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Slade Hall, University of Vermont, Burlington, VT
Set 1: In the Midnight Hour, Wild Child, Jam -> Bertha, St. Stephen Jam, Can’t You Hear Me Knocking, Camel Walk, Eyes of the World -> Whipping Post ->Drums
 First known Phish performance.
 First known performance.
 First known Phish performance; Jeff on vocals.
 Marc Daubert on percussion.
· St. Stephen tease in Can’t You Hear Me Knocking
After a long hiatus, due to Trey’s suspension during the Spring 1984 semester, the band returned to gigs that fall. Missing from being recorded is a show on October 23rd at a house party at 69 Grant Street, which was the first show billed as Phish and had the debut of the Anastasio/Marshall original “Makisupa Policeman”. The time off would provide fruitful as Mike and Jon would work on their rhythm section chemistry in a band called Dangerous Grapes. Dangerous Grapes, with a large repertoire of Dead and Allman Brothers covers, quickly gained a following. When Trey came back, both Mike and Fish had to make a decision to soldier on with the Grapes or go in the new direction of Phish. Luckily for us, they both decided to rejoin with Trey. Mike Gordon: “I had a choice whether to play with Phish, or with the people from the Dangerous Grapes. I felt like I was clicking better with the Dangerous Grapes people, but it seemed like, in terms of being experimental and thinking of the future, that the Phish people were like that.”
Trey had also found new collaborators during the break. Going back to his home state of New Jersey, he took classes at Mercer County Community College and rekindled an old friend with Tom Marshall. This friendship would soon be the bedrock of Phish’s music as many of the band’s biggest compositions are Anastasio/Marshall songs. Trey also was jamming with Marc Daubert, another childhood friend and percussionist. Daubert would also make the trek to Burlington that fall and being playing gigs with the band. Daubert’s lasting impression would be a songwriting credit on “I Am Hydrogen” and “The Curtain”.
Getting into 11/3/84 from Slade Hall at UVM, the quality is not that great. It gets better as the show progresses but still it’s pretty rough. The whole time I’m listening to it, I’m thinking about Dick’s Picks Volume 22. Every Dick’s Picks had a warning from Dick Latvala warning the listener about imperfections. But with Volume 22, Dick really wanted you to know about it, writing “Warning: This is not an audiophile recording! Many of you may have read the numerous Dick’s Picks Caveat Emptors over the years and thought “Oh yeah… sure… whatever.” Well, this old analog recording source exhibits many audio flaws including high distortion, low vocals, tape hiss, and missing pieces. No fair calling Customer Support and complaining! However, let it be known that this CD also includes some pretty damn exciting and historical music, and for that reason is brought to you with pride.” And because of the rough quality, it’s something that stuck with my mind. This is one of those Phish shows you listen to for its historical quality not the clarity.
The version on Phish.in does not include the interesting “Ignition Sequence” as a rocket launch announces the band ripping into Wilson Pickett’s “In The Midnight Hour”. It’s an interesting choice and speaks to the band’s humor from an early point in their career. It also reminded me of the introduction to “Hey Sandy” by Polaris from the TV show The Adventures of Pete & Pete. “Midnight Hour” is a fairly standard version of the song with Jeff on lead vocals. The song does go into a pretty good “double time” jam but doesn’t break out. But this early in the band’s career, who would expect that? You can hear Trey call out “Wild Child”, while clock chimes ring out for some reason. A cover from Lou Reed’s first solo album, the song is interesting because it shows how Lou’s influence on Phish was from way before 10/31/98 and the song fits the band’s then-incarnation well. The song is well-played and tight.
From this, we get the band’s first “Jam”. A nice minor key jam that sounds based on Dire Straits, the band finally gets to stretch out. Trey gets some good leads over Jeff’s rhythm and Mike gets loose on the low end for a very nice boogie. The segue into the Dead’s “Bertha” is heavenly and again showcases what might have been if Phish had not been a success. It also shows why Trey wanted to play it so badly with Furthur at Lock’n last year I believe. The setlist says St. Stephen but both recordings have no trace of St. Stephen in any part of the Bertha Jam. After an odd “knocking” interlude, Trey launches into an odd intro riff to the Rolling Stones’ “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking”. As if he knows the song but doesn’t want to play just the original intro. It’s more off a vamp on the chords. The song may have only been partly practiced. I’d love to know the reason for the modified intro. Probably something we’ll never know. During the “Knocking” jam before the breakdown, there is a short “St. Stephen tease” at that point. The “Knocking” breakdown does get quit funky though. Probably would have been a great dance party. An unfortunate tape splice drops us into the ending first known “Camel Walk”, the first performance of a Phish original! A big deal for a local band to have some of their own tunes.
During the break banter, someone asks for “Makisupa Policeman” as it was not to be. The Dead covers continue as the band launches into “Eyes of the World”. We finally hear the band stretch their legs as the version is about 18 minutes along. Beautiful leads over Fish’s driving drums and Mike’s punching bass liens with Jeff’s tight rhythm punches accentuates this version. The beat drops and the recording goes into the last track, a cover of the Allman Brothers’ “Whipping Post.” The pace quickens and the guitar leads is fast and fierce. Fishman pounds an almost tribal beat of the rising madness of the track. Mike stays right along with the guitars as they hammer out the tune. Jeff and Trey hit with a furious twin guitar attack through the entire tune. If this was left unlabeled, one might even think it was an unearthed bootleg from 1974. Unfortunately the recording quality buries a lot of Fish’s drums and Jeff’s vocals but this fiery Whipping Post gives a glimpse into the rise in the Burlington scene the band will soon experience.
Harris-Millis Cafeteria – University of Vermont, Burlington, VT
Soundcheck: Jam (with audience present)
Set 1: Long Cool Woman in a Black Dress, Proud Mary, In the Midnight Hour,Squeeze Box, Roadhouse Blues, Happy Birthday to You
Set 2: Scarlet Begonias > Fire on the Mountain
It’s rare when any material surfaces from a band’s first ever show. I recently saw my co-workers play their debut gig as God Dammit Maverick at Club Bohemia and I’m fairly sure they did not capture any of it on tape. Heck even the meticulous Grateful Dead wen’t even lucky to capture their first gig on tape, as far as we know. David Lemieux, if it’s in there, we’d love to hear it. Anyway, thanks to the ever popular From The Archives series by band archivist Kevin Shapiro, finally fans got to hear a sample from the first show. The classic lineup is not in place here and the band wasn’t even called Phish yet. They were billed as Blackwood Convention and consisted of Trey Anastasio on lead guitar and vocals, Jeff Holdsworth on rhythm guitar and vocals, Mike Gordon on bass, and Jon Fishman on drums. This gig was originally though to have been performed on 10/30/1983 at a ROTC dance and that date was alluded to on 10/30/1998 when the band played “Long Cool Woman in a Black Dress” by the Hollies in honor of their 15th anniversary, which is featured on the known setlist from this show. The date was firmed up when this tape was recovered.
The only publicly released recording from this show is the two-song sequence “Scarlet Begonias>Fire on the Mountain,” a pair of Grateful Dead covers. Of course, “Scarlet>Fire” is lauded in Grateful Dead circles as the band’s best song pairing and debuted on March 18, 1977 at the Winterland Ballroom. This version shows just how musically minded this quartet was from the start. Showing off their chops, they play a tight, if not too adventurous, “Scarlet>Fire” with some great noodling from Trey. Some might say all of Phish’s music is noodling but if you want the real deal, his soloing here is all over the place and almost feels like he’s just filling time, which most likely he was. The segue definitely needs work as the transition works but hits a little clunky. As a new band with no original material, simply booked to play a dorm dance, they do an ample job.
Also notable is the available banter, a girl asks Jon Fishman what they’re going to play next, to which he replies “Scarlet Begonias.” The girl goes “Huh” and again Jon says “Scarlet Begonias.” Clearly, she was not a Deadhead. Someone yells AC/DC!, causing Trey to bust out the riff to Back in Black. She then asks if they “know any slow dances at all? Even one?” Not getting a response, she then yells “At least play something we can dance to!” Trey, already showing the brash attitude and wit he would display in the band’s 1.0 phase, deadpans “This is by request,” and the band goes into the track. The song at least proves that if nothing else, the band could have had a career as Vermont’s pre-eminent Grateful Dead cover band. But that was not to be.
I’ve been a Phish fan for 20 years. I’m sure I’ve been listening to them for longer than that having grown up in Vermont in the 80s and 90s but I can only truly say I’ve been ACTIVELY listening to them for that long. I’ll never forget June 11, 1994 for a long time. I was 10 years old and had just been crew on my parents’ boat Firewater in the Burlington Mayor’s Regatta (not to be confused with the longer running Plattsburgh Mayor’s Cup). We had sailed a great race and ended up winning the inaugural regatta; my dad getting to take home the trophy. The big winner that day would end up being my ears. One of the race’s sponsors was 106.7 WIZN, the local rock radio station. I would always ask the people doing remotes for free CDs. This was to be no different except that the DJ gave a copy of the recently released Hoist by Burlington’s own Phish. I excitedly perused the booklet as we drove home to the Mad River Valley. Upon getting home, I grabbed my Discman and hit play. The simple guitar riff of Julius hit my ears and I was in. From the wailing guitar of Down with Disease to the easy funk of Wolfman’s Brother, I was enjoying every moment. For a kid who didn’t flow easily into the angst of Seattle, this was a breath of fresh air. Music that has soul. Music that had careful instrumentation.
Since then, I’ve been to 51 shows and listened to dozens more. It got me thinking that has anyone listened to every Phish show that is available. According to the streaming website Phish.in, they have 1,693 shows recorded. That doesn’t include every show performed as many did not get committed to tape by the band or the audience but that’s a vast history to cover. That’s the goal of this blog. Starting with show #1 at UVM and ending whenever the band’s new “3.0” period and my task meet, I am going to review a show a day until there are no more shows to review. Unencumbered by the hassle of having to B&P and trade my way to owning every show on a glorious Maxell XLII, I’ll use the power of the Internet to enjoy every recorded. I’ll be posting a link to Phish.in so you can listen along with me. I hope you’ll join me for this ride and enjoy.