Show #9: 11/23/85

The campus of Goddard College.

Ah, we finally made it to Goddard. Already the school of Page McConnell, almost a year later, it would become where Trey and Jon would finish their studies as well. Goddard College is a very interesting place that unfortunately is under threat of disappearing forever. In fact, it has already changed, for better or for worse, when it ended its traditional residential undergrad program in 2002. Located in Plainfield, Vermont, just east of Montpelier, the capital, Goddard College grew from a preparatory school for Tufts College in Medford, MA to its own college in 1938. The college was founded under the progressive principles of John Dewey. The school is unique in that instead of traditional curriculum, the student gets to choose their own curriculum and experiences and have narrative transcripts from the advisors and teachers to guide them as opposed to letter grades. It’s in this free form learning that allowed Phish to spread their wings. Other notable alumni of Goddard include playwright David Mamet, Jonathan Katz of Dr. Katz fame, William H. Macy, and lyricist Howard Ashman.

This show as played in the cafeteria of the Haybarn, one of the oldest and most classic buildings on Goddard’s campus. The campus is of note in that they took an old farm and made the existing buildings the school. It’s worth a trip if you’re in central Vermont. The Haybarn is pictured in the center of the above photo. You might think “Another short set? Please.” BUT DO NOT MOVE ON! THIS IS MUST-LISTEN PHISH. The “Mike’s Song” is a bit of a throwaway. The heart of this recording is the “Whipping Post Jam”. It is as good a jam as you’ll find in the band’s career. I feel it has been so overlooked at how locked in this band has been from very early on in their career. This is 27 minutes of where the band is going! There’s “Norwegian Wood” teases from Mike. There’s “The Other One” teases. In my first post, I said Phish could have been Vermont’s best Grateful Dead cover band. This is the closest the band comes to BEING the Grateful Dead. It’s as if they channeled ’67-’68 Dead in this jam. It has that wild, unified cacophony feel that capsulated those early Dead jams so well. I don’t hear Whipping Post at all in the jam so I’m unsure where that link came from but it doesn’t matter. We get some great ambient guitar parts while Page plays a nice piano solo over Mike’s bass and Jon’s steady cymbals. You tell it’s building. Even Jeff plays a great rhythm part with Jon’s drumming. The so far unweildy five-piece is actually sounding great for once. The tension and build is steady for a good solid 3-4 minutes and then there’s a shift, the drums change and there’s a slide guitar cue and then it gets into some early Pink Floyd vibes as well, as if anything can happen with the mood and atmosphere created. At 9 minutes in, the building tension finally releases and we’ve gone over the edge. The band begins charging along. The tempo increases and all members begin putting things in motion. The “Other One” teases hit but it’s about more than that as Trey keeps soloing over them. It almost all disintegrates but the twin guitars of Trey and Jeff just drive harder, taking the jam in a new direction. This gallop goes for another 9 minutes, slowing and speeding, bending the flow to create new ideas. it’s frenetic and well-paced but nothing compared to what begins at the 19 minute mark. There’s a few “Dark Star” teases and also some “Slave to the Traffic Light” quoted but the band hits its first ever peak. The uplifting chord profession seeps out of everyone as Trey flies over the top. PURE GLORY. I’d put it against anything I’ve heard so far in the catalog and the fact they were playing like this LESS THAN TWO YEARS after their first show is nothing less than astounding. The jam then ends with a reggae jam that sounds like the start of “Harry Hood”. If you have to come back down, at least let ’em dance right?

The tape then fades out and when it comes back in we’re deep in “Run Like An Antelope”. It has some good playing and the song is starting to get its signature feel but there’s not too much noteworthy about this version. The recording then closes with a “Dave’s Energy Guide” that is similar to other versions except it goes off the rails and is a bit more wild. But the jam. Holy cow! It’s such a harbinger of what’s too come from Phish. Luckily the band was successful or else this would be a mark of what could have been. The show is also important because it’s well-marked as the show where Mike had a “peak experience” or his epiphany. It was at this show, most likely during that jam, that he decided he wanted to play music for the rest of his life. He explains in Phish: The Biography by Parke Puterbaugh,

“It was the night I decided I wanted to make music a full-time career. I wrote two full journals just about that one night of playing. I had this incredible self-actualization, and I dedicated all future journals to figuring out what happened that night and what makes a peak experience like that occur.”
[Puterbaugh] asked whether that particular show was taped and whether the band might ever release it.
“I taped it, but I’ve never even listened to it,” he said. “I vowed never to listen to it. There’s no possible way that listening to it would ever be the same. It would be like being an entirely different person listening. So I just wanted to save the memory.”

With an experience like what I heard, I don’t blame him either. Moving on to a big year in 1986! Next on “One Show at a Time”.