Show #83: 2/7/89 – The Front, Burlington, VT

Tuesday, 02/07/1989
The Front, Burlington, VT

Set 1: Esther >  McGrupp and the Watchful Hosemasters[1] >  Foam,  The Sloth -> Possum,  Mike’s Song >  I Am Hydrogen >  Weekapaug Groove,  Golgi Apparatus

Set 2: Makisupa Policeman,  Dinner and a Movie,  AC/DC Bag >  The Lizards,  Timber (Jerry), Contact,  Alumni Blues[2] >  Letter to Jimmy Page >  Alumni Blues,  Fee >  Run Like an Antelope

Set 3: Sanity[3],  Fluffhead,  Suzy Greenberg >  Slave to the Traffic Light,  Bike >  Whipping Post[4]

Encore: Fire

[1] Fish on trombone.
[2] Additional lyrics.
[3] Fast version.
[4] First known Fish vocals.

The SkiRack (formerly The Front) looking up Main St. towards The Woodbury Armory (formerly Hunt's).
The SkiRack (formerly The Front) looking up Main St. towards The Woodbury Armory (formerly Hunt’s).

While we don’t know what happened the first night of this three night stand, I can easily say that this is the better show between the two that we do have. With a more varied setlist than the shows that became before it, it gives that band a chance to work on some lower tier tunes. The Phish catalog is very interesting in that it’s very clearly layered. You have the top tier of compositions. In this layer, you’d find “You Enjoy Myself”, “Fluffhead”, “Divided Sky”, “Mike’s”, “Weekapaug”, “Harry Hood”, among a few others. However, there’s another stellar layer but not considered essential by the amount of times played by the band. I would put in this level “McGrupp”, “Esther”, “The Lizards”, “Fee”. This is still an amazing bunch but if you were making the essential Phish, they might not make it. When they string a bunch of these together, it always makes for a more interesting show. This night at The Front, we get a whole bunch of this tier of Phish and it makes for a fun night and breaks up what had become a fairly monotonous run of important shows. The band was just getting into more varied setlist as their repertoire grew and it’s here on this night that you get that feeling of changing the sets every night that would become a Phish trademark. It also important to note that this is lighting director Chris Kuroda’s favorite show, as mentioned in an interview with JamBase. He said if he ever got to pick some live shows for release, this show would be number 1. It’s a curious pick but I think it’ll become very evident why it might be one of his favorites in upcoming shows…

We get a really interesting open in the form of “Esther”. The song is presented here with its updated and current lyrics, where the mob attacks Esther instead of the old man at the end of the song. I also like how it opens with the omnious circus music and I don’t get what the audience member yells but Trey’s reaction of “Damn Right”, kind of hits the determination of the band in a way that makes me laugh. This is also interesting because this will be the only “Esther” opener in the band’s history. I guess a story and menacing circus music isn’t a great show opener outside a Tuesday night in Vermont. Another thought while listening to “Esther” is you hear the organ coming out a lot more. I have to believe it was some time in ’88 that Page augmented that Yamaha CP-70 piano with his Hammond M-100 and that enabled him to play more organ parts, a signature that would only continue to develop. “McGrupp” follows continuing the theme of lesser-known compositions. “McGrupp” is very beautifully played and subdued. Almost a downer but why not start the night off easy? “Foam” continues the trend as it seems to be taking the spotlight in the ramp up to Junta. These three songs are also very Page heavy tunes. An odd trio to kick off the set but that makes it interesting. A lovely pairing of “The Sloth->Possum” seems to really signify the start of the evening, at least for Trey. “Possum” itself has a really nice lead and gets nice and quite before ramping back up for the ending. The “Mike’s Groove” in my opinion is the highlight of the set. It starts of timid. Mike’s vocals are a still little shaky with the existing melody just a hair out of his range. But around the 4-minute mark, the jam begins to build and led by Trey, the intensity picks up. It’s as if a tiny whirlwind is now a tornado. The 4-headed monster build and builds. Trey even continues to play licks, despite cues from his band members that the end is coming. A fan would get the feeling this would have a second jam if the year was 1994 or 1995. However, it drifts off to a very slick “Hydrogen” before dropping down into “Weekapaug” for a nice danceable jam.

More rarities second set. We get a fun “Makisupa” to set the scene and then “Dinner and A Movie” gets a welcome return to rotation. After that, the show loses its uniqueness and we get a lot of the same things we’ve been hearing throughout 1988. There’s a hilarious “Timber (Jerry)” where Trey doesn’t seem hooked up with the band at all and keeps missing the rhythm of the lyrics. Despite the train-wreck, it has a hot fiery jam. “Alumni” has the story lyrics as opposed to the regular lyrics. “Antelope” is very nice as always. The fast version of “Sanity” kicks off Set 3 and is still a lot of fun to hear. The set ends with a fun double dose of Fishman singing not only Syd Barrett’s “Bike” but also doing a tortured version of “Whipping Post”, which is a nice deviation from the previous night’s “straight” version. All-in-all a fun night at The Front. With its unique setlist and antics, it’s easy to see why Kuroda would enjoy this one so much.

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