Park. All that was left to do was listen to that "La Grange" encore, I'd been hearing about. Oh, and it got gritty quick. I was wondering how wild it could be for a 5 minute song, but there was an aggressive tone to Trey's playing right away. Rapid-fire precision through a mostly linear jam. It really was excellent "guitaring." Trey ended the recording by telling the crowd to "pick up your garbage and we'll see you next time!"
And just like that, Summer '89 was in the books. Stay tuned for September '89 when we finally find out if Fishman is the father.
Rest In Peace Harris Wittels
Harris was hilarious, and he loved Phish like the rest of us. Look out for each other. If you need help, get it. Please. Much love to you all.
Touch of Trey
After the strong finish to May '89, I was excited to dive into the Summer shows. June 10 (The Living Room- Providence, RI) kicked off with "Antelope," but Trey's soloing was some of the most self-indulgent, wanky, and annoying playing I've ever heard from him. Fortunately the torture didn't last too long. "McGrupp" was better, but still a bit sloppy. "Ya Mar" was solid, but didn't go anywhere unique. "YEM" was one with a somewhat annoying vocal jam, but it was passable. "AC/DC Bag" felt a bit forced as well. "Foam" was largely enjoyable. "Good Time, Bad Times" closed out the recording, and was fairly good per usual. Still not the best version of this song I have heard... not even close. Overall I would say this show was skip-able, in a word. There were much better shows from this era, I wouldn't bother with 6/10/89 if I were you.
The next recording I had was from 2 weeks later 6/23/89 at the Paradise Rock Club in Boston. Though the recording quality was a little shoddy, they sounded like they were playing better than the last show. The "YEM" was solid, and convinced me that the show would be of better quality. "Wilson", and "Peaches" were textbook, and "Donna Lee" showcased their jazzier side. "Fee" and the "Mike's Trilogy" were greeted with crowd enthusiasm, and I was happy with "The Lizards" as well. "Antelope" was good, but got a little busy at times. "Contact" was a great way to reign in the madness before ending with a standard take on "Good Times Bad Times."
The recording from 6/29 was missing most of the show, but what did make it onto the recording was about a minute and a half of "Possum", "Divided Sky", and "Foam." While the fragment of "Possum" was not enough to make any assessments, the "Divided" was pretty sharp. At it's conclusion Trey introduced the band as "Josie and the Pussycats." His laugh cracked me up. He sounded like a character from Revenge of the Nerds. He invited friends up to "go-go dance" while they played "Foam." "Foam" was excellent. Trey's soloing was inspired, creative, and fun. Unfortunately it cut out early, and that was all that existed of the recording.
The next night they played the Pearl Street Ballroom in Northampton, MA. They opened with Son Seals' "Funky Bitch." Mike had some fun with the vocals. Trey informed the crowd that this was their second to last gig for the next 6 weeks and that the band was getting anxious at the idea of not playing for that long. Thus, they would try to get their fill that night. "YEM" was greeted with yells of approval, and it seemed like this show might have some good ju-ju. "YEM" was money. They nailed the improvisation as well as the jovial vocal jam. "McGrupp" brought composition to the forefront, and the "Possum" that followed added the rock and roll. "Donna Lee" dipped jazzy for a moment before they lit into "Fluffhead." "Fluff" was lengthy, stimulating, and dynamic. "Antelope" was also stellar. The jams were starting to follow an arch, and the tension and release were woven within stretches of adventurous rock and roll. "Walk Away" was a straight rocker, and "AC/DC Bag" maintained the momentum. "The Curtain" was played with care and precision and when it dropped into the intro to "Slave to the Traffic Light" instead of "With" I was filled with a warmth... a smile on the inside. "Slave" did it's usual thing, slowly building to a generous and gratifying peak. As "Bathtub Gin" commenced, it seemed to have a little extra pep. Nothing crazy, just a slightly faster clip. The show closed out with a "Mike's> Hydrogen> Weekapaug" that maintained, but didn't wow me. Good show overall, and the last recording I had before the boys took 6 weeks to "vacation." Definitely the strongest of the June '89 shows.
May kicked off with two college shows. The first was a frat party at Hamilton College on 5/6/89. Despite being a frat gig, the band showcased a jazz-heavy show. After the opening "Golgi" they asked the crowd to come closer to the stage. To entice them, they played "YEM." When that didn't work, Trey tried to get them to imagine they were in the Bahamas and that there was a pool party right in front of the stage. The band played "Ya Mar" as Trey goaded them for standing on the side of the pool. Trey added a "Popeye" tease as he joined in. "Fluffhead" and "Alumni" passed relatively unnoticed before a particularly speedy version of Miles Davis' tune, "Donna Lee." The rest of the set included standard fare with the jazz theme extending during "Take the A-Train" and a really jazzy jam on "McGrupp and the Watchful Hosemasters" to close the recording.
The next day they ventured to another college, Dartmouth, where they played the Collins Center Cafeteria. They opened with "You Enjoy Myself" and didn't spare the ridiculous. In what I would consider one of their wackier "YEMs" to this point in their career, the vocal jam lead smoothly into "I Didn't Know" and made me wonder why they hadn't done it before. As "Mike's" began, I danced and worked on getting some orders ready in the warehouse (I do have a job after all). The whole "Mike's" trilogy was smoking, and the "Weekapaug" had extra gusto. Upon it's conclusion Trey transported everyone from "Weekapaug, RI" to Gamehenge. The creepy organ of "Esther" began and I found myself impressed with their ability to tell a tale, even if it was a twisted one. Page tickled the keys nicely during the interlude. "The Sloth" made me chuckle about how aggressive parts of the song were, but how mellow sloths are. I mean, they're sloths. Their use of dynamics to punctuate "Sloth" and begin "Possum" quietly was a sign of their progress. At first the band seemed to be focused on getting through the sections without making errors, now they were beginning to work on touch, feel, dynamics, mood, passion, emotion. Masters like David Gilmour relied more on touch than chops for the most part. Those influences were becoming more easily discernible. Listening to things chronologically really allowed me to hear how each show was gradually deepening their abilities. They were consistently working up new material and tightening up the existing material. They were incredibly talented from the get-go, but there really was a beautiful architecture to their progress from "really good" to "HOLY SHIT!" These shows were showing more of a band personality than before. The band was joking around more, taking even bigger chances, and occasionally touching on what I call the "soup." It occurred when the band would get into an improvisation that lacked any recognizable reference to the song from which it came. Every good Phish show I have seen had some sort of "soup" that could have been born from any song, could have given way to any song, and was largely spontaneously composed music of uncompromised creativity. But, you already knew that. So, the show continued with a replica "Bold as Love" before Trey returned us to Gamehenge. The crowd requested "The Tire Song" (Contact), which made the band chuckle, and Trey told the requestor they wouldn't be playing "The Tire Song" yet. "AC/DC Bag" was Trey dominant, and keeping with the Gamehenge theme they rolled into "Forbin's> Mockingbird." Both pieces were good but not perfect. "Bowie" ripped but abruptly cut off and really killed my buzz, brah. The ensuing "Donna Lee" was aggressively airy. "Suzy Greenburg" was lively, and then they dropped "The Tire Song." After "Contact" they hit Jimi's "Fire" and then there was "Hood." Always a favorite of mine, this "Hood" delivered and had me distracted from my job. Oh my, you can really feel good about Hood. The set continued with knockout punches, "Golgi", "Slave", and "Divided Sky."
"Who is it?" said Trey in a feminine voice... badum badum... "Who is it?" Ultimately the silly intro gave way to "Wilson" and set the tone for a fun show (5/9/89) with alternative lyrics, jokes, and overall tomfoolery. "Peaches" was straight forward before a "Ya Mar" where the sports car was a CRX. Also a moment of "Great great great great great great great Grandpa" in the lyrics and a quick "Popeye" tease by Trey. From the Bahamian flavor of "Ya Mar," they were off to Rhode Island for the "Mike's" trilogy. They came out swinging on the "Mike's" and I knew it was going to be a fun 15 minutes. After the awesomeness, Trey told everyone to pick up a copy of "Junta" (pronounced June-tuh) and to be "The first one on the block," unknowingly making a half reference to "Ocelot," a tune that wouldn't arrive for another 20 years. "Sloth" was the same as usual, but I was once again humored by the line "I'm so bad, (He's so nasty), ain't got no friends, (real outcast-y)." No surprises on "Possum" but a brief and familiar carnival tune tease. Trey was on his game throughout. "Divided Sky" was part beauty, part frenzy. Before "YEM" Trey reiterated that it was the tape release party and that copies of their first album were available at the soundboard. He also acknowledged it was Mike's birthday, though it was not. From there a zany "YEM" ensued that had some excellent bass work by Mike, and ultimately wound up in a vocal jam that resolved to a collective chant of "suckin' a bone"... weird. "La Grange" was typical but then the recording dropped a tune called "If I Don't Be There by Morning," before picking back up at "Slave to the Traffic Light." "Esther" and "Antelope" were entertaining, but nothing out of the ordinary. "I Didn't Know" had the adapted lyric, "Pardon me dogs" instead of Doug, and featured Sofi Dillof singing "Nowhere Fast> I've Turned Bad" in the middle. It wasn't what I expected. Sofi was way more "punk" than I anticipated and coming off of the trombone of Fishman's solo, I almost felt assaulted. It definitely gave the show a different flavor than most. I'm not versed enough in female punk singers, but it reminded me of someone... maybe Patti Smith? "The Lizards" wasn't anything wild, nor the "Bold as Love", but the "Harpua" was full of jokes. The "spastic dead-eyed hound" had inherited Marley's "twice shot ass" for the story this time, and touched on a tease I couldn't quite place but was tremendously familiar. The "Whipping Post" that closed the show was passionate per usual.
I was in the midst of listening to 5/13/89 from Hungry Charlie's in Syracuse when I heard that Harris Wittels had died of a suspected overdose. Harris was a writer and comedian most well known for Parks and Recreation, The Sarah Silverman Show, Eastbound and Down, as well as several podcasts. My favorite of those podcasts was called "Analyze Phish" and featured Harris and fellow funnyman Scott Aukerman talking about Harris' favorite band... The Phish from Vermont. Harris was tremendously funny, lovable, and insightful. I took a few days to listen to podcasts, read tweets, and generally appreciate Mr. Wittels' contributions to the world. Now I am getting back to Phish. It's what he would have wanted. Much love Wittels. Be careful out there people. If you need help, please get it.
So, 5/13/89 was the day after Syracuse's graduation, and our favorite quartet was there to help celebrate. The opening "AC/DC Bag" was dynamic, but generally basic. The following "Alumni" was dedicated to the recent grads and was also good, but not spectacular. "YEM" was good, and I am pretty sure I heard a super brief tease of "Unskinny Bop." "Golgi" went according to plan, and "La Grange" had balls. "Fluffhead" was solid as well, and "Possum" also hit the bar with an "Andy Griffith" theme in it. Nothing crazy in any of these, but steady quality work. "Foam" reminded me of "Harris' Foam Corner," a bit from the Comedy Death Ray podcast. "Walk Away" was standard and "Take the A-Train" teased the "Flintstones." The show kicked into high gear with "Split Open and Melt." "Melt" resolved to the paranoid hi-hat of "David Bowie" but before launching into the tune, they faked us out with brief phrases from "Satin Doll" and "Slave to the Traffic Light" before Trey gave the signature string scratch that began the song. Second set kicked off with "Suzy," which also had a quick "Flintstones" riff. Obviously the fellas were having fun with the idea of teasing songs during this show. A sign of things to come. "Suzy" eventually transitioned into "Bold as Love," and Trey did his best Hendrix. "The Lizards" was smooth and beautiful as always. "Hood" brought it's usual magic to the set. Having heard Fishman's comical take on "If I Only Had a Brain" before, I was bored with this idea and cover. "Contact" got the show back on track, and they rounded out the show with covers, "Fire" and "Whipping Post." Both were sharp.
On 5/20/89 the show started very similarly to the 5/13 show. "AC/DC Bag-> Alumni Blues", "YEM" to kick off the show made me think I had accidentally gone back to the last show. But, the recording was not as crisp as some of the others I've been listening to, and was it not for a few hot licks during the opening "AC/DC Bag," I may have been frustrated to listen. But Trey seemed to be on his game, and I figured I might as well try to enjoy it. During "Alumni" Page came alive and rained jazzy-tonk piano. Before "YEM" Trey apologized that the crowds trampolines were imaginary. He said that eventually they would like to play a gig where the whole venue is a trampoline and everyone can join them. Funnily enough, right when I thought the vocal jam in "YEM" was bordering on annoying, my UPS driver showed up to pick up packages. The look on his face was priceless. I just said, "yeah, I listen to some weird shit." "The Lizards" followed and was just as beautiful as ever. I don't know if I'll ever tire of it. "Wilson" included narration in which Trey called Wilson an asshole. Upon it's conclusion, Trey told tale of "the rhombus" before playing "Divided Sky." "I Didn't Know" contained a vacuum solo, and was actually one of the better ones I'd heard. "Possum" was fairly high energy. "Bold As Love" preceded "Mike's> Hydrogen> Weekapaug" establishing second set as a dance-party. "Foam" was one of my favorite tunes from this era, and was becoming more-so with each version. Though there was nothing particularly noteworthy, this version was solid, much like the rest of the show. "Contact" stated that "the tires were the things on the bus that made contact with the road." The "A Train" was good, "Bowie" better, and the show ended with "Golgi" before the encore, "Good Times, Bad Times."
5/21/89 was one of my first tapes, I remembered the address, 320 Spear Street. "Hood" to open the show? I was a fan. Phish came out swinging for the hometown house party, and it didn't take more than 5 minutes into the show before I was feeling good about Hood. Trey murdered his guitar and then resurrected it (he still had a whole show to play). Trey told the crowd that "Foam" was about Mike. "Contact" was topical because cars were about to be towed outside. "Mike's Song" was reworked to be "Molly's Song" and was dedicated to Molly. "Hydrogen" was gentle and melodic before an high-flying "Weekapaug." "Melt" was sharp, but "Dazed and Confused" stole it's thunder. The vocals were surprisingly good for a Zeppelin cover, though the playing was a tad sloppy. I didn't mind, and I was pretty sure the crowd didn't either. Trey admitted they needed a little work on that song, claiming it was a lot harder than it looked. "The Sloth" was typical, but the "YEM" was memorable as it resolved to a "Godzilla" vocal jam. "Ya Mar", "Bag", and "Divided Sky" rounded out the show. The 320 show was pivotal for me. As one of the early tapes I'd had as a kid, this reminded me of driving around the back roads near Hanover, PA in my 1989 Nissan Sentra Sport. Memories.
5/26 from The Valley Club Café in Rutland, VT kicked off with Hendrix' "Bold as Love." They hit "AC/DC Bag" before jumping into the "Mike's" suite. "Weekapaug" had some pepper. As a speedy version of "Sanity" kicked in, I was excited. Things were heating up. Nancy came out to sing "Halley's Comet" and I felt it was one of his better sit-ins. My recording abruptly dropped into "The Sloth" and I was pretty sure there were a few minutes missing in between. Either way, both were good. "YEM" seemed really lazy, but in a good way. It seemed to give everything more air. The quiet parts were crisp and breezy, the higher energy parts were still engaging, but not as aggressive as usual. It almost had the feeling that they were discussing the importance of letting the music breathe in their practice and this was an exercise in restraint. I really dug it. When the time came, Trey still knocked it out of the park with a screaming solo of Hendrix-esque proportions. Great way to close first set. The "Bowie" that kicked off second set was sung as "Lazy Lester" and Trey introduced several new instruments including new bass drum, toms, cymbals, and his guitar chord. He also introduced Mike and Fish with a French pronunciation of each name. From there, they hit on a newer tune, "Mango," to a nice reception. "Split Open and Melt" was solid, but the highlight of this show had to be the debut of "Bathtub Gin." Though largely in it's final form, there were some sections that were slightly different including the ending. Before "Antelope" Trey fessed up that he always wanted to be a professional hockey player and that being a musician wasn't very different. Then he dedicated "Antelope" to all the professional hockey players. "Golgi" was standard, but "Slave" was of diminished recording quality. I didn't care for it. "Funky Bitch" was typical, but then they busted out "Curtis Loew" for the first time in several shows. There was an "Andy Griffith" theme within. The set rounded out with "Possum" and was decent. The encore was short and sweet. My first time really hearing "The Practical Song" which had lyrics about buying peanut butter before it sold out like toilet paper did.
The next day, 5/27/89, the band was back at it, at Trinity College in Hartford. The "AC/DC Bag" didn't do anything for me, but it was ok. "Mike's> Hydrogen> Weekapaug" followed, and much like a Red Bull, injected vitality and energy into the set. "Funky Bitch" was standard as was "Fee." The "YEM" was particularly experimental for the time, opening with Trey playing a multitude of jazz chord variations before nailing the first break. I enjoyed the vocal jam, but it abruptly dropped into "Take the A Train," which was like pulling an unexpected U-turn at speed. "Fluffhead" was quality, though the jam had to take a second approach to land. The second "Bathtub Gin" hit next. It was already apparent they had a new fan favorite on their hands. "Good Times, Bad Times" closed the show and left the crowd wanting more.
5/28/14 was another party hosted by Ian McLean at Connie Condon's farm. The opener, "Divided Sky" had depth and set the tone for another rager. I really felt this was the era when things started to gel. With the 90's rapidly approaching, the musicianship was ascending as well. Most of first set was money. "Antelope", "Forbin's> Mockingbird", "Fee> Slave"... all tight. "Esther" was well executed. "Suzy" got the crowd locked in, and the "YEM" was my favorite one since I started this project. From the jump it had some pep, and seemed to touch on all the things that "YEM" has become from there. The first improvisation contained a perfect example of a "spontaneous composition" rather than just a jam. The "Boy, Man, God, Shit" section spawned ad libs of "crap" and eventually "poop." The "poop" vocal persisted through the rest of the song and into the vocal jam which was psychedelic, silly, and quite impressive. I doubted I would find another 80's "YEM" that compared. Give this one a listen for laughs and facemelts. At "YEM's" conclusion, Trey said they were taking a break to poop. Second set began with "Fire" by Hendrix. It wasn't the cleanest version I've heard, but it wasn't bad. "Mike's Song" started with a fury and speed that combined the energy of Grand Theft Auto with a methamphetamine binge. Fortunately it leveled off fairly quickly and sunk into it's normal pace. Mike teased the "HBO Theme." By the time they hit stride in Weekapaug, Trey yelled for Paul to turn up the hi-hat and snare in the monitors and "we'll take it to WEEKAPAUG!" before ripping into a soaring lead. Not the best I've heard, but it definitely built to a nice peak. "Bathtub Gin" followed, and though it was the 3rd one in as many dates, I understood why. With a new song like that, I would have played the shit out of it for a while. "Sanity" was speedy and a little bit more melodic than some others. Not sure why. Page dropped some really sweet organ on this one too. They hit requested tune, "Ride Captain Ride" and the Zappa classic, "Peaches En Regalia" before breaking down into "Take the A Train." The "A Train" had a brief phrase from "Dixie," and Trey got all jazzy with his chords. He took a moment to give Fishman well-deserved accolades. The intro to "Possum" contained references that the car that hit the possum was the same one from "Contact" (which followed). "Contact" faded into a brief "Auld Lang Syne" riff. Trey continued claiming that it was Christmas Eve. Ninja Mike and Magoo joined them for "Funky Breakdown> The Price of Love," which was cacophonous. They got back on track with "Funky Bitch" which had a nice jam. "Melt" and "Mango" followed and had me boogying around the warehouse. "Hood" was spectacular for the era. So good. What was it about Ian McLean's parties? Instead of a full "La Grange" they played an abstract jam that landed in "La Grange's" ending. "The Sloth" was short as there was a minor flub. Trey played it off saying that they were going to try to get some radio play and cut all their tunes to 3 minutes. On request, they played "Sneaking Sally" complete with vocal jam. "Ya Mar" brought the Bahamian rhythms before the encore of "Jesus Left Chicago." As I put May to rest, I was certain that the fuse was lit, and the big bang was coming.
April 14, 1989 found the Vermont ensemble at Johnson State College. The soundcheck was Little Feat's "Time Loves a Hero," and fortunately it made it's way onto my recording. Amidst the adjustments, Trey asked Paul to turn up the piano. While they were fine tuning the sound levels, Trey and Page just riffed together. It was a glance into the improvisational work they had been doing. As it was a soundcheck, they felt a bit freer to let it fly, and I felt it was almost better than anything in the actual show. Both sets were solid. The "Antelope" which unfolded from "Halley's Comet" was a set highlight. The crowd was enthusiastic and song requests were shouted at the stage. Phish obliged twice. First when someone repeatedly called for "Contact" and again for "Esther." Second set had a lot of my favorite tunes including "YEM", "Bold as Love", "Lizards", "Sloth", the "Mike's Trilogy", and another stab at "If I Only Had a Brain." All were performed well, between jokes. At one point Trey mentioned that they had played there 3 years in a row and that it was actually because Phish owned Johnson State College. He said, "throw your money on the stage, we are going to get it in the end, one way or another, we will get it in the end."
There was a Full Moon Party on 4/20 at Amherst College. The show started with "AC/DC Bag," and by the time they hit their stride in "Fluffhead" (7 minutes in to the song) a fire alarm went off, disrupting the party and forcing everyone to evacuate. Upon returning, the boys jumped into "You Shook Me All Night Long" which found it's way back to complete another 8 minutes of "Fluffhead." When the figurative smoke cleared, the band dedicated Jimi Hendrix' "Fire" to the brave people who turned off the fire alarm. They issued a warning that if it went off again the party would be over. When "Fire" ended, Trey asked the crowd if they "came" also because he had. As "Esther" began, Trey informed the crowd that the room was magically lifting up into the air to be relocated to the outskirts of Gamehendge, and on the edge of town was a carnival. I wasn't aware that the creepy circus-tune was 'Hendge-related. The "Suzy Greenburg" had a little more air which made it just a tad funkier. "Sloth" kicked down doors in the way it normally does. "Possum" was straight forward, as was "McGrupp", though "McGrupp" featured some sweet piano work by Page. "Foam" and "Bowie" to close the set were excellent, the "Bowie" touching on "Riders on the Storm" for a moment before moving into an inspired jam. "The Divided Sky" opened second set and touched on the "Superman" theme briefly. "Walk Away" had some kick, as did "YEM," which ended with an echo-laden vocal jam. What followed was "Split Open and Melt" and I was excited for it's debut. Unfortunately this was not the debut, it just so happened that any prior "Melt" was missing from the recordings I had. "Lizards" and the "Mike's" trilogy were fairly normal, before Jon Fishman came forward to sing "Love You" and play his trombone. Trey had a habit of introducing Fish as "Moses Heaps, Moses Brown, and Moses Dewitt" whenever he played the trombone. The closing "Harpua" was full of fun. It was introduced as "Whip-pa-pa", playing on the oompa-pa's and "Whipping Post." The narrative included a story about Marley getting shot in the ass. Trey swore it was true, Marley had been shot in the ass the week before. He was ok, but it inspired a lot of references to both Harpua and Poster Nutbag's "non-shot asses." When Poster was attacked, Trey yelled "My god!" repeatedly, prompting Mike and Fishman to yell "His god!" again and again. This show was comical. The band was developing their silly antics. They were shaping the humor and personality of the band, and this show was pivotal in that regard.
On 4/27 Phish opened with a standard "Golgi." The next 2 minutes they played "String Changing Music" which was jazzy. "Sloth" and "Divided" passed without much of note. "Sanity" was the rarer, speedy version, and it was humorously manic. "I Didn't Know" featured a trombone solo by "Moses Heaps, Moses Brown, and Moses Dewitt" aka Fish. "Alumni" was dedicated to the people graduating the following day. "Lizards", "Whipping Post", and "Contact" were well executed but not anything to write home about. What did stand out to me was the intro to "David Bowie" which contained a bizarre "Thank You" jam that sounded like John Lithgow and several other stange-voiced characters shouting "thank you" at the crowd with accompanying punk mayhem. Weird.
4/30 began with "I Didn't Know" before jumping right into "YEM." Following "YEM" Trey gave a narration claiming that Phish was a band of travelling minstrels from Gamehenge, and then detailed the background of several songs, "McGrupp", "Lizards", "Divided Sky", and "Wilson." While at least one fan was yelling to "just play a song already," it sounded as though the majority were delighted at the story. I particularly enjoyed his description of "Divided Sky" as it was the first time I heard them mention "the rhombus." I have been to "the rhombus", and hearing it mentioned within the context of Gamehenge made me feel a deeper connection to the story. I know, "Smoke another one, hippie!" Following the mini-'Hendge, the foursome played "Peaches En Regalia." While I've always enjoyed "Peaches" the song wasn't written with improvisation in mind, so it rarely went next level, at least to this point. "Antelope" was a crowd-pleaser per usual. "Terrapin" a Syd Barrett cover sung by Fishman was not my favorite material, but did go into a speedy big band jam before ending. "Possum" finished off the recording and left me wondering how much of the show I had missed.
The first recording of 1989 was from the Paradise Rock Club in Boston. Unfortunately my recording was just first set, but there were a couple things of note. First, it seemed that both Marjorie Minkin (Gordon's mother) and Trey's Mom were both in attendance as they were both acknowledged from stage. Trey's Mom, was supposedly fresh from Ireland. Minkin got recognition for attending and providing the Minkin (an original painting painted by Marjorie as a back-drop for the show). Trey also acknowledged the attendees who had been requesting the tune "Minkin"... a track from the White Tape that was never performed live. The other notable thing from this show was the uber-speedy "Sanity."
The second recording in 1989 was from February 6th, back at the Front in Burlington. This was one of the first shows that I felt had continuity and presentation as a "show" instead of a collection of songs. The first set opened with "Suzy" but then sank into a string of tunes with segues and surprises. "The Curtain> Wilson-> Peaches En Regalia> Fee> La Grange" before closing with "YEM." The flow felt less like a first set, and more like something you would see in the middle of a show. Second set bloomed out of "All Blues" before racing into another speedy version of "Sanity." The "A-Train" touched on the "Woody Woodpecker" theme, and then I felt they settled in on "Golgi", "Divided Sky", "On Your Way Down", and "I Didn't Know." Returning for a third set, they kicked off with "Good Times, Bad Times" and set the tone for a high energy set. "Walk Away" maintained the energy, but it was the "Hood" that followed which really delivered. It was one of the first glimpses of the improvisational magic that would catapult their career into the stratosphere. "Big Black Furry Creature" was next and was typically apocalyptic in it's delivery. It served as a good pivot point before shifting gears to "Curtis Loew." Something about the placement added to the depth of the set. "Forbin's> Mockingbird", "Whipping Post" and "Corrine Corrina" rounded out the set before an encore of a "Batman"-infused "Bowie."
The following night was also at The Front. I was stirred by an "Esther" opener. For some reason the song choice seemed to be alerting me to pay attention. Sure enough, the journey passed through "McGrupp" and "Foam" next. "Sloth> Possum" was one with unexpected turns, and the transition into "Possum" was fun. Trey played a really cool riff that sped up until they hit "Possum" velocity. The set ended with "Mike's> Hydrogen> Weekapaug, Golgi". Second set went from the reggae groove of "Makisupa" into the always bizarre "Dinner and a Movie." Most of this set was performed well, except the unusual "Timber" on which Trey sang the verses so slowly that the rest of the band sounded like they were lapping him with the chorus, their words starting after and finishing before his. That set closed with an energetic "Antelope". Third set was launched with another breakneck version of "Sanity" and ended with "Whipping Post." The "Post" sounded like it was being sung by Bobcat Goldthwait and William Shatner. Hendrix' "Fire" closed the show and sent everyone home happy.
2/24/89 was once again at the Front, but the show (at least the part I had on the recording) was much different. Opening with "The Man Who Stepped Into Yesterday> Avenu Malkenu> TMWSIY" they dove headlong into a set that included "The Curtain", "Foam", "Forbin's> Mockingbird", a dance-evoking "Antelope> Possum", "On Your Way Down", and "AC/DC Bag." But the real prize of the show was "YEM> Camel Walk." The "Camel Walk" sounded like it was performed by Looney Toons on meth. Not that it was bad, just fast and strange. Honestly I enjoyed it. Unfortunately, that was the extent of the recording, though I suspected the show had been much longer. It was around the time I completed listening to this show that the Dead50 announcement was made, so I took a short break to listen to GD Barton Hall '77. It was nice. Nice enough to convince me to decorate an envelope and send in for Mail Order tickets. Wish me luck!
3/3/89 found the foursome at the Living and Learning Center. "Wilson" gave way to "McGrupp" and reminded me that the "Hosemaster" tune was not in as heavy of rotation anymore. "You Enjoy Myself" was lively and inspired me to skip back to the beginning and give it another listen. Solid work and a receptive audience seemed to drive the energy of this show. "Foam" and "AC/DC Bag" were fairly basic, but "The Curtain> Antelope" was really fun. The transition was smooth, and the familiar riffs of "Antelope" were bouncy and joyful. While much of the show was missing from the recording, what was captured reiterated the progress the band was making. The recording I had touched on "I Didn't Know", "Divided Sky", and "Alumni Blues" before ending with the lovable "Good Times, Bad Times."
On 3/4 the band ventured to NYC to play their first gig at the Wetlands Preserve. It was somewhat fitting that their first Wetlands gig took place just 10 days before their final Nectar's gig. Things were growing. They opened with "Take the A-Train" which was a nice nod to the city as well as it's class and sophistication. Placed within the elegance was a "Flintstones" tease, reminding everyone that this was not a stuffy affair. Following that up with "I Didn't Know" seemed to shift gears to silly while maintaining the easy mood they had set with "A-Train." "Mike's> Hydrogen> Weekapaug" was pretty vanilla, but still injected the set with the vitality of Phish's original material. "Fee" was well-received and seemed to be a fan favorite by this point. "Golgi", and "Good Times, Bad Times" were average before an enthusiastic "Possum." There was an "I Dream of Jeanie" tease in "The Lizards." The recording ended with a romp through "Run Like an Antelope" and "Contact." Before "Contact" Trey announced that he was excited to have Bruce Springsteen sitting in later on in the evening.
The available recording from 3/12 was definitely incomplete, but what was in circulation began with a pretty vigorous "Mike's> Hydrogen> Weekapaug." So vigorous, in fact, that Fishman punctured his snare drum. Trey referred to that as "SO rock and roll," and asked Paul to come duct tape the snare. In the meantime, Fishman sang a drunken-sounding take on "If I Only Had a Brain" from the Wizard of Oz. "Alumni Blues" had a punk rock break with local band Eyeburn... an unusual "Alumni" to say the least. "Golgi" and "Bold as Love" brought us back to the expected and "Foam" closed out the tape with force, until the recording abruptly stopped in the middle. Boo.
The show on 3/14/89 was the last show at Nectar's. That's right... Pi/89. They opened with "The Curtain" and I wondered if they knew it was the last time they would play there. As I had been listening, I was trying to imagine how many people were at the shows. This gave me a small piece of perspective... my assumption being that they couldn't play there anymore because the 250 person capacity wasn't cutting it anymore. Like any band, they had higher profile gigs, and lower ones, but it was a clear sign the band was outgrowing it's local trappings. "Ya Mar" came next and was a welcome change from the sets they'd been playing. The recording only had 1st set, which concluded with a trifecta of powerhouses... "YEM", "Harpua", and "Foam." There was mention that "Harpua" was the last song (maybe of the set), making "Foam" the encore, but the setlist in the Companion left me with questions. One thing was sure. Nectar's and Phish bolstered each other's popularity, and this was the last time that the two mingled.
On 3/24, the band headed back to Boston to play the Paradise Rock Club. The show began with "Possum" before the Mike's trilogy. "Golgi Apparatus" gave way to "The Divided Sky" with a shared note. The final note of "Golgi" doubling as the first note of "Divided." Pretty cool transition actually. The recording captured the second version of Fishman singing "If I Only Had a Brain" which sounded less drunken than the first. Rounding out the recording were "Take the A-Train" and "David Bowie." The "ATrain" served as an appetizer to prepare the ears for the complex composition of "Bowie." Also, I forgot where I heard it, but this show also had a "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer" tease. Strange for late March, but not the strangest thing these Vermont-dwellers ever did... not even close.
Rounding out March was The Front show on the 30th. This show was a highlight of the era for a few reasons. First and foremost, it marked the first full show with Chris Kuroda on lights. It also showcased the depth of their repertoire better than other shows in the time period. The opening "Bold as Love" was tight, and jumping to "McGrupp" and then "Divided" had my interest from the jump. "The Price of Love" was next and was a tune I hadn't ever heard. Phish was joined by Ninja Mike and Magoo from Ninja Custodian. While the tune was apparently a NC original, pretty much zero information was available beyond that. I actually liked the tune quite a bit and thought it would be awesome for them to bust out at some point *holding breath*. On to Little Feat's "On Your Way Down," and the band seemed to be firing on all cylinders. "Ya Mar" added more variety to the set before a basic "Fluffhead." The "Antelope" was upbeat, even for an "Antelope" but didn't go anywhere particularly noteworthy. What came next was like a splash of cold water. "The Mango Song" debuted and I was excited to have some new material in which to bask. "Mike's> Hydrogen> Weekapaug" was the norm, but the "YEM" that followed was fun. It contained "You're No Good" teases with vocals. The following number was another new one for me. "Undun" began with Fishman informing the crowd that the words to the song were very important. The tune was a Guess Who? song ripe for parody as only Fishman could provide. Fishman made it his own croonfest and reminded me of a Neil Diamond tune if anything. Or maybe Sinatra, as Fishman said. The conclusion of the song was met with hefty laughter from the band. "La Grange" brought the crowd back into the rock and roll of it all, and Trey led them with a ripping solo. "Golgi" closed the second set. The third set opened with Zappa's classic, "Peaches En Regalia." "Foam" was becoming a reliable composition and was appearing more regularly than most. The third set from this show was extremely diverse. After :Foam" the quartet launched into "AC/DC Bag", "Big Black Furry Creature from Mars", "Satin Doll", and "Rocky Top." And what better way to wrap up a show that included progressive rock, punk, jazz, and bluegrass than with the reggae encore of "Makisupa Policeman." The funny thing was that I noticed the diversity as soon as I saw the set, and Trey actually mentioned all the styles they had just played right before "Makisupa."
Will Trey join the military? Did Fishman wear a giraffe costume? Will Mike buy a suit tailored for William Shakespeare? Has Page ever danced with the Devil in the Pale Moonlight?
Tune in next time to find out on "Forwards Up the Numberline!"
Concerning the Fare Thee Well shows, do you identify as:
Maybe So, Maybe Not
Home Stretch 1988
In 1988 Halloween fell on a Monday, meaning that Saturday 10/29/88 was the big party. Phish played the Sculpture Room at Goddard College. The show was an enthusiastic one with 3 sets and plenty of awesome to go around. Opening the show with "Suzy Greenberg> Lizards" was unexpected and impressive. Little Feat's "Time Loves a Hero" came on "The Lizards" heels. Through "Golgi", "Bold as Love", and "La Grange" the boys sounded like they were warmed up but getting their feet underneath them. The latter half of "Contact" was when things started to heat up. The "Contact" jam was funky and made me dance around the warehouse like a fool. "Harry Hood" didn't disappoint, but wasn't anything too crazy. "Halley's Comet> Whipping Post" was stellar with an extremely spacey jam on "Post." "The Divided Sky" was well received and "Curtis Loew" put a smile on my face. The compositionally ambitious "Foam" preceded Fishman on vocals for Syd Barrett original "Terrapin." As much as I love Floyd, I've never been a fan of Syd Barrett covers. Third set was high energy and contained "Slave", "Antelope", "Wilson", "Peaches En Regalia", and "Funky Bitch." The recording indicated an enthusiasm within the band for this show... likely because of the Halloween aspect. Russ Remington (saxophone) sat in for most of third set and added even more fire to the kettle. This was another key show in the band's development. They had an audience that raptly listened, and they had the courage to start taking risks. Their confidence was building, and the difference was audible.
On 11/3/88 the Vermonters headed to Boston to play Molly's Café. A quick glance at the songs excited me when I realized the tapers had also caught the sound-check. The soundcheck included "Shaggy Dog" and "Foam", a tune that had not been played before. When the actual show began, they opened with "Fire" which was fraught with frenzied fretwork. As Trey introduced "Golgi Apparatus" a few fans yelled in approval. Even in Boston, they had a following of sorts. "Fluffhead" was complete with all the parts, and "Possum" delivered a Red Bull-like kick to the set. While "Fee" sapped a little bit of the energy, it was well received... already a fan favorite. The energy picked back up with "Alumni" before closing the set with a lively "Good Times, Bad Times." They said they'd be back for 2 more sets. The second set began with "Time Loves a Hero" by Little Feat before "Walk Away." After a typical "The Lizards" the band launched into "Whipping Post," always an energetic romp, this version was psychedelic, passionate, and adventurous. The "Dave's Energy Guide" tease in the spaciest part of the jam lead back to the peak and coda of the tune. "Contact" was jovial. Then "Bold as Love", "The A-Train", "Antelope", and "Suzy" preceded the official debut of "Foam." The tune was pretty final in it's original form, rather than developing over time like others of their songs had. "I Didn't Know" and "Big Black Furry Creature From Mars" added a bit of a comical element before the epic "David Bowie" closer. This "Bowie" found Gordon yelling "Red, red wine" during the "UB40" lyrics of the song. The ensuing jam was very exploratory before the audio dropped and my recording was over. C'est la vie!
On 11/5/88 the boys headed to Hamilton College in Clinton, NY to play the Sigma Phi fraternity. The show opened with "Slave to the Traffic Light" and seemed to hook the crowd's attention from the gate. "Time Loves a Hero" was in heavy rotation at the time, and they appeared to be going through a Little Feat phase in general as was evident by the addition of two of their tunes to the repertoire. *Side note, Billy Payne from Little Feat has joined Leftover Salmon on keys, and has made an incredible difference. Go see them.* Hendrix's "Fire" was next before "YEM" hit. The improvisational section was Page-heavy, rage-heavy. When Trey took the lead, he ranged from aggressive and progressive to erratic and noodley, but the version was pretty solid for the era overall. "YEM" gave way to "Possum" which was upbeat as usual and was actually a highlight of the set. The "A-Train" wasn't anything too spectacular though it did have some teases and made the set more dynamic. "Golgi" and "Walk Away" were performed well, but there wasn't anything particularly special about either. "Fluffhead" followed and had a "Popeye" tease. "Alumni" and "Bowie" rounded out first set. "Alumni" was pretty standard, but "Bowie" was a bit strange. It began with an extended intro as Trey introduced a "portrait of David Bowie". Trey's guitar work had a slight palm-mute echo effect that made for a particularly spacey jam. Though most 80's jams were relatively similar (shred it), this one had a bit more spice. It got legs and moved a bit. The transition back into the composed section was a tad sloppy on Trey's part, but he recovered quickly and finished strong. "Wilson> Peaches" had lost it's luster for me by now. It was a cool idea, but they played that segue too much in the recent shows I have listened to. It seemed to be the same every night. Much of this show was standard 88 fare. "Bold as Love", "Lizards", "AC/DC Bag", "Fee", "Mike's> Hydrogen> Weekapaug", "I Didn't Know", and "Good Times, Bad Times" were all performed well, but without anything spectacular to convey. When "Icculus" began, things took a bit of a turn as Trey once again referred to the portrait of "David Bowie"... which he admitted was not David Bowie, nor was it Wilson... then, "Pardon me Doug, but this is NOT a picture of Otis Redding, taken just before he died..." The picture was then worked into the story line about the Great and Knowledgeable Icculus. "Suzy Greenberg" followed, and once again the first riff of "Popeye" was forcibly layered in. The show ended with "Sparks" and "Divided Sky." Both were performed well.
11/11/88... my recording was incomplete, so the first tune I had was "David Bowie." As usual, "Bowie" delivered in what was actually first set closer. The recording picked back up to start second set with "Mike's> Hydrogen> Weekapaug" which was a little maniacal. Not that it was that outrageous, but the aggressive jamming was a bit overboard at points. The next tune, "Mr. PC" was one I had never heard. It featured Gears on horns. The jazz jam was abundant with notes and provided a nice contrast within the set. Trey's vocals sounded good on the "Fee" that followed. "Bold as Love" was full of vigor and passion, Trey doing his best Jimi. "The Lizards" saw Page getting a little honky-tonk with the keys, and the closing "Whipping Post" was pretty conventional.
On 12/10/88 the boys were back in Amherst. An early "Bowie" caught me off guard, and had some nice added nuances and a smooth transition or two. "Foam" was introduced as a new song off the forthcoming album. The transition from "Mike's> Hydrogen" was smooth, and the segue out of that into "Weekapaug" was notable for Trey's funky rhythmic stabs before hitting the melody. "Wilson" without Zappa's "Peaches En Regalia" was a welcome change for my ears. "Forbin's> Mockingbird" was great as usual. "Alumni" had some altered lyrics, and may have actually been the version I had first heard. The lyrics were definitely the same as the first version I ever listened to. "YEM" followed before a comedic "Contact." "AC/DC Bag" was a little slow but added a cool dimension when the song picked up pace and intensity on it's way to becoming "Possum." Definitely a highlight transition. "GTBT" was next and the crowd was delighted. The encore was "Antelope" and Trey was on point. It was a solid performance overall, and was the second to last recording of 1988. The final recorded show would be 1 week later.
12/17/88 was my last recording from 1988, and hadn't surfaced by the time The Phish Companion came out. It was incomplete as deduced by Trey's remarks after "Divided Sky." He informed the crowd that "Divided" would be on the "forthcoming" album... he then mentioned that they would be playing a lot of new material that night. In fact some of the songs would be from their next album after the one they were about to release. Mike chimed in that those songs were from their "Fifthcoming" album. Silly kids. But the recording I had only touched on songs that they had been playing regularly for some time. "YEM" followed "Divided" and Page "organ"ized the jam before Trey grabbed the wheel. The ensuing vocal jam was my favorite one up to this point in their career. It was silly, multi-faceted, and not annoying. It echoed away as "Slave" emerged from the ethereal residue to re-engage my ears. "Foam" followed and was a nice addition to the repertoire, even though they had played it a few times. After "Possum" the recording ended with three powerhouse compositions... "Forbin's> Mockingbird" and "Bowie."
As 1988 finished I thought about the road ahead. 1989 was the final year before 90's Phish. As a fan of the band, most of my favorite Phish shows took place during that decade... one that passed along with my youth. Some would say I was fortunate to have experienced simultaneous "glory days" with Phish, and to be honest, they were probably right. I personally wish I had started seeing them 5 years sooner than I did, but, hey... I was only 13 at the time. So, the next best thing to touring in the 90's? Warehouse Tour. Join me next time as we voyage into 1989!
Getting After It
August/ September 1988
After the high fidelity of Colorado '88, I needed to clear my head, cleanse my palate, and generally hit reset. Jumping back into audience recordings such as the show at The Front on 8/13/88 wasn't easy. I decided to take a few weeks away from the project during the holidays.
Given my location in Colorado, it was easy to venture to Broomfield for 3 nights of String Cheese Incident with good friends. In fact, the only Phish I listened to was the stream from Miami on the 1st through the 3rd. Other than that, I took a break from the Vermont foursome... a good idea to keep my interest from waning. But, after a nice little break, I was ready to dive back in, and began with the above mentioned show at The Front in Burlington.
"Peaches En Regalia" began with an audible suppression that rudely awoke. I was not listening to an official release. A few moments in, the sound popped and the quality improved drastically. While the crisp clarity of an official release was lacking, the improvement was enough to satisfy my discerning ear. While listening to this show, I was once again dumbfounded by "Forbin's> Mockingbird." The guitar composition in "Mockingbird" was a long overlooked (for me) masterpiece. My appreciation for certain songs have deepened since I began the task of consecutively listening. "Mockingbird" was definitely one of them. I also enjoyed the "Suzy> Alumni" which had a "Boogie On Reggae Woman" vibe to the intro of "Alumni Blues." The predictably formidable "Harry Hood" delivered as their best jamming vehicle of the show, and the closing "Whipping Post" was high energy, frantic, manic, and erratic... like most "Posts."
I was really excited to jump into 8/27/88 as the show took place at Penn State's Mont Alto campus (and was Phish's first PA performance). Having grown up in Pennsylvania, I was a PSU fan, and the Mont Alto campus happened to be right near my grandfather's house. Chances are, I was right down the road from this show... an 8 year old with no idea what Phish was. The opener, "Satin Doll" was a tad less rock and roll than most show openers, but the following "YEM" ensured that the band was there to jam. The key change segue into "Funky Bitch" was a welcome change from the early "YEM" vocal jams. The rest of the show was entertaining because Trey's banter was uber-enthusiastic... yelling like an antelope out of control. It seemed like he may have been hopped up on more than goofballs. The set showcased "Fluffhead", "Mike's Song", and "Golgi Apparatus" before closing with the fan favorite, "Tela."
On 9/8/88, the foursome was back in the hometown playing the Front once again. After "Peaches" and "Walk Away", the boys hit on "Slave to the Traffic Light" and I could immediately sense some extra pepper. While it never went "next level," the tune seemed to energize the set. "Wild Child" followed and was my first time hearing them cover the Lou Reed tune. I really enjoyed it, as I love Lou Reed. "Bold As Love" added another of my favorite covers to the mix... just ask the Axis. "YEM" was pretty standard before they played "Cities> Dave's Energy Guide> Cities." This combination had been used in a previous show, thus robbing it of the spontaneity it originally possessed. Also, while the transitions were likely better rehearsed this time around, the overall presentation wasn't as effective as the first time. "DEG" seemed to run out of steam, and the return to "Cities" felt more like resignation than progress. "Good Times, Bad Times" was smoking as usual. Closing the show was a take on Little Feat's "On the Way Down" before segueing into a rousing "Whipping Post." "Post" made fairly regular appearances as show closer in '88.
9/12 and 9/13 found Phish at Sam's Tavern (also in Burlington). The first night started off with "Shaggy Dog" and "Take the A-Train," easing into the show with a mellow vibe. "Fee" and "Bold As Love" upped the energy level but still had the same laid-back feel. "Timber" had more gusto than the rest of the set, but following it with "Satin Doll" brought us back to Mellowstone National Park. "Camel Walk" was the odd one of the show, driving the energy way up before debuting a tune I had never heard before... "The Practical Song." While the version I had was less than a minute long, and the recording was very quiet, I did manage to glean that the song was a joke tune focused on practical things. The "Hood" which followed was inspired and fun to listen to, but the quality of the recording left me annoyed by an ever-present hiss. The real jewel of this show was in the closer... a debut called "Esther." I have to admit that I was never much of a fan of the twisted carnival tune until a couple of years ago, but now I love it.
The following night, 9/13, the show was incomplete on my recording. This upset me because it was the only time they ever played "Andy's Chest" which was missing along with the first vacuum solo ever. What I did hear was on par with most of the other shows from this era. The "Wilson> Peaches" contained a beatboxed segue and worked perfectly in place of "Blat Boom!" "Ride Captain Ride" was a pleasant change from the covers they had been playing each night. Once again they played "Dave's Energy Guide" in a "Cities" sandwich. The placement may have been on it's way to expected at the time, but I am glad they no longer drop the "Guide" in the middle. It was almost too chaotic. What was special was the dissolving "Cities" that left me surprised by "Antelope." Rounding the show out was a basic take on "Fluffhead."
On 9/24/14 the band ventured to Amherst College in Massachusetts and played the full moon party at Humphries House. As I listened to this show, I began to wonder if I had already heard it. The delivery and setlist were familiar. Tunes like Little Feat's "On Your Way Down" and another attempt at "Wilson> Peaches" using the same vocal drum segue were a little too fresh in my mind to ignore. The show was fun, it touched on most of their material at the time and had several notable highlights. "YEM> Wilson" segued with Gordon getting slappy and Trey danced around key changes before hitting the pair of signature low E's. Page's organ helped ramp it up to "Oh out in Stonehenge..." My favorite thing about this show was the audience reactions. There was a sense that the Burlington crowd had been developing with them, and this was a relatively new audience... one that was impressed. The maniacal applause was the first time I noticed a crowd just go nuts for the Vermonters. It would not be the last. I particularly enjoyed the "Sparks" (mainly because it wasn't a regular part of their setlists in this era) and the "Whipping Post" which Trey sang instead of Fishman. The resulting rendition was as gut-wrenching and emotional a version as they have ever played. Page and Trey both wept through their instruments and the heartache and betrayal were palpable. Bravo. The show closed with "AC/DC Bag"... notable for the (forced) teases of "Popeye", "London Bridge is Falling Down", and "The Flintstones." Not a bad fall run.
I was excited to hear how the closed out the year, and more-so to get into 1989... the last year before the 90's. Oh man.
Phish Fans on Stage
Venturing west for the first time in their career, Phish landed in the western San Juan mountain town of Telluride, Colorado. The majestic landscape, towering peaks, and small-town charm have long made Telluride a destination for adventurous outdoorsy types. Famous for hosting one of the most renowned bluegrass festival in the world, the town was no stranger to music and fun.
The first show I listened to was incomplete, but the portion of the show I was able to listen to was an excellent introduction to Phish's sound. From the technical fare of "Forbin's> Mockingbird" to the comical introduction to "I Didn't Know," Phish showed the high altitude party their versatility in addition to wowing them with Traffic, Zeppelin, Allman Bros, Skynyrd, Hendrix and Duke Ellington covers.
The following night was also incomplete, but highlights included the opening set known as Jazz Odyssey (Jon Fishman was late to the gig and the other three decided to play standards and jazz jams), the second to last "Dear Mrs. Reagan" ever played, and a frill-less Harpua dedicated to Sam. The "Antelope" was described as a "little bluegrass intro before a loud and obnoxious part." During the build-up, Trey razzed Fishman for his tardiness eventually telling him he needed to "run like an antelope out of control." The encore, Jimi Hendrix's "Fire" was relentless, and had the feel that the boys were trying to finish strong in this new market.
The show from 8/3/88 was also in Telluride at the Fly Me To the Moon Saloon. While the first set wasn't in circulation, the second set started with an inspired take on the jazzy "I Know a Little." "You Enjoy Myself" followed and Page drove the jam with organ before a vocal jam that was beginning to evolve from just silly to psychedelic. "Peaches> Mike's> Hydrogen> Fluffhead" was an interesting segue-thon it round out the rest of the show. With such limited material to explore from the night, I decided to listen to the official release as part of this era. Not only did it fill in the gaps in some of these recordings, but it also gave my ears a taste of direct audio for the first time in this project.
8/5/88 began with ZZ Top's "La Grange" before hitting "YEM." In addition to the early placement, I also enjoyed the segue into "Cities" by the Talking Heads. It was gradual, subtle, and smooth... and for me, it was a welcome change from the vocal jams of the 80's. The "Cities" itself was also noteworthy for the unexpected "Dave's Energy Guide" in the middle. Quite impressive to be honest. Seriously well executed. I was surprised at how confident Phish was playing their comical stuff in front of (what I assume to be) people who hadn't ever seen them before. Nowhere was it more apparent than the second set "Big Black Furry Creature From Mars." Musically, this has always been one of my least favorite Phish songs, but this version contained a "Flintstones" tease as well as a sing-along that made it a little different. After listening to the available recordings of this run, I popped on the official release and let me ears enjoy some crisp audio.
In addition to the superior sound, the release hit on some of the songs I had missed, and really showed a nicely produced glimpse into the early years of the Vermont band. With a heavy dose of 'Hendge material in the first disc, I was wondering how many people actually attended these shows. Lucky bastards! But really, the prize for me on this disc (besides the previously mentioned "Antelope" and "Cities") was "No Dogs Allowed." This rarity was amazing to hear in such high fidelity. Sections of this epic tune (written with Trey's Mom for Sesame Street Music) have since been borrowed to end up in "Divided Sky" and "Lizards." Hearing them in this context was really cool. So far, from my listening, the Colorado '88 release was the best material of the year, though I still have the rest of August (and everything after) to go.
Chairman of the Boards
July '88 (The lead-up to Colorado)
July's listening began with Mike telling a joke... he said, "We'd like to speed things up a little bit," before they launched into a laid back "Satin Doll." The "Suzy" that followed was pretty standard. At the end of "The Curtain With" Trey laughingly stated that they had transcribed all of that to paper and it took them months to learn. He then said he was happy to debut it at Sam's (Sam's Tavern, Burlington) even though they'd been playing it for a while by then. One thing that struck me during that exchange was that a lot of Phish's art seemed to be created for themselves, they just got extremely lucky that the fans also enjoyed the "inside jokiness" of everything. "Funky Bitch" was pretty typical for the most part. I was impressed with the back to back Hendrix covers, "Fire" and "Bold as Love." The first of which featured Trey just ripping shit up. "Bold as Love" showed another side of Jimi's genius, and the Vermont quartet did both justice. I must admit that I preferred the two Hendrix covers in one show to the double ZZ Top cover show. "Forbin's" took it's rightful spot before "Famous Mockingbird" at this show. Listening to the segue, it made a beautiful suite of music, and I understood why they were paired more often than not. "Golgi" was pretty straight forward, but the following "Alumni Blues" was apropos given that Trey graduated college on this day. The solo work was confident, excited, and vibrant. Page also added some high-flying keys to the melee, but it was Trey's relentless jamming that really made the version stand out. He seemed to build to a climax and then held it there like some tantric musical expression. During "Letter to Jimmy Page" after what seemed like a "Divided Sky" style pause, Trey said, "the drum solo? Yeah, go ahead." Fishman obliged by playing the drum part without accompaniment. At the end of the tune, Trey apparently showed the crowd the actual diploma he received earlier in the day. The encore of "McGrupp> La Grange" featured Fishman on trombone also. The transition between was so subtle I missed it while specifically listening for it. Smooth.
The next day, the first day of the rest of the rest of Trey's life, Phish played at Sam's again, and the opening "Cities" was even slower than their usual delivery. The mix on my recording almost made it sound like Trey started the show solo. His vocals were high in the mix, his guitar muddled, and the rest of the band virtually non-existent. The sound improved a bit for "The Lizards" with backing vocals and a dollop of keyboards, and by the end of the song I felt like it was listenable again. The vocal jam in "Sneaking Sally" was absurd as usual. "Good Times, Bad Times" got a little weird in the jam. Not weird bad, but weird- unusual. The "Peaches En Regalia" contained vocal layers that were part humorous and part melodic. As it was becoming a thing in the show, "YEM" also had the usual vocal jam, but this one riffed on the line "Why should I feed you?" Well, what better way to end a vocal jam heavy set than with "I Didn't Know" with an a capella jam to back Fishman's trombone solo? The "Blue Bossa" opener for second set confirmed the "Jazz Jam" from June 88 was indeed "Blue Bossa" with horns. Keeping with the jazz theme, they dropped "Take the A Train" before heading into "Timber" which was jammed out nicely. I really enjoyed Page's work on keys during Fluffhead. Nothing crazy, just beautiful playing. From "Fluffhead" they fell into "Jesus Just Left Chicago" (he must have been a Bears fan- ZING!) like it was a hammock. From that hammock, Trey eventually got up to slay a solo that reminded me of Hendrix. My recording cut out for the end of "JJLC" as well as Makisupa. It did, however, return in time for "Slave to the Traffic Light." "AC/DC Bag" started without the intro they had been playing. Then... the first ever "Roll Like a Canteloupe." I'd explain, but the odds that you have read this far and don't already know are slim to none. I was amused by the premise, the wordplay, the silliness, the immature intelligence, and the variety. This was just one more area where Phish could play with the expectations and surprise the audience. It also likely opened their minds to word migration, a concept they used later in songs like "MoMA Dance."
The next known show was July 23rd, and though it was the first of 3 consecutive nights in Vermont, the band was less than a week away from hitting the road for their first voyage out of the Northeast to Colorado. Pete's Phabulous Phish Phest in Underhill, VT kicked off with a jam and was the first known "P-H'ing" of all things "F" (ie. phans, phestival, phamily, etc.) Pete was ahead of his time. That may have been why Phish bestowed the first "Weekapaug Groove" on them that night. They moved from the jam into "Forbin's> Mockingbird", and then hit them with "Mikes> Hydrogen> Weekapaug," BOOM! And there it was... the first of the mighty trilogy. It was sharp too. "Weekapaug" smoked out of the gate. Other highlights of this show included "No Dogs Allowed," a rarity I'd love to see live. "Wilson" had almost horse-like sounds before the "blatt boom," and was followed by "Terrapin." It wasn't the Grateful Dead epic "Terrapin Station," but rather Syd Barrett's ballad "Terrapin." The ensuing "Run Like an Antelope" was notable for Mike's babbling bass interplay with Trey's lead lines. Mike sounded more confident with his choices, and was pushing the boundary. "Satin Doll" and "Blue Bossa" were making somewhat regular appearances at this time before vanishing into obscurity for most of Phish's career. When "Alumni>Letter to Jimmy> Alumni" hit, the opening had a "Boogie On Reggae Woman" vibe. I enjoyed the vocal jam on "YEM" as it was silly but had some musical merit. "Contact's" placement between "YEM" and "Hood" was unusual and I liked it. The "Harry Hood" jam was always one of my favorites, and for an early version, I really found myself smiling to this one. The bizarrely sung, "Dinner and a Movie" followed before the escalating energy of "Slave" came into play. Closing the show were "Curtis Loew" and "Good Times, Bad Times"... both excellent songs, though it seemed like GTBT had been played as the encore a LOT back then.
The next day, back at their home-base of Nectar's, the band opened with "Walk Away" before a standard take on "Golgi." "Funky Bitch" told the tale of a philandering woman who shops on men's dimes. The song stood out to me because a friend of mine recently found out his girlfriend was a "Funky Bitch" after all (she should have read the book!). After a fairly straight forward tune like "Bitch," the complicated "Forbin's> Mockingbird" provided a nice juxtaposition. Trey's guitar work on "Mockingbird" was (as the song required) sharp, lofty... surgical. Before "Sneaking Sally Through the Alley", Trey introduced Paul Languedoc as the "master of time and space." The next song was "Mike's Song," and Trey sang an introductory, "Call it what you want, but you know it's his song!" He also sang a line from "Weekapaug" during the Mike's, helping to solidify (along with "Hydrogen") the multi-song suite as a trio that would regularly be played together. The rest of the show was cover- heavy with songs by Hendrix, Traffic, ZZ Top, Talking Heads, Little Feat, and Frank Zappa. They also played their standard originals for the day... "Lizards", "Alumni> Jimmy Page", "TMWSIY> Avenu Malkenu", "Antelope" and "McGrupp." I found myself giggling hypocritically as I realized a set that included these songs would floor me live, but in listening to all the early material, they were all common. "Lushington" had already been shelved, and "Alumni" was also nearing the end of it's days in regular rotation.
The following day, July 25th was once again a Nectar's show, and though I was missing some tracks, the most notable things about the show were Paul Languedoc's special appearance as the boy in the story about "Harpua." I chuckled as they went through the variation, "How about a Goldfish? How about a crawfish? How about a halibut?" The show also boasted a "Sanity" and an "Icculus" which was nothing short of aggressive. Before one song, someone in the audience requested John Denver. The band started singing "Rocky Mountain High" and talking about Colorado. They left the following day to head west for the first time ever. Off to the magical land known as Telluride.
On deck as I continued through 1988 was the show from June 15th. The Phish Companion listed the first set closer as ZZ Top's "La Grange," but my recording also contained "Fee> Timber, I Didn't Know" before the second set opening "Lizards." The "I Didn't Know" was particularly silly. Trey sang a portion of the song by himself and it seemed like things were completely derailed before the quartet meshed to complete the song. The rest of the show highlights contained the debut of "Contact," a really jazzy playing of "Take the A-Train," and "Dear Mrs. Reagan" during which Trey pointed out that Ronald Reagan's middle name was Wilson.
June 19th began with a lengthy "Curtain With" before a little piano segue into "Funky Bitch." First set was pretty standard for the era with "Possom", "Golgi", "LaGrange", "Suzy", and "YEM" on the page. Second set included a particularly nice "Cities." Recently debuted song, "Contact" made another appearance, and rarity "I Know a Little" led into "Mike's Song." I really wanted for a "Weekapaug" while listening to this version, but realized I was still a bit early for that... but not by much. When the eventual "Jesus Left Chicago" closer came, I reflected on the frequency of ZZ Top covers in those early years. I wouldn't have listed them as an influence, but they must have been to some extent.
For the third night in a row, Phish played Nectar's on Monday 6/20/88. The show was opened with Trey saying something about Camille's 4th birthday. He also mentioned that Del and Jim were in the Midwest fighting fire's on acid. He went to lengths to confirm that he was not joking. They really were jumping out of helicopters into fires and they were experiencing it all on LSD. He also mentioned that it didn't sound like a good time to him. The opener, "Slave to the Traffic Light" was jubilant, setting the tone for an evening of excellent guitar work. Throughout the show I repeatedly found myself smiling at Trey's leads. They were particularly bouncy and happy. Zappa's "Peaches En Regalia" was played in a rather straightforward manner before "YEM" started. Trey really went ape-shit during the jam before dropping into a short vocal jam. First set was really energetic, and when they busted out "Ya Mar" with Jah Roy on vocals, things took a turn into a dub/ reggae jam that morphed at the whims of Jah Roy's lyrics. Touching on several Marley songs, the band maneuvered from tune to tune without missing a note. During his take on "One Love," he altered the lyrics to say, "there is no other bands, that can jam just like Phish, singing One Love..." The band and the crowd were very high energy throughout this entire show. During second set I once again noticed a strange segment of "Tela" that was eventually scrapped. It was a cool, jazzy riff, but I think they made a good decision changing it. "Fee" seemed to be a crowd favorite in this era. I also really enjoyed this Possum. Trey's guitar work was stellar and the crowd reaction is raucous. By this time there were already some fans who were obsessed. Ending the show with "Curtis Loew" and "Bowie," I felt this was one of the better shows I heard in the time period. Duke Ellington's "Satin Doll" made one of a handful of appearances at this show as well. The closing "Bowie" was energetic and had the crowd hooting and hollering. It was a fun listen for sure.
6/21/88 was the fourth night in a row at Nectar's, and the boys wasted no time diving in to "Fluffhead." Page stood out to me as he played his piano. Trey must have been ecstatic to find a player like Page to be his melodic counter-part. Once again their interplay was nice on "Mustang Sally." During "Suzy" Trey sounds like he is going to laugh a couple times as he delivered the absurd lyrics. I noticed Trey sounded like he was on the verge of laughing often in the early days. The "Famous Mockingbird" was aborted and restarted quickly. This show's "Harpua" contained narration and on it's return to "I don't want a goldfish," they also hit on "I don't want a haddock." By the encore, "Whipping Post" I was beginning to really crave song variety. They were already changing up sets, improvising, and raising the bar, but the limited repertoire kept the setlists very similar for the most part.
The June 24th show was a short recording of jazzier material. With relatively little silliness, the band worked their way through "Lizards" and "Possum" before hitting on "Blue Bossa" with (I assume) Peter Danforth and Dave Grippo sitting in on horns. The Phish Companion listed it as "Jazz Jam" and said that "Blue Bossa" was only played twice, and not until early July of '88. As this show was just over 2 weeks before, I guessed it was either a jam on the idea from "Blue Bossa" or it was just not recognized when the Companion was compiled. Regardless, the laid-back sophistication felt like it was probably an eye opener for casual listeners that night. The "Alumni" that followed seemed to have a little extra pep in it's step, and though the Companion listed more songs in the show, my recording ended with "Sneaking Sally."
1988 seemed to be critical to Phish's confidence. With increasing numbers of fans and the acceptance they'd garnered, it sounded like the guys were taking more risks, and generally feeling much more comfortable with their absurd style. The inside jokes were beginning to take hold in the fanbase, and anyone who was there was likely aware they were seeing something special.
The Greasy Troll
April was pretty light in the way of recorded Phish. May '88 had a few more opportunities to hear what was going on in Phish world. The band was getting a lot of collegiate gigs for things like Goddard's Spring Fest on 5/14/88. The "Light Up or Leave Me Alone" from that performance was inspired, with Trey ripping a lengthy solo. The overall tone quality was a bit distorted and amateur sounding. The boys must have also noticed because they requested soundman, "Nat" to adjust a few things after "Light Up." Trey sang to his dog Marley before beginning "You Enjoy Myself" with a little joke. "As always, we really hope that on this next one, you enjoy myself." Trey once again sang to Marley during "Boy, Man, God, Shit."
The next day the band played a graduation party at the Beecher Hill Farm in Hinesburg, VT. As it was a graduation party, they opened with "Alumni Blues." Once again the band talked to the sound crew to dial things in. It made me realize that the production team was finding their way much the same as the band. Part of "Golgi" sounded way off to me, but I wasn't sure if it was the recording or the band. I decided it must have been the recording, because they seemed to be pulling everything else off nicely. Following "Golgi", the band took a brief pause to "re-gas the generator." When the recording returned, we were already balls deep in "You Enjoy Myself." This particular "YEM" was smooth for an early version. Trey sang in a cavalier, relaxed way that sounded more comfortable than many of the other versions from the 80's. During the jam, Mike stepped outside of the pocket and showed a little pizzazz, but it sounded a little forced. It was cool to hear a contrast to the player he has become. Over the years he found a way to play those lead lines without breaking stride, integrating them into the pocket so seamlessly I almost forgot they were happening. Hearing this early stuff was like seeing a raw diamond. Still amazing, but without the polish. The setlist for this party had a lot of ambitious, technical pieces, but also great jamming. "Sneaking Sally" got weird. Mike's bass bubbles kept Trey's buoyant guitar line bounding across the top. The transition back into the tune from the improvisation wasn't as fluid as they hoped, but the ensuing vocal jam redeemed the small hitch. First set came to a close with "AC/DC Bag> Possum," and the guitar work was slick. From the opening riffs to "Bag" through a tempo-shifting transition into "Possum" Trey played unique, entertaining, and inspiring guitar. The rest of the band played tremendous accompaniment, but they had not yet coalesced into the collective improvisational machine they would become. Second set opened with the Gamehendge supplement, "Icculus." Trey made references to the Gamehendge story during the absurd song. In "McGrupp" the band made humorous interjections, "Check this out." The ambitious segue music into "The Curtain With" were a little loony, but the execution was pretty solid. The vocal drum intro to "Peaches En Regalia" was unexpected and awesome. By the time "Harpua" hit, the silliness was flowing, and there was a joke about a "Rocky Top" tease tricking the audience into thinking they would play "Beverly Hillbillies". Trey took delight in exclaiming, "Got ya!"
The May 21st show was the first of a 5 night stand at Nectar's (if the date's accurate). Three sets each night? Who did they think they were? The Allman Brothers? They hit the ground running with "Funky Bitch" and "Sneaking Sally" before Trey dedicated "Alumni Blues" to recent graduate, Del. In the middle of "Alumni" Trey stopped just shy of the "Letter to Jimmy Page" jam and announced that Del (who had been to every show for 3 years) had requested that the band go through it once and then just Fishman played it on drums before they went back into "Alumni." Trey said they agreed because they never play any of Del's requests, noting that he'd been asking for "Lushington" for two years and they haven't played it. That wasn't exactly accurate, but the sentiment was there. The show was a little goofy, including a reggae "Happy Birthday." The crowd noise on this recording was pretty heavy, and several humorous things could be heard throughout the show. Aside from that, the crowd noise left me with a strong desire to get to the soundboard years. I remember in high school I was so excited just to have a tape, the recording advances have spoiled me.
On May 23rd, Phish was back in Nectars, although Trey told Del he wasn't going to get any more requests because he got one the night before. Eventually agreeing that since they had played a graduation request, they would play another request when Del got his Masters Degree. So, maybe it was actually 5/22 and not 5/23. Either way, the recording was much shorter, only capturing a portion of the show. "You Enjoy Myself" contained some pretty fun Trey licks, and the show seemed to be pretty high energy. The band seemed to be hitting their stride. The crowd became enthusiastic and the band grateful to have an audience that cared. The comfort with Nectar's allowed the band to be as weird as they wanted... an aspect they have always embraced, but hasn't detracted from their product. In fact, some have argued it has added a lot to the product.
On May 25th, Del took more abuse for requesting a song. Trey reminded him they agreed to do it when he got his Masters. The recording was of decent quality, and the energy was high even though Del's request wasn't played. "Jesus Left Chicago" was played slower than usual, and it almost sounded like they were toying with the tempo, dragging the beat ever slower. Despite the lazy delivery, the effect was kind of cool. Very loungey and relaxed. I almost dozed off during the second half of the song. Super mellow. The set took a turn towards energetic by the time they hit a 26 minute "Whipping Post." The "Ya Mar> Reggae Jam" featured Jah Roy sounding like Michael Franti long before Spearhead existed. He even used Franti's signature "How you feeling?" hype line. "I Didn't Know" featured writer Nancy on drums. Fishman was introduced as Moses Dewitt, Moses Heaps, and Moses Brown before playing a short trombone solo. ZZ Top's "La Grange" was a cover they seemed to nail every time. They sounded very comfortable playing it, and Trey was capable of tearing up the solo. "Fee" was even sillier than usual with a cartoonish sound effect or two. "Big Black Furry Creature From Mars" had a "Flintstones" tease in it, and "Harpua" was beginning to take shape as a vehicle for silly antics. The closing "Antelope" was pretty typical, but still brought it's requisite intensity.
Phish was honing their skills. They were already able to pull off complex compositional elements as well as explore well, but the jamming was still mostly leads over chord progressions, not quite hitting on the "Type II" style of jamming yet. The best was yet to come.
How far is the farthest you have ever driven for Phish
March 1988 had a lot of disputed dates. In fact, some of the dates that remain for archival purposes, have been firmly disputed. As such, I didn't worry about the actual dates, just the dates as they appeared on the recordings and in the Phish Companion.
March 11th was the first recorded show of the month, and the band launched into James Brown's "The Chicken" to open the show. The first set "YEM> Wilson" was on point. The "YEM" forewent the vocal jam and instead dropped an instrumental jam that rocked straight into "Wilson." The first set was diverse in styles. "Golgi Apparatus", "Slave", "Flat Fee", "Corrine Corrina", "The Lizards", and "David Bowie" presented everything from jazz to ballad, progressive to tv theme. During "Lizards" Page teased "I Dream of Jeannie" and I could tell this was one of their favorite pieces to play at the time. The joy that came through was apparent. The set closing, "Bowie" began with several fake-out teases including "Timber", "Alumni Blues", "Smoke on the Water", "Sunshine of Your Love", "Whipping Post", and more before slipping into "Bowie" without a hitch. The next set began with "Fluffhead" which included "Clod" and "Bundle Full of Joy" as that suite of music moved closer to completion. "Dinner and a Movie" and "Harry Hood" followed and made for a composition-heavy start to second set. With the band allegedly attending a Zappa concert the next night, perhaps they were feeling progressive. The rest of the set was right up my alley. "Curtis Loew", "Harpua", and "AC/DC Bag> Alumni Blues> Antelope" to close. The "Harpua" contained the first narration with Poster Nutbag as far as I heard. The "Bag> Alumni> Antelope" was smooth, energetic, and fun listening. During "Antelope," Trey added to Marco Esquandolas, also naming Poster Nutbag, Moses Heaps, and Moses DeWitt.
March 12th... I began by reading a bit about this show. The first live "Gamehendge" performance with narration. The issue... the band members recalled attending a Zappa concert in Burlington that night. My guess was that they'd remember that... it ended up being Zappa's last tour. Additionally, at the May 21st, 1988 show (also suspected to be mis-dated) Trey introduced "Tela" as a debut. Basically, both of those dates were pretty much guaranteed to be mislabeled, but given that no better date could be provided, the dates have stuck. That said, "March 12, 1988" was the first one, and very few would ever follow. Funny that it became the most sought after of Phish grails. The show began with a jazz cover, Mingus' "Jump Monk." From there, "McGrupp" began Col. Forbin on the journey into the land of "Lizards". The narration began and Trey did a nice job of keeping things moving through the story and into the songs. "Tela" had sections that were ultimately scrapped. It was an interesting listen for sure. On to "Wilson", "AC/DC Bag", and then "Colonel Forbin's Ascent> Fly Famous Mockingbird." The ease and flow of Trey's narrative with the dynamic songs unfolding was quite an amazing feat. When "Sloth" concluded the "The Man Who Stepped Into Yesterday" cycle, Trey used "Possum" as Icculus' epilogue to the story. Punctuated with a ripping little "Antelope," this show was historic, pivotal, and well executed. When the show was over, the crowd cheered, but the true gravity of what they had seen probably took a while to be realized. And, just like that, the world had been Gamehendge'd.
March 21, 1988- Though the date March 12th was debated, the show on this night was after the Gamehendge debut as evidenced by the "Forbin's> Mockingbird" closer. The show started off on a lighter note than the previous recording. The "Suzy Greenberg" opener was relaxed yet energetic. The band seemed to be feeling loose and ready to have fun. The show was decent, but after the unveiling of "Gamehendge" the rest of March '88 wasn't as groundbreaking. Still solid, but it wasn't anything that stood out on it's own. So, ONWARD!
Do you prefer to see Phish:
Beginning the month of February, Phish played a 2 night stand at Nectar's in Burlington. Listening to the recording of 2/7/88, I was delighted to hear an enthusiastic crowd. It seemed as though the word was getting around. During "Fee", several people can be heard singing along, and almost every song was well received throughout the show. In set 2, I noticed that the "Timber (Jerry)" was uncharacteristically energetic. The jam, something of a rarity in later years, was unexpected and fun. Two songs later, "Lizards" made it's second appearance, and it too contained a little jam where I hadn't heard one before. Following "Lizards" came the debut of "Famous Mockingbird". The "Whipping Post" that closed the set had an inspired peak, but the transition back into the tune was a little wobbly. Third set started with a slow version of "Suzy Greenberg". The lazy delivery actually gave the tune a bit more of a funky feel. The show ended with 2 of their best covers at the time, "Curtis Loew", and "Good Times, Bad Times."
The following night, a Monday, the band was back at Nectar's. While many of the songs were played again, the band played about half different material. The notable differences included "Slave to the Traffic Light", " Funky Bitch", "Harry Hood", "Antelope", "Sloth", ZZ Top's "Jesus Left Chicago", and "You Enjoy Myself."
The next recording from February was on the 24th at Gallagher's. Opening with "The Curtain> You Enjoy Myself" intrigued me. Early placement of "YEM" was unusual to me. The "I Didn't Know" that followed included a extremely short trombone solo by Fishman, as many did in that era. The lyrics to "I Didn't Know" really made me laugh. For some reason they struck me differently today and made me think of the fun they must have had writing it. That's part of the beauty of Phish. Often times, a song I've heard hundreds of times can reveal some new meaning, some new twist, some new joke, some new jam... Phish layered their music deep enough to have more than a few "Aha" moments within any given song, and even more-so, with any given performance of any given song. The David Bowie to close first set of this show seemed to have more of a Grateful Dead style jam with weaving, noodly guitar work as opposed to some of the more compositionally ambitious lead lines Trey normally played. The second set opened with "Mustang Sally" and was dedicated to Abe Vigoda for his birthday. Who knew "Wombat" wasn't Phish's first foray into VigodaVille? I had to skip back to the beginning of the track to make sure I heard it right. The next track, a cover of "Sneaking Sally Through the Alley" featured Fishman on trombone again, and Trey counted it off, "5,6,3,9." After a few more numbers, the show closed with "Harry Hood." Well, at least the recording did. The Phish Companion hinted that the setlist may not have been complete.
That Friday, the foursome played UVM's Living and Learning Center. Opening with "The Curtain With," before dropping into "Suzy." As "YEM" began, it was funny not to hear the crowd roar. As long as I have been seeing Phish, "YEM" had always elicited an appreciative cheer. This was the first "YEM" I had heard where Trey played something resembling the sustained peak note. The recording had a few seconds of audio cassette drag, slightly distorting Page's keys, and reminding me that recording equipment had come a long way. I found myself wanting for the soundboard era to start sooner than later. Come on, nugs for plugs brah. I also found myself ready for them to expand the song choices. As is to be expected, early on there was a LOT of repeated material from show to show. I decided not to really complain about it though... they were working on it. The vocal jam at the end was strange. I have found many of the early vocal jams to be down-right annoying. This one was relatively tame, short, and innocuous. "The Man Who Stepped Into Yesterday> Avenue Malkenu> TMWSIY> AC/DC Bag" incorporated a few Gamehendge tunes, and "Possum" (which followed) has been used as an auxiliary 'Hendge tune as well. The next tune, "Phase Dance" had appeared only in a few of the early shows. I have intended to comment on it a few times, but for some reason kept forgetting. The tune, by Pat Methany, had a dreamy jazz feel that I liked from the jump. They haven't played it more than a handful of times in their history, and this version was the last known appearance. There must have been a minor sound issue during "Fluffhead" as I heard Trey say "Monitors, Paul." Second set opened with "Lizards," and even though they were playing it nightly, I was not disappointed to hear it. Unfortunately my recording was missing the remainder of second set which reportedly contained, "David Bowie", "Curtis Loew", "Fee> McGrupp", "Dear Mrs. Reagan", "Makisupa", "Alumni Blues", and "Whipping Post."
As I finished listening to February '88, it occurred to me that I was only a couple of shows away from the first "Gamehendge" performance. Many of the tunes were already introduced, so it was about time to put them into context. Full speed ahead!
1988-01-27 Waitsfield, VT
The first show of '88 was at Gallagher's in Waitsfield, VT. The late January gig began with a pair of covers... "Funky Bitch" and "Mustang Sally". From there came AC/DC Bag with an intro that reminded me a bit of "Light Up or Leave Me Alone." The Phish companion made mention of the segue from "Bag" into "Possum," so I listened with a particularly focused ear. Trey's soloing in "AC/DC Bag" was really cool. Bubbly, erratic, yet focused, driven, and unique. The tempo shifted ever-so-slightly and "Possum" began to emerge from the roadside to head for his end. Page jumps on the key line, and they were off. The morphing rhythm was smooth, ambitious. Much like the Ian's farm "David Bowie" from the prior summer, this transition was a taste of what was to come. It was another example of the seemingly impossible synchronistic improvisational movements that would become the heart of their performances.
They casually worked through ZZ Top's "Jesus Left Chicago" and into Robert Palmer's "Sneaking Sally Through The Alley" which featured the first of 2 vocal jams of the show. The second coming in typical fashion, at the end of "YEM". A few of my friends are chasing "Take the A-Train" and the version from this show was extremely loungey. Following a jazz standard like that, they moved to Zeppelin's "Good Times, Bad Times" a consistent quality cover that they have been playing since the beginning, and will until the end.
The show saw the debut of one of my favorite Phish songs, "Lizards." I always loved the vocal exercise in the middle of the song (Woah, woah woah woah, ooga ooga ooga ooga, ooo woah). It was lifted right out of a vocal exercise from my high school chorus. I think it was one of the first things that demonstrated their complete and total musical mastery for me. It took a fundamental practice technique and masterfully placed it in a composition of depth without detracting from it's simplistic beauty.
It has really been fun noticing the little nuances that have developed. Things like the crowd participation on songs like "Wilson" and "Hood", and the soaring guitar note in "YEM" were not always expected. It was quite strange hearing the peak of "YEM" without the note at first, or Wilson without the chants, but reminded me that this musical journey was a living, breathing, flexible, and growing entity. Not just Motley Crue throwing down the hits the same way for 30 years. Those musical developments added character, depth, and ultimately became a sub-culture of a sub-culture. When those nuances snowballed, the depths of Phish truly went to unbelievable levels. Like an order with a secret handshake, the behaviors, community, and culture grew together. There was something unifying about being "in on it."
I also enjoyed the banter that audience recordings captured. For instance, during "Fee" from Halloween 1987, someone was clearly heard saying, "God damned hippies," and at the beginning of Fluffhead (1.27.88) when a fan said, "No, play a fast one!" Nothing has changed. Another entertaining one (same show) came when a fan shouted out "Wilson" to the band a set and a half after they played it.
As I wrapped up listening to 1987, I knew that 1988 was where things really took off. The band's first voyage to Colorado, increased schedule, new songs... from the sounds of the first show, I was right. The set list would satisfy the most discerning fan today, and though it was early, it had some pretty impressive jamming as well. By the closing "Harry Hood", I knew I was heading into the most impressive decade of the band's career. As it turned out, I could feel good. I could feel good, good, good. Good about Hood.
Serious Questions Only
What song contains Phish's best use of a papercut?
As I started listening to 1987, a few things popped out to me. First, things were picking up in quantity and quality. I recognized that the years would take longer to process as there were more shows. I also recognized that summarizing hundreds of shows into a single article was far too vague to impart any actual insights. So, as I listened to 1987 I realized this was likely the last full year I could cover in one entry.
The year started off with a few January gigs, but the first recorded show was from February and contained the debut of "Suzy Greenburg." Though largely the same as I've come to expect, the Dude of Life on vocals gave the song a slightly different feel. At this time they seemed to be playing shows a handful of times each month. With each new performance, new material. "Ya Mar", and several other new covers began to appear. "Curtis Loew", "Peaches en Regalia", "Boogie On Reggae Woman", and "Sparks" were all relatively new in early '87. Nectar's and Hunt's really became the two spots that fostered the band and it's fan base. By August of 1987, the band was beginning to play pretty regularly, and some magic began to appear.
A listen to 8.21.87 at Ian McLean's farm reminded me of my early days of listening to Phish. This show was widely circulated early on, and became the quintessential tape in many collections of the early stuff. Featuring jokes, sit-ins, barking dogs, and impressive improvisation, the show really foreshadowed many of the things that would endear the band to hundreds of thousands of fans in the future. The boys "teased" and "quoted" several cover songs in the process of playing their 3 set show. The third set "David Bowie" was high energy, progressive, and cleverly arranged. It was the first time, since I started listening chronologically, where I could really hear the future of the group. The seamless, inspired, spontaneous compositions that would define the band were truly beginning to reveal themselves.
It was exciting to stand on the precipice of all that has happened since. The Ian's farm show really changed everything. Not only did it really showcase a band firing on all cylinders, but it also documented the event to spread to the masses. Without the Ian show, we would have eventually found out, but that show helped spread the word far and wide at this stage of their career. It has survived as the primary recording of this era of Phish because it really was the best recording the band captured from the first 5 years.
As the final show of 1987 wrapped, I had a similar feeling to taking the spring-step on a diving board. Things were getting kinetic. Active. Just one more bounce, and I was heading for the deep end.
Birds of a Feather...
What version of Phish was your first?
Just three years after I was born, Phish played their first notes. In the following 15 years, they grew from a small college band in the Northeast Kingdom, to a world renowned musical act with sold out arena shows. By 1995 I was vaguely aware of the Vermont foursome, but by the summer I graduated high school, I was gearing up to see the band for the first time. August 8, 1998 was when this story really began. I grew up in Pennsylvania, and Merriweather Post Pavilion was the closest show to where I called home that summer. Despite a rowdy, borderline violent crowd, the show was the first of many that would hook me, and to this day may be one of the best shows I have ever seen. I've gone through phases of praising them when they didn't deserve it, and also times of criticizing them too much. I spent a solid 5 years without so much as listening to a show. They were "retired" at the time, so I guess it was easier than it would have been otherwise. Regardless, when 3.0 was announced, I decided to give them another try. It worked. Once again, I was swept into their world, and once again, I didn't mind. Recently I got a new job at a warehouse, and for the next year or so, there will be some significant downtime. I decided to entertain myself by diving in to Phish. And where better to begin than at the beginning? I've been calling it Warehouse Tour. So, that's what happened, and this blog is the result. So...
Beginning with the assumed first show, 12.2.83, I heard a cover band with chops. They were taking some of the tunes and stretching them. For a "first" show, the band had solid improvisational moments.
1984 was a flash as well. The first recorded show of 1984 didn't occur until Fall, so there weren't a whole lot of shows to consider. The notable thing about 1984 was the gradual shift from cover songs to original material. "Makisupa Policeman" was the first song to appear, and shortly after, "Slave to the Traffic Light", "Skippy the Wondermouse", and "Fluffhead."
1985 saw the tour schedule increase, and though they were largely nestled in the Burlington vicinity, they were playing far more often. During this period several new songs were worked up, and the Phish experience began to take shape. "Camel Walk", "Mike's Song", "Dave's Energy Guide", "Alumni Blues", "McGrupp", "Anarchy", "Antelope", "Lushington", "Prep School Hippie", "Dog Gone Dog", "Dear Mrs. Reagan" and "Possum" all appeared that year. Having never spent a whole lot of time in the early years, I was treated to a few tunes I had never heard before... "Prep School Hippie" being my favorite. Much like "Birds of a Feather" would do, "Prep School Hippie" took turns at ribbing what would represent a decent portion of their following. The lyric, "Prep school hippie, or hip school preppie, I can't decide" was funny enough, but the icing on the cake was the line, "Can't wait until I'm 21, to dig into my trust fund." Good stuff.
By 1986, flashes were starting to show that the band were on a path to something special. With the debut of "You Enjoy Myself" and "David Bowie" the group was really starting to define themselves with a highly compositional yet improvisational quartet with silly songs about ridiculous things. This was also the year when parts of Gamehendge began to appear. "Wilson", "AC/DC Bag", and "The Man Who Stepped Into Yesterday > Avenue Malkenu" were in rotation, and it seemed to me to be some of the most creative songwriting of their career. By the end of 1986, the band had found an audience, a repertoire, and began jamming in earnest.
In listening to this era of Phish, I spent about 1 week. There was not a whole lot to explore, but there was a joy in listening to the foundation. There was a sense that the band was just playing for friends, but the music was far larger than a circle of friends could hold. The word was getting out, and the band was playing hard. It was astonishing to me how good they were right from the jump, but it is kind of fun listening to the raw talent before the years and years of relentless practice. There were mistakes, and ideas that were scrapped eventually, but it was full of creativity and life. That was what made me like it from the beginning.
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