Nectar’s, Burlington, VT
Set 1: Jam, Wild Child > Bertha, Can’t You Hear Me Knocking, Camel Walk, Jam, In the Midnight Hour, Scarlet Begonias > Fire > Fire on the Mountain > Makisupa Policeman, Slave to the Traffic Light, Spanish Flea, Don’t Want You No More ->Cities -> Drums -> Skippy the Wondermouse, Fluffhead
Encore: Eyes of the World
 First known Phish performance.
 First known performance.
 First known Phish performance; missing final lyrics.
 Marc Daubert.
 First known Phish performance; Dude of Life on vocals.
 First known performance; Dude of Life on vocals.
So far we’ve reviewed the first show, the “phirst” show, and no we come to probably what is actually the first REAL Phish show. The band introduces some originals, displays the trademark silliness the band would continue until the late 1990s. This is also the first bar gig on record at the legendary Nectar’s on Main Street in Burlington. The bar scene would prove very important to Phish. Trey Anastasio explained it this way to PBS News Hour:
“There were more bars per capita in Burlington than anywhere in America and that was the year the drinking age changed. It was grandfathered, Vermont was the last state to change the drinking age. So I was 18. That’s why there were so many bars. There aren’t more bars in Burlington today. That was the last 3 years that there were. There were 53 bars in a small town. Every bar wanted a band. So when you got a gig in Burlington in 1983, it was for 3 nights, 3 sets, I mean, we played like 6 hours a night. And the owner of the bar of the bar we would play in would come up to us and say, “Play a slow one, play a fast one, play a cover, play a Beatles cover” because there was no cover, we were just the band in the corner. We got really good at playing live and I think if we weren’t in the right place at the right time, I don’t think any of this would have happened.”
In this recording, we only have one set. Now Nectar’s in the 1980s was VERY different from the Nectar’s you would visit today. Nectar’s was not split up into two separate venues with an upstairs (now named Club Metronome) and downstairs. The entire space was one venue with bands performing upstairs and the traditional restaurant downstairs. It was in the upstairs space that this gig would be played and most of the gigs would be played. The band would play many different bars all over Burlington in the coming years but Nectar’s was always marked as the place where it all began, partly due to this tape. It also was the oldest available Phish recording until 11/3/84 surfaced and the first clear soundboard recording of the band.
The show leads off with the interesting pairing of “Scarlet>Fire (Hendrix)>Fire”. This differs from the 12/2/83 version in that the band sounds much more relaxed playing the two Dead covers and instead of just mimicking the Dead, puts more of their own sound towards the songs. The band’s transition betweens songs is also on point with using the end of Scarlet Begonias for both, taking it down to Jimi Hendrix’s “Fire”‘s key to transition into that and picking up the riff again at the end to transition into Fire on the Mountain. It’s a key omen as the band has learned how to work a “set” of songs properly for good flow. The recording debut of “Makisupa Policeman” follows and has no special keywords but is a great introduction to the band’s reggae original and playful riffing on reggae and “smoking herb”. A break in the action has playful banter with Trey explaining they wrote that in down in Kingston to which someone replies Kingston, VT! (There is no town as such but Granville was named Kingston at one point.) They also do a bit about the emergency broadcast system in which they say that no one will have time to know what to do in an emergency. Marc Daubert yells out the next song is about the Burlington parking situation and the band launches into another original, “Slave to the Traffic Light”. The song doesn’t have the patience that will be exhibited in future versions but it’s interesting to hear the song with keys and with a twin guitar attack. Also, Trey doesn’t have his signature sound yet and some of the harmonics we all know and love fall flat.
“Here’s the magic band you’ve all been waiting for, Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass,” states Trey as they go into the next track, “Spanish Flea”. This is worth it alone for the early band introductions by Marc Daubert. I would love to petition fans to give the Milkman nickname back to Mike Gordon. Trey sets up the next tune by saying here’s a band that was not as popular, the Allman Brothers Band. Audience members shout out many other bands while the band tunes up and then launch into “Don’t Want You No More” from the Allmans’ debut album. Not much is noteworthy the beginning of the rack but around 4:30, the band slips out of the more bluesy followthrough of the track and gets into a funk jam that would not be too uncommon in today’s Phish shows. It’s tasty really glimpse at where the band would go. Mike drops the bass line to “Cities” and the band is off. It’s a fairly straightforward performance of the song except using Phish’s own slow tempo version in stead of the faster “dance” tempo found on Talking Heads’ Fear of Music. Amazing is that this now band staple disappeared for a long time and was discovered by most on Slip, Stitch, and Pass years later. A long drum solo with Daubert and Fish ensues. Trey might have even jumped in but it was unclear.
To close out the set, the band also debuts two Phish originals but with the assistance of another very special guest. With a slow-building intro, Trey brings out for the very first time, the Dude of Life! The Dude guests on the debut of “Skippy the Wondermouse”. “Skippy” does not live on but its music does in the form of “McGrupp and the Watchful Hosemasters”. The lyrics of “Skippy” get lost in the beauty of the song and are very throwaway. Luckily the tune did not. The debut of “Fluffhead” is, in fact, very different from the Fluffhead we all know and love. None of the delicateness or slow build that accompanies the tune today is there. It also does not include the “Fluff’s Travels” section of the song. The bouncy tempo and jangly guitars make the tune actually sound more like what I’d picture Dave Matthews Band covering “Fluffhead” would sound like. Overall though, not a bad first try. The show ends with crowd pleaser “Eyes of the World” which doesn’t sound too different from the version presented on 11/3/84. Not a bad little show and definitely sets the Phish “vibe”. Tomorrow: we begin 1985!