Show #43: 3/12/88

Saturday, 03/12/1988
Nectar’s, Burlington, VT

Set 1: Jump Monk[1], McGrupp and the Watchful Hosemasters > The Lizards > Tela[2] >Wilson > AC/DC Bag > Colonel Forbin’s Ascent[2] > Fly Famous Mockingbird > The Sloth >Possum, Run Like an Antelope

[1] First known Phish performance.
[2] First known performance.

One of the problems in reviewing a band’s career in retrospect is you know what happens next. In addition to the problems reviewing 3/11/88 that were explained in that post, there’s also the anticipation for a bigger show that’s just around the corner. Such is the case for 3/12/88. The importance of 3/12/88 is that it marks the first live The Man Who Stepped Into Yesterday, or Gamehendge. The story of this gig is so much more though. The entire band, by all accounts, had previously gone to see Frank Zappa play Memorial Auditorium, just a few blocks up Main street from Nectar’s. At some point during the show, someone had thrown a Phish t-shirt on stage. Frank held it up and the crowd went nuts. Maybe with the knowledge that freaks were out and about that night for the FZ show and that letting their freak flag fly would be par for the course, or that Trey knew he would have a large audience to unleash it on spurred the decision. Regardless, the band decided to go for it.

This would also prove to be an extremely important decision for the band’s future as well. That night, local band Ninja Custodian had a friend in town named John Paluska. Ninja Custodian insisted that they head to Nectar’s to see Phish. He walked in and caught the Gamehendge set and thought they’d be great for his Zoo house parties at Amherst. This ended up with him booking them for April and they quickly built a following in western Massachusetts, the next enclave outside Burlington to take to the band. Paluska’s success lead to him begin asked to manage the band later in 1988. Paluska’s Dionysian Productions would manage the band from that day until the band’s “breakup” in 2004. You can read more about Paluska’s experience on Phish.com with the “This Month in Phish History: March 1988” entry.

As for the recording itself, we only have one set. Luckily, it’s the Gamehendge set and if you’ve ever heard the studio recording, it’s very similar. However, the narration is a bit clearer here. Trey sounds less scripted and more off the cuff. The set opens with Charles Mingus’ “Jump Monk”, a jazz cover that would only be played once more; which is a shame because it’s very well done in the same manner of later cover “Donna Lee”. Quickly though, we get to the main event. The band launches into “McGrupp and the Watchful Hosemasters”. This is important because “McGrupp” was actually the poem that launched Trey into writing the “TMWSIY” story. It’s odd that other versions don’t use it again as this is the only rendition that opens with “McGrupp”. “McGrupp” closes, which I don’t think is as effective. “McGrupp” sets up the tale much better. Over Page’s outro solo, Trey begins to tell the tale of Gamehendge, which I will narrate here as well. “Once upon a time, there was a man…” That man turns out to be Colonel Forbin, a retired military man who stumbles upon a door in the middle of a field. He opens the door and begins making his way down the corridor found within. In the corridor, he finds Rutherford the Brave. Rutherford begins to tell him about the strange land he is now in during the song “The Lizards”. This “Lizards” is pretty note perfect. It doesn’t even have much of a pause between the verses and the “If I Were A Dog” outro. With Rutherford having drowned at the end of “Lizards”, Forbin doesn’t have much time before being spotted by Tela and her two-toned multibeast. Forbin is instantly smitten with here and contemplates this in the song “Tela”. The version here is much longer than other versions and it does drag for a bit because of it. Still sounds great though. Tela and Forbin ride to the rebel camp and Trey describes Errand Wolfe, actually in more depth than in his senior thesis. We learn more about Errand in his singing of the song “Wilson”. We then get a song from Wilson in “AC/DC Bag”, which the crowd loudly cheers. Forbin realizes that the only way to help everyone is to get help from the wise and knowledgeable Icculus, who lives on the mountain over the land. Forbin climbs the mountain in “Colonel Forbin’s Ascent” and Icculus’ response is to fly the Famous Mockingbird to get the Helping Friendly Book from Wilson in “Fly Famous Mockingbird”. Much has been made about the narration between “Forbin” and “Mockingbird”. Recently some said they wished the one from the JEMP truck set on 12/31/13 was too short but here, in the first ever rendition, the narration is also very short. The playing is also amazing here. The band just nailing it like a well rehearsed Broadway pit band. The Famous Mockingbird successfully gets the Helping Friendly Book and Forbin returns to give it to Errand. Errand, now consumed with power, kills Wilson with the help of “The Sloth” but also puts Forbin in jail. The “Forbin in jail” story isn’t repeated here. It really does’ thane an ending except for Icculus’ musings captured in Possum. This version of Gamehendge is also the only live one that ends with “Possum” and really isn’t as neatly tied up as others. How do you follow that up? With a scorching “Run Like An Antelope”. Not as powerful as the previous night but still a lot of fun until the recording cuts off. A historic evening at Nectar’s indeed.

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