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.

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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…

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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!

Show #17: 2/13/87

Stearns Hall – Johnson State College

http://www.phishtracks.com/shows/1987-02-13/

Friday, 02/13/1987
Johnson State College, Johnson, VT

Set 1: Sneakin’ Sally Through the Alley, Possum, Golgi Apparatus > Slave to the Traffic Light -> Quinn the Eskimo, Alumni Blues > Letter to Jimmy Page > Alumni Blues[1], Suzy Greenberg[2], Sanity[3], Good Times Bad Times

Set 2: Wilson, Melt the Guns -> Dave’s Energy Guide, Fluffhead[3], Harry Hood[3]

[1] No vocals.
[2] First known version; Dude of Life on vocals.
[3] Dude of Life on vocals.

Welcome to 1987, a year many consider the first real year of Phish since it is the first full year as a foursome and the band found their own sound in this year. We start it in the cold of February in the woods of Johnson, Vermont. Johnson is a small town about 30 minutes north of Stowe, a major resort town. Much like Goddard, being out in the woods tends to give a bit of freedom. This show was in the basement of the dining hall, known as Stearns Hall, in the performance space known as the Base Lodge. Don’t go looking for it as it has been renovated as of 2008. The remoteness of the woods again give way to a weird night of Phish and even drew in some of their friends along.

The show kicks off with a decent “Sneakin’ Sally” to get the blood moving and also a solid “Possum”. But you really get the feeling that it’s a pretty standard show, which is still better than 85% of most live shows out there. A light “Golgi Apparatus” rolls into “Slave to the Traffic Light”. The “Slave” is interesting because the band bails on it before it can even start up. Something happens with Trey’s guitar about a minute into it and the rest of the band continues as a trio, which is cool to hear Page riff on “Slave”. They bail about 2 minutes in and get into a nice funk jam, still as a trio. Mike steps up and starts dropping bass bombs like it’s 1997. Trey finally joins back in with some tasty chords and the song rolls into “Quinn the Eskimo” as Mike pounds out the bass line. A quick cut fires up “Alumni Blues>Letter to Jimmy Page>Alumni”. Now the PhishTracks version only has the ending of Alumni and plays it twice, a problem with the site. Downloading it from the Spreadsheet, I was able to get the whole version. I’m thinking I should just download from the spreadsheet and ETree when available. Regardless, this “Alumni” is quite groovy with great work from Mike holding down the bottom end. “Jimmy Page” cooks as always but the real note is that the closing “Alumni” is instrumental, just grooving.

Next, we get a very important Phish debut. It was this night that the crowd got to know “Suzy Greenberg”. A favorite of the band, the debut gets the Dude of Life on vocals. This is why I told you a trip to Johnson State brought their friends along too. This version lacks the trademark Fishman musings in between verses and the Dude sounds super pissed while singing it. He also sounds like Joe Cocker. It’s interesting for its historic quality but not really outstanding beyond that. The Dude’s angst level continues for “Sanity” as he yells his way through the song. The audio quality is also very poor on this track. With the energy already high, Phish pounds through “Good Times Bad Times”. A long pause gives way to an early “Wilson”, a song which is not yet ready for primetime yet. Luckily a music highlight follows in the form of “Melt the Guns>Dave’s Energy Guide”. It starts of simple enough with a fast version of “Melt the Guns” and then about 2:30 in we leave the structure oft he song and pretty jam envelopes. It almost goes Type II but not quite. At about 5:54, Trey begins to tease the riff and the band easily rolls back into “Melt the Guns”. A really great segue goes into “Dave’s Energy Guide”, which is even better with Page following Trey’s guitar part on keys. It rips and is definitely the best version by then and so far. It’s really high energy, no pun intended. The Dude of Life comes back out for “Fluffhead”. He spouts some really odd lyrics over the usual riffs. It’s interesting if only to hear this alternate version of the song. The recording closes with “Harry Hood”. The quality on “Hood” is brutal but Page’s keys sparkle above it. Overall, some highlights but brutal audio quality keep this from being a must listen even for the debuts. There are better shows not he horizon for 1987. Next, we go back to UVM.