Harris-Millis Cafeteria – University of Vermont, Burlington, VT
Soundcheck: Jam (with audience present)
Set 1: Long Cool Woman in a Black Dress, Proud Mary, In the Midnight Hour,Squeeze Box, Roadhouse Blues, Happy Birthday to You
Set 2: Scarlet Begonias > Fire on the Mountain
It’s rare when any material surfaces from a band’s first ever show. I recently saw my co-workers play their debut gig as God Dammit Maverick at Club Bohemia and I’m fairly sure they did not capture any of it on tape. Heck even the meticulous Grateful Dead wen’t even lucky to capture their first gig on tape, as far as we know. David Lemieux, if it’s in there, we’d love to hear it. Anyway, thanks to the ever popular From The Archives series by band archivist Kevin Shapiro, finally fans got to hear a sample from the first show. The classic lineup is not in place here and the band wasn’t even called Phish yet. They were billed as Blackwood Convention and consisted of Trey Anastasio on lead guitar and vocals, Jeff Holdsworth on rhythm guitar and vocals, Mike Gordon on bass, and Jon Fishman on drums. This gig was originally though to have been performed on 10/30/1983 at a ROTC dance and that date was alluded to on 10/30/1998 when the band played “Long Cool Woman in a Black Dress” by the Hollies in honor of their 15th anniversary, which is featured on the known setlist from this show. The date was firmed up when this tape was recovered.
The only publicly released recording from this show is the two-song sequence “Scarlet Begonias>Fire on the Mountain,” a pair of Grateful Dead covers. Of course, “Scarlet>Fire” is lauded in Grateful Dead circles as the band’s best song pairing and debuted on March 18, 1977 at the Winterland Ballroom. This version shows just how musically minded this quartet was from the start. Showing off their chops, they play a tight, if not too adventurous, “Scarlet>Fire” with some great noodling from Trey. Some might say all of Phish’s music is noodling but if you want the real deal, his soloing here is all over the place and almost feels like he’s just filling time, which most likely he was. The segue definitely needs work as the transition works but hits a little clunky. As a new band with no original material, simply booked to play a dorm dance, they do an ample job.
Also notable is the available banter, a girl asks Jon Fishman what they’re going to play next, to which he replies “Scarlet Begonias.” The girl goes “Huh” and again Jon says “Scarlet Begonias.” Clearly, she was not a Deadhead. Someone yells AC/DC!, causing Trey to bust out the riff to Back in Black. She then asks if they “know any slow dances at all? Even one?” Not getting a response, she then yells “At least play something we can dance to!” Trey, already showing the brash attitude and wit he would display in the band’s 1.0 phase, deadpans “This is by request,” and the band goes into the track. The song at least proves that if nothing else, the band could have had a career as Vermont’s pre-eminent Grateful Dead cover band. But that was not to be.