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 #4: 3/4/85

Hunt’s aka The Woodbury Armory.

Monday, 03/04/1985
Hunt’s, Burlington, VT

Set 1: Anarchy[1], Camel Walk, Fire Up the Ganja[2], Skippy the Wondermouse[3], In the Midnight Hour
[1] First known version.
[2] First known Phish version; Bobby Hackney and Jah Roy on vocals.
[3] With McGrupp lyrics.

This isn’t a complete show, so sure, you could call it cheating but it does exist so it needs a post. The show, according to Phish.net, was a African Relief benefit for OXFam at Hunt’s. Hunts was a club located in the old Woodbury Armory building at 101 Main Street. As outlined in this article from Seven Days, Hunt’s was a major player in the Burlington music scene. Roy Orbison, Stevie Ray Vaughn, and B.B. King all played there linking Montreal and Boston dates on their national tours. The place was even owned by Fred “Chico” Lager, who would later become the CEO of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream during their rise to national prominence. So, to get anytime there meant a move in the right direction for a local band.

It is unclear whether Phish was alone on this night or maybe part of a larger bill due to it being a benefit show. The recorded part kicks off the first known version of “Anarchy”. Little more than a play on punk and new wave. It’s 30 seconds of fast chords and drumming with the word Anarchy screamed over it. A good joke on the popular music of the time. The band then introduces ” a funk song” and finally a complete version of “Camel Walk” is heard. Not much is noteworthy about this version except that Jeff says that no one has actually danced the Camel Walk to “Camel Walk”. It is also interesting that it does not include the strut your stuff vocals. It is interesting that now 29 years later, the band plays it almost the exact same way. There’s a fade out and then the tape fades into “Fire Up The Ganga.” Essentially just “Fire On The Mountain” with new lyrics about smoking weed obviously. However it is important because it’s a meeting of two Vermont music powerhouses. Granted Phish at this point was still rising the ranks but Lambsbread has been the cornerstone of Vermont’s reggae scene for 30 years. I remember seeing them at the Vermont Reggae fest nearly every year. Also, of note, is that Bobby Hackney, who appears on this track, and his brother Dannis, were actually members of the proto-punk band Death, from Detroit. This band has been in the news due to their recordings being re-released and being revolutionary for their time. Pretty interesting throwback, eh?

Now here’s a head scratcher for you though? “Fire Up The Ganja” fades out and then the next track to fade in is marked as “Skippy the Wondermouse”. And sure enough it sounds like “Skippy,” but when the lyrics kick in, they are clearly the familiar lyrics of “McGrupp and the Watchful Hosemasters.” Now why is this curious? This show’s date is March of 1985. In Trey’s senior thesis of The Man Who Stepped Into Yesterday aka Gamehendge, which was submitted in July 1988, He says that the poem was not received by him until 1986. Phish.net even states he didn’t get it until fall of 1985. So, why is it here? Well, it might be explained in an upcoming post! Stay tuned. The recording then closes with the last known performance of “In The Midnight Hour”, a danceable version if not outstanding. It does at least emphasize how much Phish just wanted people to dance. Something, most would say mission accomplished.