Shows #95-96: 4/21-22 The Front Burlington, VT

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).

Today I want to talk about two important shows that we don’t have much of a setlist or any recordings from. I know what you’re thinking, “How can you write up shows that you don’t know much about?” The fact is these two shows were extremely important in the history of Phish that our lack of first-hand accounts can’t be reason alone to skip them.

Much of the mythos of the Phish story is Phish rose to be the kings of live music without radio, MTV, or album sales. While on a national front this is true, at home, Phish was all supported by local radio stations. Most notably here at the Rock Rumble at the Front. WIZN was a major player in the Vermont radio scene alongside WNCS out of Montpelier, a station we’ll cover later in this series. Starting out in 1983 in Vergennes, the same year as Phish, with Arty LaVigne as general manager, the station would become a champion of local radio with a popular local morning show, Corm and the Coach, and a focus on Vermont artists. The station would become the predominant rock and roll radio station for the town until 1997 when it added 99.9 The Buzz as its “younger-focused” sister station. As a kid, I used to listen to these three stations ad-nauseum. I still remember listening to Rich Haskell and Arty LaVigne riding down Shelburne Road with my parents in the summer, usually talking about some promotions at the Chickenbone Cafe. On all these stations, around 1992-94, there was always room for Phish between Led Zeppelin and Eric Clapton. I probably heard Phish over the airwaves long before I knew exactly who they were. Also, a WIZN DJ gave me a copy of Hoist in June 1994, my first conscious moment with the band and one that clearly changed my life forever.

The official T-shirt of the WIZN Rock Rumble
The official T-shirt of the WIZN Rock Rumble. (Photo credit @JayCatVT)

Part of that was these two shows. The shows were hosted by WIZN’s own Arty LaVigne, who had just bought that station outright in June 1988. Nighttime drive DJ Mike Luoma was also believed to be a judge that evening. The only known fact is Phish pulled out the theatrical stops, climaxing their one set on April 21st by lowering Fishman naked from the rafters for his “I Didn’t Know” vacuum solo. The vacuum, however, was not plugged in. Fish did play a naked trombone solo though. The band also played Contact. Mike’s lone notes from the show are they played “loud and hard”. The band obviously brought it enough to be named a finalist. All the finalists performed with Phish winning the whole thing on April 22nd. Phish used the Archer Studios time won to record “Split Open and Melt” and “Bathtub Gin” for the forthcoming Lawn Boy. Phish were now officially the kings of Burlington’s music scene. Now on the radar of local radio, the band could continue to grow outside of the city of Burlington and college scenes.

Show #94: 4/20/1989 The Zoo (Humphries House) Amherst, MA

Thursday, 04/20/1989
Humphries House (The Zoo), Amherst College, Amherst, MA

Set 1: AC/DC Bag >  Fluffhead[1],  You Shook Me All Night Long Jam >  Fluffhead,  Fire, Esther,  Suzy Greenberg,  The Sloth,  Possum,  McGrupp and the Watchful Hosemasters -> Foam,  David Bowie

Set 2: Divided Sky,  Walk Away,  You Enjoy Myself >  Split Open and Melt[2],  The Lizards, Mike’s Song >  I Am Hydrogen >  Weekapaug Groove,  Love You[3],  Harpua

[1] Fire alarm interruption.
[2] Fish drum solo.
[3] Fish on trombone.

The Zoo (Humphries House) at Amherst College.
The Zoo (Humphries House) at Amherst College.

This would be the last time Phish would play a Full Moon party at the Zoo as manager John Paluska would graduate from Amherst that spring. Oddly enough, this is the first time the band played on April 20th. At the time, however, it did not have the implications of marijuana use now associated with the day. That would not come into fashion until about year later, maybe two. So no amazing extended Makisupa. What we do have is a very solid top-to-bottom show here. The beginning and end get cut off so we jump right into “AC/DC Bag” in progress. The “Fluffhead” gets cut right at the beginning of the “Clod” segment as the fire alarm goes off. The band returns and jams on the chord progression of AC/DC’s “You Shook Me All Night Long” segueing easily into “Clod” to finish the “Fluffhead” it’s perfect and classic Phish. At the end of Fluffhead, Trey reminds the crowd has to be cool because if the fire alarm goes off again, the show is over. Be cool about “whatever” you’re smoking. Page takes the crowd’s suggestion go smoking outside. Sage advice that could be imparted today. Trey than dedicates Hendrix’s “Fire” to the hard working people who turned off the fire alarm. Trey tells Paul, he doesn’t know about Paul but Trey came during that one. Then Mike’s asks for Paul’s duct tape. Trey introduces “Esther” as a Gamehendge song, but on the outskirts of Gamehendge. The song here is the best yet, hitting the right tone and tempo for the song with flawless playing on the outro by Trey. This version soars. “The Sloth” has that weird outro still. “McGrupp”, while not outstanding is very solid here as is the “Foam”. A “Bowie” highlighted by strong dissonance from Page closes Set 1. Page is playing very opposite Trey but leading the jam at the same time. You can hear Trey following Page at times. It’s a very interesting early jam.

Set 2 kicks off with a solid, if note heavy, “Divided Sky”. After “Walk Away”, despite a very vocal request for “A-Train”, the band knows better and busts out “You Enjoy Myself”. The “YEM” never really hits the spot though. The vocal jam drops into “Split Open and Melt”. The “Melt” here is much more solid than the last one but still contains Fish’s odd drum solo. It really hurts the flow of the song. It also is closer to the standard tempo but still a little slower but not as bad as 4/15/1989. The “Lizards” and “Mike’s->Groove” are standard but solid. The “Weekapaug” does pack a little extra punch with falling lines from Page and Trey that are gorgeous. Fish busts out Syd Barrett’s “Love You” for the first time since 10/31/87. It feels like a step backwards from “Undun” and “If I Only Had a Brain” but it is at least much clearer now.

The clear highlight of this night though is Harpua. “Sounds to me like the song you want to hear begins with an ‘Oom Pa Pa’, says Trey, words that still make any Phish fan fill with delight. I still would love to know what those were. Anyway, they riff on combining the song with the Allman Brothers’ “Whipping Post” before going right into “Harpua”. Trey launches into the story, talking about Harpua, leading to Trey telling that someone had shot Marley in the ass recently. He then proceeds to describe Harpua and Jimmy’s cat with each having a non-shot-ass, repeating the phrase over and over, until Mike yells out “LET’S HEAR IT FOR NON-SHOT ASS!” The band then jams on “Non-Shot-Ass” for a short bit and it’s hilarious. We get the first time Trey leads up to introducing the name of Jimmy’s cat in a huge build-up, similar to Icculus. During the buildup, the band riffs on Spencer Davis Group’s “Gimme Some Lovin'”. Trey also yells out “MY GOD!” several times, to which Mike responds “HIS GOD!”, a great back and forth adding to the theatrics. They do this a few times during the song. There’s also a tease of Ninja Custodian’s “The Price of Love” right before the fight between Harpua and Poster Nutbag. As always, Poster is killed in the fight and the song ends with it’s great rock opera finish. Man, I will always go for a “Harpua” and this one stands out as one of the best, if only for Mike and Trey riffing off each other. Just a good overall show made better by an outstanding track.

Show # 93: 4/15/1989 Billings Student Center The University of Vermont Burlington, VT

Saturday, 04/15/1989
Billings Lounge, University of Vermont, Burlington, VT

Soundcheck: Time Loves a Hero

Set 1: Mike’s Song >  I Am Hydrogen >  Weekapaug Groove,  Esther >  You Enjoy Myself > Wilson,  Peaches en Regalia,  On Your Way Down >  Alumni Blues[1] >  Letter to Jimmy Page>  Alumni Blues,  I Didn’t Know[2],  McGrupp and the Watchful Hosemasters[3] >  Foam, David Bowie

Set 2: Funky Bitch,  Golgi Apparatus >  Slave to the Traffic Light,  The Mango Song,  Divided Sky,  Split Open and Melt[4],  Suzy Greenberg >  Fluffhead >  Good Times Bad Times

[1] Additional lyrics.
[2] Fish on trombone; with sound effects from an electronic drum machine.
[3] With sound effects from an electronic drum machine.
[4] With drum solo.

Billings Library (formerly Billings Student Center)
Billings Library (formerly Billings Student Center)

Unlike the gig at Johnson State, this surprisingly would not be the band’s last gig at the University of Vermont. There are a few more left to document. It’s more interesting that the band wasn’t playing a larger space at UVM yet. Back in the cozy confines of the Billings Student Center, the band turns in a fine performance all for the benefit of VPIRG, the Vermont Public Interest Research Group. Set 1 is excellent audio quality. It’s interesting that we have the soundcheck in tact, more than likely the student center was just open and people could come in during the soundcheck. “Time Loves a Hero” continued to get better and better and it’s interesting it wasn’t played again until 1998 when it would have been a great cover staple. The opening “Mike’s Groove” is very tasty with Mike finally not straining on his vocal on “Mike’s” and “Weekapaug” played at the regular faster pace. It sounds gorgeous. The band welcomes the crowd to the VPIRG benefit and then Trey informs that someone lost their birth control pills at Johnson State and then band brought them to the next gig. A hilarious banter moment. “Esther” gets a much needed redemption after the previous night’s closer and here we get a near-perfect version. “You Enjoy Myself” is quite nice with Trey bringing the jam to a blistering peak before the bass and drums section. The “Wilson->Peaches” blat-boom transition returns nicely. After “Peaches”, we get some very nice banter from Page, again reinforcing why probably Page delivers so much of the banter now. He advises people to buy some cider and lemonade in the back and then plug their upcoming Pearl Street gig on May 1st. He says that if they sell enough tickets, they’ll move from the basement space to the main hall. We’ll see soon if that happened! They play “On Your Way Down” but I really think “Times Loves a Hero” is the better Little Feat cover for the band. Page does a nice job though. The song’s just too heavy for my taste I guess. We get a lightning fast “Alumni>Letter>Alumni” triplet. “I Didn’t Know” has the really odd mixture of Fish playing trombone and a new electronic drum machine on the tune, adding weird sound effects to the acapella lines. I hope the drum machine is NOT a permanent fixture. Yikes. Fish does add some nice woodblock textures to the opening of “McGrupp”. “Foam” is interesting because Trey tries to segue directly in it and you hear him picking out the notes solo and it takes a good couple of rounds before the rest of the band catches up. I like it because it shows there’s more work to do on some of these tunes and room for improvement; taking risks. The “Foam” itself is starting move at its signature tempo and meshing nicely. We get part of “David Bowie” but nothing noteworthy.

Set 2’s tape is less clean than set 1. It’s very rough in places so proceed at your own risk. The set kicks off with a dirty “Funky Bitch” though, setting the tone. “Golgi” and “Slave” offer some varied playing by Trey but otherwise have nothing outstanding. After “Slave”, there’s a fun bit of banter with Trey saying they’l play their newest number next. Trey then says Page will use a new synthesizer on the song but the synthesizer is broken already on its first time out. Trey then says Fish will use his new woodblocks and advises Fish to play the song he just learned. This pans into a “Name That Tune” bit where Fish plays the “Charge” riff on them and an audience member wins a date with Fish. Trey also says there’s a special way to dance to the next song with only your hips and body, keeping your head still. Trey also says that Paul puts feedback pack in the monitors and takes it out to trick the band in thinking he’s a great soundman. The band then busts into “The Mango Song”, playing a much-more polished version and follows it up with a strong “Divided Sky”. Then, we get our first recorded “Split Open and Melt” and I’m excited for this only to be let down. The song is played a little slower than most fans are used to, probably because of its infant stage, the band is not up to speed on the intricacy of its dissonance. In the middle before the “Steam Dream” breakdown, there’s a long drum solo by Fishman at just feels wrong. The jam also isn’t much but Trey wailing on sustain. There’s potential but I don’t see it yet here. The show ends in typical 1989 fashion with “Suzy”, “Fluffhead”, and “Good Times Bad Times”. All fun show for the UVM kids overall. At the end of “Fluffhead”, Trey plugs a couple of gigs, the all-ages gig in Northampton again (but with the wrong date of 4/15), Johnny B. Fishman Jazz Ensemble with Russell Remington at Noonie’s Deli on Mondays, and the Rock Rumble at the Front this weekend! Will Phish win the Rock Rumble? Find out on future installments of the Phishsonian.

Show #92: 4/14/1989 The Base Lodge at Johnson State College Johnson, VT

Friday, 04/14/1989
The Base Lodge, Stearns Hall, Johnson State College, Johnson, VT

Soundcheck: Time Loves A Hero

Set 1: AC/DC Bag >  Foam,  Walk Away,  Fluffhead,  Fee,  Halley’s Comet >  Run Like an Antelope,  Contact,  Fire

Set 2: You Enjoy Myself,  Bold As Love,  The Lizards,  The Sloth,  Possum,  If I Only Had a Brain[1],  Mike’s Song >  I Am Hydrogen >  Weekapaug Groove,  Esther

[1] Fish on trombone.

2007 067

Before we dive into this show, we need to take a moment to reveal some big movements that happened off the magnetic tape. Between the last recording on 3/30/89 and this one, Phish had hired Chris “Steck” Stecher as interim lighting director and was feeling out him filling the role. At the same time, they posted this add in the March edition of the Phish Update (the band’s newsletter) and in local newspapers: “WANTED: Creative light person to run new light show for PHISH on a salaried, permanent basis. This very valuable partner will travel with the band as a 5th member. We are looking for someone from the New England area — no need to live in Burlington. Call (802) 654-9068.” On April 7th, Steck had newly hired roadie Chris Kuroda fill in on lights during “Famous Mockingbird” at the Stone Church. Trey later noted to the crew how he really liked the lights during “Mockingbird”. Kuroda stepped up and told Trey that he had been running the lights during that song. Stecher was immediately let go and Kuroda has been on lights ever since (except for one weekend in Vegas we’ll talk about in a few years). Kuroda made his lighting director debut on April 13, 1989.

We don’t have a recording of that show. We do have this one, a fun rowdy night at Johnson State College. Page makes note to the crowd that this was the 5th show the band had played at Johnson State and Trey would say how they’ve played at Johnson for 3 years. It was always a reliable place in the frontier of those early days. However, this would be the last show at Johnson State as Phish would outgrow the tiny performance space known as the Base Lodge. On the tape, you can easily hear the raucous crowd through including several loud guys yelling for certain tracks. Trey dedicates “Fluffhead” to the people from the dorm they were just hanging out in and this “Fluff” has some experimentation by Trey on guitar sounds and is well done. “Halley’s” goes out there with a some light vocal jamming and then a nice outro jam that in a later year would probably have lead to something great but here just gets cut short for “Antelope”. The “Antelope” is hot here though with a very playful intro by all members before dropping into the next part. Trey’s getting close to his guitar god phase here with quick, nimble playing and phrasing rapidly becoming more apparent each show. Building on the last recording, “Antelope” continues to be a top song for the band in this period. “Contact” is a must listen if only for the banter. As some fans yell for the song, Trey advises “we’re gonna get a little audience participation during this next number. This is a very important philosophical tune. Please pay heed.” The “Contact” itself has a very nice groove in the bridge jam. The banter continues from Page, “And if I could take this moment to say that, you know we play a lot of gigs throughout a lot of places but Johnson State, we hold a dear spot in our heart for Johnson State. And I know it brings a tear in my eye…” Trey interjects over Page, “But what you don’t really know is we have a special affinity for Johnson State because we own Johnson State! And all of your tuitions are going right into our pockets. So, you might as well just throw all your money up on stage right now cause we’re gonna get it in the end. If you know what I mean. There’s nothing like getting it in the end every once and a while.” The band then ends the set with “Fire”, which has Trey playing with tones and tuning more than just wailing over the top for an interesting version of the song. “A brief hiatus and we shall return.”

Set 2 kicks off with Page practicing his “You Enjoy Myself” riff and then the band yells its name in unison, “YEEEEEEEEM”. The “YEM” is kind of broken down, played slower than usual as if they’d been having trouble keeping pace with the song. I dig the building vibe of this version though. Makes it stand out like Johnson was safe enough to not have to “show off”. Trey shouts “YEM” again during Mike’s bass solo. Mike really goes off during the descending part too. He’s really going out there, which is excellent to hear. Other second set highlights include “The Sloth” with a weird outro after the fade out. We get a full “Mike’s Groove”, the highlight being a very danceable “Weekapaug”. Be sure not to miss the show ending “Esther” though. It’s clear they’re still working out the song (being that’s only the 3rd time played) and at one point a guy in the crowd thinks it’s Mary Poppins “Chim-Chim-Cherie”. But the work print edition has some cool quirks and alternate ideas that are interesting to hear. Hopefully, the money from Johnson State kept rolling in despite no more appearances on campus. If not, there’s always UVM tomorrow…

Show #91: 3/30/89 The Front Burlington, VT

Thursday, 03/30/1989
The Front, Burlington, VT

Set 1: Bold As Love,  McGrupp and the Watchful Hosemasters >  Divided Sky,  The Price of Love[1],  On Your Way Down,  Ya Mar,  Fluffhead,  Run Like an Antelope

Set 2: The Mango Song[2],  Mike’s Song >  I Am Hydrogen >  Weekapaug Groove,  You Enjoy Myself,  Undun[1],  La Grange,  Golgi Apparatus

Set 3: Peaches en Regalia >  Foam,  AC/DC Bag >  Big Black Furry Creature from Mars, Satin Doll,  Rocky Top

Encore: Makisupa Policeman

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

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).

We finally get another full show after some segments and what a beauty we have to go over today! This is the best show of 1989 so far and not just because we get to hear everything. It starts off with a solid “Bold as Love” which Trey has dropped the horrible flanger effect he played at the end. “McGrupp” builds to a soaring dissonant peak in the jam. “Divided Sky” is played with such fire. Phish slays local colleagues’ Ninja Custodian’s “The Price of Love”. A fiery “On Your Way Down” with delicious Page vocals goes nicely with “Ya Mar” to bring the mood up. “Fluffhead” has some very nice licks by Trey to accompany the composition. “Antelope” is the best yet with whole band movement during the jams and a fun dissonant undercurrent to the Marco Esquandolas section.

Set 2 we get the first recording of “The Mango Song”. The song is not the powerhouse it will e like most early Phish versions but it does have really tight licks from Trey and the general feel is there. “Mike’s Groove” is pretty good. The “Mike’s” is very short but hot, the “Hydrogen” is perfect, and the “Weekapaug” is the fastest yet but unfortunately gets cuts short. “You Enjoy Myself” is also quite nice with great interplay between Trey and Page and an awesome drop into a tease of Linda Ronstadt’s “You’re No Good” and hen working it around the “Wash Uffizi Drive Me to Firenze” of the vocal jam. The Guess Who’s “Undun” here is a Fishman song and continues what began with “If I Only Had A Brain” but this time has less theatrics and is more a fun romp through the song. No longer just singing with his head down and mumbling Syd Barrett, here he duets with Page and puts some real emotion in the song. Well done Fish! A ripping “La Grange” follows and then “Golgi” closes the set.

Set 3 kicks off with the always strong “Peaches”. “Foam” continues to be a strong showcase piece for all 4 members of Phish with Page and Trey trading licks, Mike playing inventive bass lines, and Fishman playing a strong underlying rhythm. “AC/DC” is good but nothing special. “BBFCFM” is fun as usual. “Satin Doll” has excellent solos by both Mike and Fish, demonstrating their abilities at the time. Trey tries to explain the band at the end by introducing them as “The Phish Fusion Hardcore Jazz and Bluegrass Band”. Little hard to fit on a marquee. The band then rips into “Rocky Top” to end the set. An encore of “Makisupa Policemen” with a solid Mike-heavy reggae jam ends the show.

Chris Kuroda - The Early Years. (Photo Credit: Phish.com)
Chris Kuroda – The Early Years. (Photo Credit: Phish.com)

This show would not only be noted for the music but it was also Chris Kuroda’s first night on Phish’s crew as a simple roadie, lugging gear. Apparently, Trey asked Chris he if he knew anyone bring their guitar lesson and Chris responded by suggesting himself. This is why 2/7/89 might be CK5’s favorite show as it was one of his last as a common fan.