Show #98: 4/30/1989 NightStage Cambridge, MA

Sunday, 04/30/1989
Night Stage, Cambridge, MA

Set 1: I Didn’t Know,  You Enjoy Myself,  McGrupp and the Watchful Hosemasters,  The Lizards,  Divided Sky,  Wilson,  Peaches en Regalia,  Run Like an Antelope,  Terrapin[1]

Encore: Possum

[1] Fish on trombone.

NightStage in Cambridge during its heyday.
NightStage in Cambridge during its heyday.

While Phish certainly was climbing the rungs of the music industry, there had to be a few stumbles along the way. This show really highlights a night that for a lot of bands might have killed their momentum. NightStage was a very successful blues and jazz club just north of MIT at 823 Main Street . Buddy Guy, Junior Wells, and Screamin’ Jay Hawkins all had major gigs there in 1980s, some even released on video. Pat Metheney, Tracy Chapman, and Rick Danko also made stops there. This would seem like a very important gig. It starts off awkwardly with an introduction from the band’s manager Ben Hunter. He stumbles through the jokes, none are hitting the crowd. “‘POOOOJJJ’ McConnell,” owner of the “biggest organ in Boston”, Trey “the mad scientist”, are just two of the cringeworthy ones. Bill Graham, he was not that evening. Then, do you open with “Funky Bitch”, maybe “Peaches en Regalia?” No, the band opens with “I Didn’t Know”, which is fun and maybe loosens them up but it kills the show. Apparently, the band ten played “You Enjoy Myself” but it is not on any available recording. After “YEM,” Trey starts giving a Gamehendge narration. He says that Phish are traveling minstrels from Gamehendge and so they’re going to play some songs from there. He lays out a long description of each on and by the time he gets to asking if people know what a Rhombus is, it’s clear he’s lost the crowd. They just want the music, Trey. Even the people that yell for each song title, which feels like a small part of the crowd are done with the narration at this point. Especially only one song in to the set. At least, wait 3 or 4 songs. The Gamehendge mini-set is quite enjoyable though. “McGrupp” is a little tighter here which is a welcome addition. “The Lizards” is little boring but well-played. “Divided Sky” smokes and you can tell that one got some interest back. “Wilson>Peaches” remains. I also like that this recording is an audience recording because it sounds older than it is. It really sounds like a recording from Nectar’s in 1986, where the majority of the crowd is just there to drink and be social. They’re almost louder than the band. Perhaps, the disinterested crowd was part of the equation. Clearly, there’s still a good chunk of fans there but it’s obviously less than the total crowd. Trey speaks again, trying to thank NightStage and advising people to tip Jim at the bar. Trey asks for a vodka and tonic for Phish. You can hear a little defeat in Trey’s voice. He knows no one’s listening so he backs off and fires up “Antelope”. The jam of the show is “Antelope” as the foursome bring the swirling jam to a boil. They really work the tension here and on the recording, you almost feel in the middle of a twister as your ears rotate through the instruments for flourishes before it all just breaks into the “Rye Rye Rocco” part. It’s a solid early version and the crowd clearly agrees. What next? More Fishman, doing Syd Barrett’s “Terrapin” complete with trombone solo. Again, the crowd talking gets louder than the band. The show loses with a “not that exciting” “Possum.” This show, however, feels important because it probably was a wake-up call for the young Dionysian Productions team. Ben and John had to have seen that the nightclub circuit might not be right for the band and alternate plans would have to come for future success.

NightStage right before it was torn down and replaced with condos.
NightStage right before it was torn down and replaced with condos.

One thought on “Show #98: 4/30/1989 NightStage Cambridge, MA”

  1. I saw so many there.Rick Danko.Michelle Shocked,Levon Helm Doctor Jihn.Leon Russell.It was a great spot and intimate.Made my way to the dressing rooms a few times lol.Sad to see it go

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