Show #45: 3/22/88

Tuesday, 03/22/1988
Nectar’s, Burlington, VT

Set 1: Harpua, Wilson > Peaches en Regalia, Funky Bitch, Golgi Apparatus, Suzy Greenberg, You Enjoy Myself, The Lizards, Good Times Bad Times, Happy Birthday to You[1], Colonel Forbin’s Ascent > Icculus > Colonel Forbin’s Ascent > Fly Famous Mockingbird > AC/DC Bag

[1] “Dub” style.

The third in a 3-night stand at Nectar’s (Night 1 doesn’t exist on tape) finds again no jams here. That does’t mean this recording is a waste, in fact quite the contrary! We only have one set so there might have been more going on, but there’s some very nice selections here. The lead-off of “Harpua” is classic Phish. Trey gives an amazing band introduction. I wish there was video to see what he did during this. Mike also chimes in with his bike/clown horn, giving a glimpse at his know well-known goofy side. We get the basic narrative with no deviation and the classic story of the nice cat Poster Nutbag facing off against the mean dog Harpua here. The rock opera ending. It’s all here and played amazingly. “You Enjoy Myself” also slays all day. Again, not mind-blowing just tight perfectly performed compositions. “YEM” unfortunately gets cut off just before lift off but we follow it up with a tight “Lizards” featuring outstanding work from Page. It’s all going so well and then Trey begins the “If I Were A Dog” outro. And then….clapping? Seriously? One of the most beautiful pieces of music in the Phish catalog and the crowd starts clapping along. You think the Woos are bad? This is just disgraceful. Luckily, it didn’t stick or else I might just wait for Soundboard recordings. Yuck. The outro remains very nicely played though. The most interesting section closes the set. Trey announces it’s time to go back to Gamehendge and that they’ll skip the beginning and move to the middle. Hey begins to describe “Colonel Forbin’s Ascent” before asking if everyone knows who Icculus is? People respond no so Trey calls an audible and the band goes into “Icculus”. Now, most fans know Icculus as a silly song where it builds and builds as Trey eludes to who Icculus is. This version is the most straight version I’ve ever heard. Trey actually describes who Icculus is and why he’s important to Gamehendge. If you’re new to the song, this would be a great place to start. “Colonel Forbin” begins with the lounge singer/piano style intro. It’s interesting and might work in a small club but no surprise it eventually got dropped. It goes seamlessly into “Mockingbird” with no narration but again just change after change is getting nailed. The recording closes with “AC/DC Bag”. It has finally lost it’s intro, which is a shame because I dug the little funky intro it had. Alas, it is a bit more effective dropping to the main groove. The band starts to finally loosen up but then the cut. Who knows what delights the rest of the veining had but it’s a fun little glimpse into the waning days of Nectar’s.

Show #44: 3/21/88

Monday, 03/21/1988
Nectar’s, Burlington, VT

Set 1: Suzy Greenberg, Golgi Apparatus, McGrupp and the Watchful Hosemasters,Sneakin’ Sally Through the Alley, Divided Sky, Boogie On Reggae Woman > Timber (Jerry), The Lizards

Set 2: Fire, AC/DC Bag > The Chase > Possum, Dinner and a Movie, I Didn’t Know[1],Colonel Forbin’s Ascent > Fly Famous Mockingbird

[1] Fishman on trombone.

A complaint amongst a portion of today’s fans is that Phish doesn’t “jam” enough. In defense of today’s Phish, I’d like to present a glimpse of what a jam-less show is really like. This show at Nectar’s has only two long tracks and they’re not that great. We have a meandering 8-minute “McGrupp” and an 11 minute “Lizards”. Every other track is quite short and does not deviate much from the song structure. The whole first set is effectively a throwaway. Not a lot going on here and you can tell that the energy of the crowd is not that into the set. Not even the resurrection of “Boogie On Reggae Woman” is a highlight here. 2nd set is where all the action is but there’s not even any jam vehicles. The “AC/DC>Chase>Possum” is quite good with the Possum being the top pick there. The crowd also starts to get into the vibe a little more. “Dinner and a Movie” is slayed here, if short. The recording closes out with “Forbin>Mockingbird” without narration, which is interesting considering, two shows ago, Gamehendge was debuted. The “Forbin” is coll because it has an odd jazz piano intro, where Page plays the melody of the verse and then accompanies Trey’s vocal but as a solo player before the band come sin. That’s very cool and worth a listen; my personal highlight. The recording cuts out during “Mockingbird”. Maybe all the jams were in the 3rd set that night. We’ll never know.

Show #43: 3/12/88

Saturday, 03/12/1988
Nectar’s, Burlington, VT

Set 1: Jump Monk[1], McGrupp and the Watchful Hosemasters > The Lizards > Tela[2] >Wilson > AC/DC Bag > Colonel Forbin’s Ascent[2] > Fly Famous Mockingbird > The Sloth >Possum, Run Like an Antelope

[1] First known Phish performance.
[2] First known performance.

One of the problems in reviewing a band’s career in retrospect is you know what happens next. In addition to the problems reviewing 3/11/88 that were explained in that post, there’s also the anticipation for a bigger show that’s just around the corner. Such is the case for 3/12/88. The importance of 3/12/88 is that it marks the first live The Man Who Stepped Into Yesterday, or Gamehendge. The story of this gig is so much more though. The entire band, by all accounts, had previously gone to see Frank Zappa play Memorial Auditorium, just a few blocks up Main street from Nectar’s. At some point during the show, someone had thrown a Phish t-shirt on stage. Frank held it up and the crowd went nuts. Maybe with the knowledge that freaks were out and about that night for the FZ show and that letting their freak flag fly would be par for the course, or that Trey knew he would have a large audience to unleash it on spurred the decision. Regardless, the band decided to go for it.

This would also prove to be an extremely important decision for the band’s future as well. That night, local band Ninja Custodian had a friend in town named John Paluska. Ninja Custodian insisted that they head to Nectar’s to see Phish. He walked in and caught the Gamehendge set and thought they’d be great for his Zoo house parties at Amherst. This ended up with him booking them for April and they quickly built a following in western Massachusetts, the next enclave outside Burlington to take to the band. Paluska’s success lead to him begin asked to manage the band later in 1988. Paluska’s Dionysian Productions would manage the band from that day until the band’s “breakup” in 2004. You can read more about Paluska’s experience on Phish.com with the “This Month in Phish History: March 1988” entry.

As for the recording itself, we only have one set. Luckily, it’s the Gamehendge set and if you’ve ever heard the studio recording, it’s very similar. However, the narration is a bit clearer here. Trey sounds less scripted and more off the cuff. The set opens with Charles Mingus’ “Jump Monk”, a jazz cover that would only be played once more; which is a shame because it’s very well done in the same manner of later cover “Donna Lee”. Quickly though, we get to the main event. The band launches into “McGrupp and the Watchful Hosemasters”. This is important because “McGrupp” was actually the poem that launched Trey into writing the “TMWSIY” story. It’s odd that other versions don’t use it again as this is the only rendition that opens with “McGrupp”. “McGrupp” closes, which I don’t think is as effective. “McGrupp” sets up the tale much better. Over Page’s outro solo, Trey begins to tell the tale of Gamehendge, which I will narrate here as well. “Once upon a time, there was a man…” That man turns out to be Colonel Forbin, a retired military man who stumbles upon a door in the middle of a field. He opens the door and begins making his way down the corridor found within. In the corridor, he finds Rutherford the Brave. Rutherford begins to tell him about the strange land he is now in during the song “The Lizards”. This “Lizards” is pretty note perfect. It doesn’t even have much of a pause between the verses and the “If I Were A Dog” outro. With Rutherford having drowned at the end of “Lizards”, Forbin doesn’t have much time before being spotted by Tela and her two-toned multibeast. Forbin is instantly smitten with here and contemplates this in the song “Tela”. The version here is much longer than other versions and it does drag for a bit because of it. Still sounds great though. Tela and Forbin ride to the rebel camp and Trey describes Errand Wolfe, actually in more depth than in his senior thesis. We learn more about Errand in his singing of the song “Wilson”. We then get a song from Wilson in “AC/DC Bag”, which the crowd loudly cheers. Forbin realizes that the only way to help everyone is to get help from the wise and knowledgeable Icculus, who lives on the mountain over the land. Forbin climbs the mountain in “Colonel Forbin’s Ascent” and Icculus’ response is to fly the Famous Mockingbird to get the Helping Friendly Book from Wilson in “Fly Famous Mockingbird”. Much has been made about the narration between “Forbin” and “Mockingbird”. Recently some said they wished the one from the JEMP truck set on 12/31/13 was too short but here, in the first ever rendition, the narration is also very short. The playing is also amazing here. The band just nailing it like a well rehearsed Broadway pit band. The Famous Mockingbird successfully gets the Helping Friendly Book and Forbin returns to give it to Errand. Errand, now consumed with power, kills Wilson with the help of “The Sloth” but also puts Forbin in jail. The “Forbin in jail” story isn’t repeated here. It really does’ thane an ending except for Icculus’ musings captured in Possum. This version of Gamehendge is also the only live one that ends with “Possum” and really isn’t as neatly tied up as others. How do you follow that up? With a scorching “Run Like An Antelope”. Not as powerful as the previous night but still a lot of fun until the recording cuts off. A historic evening at Nectar’s indeed.

Show #42: 3/11/88

Friday, 03/11/1988
The Base Lodge, Stearns Hall, Johnson State College, Johnson, VT

Set 1: The Chicken[1], Funky Bitch, Sneakin’ Sally Through the Alley[2], Take the ‘A’ Train,You Enjoy Myself[3] -> Wilson, Golgi Apparatus > Slave to the Traffic Light, Flat Fee,Corinna, The Lizards, David Bowie

Set 2: Fluffhead, Dinner and a Movie, Harry Hood, The Ballad of Curtis Loew[2], Harpua,AC/DC Bag > Alumni Blues > Run Like an Antelope[4]

[1] First known Phish performance.
[2] Bobby Brown on harmonica.
[3] No vocal jam.
[4] Trey spoke the names “Marco Esquandolas… Poster Nutbag… Moses Heaps… Moses DeWitt.”

I almost didn’t know how to start this post as it’s a good show but wasn’t noteworthy. Then I began reading This Has All Been Wonderful by David “Zzyzx” Steinberg and having him say that a show can be great without an outstanding jam, it put this show really into perspective. If you’re not following PhishStats on Facebook or haven’t picked up a copy of the book, you’re missing out on some great Phish history notes by the master. Highly recommended. Click this link before buying and 0.5% can go to the Mockingbird Foundation! I also recommend as a dual layer to your Phistory, the blog 20 Years Later. The author is posting a review of that day’s show 20 years later obviously. 1994 was such  banner year and we’ll get there someday! Hopefully by late next year.

As opposed to when the band doesn’t sound inspired like our last show, sometimes the band is just on fire. Such is the case where nearly every song is well-played. Once again deep in the woods at Johnson State Collge, the remoteness as well as a crowd that the band won over by the end of the show, something really got everybody ready to throw down. Which is considerable considering how the show opens.

Trey almost half heartedly introducing a James Brown tune, “The Chicken”. “The Chicken”, while being made famous by Brown, was written by his saxophonist Alfred “Pee Wee” Ellis. This Phish version is actually more like the big band version found on Jaco Pastorius’s The Birthday Concert, hitting more jazz than funk. The set continues to build and you can hear the crowd go from chatty to interested. Crowd pleaser “Sneakin’ Sally” seems to be a big turning point. This version features local musician Bobby Brown on harmonica, adding a dimension to the setlist regular. “A Train” takes it down a notch before the band launches into “You Enjoy Myself”. The “YEM” is more notable for its segue as instead of a vocal jam, Mike hits the bass line to “Wilson” and the band goes into that. The “Wilson” is fun with an excellent intro jam before the lead vocal. A big first set highlight is “Slave” as it gets a gorgeous peak. “Flat Fee” and “Corinna” is as beautiful as a breather you can find. “Lizards” continues to amaze. The second peak is “David Bowie”. We get a “Bowie” with a long intro for the first time and they make the most of it, driving the crowd crazy with teases. In order, we have “Timber”, “Alumni”, “Smoke on the Water”, “Sunshine of Your Love”, “Money”, “Whipping Post”, and perhaps a preview of the yet-undebuted “Weekapaug Groove”. The song sounds pretty great as well but unfortunately the recording cuts out midway through ending set 1.

Set 2 kicks off with a complete “Fluffhead” suite. Nailed. Next is “Dinner and a Movie” where the band plays the signature syncopated Page solo for the first time. Nailed. “Hood” is good, naturally. The crowd knows it too. You can hear the energy seep into the performance. “Curtis Loew” with harmonica has a little more swing to it and is an excellent bridge song to the first recorded complete “Harpua”. The most interesting thing about is the story is told backwards. Trey says Harpua rounded a corner and came “face to fat” with the meanest and fattest cat Poster Nutbag! They then fight. In most versions, the nice cat Poster Nutbag meets the mean Harpua and the ensuing fight kills Poster Nutbag. Poster’s still dead here in the second half of the song (one fan yells “THE CAT’S DEAD!” before the reveal, showing the song had been played before. But that Poster is the mean one is an odd deviation. Still though, amazing the Who rock opera vibe is captured from the beginning. A tight pairing of “AC/DC Bag” and the “Letter”-less “Alumni Blues” slay as well. The “Run Like An Antelope” is a scorcher. The band really lets this one unwind, almost reaching the 15 minute mark. It’s got a very nice slow build to the “Rye Rye Rocco” break, which doesn’t happen until 12 minutes in, demonstrating an early mature patience that we haven’t seen much of yet. Also, we get a lot of Page here, which is fantastic. Really showcases his early chops in a stellar way. We also really get the first crowd reaction to “Been you to have any spliff, man?”. They yell loudly, showing that they are listening and are actually there to see Phish. It’s a great moment. Something special out there in Johnson, but no match for what would occur the following night, back home at Nectar’s. Don’t forget you can follow very post by following me on Twitter @harryphood or like this page on Facebook! See you tomorrow for sure!

Show #41: 2/26/88

UVM’s Living and Learning Center.

Friday, 02/26/1988
Living and Learning Center, University of Vermont, Burlington, VT

Set 1: The Curtain > Suzy Greenberg, You Enjoy Myself, The Man Who Stepped Into Yesterday > Avenu Malkenu > The Man Who Stepped Into Yesterday > AC/DC Bag >Possum, Phase Dance, Good Times Bad Times

Set 2: Fluffhead, I Didn’t Know[1], Golgi Apparatus > The Lizards, David Bowie, The Ballad of Curtis Loew, Fee > McGrupp and the Watchful Hosemasters > Dear Mrs. Reagan, Makisupa Policeman, Alumni Blues > Letter to Jimmy Page > Alumni Blues, Whipping Post

[1] Fishman on trombone.

In a previous post, I talked about the band having off-nights. When you’ve played 1,630 shows, they’re bound to occur in your history. This is yet another example of an off-night (or day since I’m unsure when this show was played). There’s nothing here you have to listen to. The only cool thing I thought was you can hear the crowd clapping during “I Didn’t Know” showing how embraced the band was by UVM. Also, we have the entire “The Curtain” without here. The recording however fades out of “The Lizards” missing the “If I Were a Dog” outro. We’re missing a lot of the 2nd set. Unsure if anything of note happened in those tracks but overall, a show most people can skip.

Show #40: 2/24/88

Wednesday, 02/24/1988
Gallagher’s, Waitsfield, VT

Set 1: Funky Bitch, Fluffhead, The Curtain[1] > You Enjoy Myself, I Didn’t Know[2], The Lizards, Wilson > Peaches en Regalia, Golgi Apparatus > Slave to the Traffic Light, Corinna,Fee > David Bowie

Set 2: Mustang Sally[3], Sneakin’ Sally Through the Alley[4], Sanity, La Grange, Harry Hood

[1] First known Curtain without “With.”
[2] Fishman on trombone.
[3] John Carlton on vocals.
[4] John Carlton on drums and Fishman on trombone.

Back in the Valley again, we get part of a wild night at Gallagher’s. The tape unfortunately does not include “Funky Bitch” or “Fluffhead”. It instead kicks in towards the end of the first “The Curtain” WITHOUT, meaning it does not contain the “With” section at the end. The show doesn’t really pickup until a very nice “Slave to the Traffic Light”. It has a nice closing jam and shows that the band is FINALLY learning what to do with the song. Second set is where the action is. Trey gets into it with a heckler and tells hime to come sing the song. They play “Mustang Sally” and it’s not that bad. The singer really tries to get into it. The more interesting note is that the only other person to guest on “Mustang Sally” with Phish? The one and only Bruce Springsteen. There’s some Phish trivia for you. Trey then introduces him as John Carlton and that this “man of many talents” will slide over the kit so Fish can “play his bone” on “Sneakin Sally”. Apparently Carlton was in a Vermont band called Blue Rose, according to Phish.com. No other history is available about this band. The result hover is surprisingly good. It’s actually an interesting listen to hear “Sneakin’ Sally” with trombone. I recommend checking it out. How do you combat an insane set of events? With “Sanity”, so the band busts that out. The other highlight here is a very fine “Harry Hood” to close out the recording. So, some highlights in this brief recording but worth a quick listen.

Show #39: 2/20/88

The Alpha Tau Omega house at St. Lawrence University.

Saturday, 02/20/1988
St. Lawrence University, Canton, NY

Soundcheck: Golgi Apparatus

Set 1: Funky Bitch, Golgi Apparatus, Peaches en Regalia, Take the ‘A’ Train > Possum,Phase Dance, Good Times Bad Times, Skin It Back, David Bowie

Set 2: Wilson, I Didn’t Know, Fluffhead, Fire, Fee, You Enjoy Myself > Divided Sky, AC/DC Bag > Whipping Post, Slave to the Traffic Light

Encore: Big Black Furry Creature from Mars

One of the major perks of being a college band is that if you get popular enough at your own school, people visiting will want you to play their school as well. So, Phish’s traveling college gigs began here, playing a frat party at St. Lawrence University, deep in the Adirondacks in Canton, New York. Only 120 miles away but with no direct route, the journey takes just over 3 hours. But a gig is a gig, and you never know if it will lead to more. So off they went to play this pledge party. A little different than Otis Day and the Knights, eh? With Phish being in new territory, we don’t get too much new stuff. “A Train” has a very nice transition into “Possum”. The “Possum” is super tight here. “Skin It Back” is the set 1 highlight with an excellent building jam. “Skin It Back” ends oddly enough with “We’re gonna take a short break.” but is followed by “David Bowie” and listed as Set 1. I believe this is an error. “Bowie” has an awesome dissonant jam at about the 5:40 mark. The ending is also very clean.

Set 2 opener “Wilson” has some interesting effects at the 4-minute mark. I think they’re from Mike but it is unclear. “I Didn’t Know” is sans trombone. “Fluffhead” is extremely well-played with some fun banter from Trey, including him asking people to clap along. “YEM” is shown going into “Divided Sky” but it’s just more of an awkward transition on tape. The rest of the set is fun but nothing exciting. “Slave” cuts off before the peak. A third set was played but does not circulate, except a locked down video of “Big Black Furry Creature from Mars” that no one has seen. A solid show on new ground but no must-listens here. Much like the recent Jazz Fest set, a solid show if nothing else. It just goes that a standard Phish show is still better than most bands’ best nights.