Shows #50 and 51: 5/23-24/88

Monday, 05/23/1988
Nectar’s, Burlington, VT

Set 1: Take the ‘A’ Train, Golgi Apparatus, You Enjoy Myself, Rocky Top, Light Up Or Leave Me Alone, I Didn’t Know[1], Peaches en Regalia > Possum, Good Times Bad Times

[1] Fish on trombone.

On today’s post, we get the rest of the 3 night run started at the last show. The last show’s date waffled between the 21st and the 22nd. Evidence from this recording of 5/23 points towards 5/22 being the correct date. Phish.com reflects this but Phish.net does not. During 5/23 at the start of “You Enjoy Myself”, Del Martin makes a request and the band reminds him they played a request for him last night. “Last request, we’re even gonna give you! After you graduate from graduate school, man. Del, if you get a Masters degree, we’ll play another request for you, ” says Trey. Which makes me wonder if Del Martin ever did go to graduate school? Did he get another request? After he allegedly fled with some of the 1980s master tapes, does the band even talk to him anymore? Trey and Del seemed to be such great friends during these recordings. I wonder what his story is. That’d be a great article to work on and blow wide open. Other than that nugget, not a lot of highlights here. A flubbed but roaming “You Enjoy Myself”, a tight “Light Up or Leave Me Alone”, and a solid “Possum” are the things to listen to here but you can really just focus on the next night.

Tuesday, 05/24/1988
Nectar’s, Burlington, VT

Set 1: The Curtain With, Rocky Top, Funky Bitch, Alumni Blues > Letter to Jimmy Page> Alumni Blues, Peaches en Regalia, Golgi Apparatus, Sneakin’ Sally Through the Alley,Suzy Greenberg, Fire

Set 2: Jesus Just Left Chicago, Fluffhead > Whipping Post

Set 3: Ya Mar[1] -> Jam[1] > Halley’s Comet[2] > The Sloth, I Didn’t Know[3], La Grange,Fee, I Know a Little, Big Black Furry Creature from Mars, Corinna, Harpua, Run Like an Antelope

[1] Jah Roy on vocals.
[2] Richard Wright on vocals.
[3] Richard Wright on drums, Fish on trombone.

Teases:
· Theme from The Flintstones tease in Big Black Furry Creature from Mars
· One Love quote in Jam

Phish today is known as a jamband but on these early tapes, while they are great improvisers, I really don’t get the meandering feeling of a jam band. Most people wouldn’t recognize this band with how short the playing is. When people today complain that Phish “doesn’t jam enough”, I kind of laugh to myself because Phish is just being Phish. They’ve always just been a very tight rock band that happens to take things for a walk now and then. However if you want to hear early leanings of the band’s ability to jam then 5/24/88 is a show for you. A strong “The Curtain With” kicks off the show in grand style. The outro jam is a must listen. “Rocky Top” also has a strong early version here. This Nectar’s run really solidifies the song as a staple of the Phish catalog and the earliest of the band’s bluegrass leanings. “Here’s one for this guy right over here!,” says Trey. “Oh yeah, hey you!,” says Mike. “Way for you to show up man!” We’ll never know who that is but he’s getting a “Peaches en Regalia” and maybe some shots it sounds like. Nothing like a call out from the band. “Sneakin’ Sally” also gets loose and is well played.

Second set is the real highlight here. The band kicks off “Jesus Just Left Chicago” and Mike asks the band to “take it down” and to “take it down again” even though the band is playing the song about as slow as it can without falling apart. It also is real quiet below Page’s vocals. It as if they want to make it as dirty as possible. Page plays a great solo going from piano to organ. He sings another verse and then it’s time for Trey to ale over and he lifts the band back up to heights, playing a wailing solo. There are great moments of sustain in “Slave to the Traffic Light” and “Divided Sky” but Trey here is just urging so much out of his guitar, it’s a must hear. It’s every bit as good as the vaunted “Jesus” from Slip, Stitch, and Pass. Mike follows it up with “We’re gonna slow it down a bit. I’d like to thank Kevin, the owner oft his space for letting me use it tonight,” which is weird considering the gig is at Nectar’s, owned by a man named Nectar at the time. Maybe it’s a reference to another show. A really solid “Fluffhead” follows it up. Then, the band gets lost with “Whipping Post”. It starts off innocent enough with a basic reading of the tune but it starts to go off the rails slowly. It never goes type II, leaving the structure of the song. If this was 1997, it might have but for a huge Type I jam, this is stellar. It even almost breaks down at about the 8 minute mark with Trey playing some really dissonant playing in and out of time. Fishman goes nuts for the whole 26 minutes with John Bonham-like enthusiasm. He even has breaks to let Trey show off. The band even brings it down for another verse and then slowly builds to another screaming jam. A milepost on the journey of Phish. Trey announces a break and that’s it. A 3-song second set. Unprecedented. Even the set containing the longest Phish jam ever, 11/29/97 Runaway Jam, was a 5 song set. Whoa.

But they weren’t done yet. They fire up “Ya Mar” for a danceable third set opener. They then bring Jah Roy of Lamsbread on stage and he leads the band into a reggae medley, the centerpiece of which is a cover of Bob Marley’s “One Love”. This is not listed as a song played on Phish.net but upon hearing this, I feel like it should be. The whole band even gets into the call and response part of the song and feels as much a cover as “Cannonball” from the 5/7/94 Tweezerfest. Another guest comes up int he form of Nancy to play his two songs. He helps with vocals on “Halley’s Comet” but the song really is notable for the killer segue into “The Sloth”. Trey yells it out for the band an they nail the transition as if they had practiced it (which they might have.) Just another great flash of how all 4 members think together. Nancy moves over to drums so Fish can play Trombone on “I Didn’t Know”. While the band nailed “The Sloth”, they still have some learning to do as Fish misses the best on “Fee” where he’s supposed to match Trey’s lyric. He plays it twice to make up for it but you can hear Trey’s chuckle in his verse as he knows how badly Fish missed it. Also in this show, you can see how the band is starting to piece together set lists. The best example of this is the placement of “Corrina” to “cool down” the audience after the hard edge of “Big Black Furry Creature from Mars”. It’ll be interesting to see this develop over time. We also get the first “Harpua” THE RIGHT WAY as finally Poster Nutbag is “hot lunch” for Harpua instead of the other way around. It’s a standard “Harpua’ but important for this note. The set closes with a very strong “Run Like An Antelope”. Next show, we move on to the larger and more professional The Front, down Main Street and across Pine from Hunt’s! See you then.

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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 #25: 8/9/87

Sunday, 08/09/1987
Nectar’s, Burlington, VT

Set 1: Golgi Apparatus > Slave to the Traffic Light, La Grange[1], Lushington[2] ->Possum, Sneakin’ Sally Through the Alley, Timber (Jerry), Good Times Bad Times, AC/DC Bag, Shaggy Dog, Funky Bitch

Set 2: The Curtain With[3], Halley’s Comet > The Sloth[3], Light Up Or Leave Me Alone ->Skin It Back, Peaches en Regalia, Fluffhead, Fee[3], Harry Hood, Harpua[3], Suzy Greenberg

Set 3: David Bowie, You Enjoy Myself, Ya Mar, Divided Sky[3], Flat Fee[3], McGrupp and the Watchful Hosemasters, Corinna

[1] First known Phish performance.
[2] No lyrics.
[3] First known performance.

I can’t believe this is my 25th review already. So crazy and yet so much more to go. To give you the actually feel of where we are, it’s late summer 1987. Phish has actually played 69 known shows at this point, of which only 25 tapes survive or have been made public. So where does that leave us? Back at Nectar’s on a Sunday night. Unfortunately, we don’t have all of this show, leaving out many important debuts. However, we do have some solid tracks. Let’s go to the audio tape!

The show opens with the growing crowd favorite “Golgi Apparatus”. I’m not sure if that was true or not but they played so much, some folks most of liked it, right? It’s a well played version. “Slave to the Traffic Light” follows and it’s gorgeous but they still haven’t nailed the peak yet right. I’m stating to wonder how long that takes. Trey gets to be a rock star next as Phish slams through ZZ Top’s “La Grange”. Full on rock and roll mode here. A really tight “The Chase” comes next. The band is getting really good at this small instrumental and it rolls effortlessly into “Possum”. The “Possum” doesn’t hit great heights but is a rollicking version. “Sneakin’ Sally” follows and is pretty standard with a good vocal jam. “Timber (Jerry)” has a great fast tempo in this version, outstanding playing by Mike, and a great groove. “Good Times Bad Times” has more rock star Trey but more impressive is the rest of the group maintaining the rhythm underneath the deluge of notes. “Shaggy Dog” provides a much needed breather. The harmonies just keep getting better. “Funky Bitch” closes the set with a raging dance number. Perfect placement.

Set 2 unfortunately is cut short but we get some interesting debuts. First up is “The Curtain With”. Interesting enough is the song is presented in the exact same style as it is played today. No changes at all were made except for Page’s keyboard parts which are a little smoother going forward. The band pulls it off and it’s amazing. What a set opener! The mood lightens as “Nancy” comes to sing “Halley’s Comet”. “Halley’s” is fun but it does a really nice transition into the show’s other debut that we have on record. “The Sloth” is the penultimate song in The Man Who Stepped Into Yesterday but here it’s a interesting short tune with intricate guitar and keys. Not the most epic version but a good start. Jam of the night goes to “Light Up or Leave Me Alone”. The last 5 minutes of the tune are a fun speed blues jam with the band ratcheting up the tempo and letting loose. An awkward transition reveals “Skin It Back”. The only problem is as soon as the song gets rolling. It fades out. We also miss several key debuts including “Divided Sky”, “Fee”, “Flat Fee”, and “Harpua”. The notes from Phish.com say the information comes from Amy Skelton’s tapes. Maybe it’s in the vault and Kevin Shapiro will surprise us with these treats. Another night Nectar’s tomorrow with the first two shows in a row!