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!

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Show #30: 9/21/87

Screen Shot 2014-04-07 at 8.26.21 PM
Photo Credit: @sarahzeee on Instagram

Monday, 09/21/1987
Nectar’s, Burlington, VT

Set 1: The Man Who Stepped Into Yesterday > Avenu Malkenu > The Man Who Stepped Into Yesterday, Clod > Slave to the Traffic Light, Funky Bitch, Wilson, Dear Mrs. Reagan, Golgi Apparatus > AC/DC Bag -> Possum

Set 2: You Enjoy Myself, The Curtain With, Big Black Furry Creature from Mars, Suzy Greenberg > Alumni Blues > Letter to Jimmy Page > Alumni Blues

Set 3: Happy Birthday to You[1], Good Times Bad Times, Rocky Top[2], Sneakin’ Sally Through the Alley, Fee > Divided Sky, Dog Log, The Ballad of Curtis Loew, Run Like an Antelope, Makisupa Policeman, Flat Fee, Fire, Terrapin[2], La Grange, Fluffhead

[1] “The Birthday Dub”
[2] First known Phish performance.

A month after Ian’s Farm, we find the band back at Nectar’s. They play a typical show. Not a lot stands out here. A well played “TMWSIY>Malkenu>TMWSIY” kicks off the show. An odd lead-off choice and probably doomed the night as far as the crowd goes. “Clod” was also solid but again an odd choice. You can feel that the band wants more focus on originals and playing THEIR music, probably being over the confidence from a good summer. “Slave to the Traffic Light” is a real breakthrough moment as the band builds to a beautiful peak together with no soloing in the way. It’s not quite finished but a pivotal step to getting the right tone for the song. “Funky Bitch” is just kind of sloppy and uninspired. “Wilson” makes strides towards being bombastic. “Dear Mrs. Reagan” continues to grind my gears. “Golgi” saves things with an on point version that hits all the right notes. The set closing jam of “AC/DC Bag->Possum” has an odd cut before the segue due to patching sources. The 2nd source almost ruins the vibe with how muddy it sounds but the “Bag” jam is decent and the segue is well executed.

2nd set attempts to take the evening up a notch with an opening “YEM”. It has a cool breakdown around the 8-minute mark and continues to retain the “bass and drums” jam but other than that isn’t too appealing. “The Curtain With” is a real highlight of this show because the band found a way to play it in a completely different style. It could almost be called the “Cowboy With” as it has a real country hoedown feel with Trey’s riffs and Mike and Fish’s rhythm at the opening. While I’m glad they didn’t experiment further with changing the song (I believe), it’s a funny moment of experimentation. The “With” retains its glorious peaks and is a must-listen. “Big Black Furry Creature from Mars” follows and has shifted froth e angular punk feeling to a flatter sound. While moving towards the modern-day version, I feel that the song lost some feeling in the move and gives less of a satirical feel and edge. “Suzy Greenberg” falls flat with no punch. Set Two closes with a fairly standard “Alumni>Letter>Alumni”.

The 3rd set opens with “The Birthday Dub” dedicated to Spup! I wonder if anyone remembers who Spup is but ti’s fun way to kick off the last set. The energy continues with “Good Times Bad Times” and you can feel the crowd is finally into the show at this point. “GTBT” is well played and rollicking. A cover debut follows in the form of the Osborne Brothers’ “Rocky Top” and also marks an early foray into bluegrass for the band. It’s not the cleanest version but would be an important cover for the band over the years. The song also earned Phish a spot as a clue in the Bonnaroo category on Jeopardy! last month as featured at the top of this post. “Sneakin’ Sally” keeps the crowd moving. “Fee>Divided Sky” is an odd placement. “Fee” still is without megaphone and “Divided Sky” is still incomplete but both are a blast to listen to. “Dog Log” is fun but misses the barking of the last two recordings. “Curtis Loew” gives a nice break in the action. “Antelope” has a nice extended jam on the reggae part just before “Rye Rye Rocco” starting at about 7:30. “Makisupa” goes a little long. Going out on a high, the band hits a triplet of covers, the high energy of Hendrix’s “Fire” leads off, the debut of Syd Barrett’s “Terrapin” is an interesting middle piece that someone captured the audiences’ attention, and ZZ Top’s “La Grange” takes it out. “Terrapin” is very important because it marks the first recording of a Fishman feature! A quirky song for a quirky drummer? Makes all the sense in the world. It’s a shame that it’s too muddy to hear properly and also does not include the trombone solo but still is amazing that it survived. After the triple threat, “Fluffhead” appears to close the set but the recording fades. A pretty standard night but with some highlights nonetheless.

Show #24: 5/20/87

Wednesday, 05/20/1987
The Ranch, South Burlington, VT

Set 1: Wilson > Run Like an Antelope, Golgi Apparatus > Back Porch Boogie Blues >Lushington[1] -> Possum, Harry Hood, You Enjoy Myself, Alumni Blues[2]

Set 2: Fire

[1] No lyrics.
[2] Guests from The Joneses and Mental Floss on rhythm guitar and saxophone.

Our first video! We finally get to see what this band looks like at this time. Sure the quality’s not the best but it’s a 25 year old tape! If only the ability to digitize it had come sooner. But alas, I still suffer through my bootleg of Pink Floyd “The Wall” live at Nassau 1980, just to see what the spectacle was like. We finally see that while Trey has started to gain his signature sound, he is not yet playing his custom signature Languedoc. He IS however playing his red Timecaster, which was built by Paul at Time Guitars in Vermont. Trey also already has his custom built cabinets. Mike is playing a Time bass but not the Languedoc bass. Page and Fish are a little too darker to fully make out their look. Fish is buried behind Mike in this setup. This show is a split bill with the Joneses and believe to be tied to Graduation at UVM and/or Goddard. This might even be Mike’s classes party as Mike graduated from UVM in May 1987.

The band returns to fine form after the sloppy performance of 5/11. Wilson kicks the set off and is more like modern version. The E chord intro however is played under a drone form Page and also is a high E instead of the low E we know today. Definitely nailing down the power of “Wilson”. “Run Like An Antelope” is quite good with great leads form Trey on the middle jam. Looks like there’s at 20 people grooving at the show, including a couple on the roof! Wild to see a crazy 80s house party. It looks nothing like all those terrible movies. Except for Trey’s holes in the knees of his jeans. Those are quite real. He and Mike could have been stand-ins in Wayne’s World. We even see someone being an early “That Guy” wearing a Phish logo t-shirt to the show. I wonder if he still has that and what it’d be worth. After a lengthy pause with no good banter (but a Marley appearance!!), the band busts into “Golgi Apparatus”. Trey almost nails the middle solo. It’s hilarious when he flubs it and then looks to Mike and Page and shakes his head. He wants to be perfect so much at this stage. There’s an interesting run of notes up before the ending crescendo. Also, the vocals are much improved as Trey becomes more confident in his voice. Mike’s bass also sounds fantastic on “Golgi” as well.

Trey hits the opening lick to “Bach Porch Boogie Blues” and it’s time to get down. The band has perfected the tune. It’s an early glimpse at how amazingly the band would play bluegrass tankards later on. Page’s keys mirror Trey’s riffs quite well and he even has a great solo on the Rhodes early on. About midway through “Back Porch”, the speed demons inhibit the band and they get faster and faster. All the way, they maintain the vibe and it’s impressive to watch. Trey nailing hot licks and Page right by him; Mike keeping up with Fishman and the four-headed monster is just looking gnarly. The song dissolves into noise. This version absolutely smokes and it’s wonder that the tune has been shelved. I think it might be time for a comeback! Someone make a sign for SPAC! “The Chase” comes next and they are just nailing the odd time signature and structure. It quick rolls into a short instrumental version of “Lushington” before hitting the groove to “Possum”, which is played well and hits a fun groove if nothing else.

The band tunes and Marley (maybe other dogs) bark. It almost sounds like the band’s going to play “Slave to the Traffic Light” but we get the opening chords to “Harry Hood” The “Hood” is quite good here as Trey and Page play well with each other on the “landing” jam. The band also sounds really tight. Unfortunately, the end gets cut off so there’s no release. “You Enjoy Myself” follows. We finally get a nice long shot of Page! With a full head of hair! The band’s still working this one out with all the intricate changes and patterns but damn if they aren’t trying. The set ends with Trey inviting members of the Joneses and Mental Floss to the stage to do a Burlington All-Star version of “Alumni Blues”. It’s especially interesting to here Peter Danforth on soprano saxophone adding to the tune. The jam doesn’t really go anywhere that much but it’s always to hear a stage full of musicians rip through a Phish tune. The ending sax solo almost makes it seem like a Night Court jam before the ending chorus of “I’m Alright” kicks in. Another interesting day in Phishtory. As a bonus, I’ve included a clip of the Joneses playing the Grateful Dead classic “The Music Never Stopped” from the same day. Enjoy this piece of Burlington music history. At 3 minutes in, you can see Page stroll by the volleyball court.