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.

Show #82: 2/6/89 – The Front Burlington, VT

Monday, 02/06/1989
The Front, Burlington, VT

Set 1: Suzy Greenberg,  The Curtain >  Wilson >  Peaches en Regalia,  Fee >  La Grange,  You Enjoy Myself

Set 2: All Blues >  Sanity[1],  Take the ‘A’ Train,  Golgi Apparatus >  Divided Sky,  On Your Way Down,  I Didn’t Know

Set 3: Good Times Bad Times,  Walk Away >  Harry Hood,  Big Black Furry Creature from Mars,  The Ballad of Curtis Loew,  Colonel Forbin’s Ascent >  Fly Famous Mockingbird > Whipping Post,  Corinna

Encore: David Bowie

[1] Fast version.

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 the band was beginning to grow in statue outside the Green Mountain State, Phish remained deep in the fabric of the Vermont music scene for years to come. So after taking Boston by storm, the band played Dartmouth College, their usual Wednesday night gig at Gallagher’s in Waitsfield, and their first New York City show at Forty Worth, an art gallery/performance space in Tribeca. Unfortunately none of these shows exist in circulation. The leaves us with night 2 and night 3 of the band’s first Burlington shows since the Paradise gig. The band is continuing to establish the Front as their home base but they haven’t quite left Nectar’s yet. The only problem with 3 nights and no albums yet, the material stays about the same as recent shows. That’s not to say there are no highlights here on Night 2. The “Wilson>Peaches” combo is back. A really tasty take on “La Grange” happens though that I like. We get a taste of Phish’s version of Miles Davis’ “All Blues” into the fast version of “Sanity” again. “Divided Sky” continues to be amazing. The ending jam to “Harry Hood” has some interesting interplay between all 4 members. But the standout is “David Bowie”. The band has fun with the opening segment as that tradition seems to be improving. Trey does the Batman TV theme to open, when the composed section is about to break into the jam, the whole band gets in on the riff. Then Trey starts the jam on the Batman riff and they use that as a launchpad into the jam. It’s an interesting look at the band listening to each other early on and moving as a unit, rather than just Trey wild over the top. At 8:46, you can hear Page signal to the band and he initiates a call and response with Trey that’s just magnificent for them to build off. Also, Mike plays almost the base line to Wipe Out at such a fast pace that holds it down. Tight playing indeed. Night 3 next!

Show #81: 1/26/89 – The Paradise Rock Club Boston, MA

Thursday, 01/26/1989
The Paradise, Boston, MA

Soundcheck: The Sloth > Possum

Set 1: I Didn’t Know[1],  Golgi Apparatus,  Alumni Blues[2] >  Letter to Jimmy Page > Alumni Blues,  You Enjoy Myself,  The Lizards,  Take the ‘A’ Train,  Sanity[3],  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

[1] Fish on trombone.
[2] Additional lyrics.
[3] Fast version.

The exterior of the Paradise Rock Club before renovation.
The exterior of the Paradise Rock Club before renovation.

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,

Snoop Dogg plays the 'Dise after renovations.
Snoop Dogg plays the ‘Dise after renovations.

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.

The original flyer for 1/26/89
The original flyer for 1/26/89

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.