Soundcheck: The Sloth > Possum
Set 1: I Didn’t Know, Golgi Apparatus, Alumni Blues > Letter to Jimmy Page > Alumni Blues, You Enjoy Myself, The Lizards, Take the ‘A’ Train, Sanity, Divided Sky, Fee, Good Times Bad Times
Set 2: Suzy Greenberg, Icculus, Colonel Forbin’s Ascent > Fly Famous Mockingbird, The Sloth -> Possum, Contact, Big Black Furry Creature from Mars, Foam, David Bowie
Encore: AC/DC Bag, Fire
 Fish on trombone.
 Additional lyrics.
 Fast version.
For those not familiar with the Boston music scene, there’s a certain air to the Paradise. It’s not that glamorous a room. It’s long and narrow with the stage on the left side and balcony on the right. Back when Phish played the club, the stage face one of two support columns in the center. Since then the stage has been moved, further back centered between the columns. But the reason the club is such an industry icon is the people who have taken its stage. Opening in 1977, the club hit the national stage as U2 opened for Barooga Bandit on December 13, 1980 became known as the starting point of the band’s American career. They say only 150 people showed up for their set that night and only 40 remained for the headliner. That following March, they pulled in to play 2 sold out shows at the venue and never looked back. Those 1981 shows would also be some of the band’s first live recordings released on early singles. Everybody in alternative music plays the Paradise on their way up. Some of the acts who had graced the stage before Phish included The Police, Elvis Costello, Tom Petty, AC/DC, Todd Rundgren, R.E.M., and Warren Zevon to name a few. Boston bands that would make their name on the stage include Pixies, Galaxie 500, and Mighty Mighty Bosstones,
Phish had to take that stage to continue their rise. John Paluska and Ben Hunter knew it was the next step. Gigs at Molly’s had proven successful with sold-out shows but this had not transferred to the Paradise’s management. Their talent scout wouldn’t even listen to their demo tape. Planks and Hunter knew that Phish had the talent for the room. So, they decided to rent the Paradise and sell tickets at $5 a piece. Hunter and Paluska promoted the show heavily but it was the strength of Burlington, VT that led to this victory. Tow friends of the band ,Tom Baggott and “Brother Craig” rented buses and charged $20 a head for the trip. The filled two charter buses and helped push the gig to it’s 650-person capacity. Baggott recalls the situation in The Pharmer’s Almanac Vol. 6 as, “It was a hair-brained scheme to get Phish’s Burlington support down to the club. The bus was fucking insane. It was truly a magic bus. The only rule was no glass bottles.” The show was so successful about 200 more people found themselves shut out. Bouncers “who wondered if Phish was a real band” now were stunned at having to turn people away.
On the tapes, you can feel the energy in the air. The band sounds excited for the show. Page thanks the crowd after each oft he first few tunes. Mike even gives out a “Thank You, Boston!” before they tear into “Alumni Blues”. This is the first recorded version we have with extended lyrics, taking the song from a simple blues to having an actual narrative about how the protagonist gets jailed but is happy he now has a floor. Another interesting part is during the “Alumni Blues” jam after “Letter to Jimmy Page”, Trey plays the chords to Possum instead, creating a very interesting “mashup”. It’s unclear whether he forgot what song it was or was just so in the moment, it sounded similar. But no one is more excited to be on stage at the ‘Dise than Ernest Guiseppe Anastasio the 3rd. Trey takes a moment to let it sink in and then address the crowd, “Alright well this is pretty wild. (Nervous laughter)”. You can hear the energy in his voice. If you juxtaposition this against 8/27/88, this Trey actually being a rock star. He knows the crowd is hanging on his every word for the first time. The takes the opporunity to thank his mom for coming up, joking that she’s from Ireland. This might even be a subtle U2 reference. Then, it’s time and the band plays a flawless “You Enjoy Myself”. It’s to very jammy but every composed section is nailed. Page takes some great leads here as he also does with his organ part on “Divided Sky”. Trey then takes a moment to acknowledge a fan calling for “Minkin” and pointing out the new backdrop behind the band done by Mike’s mother, artist Marjorie Minkin and that she is in the crowd. Trey and Page also bust out a small tease of Minkin, the only time the song from The White Tape is acknowledged in the band’s career. Another first set highlight is “Sanity”, presented here in its “fast version”. There’s a manic late New Wave feel to the version, released as a single in 1986, it might have launched the band’s career but it was too late as alternative music has passed away from this style. It’s sill a delight to hear here and we’ll see if it evolves at all.
Set 2 was much harder to track down but luckily one torrent exists on Etree.org. Because of this, the quality if not very good. I will say if you proceed to listen to set 2 and the encore, you are at your own risk. We get a really short and succinct “Icculus”, not many jokes in this version either. “The Sloth->Possum” segue is worth the price of admission alone, it’s firmly work by Fishman to keep the beat at such an odd rhythm and Mike his dissonant bass riffs all leading up the driving beat of Possum. It’s really top notch work, especially Jon Fishman. “Contact’ you can hear the rowdy crowd sing along loudly, showing their enthusiasm. In the home of pre-grunge rock, “Big Black Furry Creature from Mars” is given a rowdy rendition. “Bowie” has a “Melt The Guns” tease during the longer intro. All in all, a very energetic night from Phish at their big club debut. Well worth a listen to feel the band taking in the crowd. Mike would say in The Phish Book years later,
“When we started touring in 1988, we played one landmark gig after another: the first time we played the Paradise in Boston, for example, or the first time we played for a thousand people at the University of Massachusetts. When we played the Paradise, we’d never seen 650 people in a room before. Looking out at them through this little window before the gig was one of the most exciting moments of my life. But the show itself wasn’t a peak musical experience at all; I remember it as raunchy noise. The following night (actually being two nights later at Dartmouth College), however, was a music thrill because we’d been relieved the pressure of playing a big rock club for the first time.”
The Paradise show would lead to more bookings up and down the East Coast as word spread throughout the industry. It would also cement the standard of two sets and an encore format that remains today. The band would play 6 more gigs at the Paradise itself over the next few years. It would also mark the beginning of the following Phish phenomena as people who had traveled to Boston realized they were missing out on the band’s growth. It can be clearly stated this is the pivotal moment when Phish went from Burlington bar band to PHISH, from Burlington, VT. This is the first modern Phish show.