Show #104: 5/20/1989 Northfield Mount Hermon School Northfield or Gill, MA

Saturday, 05/20/1989
Northfield Mt. Hermon School , Northfield/Gill, MA

Set 1: AC/DC Bag >  Alumni Blues >  Letter to Jimmy Page >  Alumni Blues,  You Enjoy Myself,  The Lizards,  Wilson,  Divided Sky,  I Didn’t Know,  Possum

Set 2: Bold As Love,  Mike’s Song >  I Am Hydrogen >  Weekapaug Groove,  Foam,  Contact, Take the ‘A’ Train,  David Bowie,  Golgi Apparatus

Encore: Good Times Bad Times

One great thing about being a New England band is the wealth of opportunity for shows. The ability to play in 7 different states within a few hours of driving is helpful. Also helpful is the amount of colleges within the area. Having a base in Amherst, MA only helps with 5 colleges just in that area alone. Of course, there’s a 2nd tier to the Connecticut River valley, the large amount of private schools also concentrated in that area. If you make it big enough on the college circuit, hopefully some of those students have little brothers or sisters who will rave enough about the band that they’ll get booked to play at their school. This is probably the case of how Phish played some private school gigs during these important years, gaining fans that would help propel the rise to success without radio play or hit singles. A college-level band playing your school is a big deal. I went to the Westminster School just outside of Hartford and when Dispatch came to play there, not only was it big for us, the students, it turned out to be one of their most downloaded live shows.

Meany Gym on the Northfield Campus of NMH. One possible location for today's show but the rolling hills make it seem unlikely.
Meany Gym on the Northfield Campus of NMH. One possible location for today’s show but the rolling hills make it seem unlikely.

That brings us to today’s show at Northfield Mount Hermon. The reason I’m conflicted about the location of this show is because both and say it was in the gymnasium. Firstly the school had two gymnasiums on two different campuses at the time this show occurred, as referenced when they announce the buss before “Contact”.  The name Northfield Mount Hermon comes from the fact that the Northfield Seminary for Girls merged with the Mount Hermon school for boys in the 70s. Secondly, Trey keeps referencing the field they were playing on, most notably before Divided Sky. So I don’t even think they were in either gymnasium. At the end of it all, they were at least at NMH.

The Forslund and James Gym. The large flat ground and proximity to facilities, lead me to believe this is more likely where the show as held.
The Forslund and James Gym at the Mount Hermon campus. The large flat ground and proximity to facilities, lead me to believe this is more likely where the show as held.

The show itself isn’t particular outstanding to other shows at the time. Highlights here are mostly the banter. This event was billed as “One Last Thing”, obviously the last social event before graduation the following weekend. Trey dedicates “Alumni>Letter>Alumni” to the graduating seniors once again. Trey introduces “You Enjoy Myself” as the “trampoline segment of the show” and that the audience joins in on the imaginary trampoline. Trey says that the band will build an all-trampoline venue with speakers in the floor. I think we’re all still waiting on that one. Trey introduces themselves as traveling minstrels from Gamehendge again and they’ll do a couple songs from their homeland. A fan yells “Wilson Sucks!” and the crowd goes along with it. It’s interesting to hear Trey count off when the band joins in “The Lizards” intro. Trey introduces who Wilson is during the intro to “Wilson”. It’s kind funny because he calls Wilson an asshole and then realizes he’s playing to a high school crowd. It’s also part of the rebel in him reminded of his own days at Taft. “Wilson” also finally gets its own ending back instead of segueing into “Peaches en Regalia”. Trey closes the Gamehendge trio with “Divided Sky” explaining the ritual of praying at the Rhombus but at the same time, some hecklers go on about a towel, bantering back and forth with Trey about this. It’s funny to hear him try to maintain the upper hand. The “Divided Sky” is a sure highlight of this set with blazing playing by Trey and soaring organ work by Page at the end. “I Didn’t Know” is interesting in that the crowd gets surprisingly quiet during Fish’s vacuum solo, like he entranced the audience with his ability. Set 1 ends with a very strong “Possum”.

We meet Set 2 already in progress in “Bold as Love”. Trey continues the trend of mention Rhode Island at the start of the “Mike’s Groove”, the “Groove” itself is solid. Trey mentions that headlights are not the bus going back to the other campus but they are the 2nd-to-last bus back to the other campus, prompting the crowd to yell “Hell no! We won’t go!”. Trey then says they wrote the next song about that bus and also asks them to sign the mailing list, noting that they’ll learn such facts as how much cable it took up to set up the band at that time. That’s an answer I’d like to know right now, actually. The band changes the lyrics to “The tires are the things on your bus that make contact with the road.” “David Bowie” features more hi-hat hi jinx as Trey weaves “A-Train” and the Woody Woodpecker theme into the intro. The band comes back for the encore and someone asks for “Fee for Tim Rogers. I would think that would be the same Tim Rogers that was their former lighting designer as Trey seems to also know Tim Rogers, joking that “We wouldn’t play a song for that guy….”. Did Tim go to teach at NMH after leaving Phish? Hmm, another mystery of Phishtory to crack! They don’t play “Fee” but Trey does dedicate “Good Times Bad Times” to Tim. The show reminds me of 8/27/88 at Mont Alto, with that same “rock show” attitude but with an actual audience. A fun show to listen to but nothing groundbreaking here.

Just want to take a moment to apologize. I’ve been working on other projects and the radio show, but I’m getting back in the saddle here and ready to continue riding along. Helpfully you’re enjoying This Week in Phish on JEMP Radio as well! Thanks for sticking with me!

Show #99: 5/1/1989 Pearl Street Ballroom Northampton, MA

Monday, 05/01/1989
Pearl Street Ballroom, Northampton, MA

Set 1: Dinner and a Movie,  You Enjoy Myself,  Esther,  AC/DC Bag,  Alumni Blues >  Letter to Jimmy Page >  Alumni Blues,  Take the ‘A’ Train,  Split Open and Melt,  The Lizards,  Golgi Apparatus,  Good Times Bad Times

Set 2: Mike’s Song >  I Am Hydrogen >  Weekapaug Groove,  On Your Way Down,  Possum, Icculus,  Colonel Forbin’s Ascent >  Fly Famous Mockingbird,  David Bowie

Encore: Contact

Pearl Street Ballroom at 10 Pearl Street in Northampton, MA. Right near the train station.
Pearl Street Ballroom at 10 Pearl Street in Northampton, MA. Right near the train station.

In reviewing the history of Phish, one cannot understate how important the city of Northampton and Pioneer Valley was to the band’s success. The center hub of the Five Colleges Consortium, consisting of Smith, Mount Holyoke, Hampshire, Amherst, and UMass Amherst, this cluster of students provided the first great Phish fan base outside of Burlington and nowhere is this confirmed than this night at Pearl Street.

Back on 4/15/1989, Page mentioned his show, saying that if they got enough ticket sales, the show would be moved from the basement (aka 10 Below) to the main hall. Phish had just played 10 Below exactly 1 month earlier on 4/1/1989 and clearly the venue saw the potential that night. Of course, Northampton was also no stranger to Phish. The band had already played Sheehan’s on Pleasant Street, one of the hottest spots in town, 3 times in the past year. Northampton was that place for Phish right now. Phish was able to sell enough tickets to play the main hall and they would stay there for 7 shows over the course of the next year. So we’ll get to know this space well by the end of it.

We only have the recording of set one and it’s labeled as an audience recording and if so, the crowd was very quiet unlike the previous night at NightStage. Even during Fishman’s solo on “A Train”, you can hear a pin drop when it gets quiet. The song selection is certainly better than the night before, possibly because the band knows that the fans are there. It’s not simply a gig in Boston, on the nightclub circuit. The show gets off to a bumpy start with a rough “Dinner and a Movie”. Page’s organ doesn’t sound mic’d up. The rhythm just sounds off. Page and Trey do hook up to save the song at about the 2:30 mark and now we’re on for the show. “You Enjoy Myself” is solid, especially from the 10-minute mark on with a nice lead from Trey. “Esther” is top-shelf and nailed from to top-to-bottom. The song has come a long way in a short amount of time. “A Train” again has a great solo from Fishman. “Split Open and Melt” has also come a long way in a short time. Mike and Fish hit that groove strong and it’s slowly showing the signs of the behemoth it will become. Also, the weird Fish solo in the middle has been dropped. “The Lizards” is played a little faster than previous versions and this is a beauty. Again, you can tell the crowd is on board with how quiet it is for the “If I Were a Dog” outro. Gorgeous. A solid 1-2 combo of “Golgi” and “Good Times Bad Times” ends the set in high spirits. Mike really drops bass bombs during “Good Times”. This is a really solid set and a welcome rebound from NightStage. I recommend checking it out.

Show #98: 4/30/1989 NightStage Cambridge, MA

Sunday, 04/30/1989
Night Stage, Cambridge, MA

Set 1: I Didn’t Know,  You Enjoy Myself,  McGrupp and the Watchful Hosemasters,  The Lizards,  Divided Sky,  Wilson,  Peaches en Regalia,  Run Like an Antelope,  Terrapin[1]

Encore: Possum

[1] Fish on trombone.

NightStage in Cambridge during its heyday.
NightStage in Cambridge during its heyday.

While Phish certainly was climbing the rungs of the music industry, there had to be a few stumbles along the way. This show really highlights a night that for a lot of bands might have killed their momentum. NightStage was a very successful blues and jazz club just north of MIT at 823 Main Street . Buddy Guy, Junior Wells, and Screamin’ Jay Hawkins all had major gigs there in 1980s, some even released on video. Pat Metheney, Tracy Chapman, and Rick Danko also made stops there. This would seem like a very important gig. It starts off awkwardly with an introduction from the band’s manager Ben Hunter. He stumbles through the jokes, none are hitting the crowd. “‘POOOOJJJ’ McConnell,” owner of the “biggest organ in Boston”, Trey “the mad scientist”, are just two of the cringeworthy ones. Bill Graham, he was not that evening. Then, do you open with “Funky Bitch”, maybe “Peaches en Regalia?” No, the band opens with “I Didn’t Know”, which is fun and maybe loosens them up but it kills the show. Apparently, the band ten played “You Enjoy Myself” but it is not on any available recording. After “YEM,” Trey starts giving a Gamehendge narration. He says that Phish are traveling minstrels from Gamehendge and so they’re going to play some songs from there. He lays out a long description of each on and by the time he gets to asking if people know what a Rhombus is, it’s clear he’s lost the crowd. They just want the music, Trey. Even the people that yell for each song title, which feels like a small part of the crowd are done with the narration at this point. Especially only one song in to the set. At least, wait 3 or 4 songs. The Gamehendge mini-set is quite enjoyable though. “McGrupp” is a little tighter here which is a welcome addition. “The Lizards” is little boring but well-played. “Divided Sky” smokes and you can tell that one got some interest back. “Wilson>Peaches” remains. I also like that this recording is an audience recording because it sounds older than it is. It really sounds like a recording from Nectar’s in 1986, where the majority of the crowd is just there to drink and be social. They’re almost louder than the band. Perhaps, the disinterested crowd was part of the equation. Clearly, there’s still a good chunk of fans there but it’s obviously less than the total crowd. Trey speaks again, trying to thank NightStage and advising people to tip Jim at the bar. Trey asks for a vodka and tonic for Phish. You can hear a little defeat in Trey’s voice. He knows no one’s listening so he backs off and fires up “Antelope”. The jam of the show is “Antelope” as the foursome bring the swirling jam to a boil. They really work the tension here and on the recording, you almost feel in the middle of a twister as your ears rotate through the instruments for flourishes before it all just breaks into the “Rye Rye Rocco” part. It’s a solid early version and the crowd clearly agrees. What next? More Fishman, doing Syd Barrett’s “Terrapin” complete with trombone solo. Again, the crowd talking gets louder than the band. The show loses with a “not that exciting” “Possum.” This show, however, feels important because it probably was a wake-up call for the young Dionysian Productions team. Ben and John had to have seen that the nightclub circuit might not be right for the band and alternate plans would have to come for future success.

NightStage right before it was torn down and replaced with condos.
NightStage right before it was torn down and replaced with condos.

Show #94: 4/20/1989 The Zoo (Humphries House) Amherst, MA

Thursday, 04/20/1989
Humphries House (The Zoo), Amherst College, Amherst, MA

Set 1: AC/DC Bag >  Fluffhead[1],  You Shook Me All Night Long Jam >  Fluffhead,  Fire, Esther,  Suzy Greenberg,  The Sloth,  Possum,  McGrupp and the Watchful Hosemasters -> Foam,  David Bowie

Set 2: Divided Sky,  Walk Away,  You Enjoy Myself >  Split Open and Melt[2],  The Lizards, Mike’s Song >  I Am Hydrogen >  Weekapaug Groove,  Love You[3],  Harpua

[1] Fire alarm interruption.
[2] Fish drum solo.
[3] Fish on trombone.

The Zoo (Humphries House) at Amherst College.
The Zoo (Humphries House) at Amherst College.

This would be the last time Phish would play a Full Moon party at the Zoo as manager John Paluska would graduate from Amherst that spring. Oddly enough, this is the first time the band played on April 20th. At the time, however, it did not have the implications of marijuana use now associated with the day. That would not come into fashion until about year later, maybe two. So no amazing extended Makisupa. What we do have is a very solid top-to-bottom show here. The beginning and end get cut off so we jump right into “AC/DC Bag” in progress. The “Fluffhead” gets cut right at the beginning of the “Clod” segment as the fire alarm goes off. The band returns and jams on the chord progression of AC/DC’s “You Shook Me All Night Long” segueing easily into “Clod” to finish the “Fluffhead” it’s perfect and classic Phish. At the end of Fluffhead, Trey reminds the crowd has to be cool because if the fire alarm goes off again, the show is over. Be cool about “whatever” you’re smoking. Page takes the crowd’s suggestion go smoking outside. Sage advice that could be imparted today. Trey than dedicates Hendrix’s “Fire” to the hard working people who turned off the fire alarm. Trey tells Paul, he doesn’t know about Paul but Trey came during that one. Then Mike’s asks for Paul’s duct tape. Trey introduces “Esther” as a Gamehendge song, but on the outskirts of Gamehendge. The song here is the best yet, hitting the right tone and tempo for the song with flawless playing on the outro by Trey. This version soars. “The Sloth” has that weird outro still. “McGrupp”, while not outstanding is very solid here as is the “Foam”. A “Bowie” highlighted by strong dissonance from Page closes Set 1. Page is playing very opposite Trey but leading the jam at the same time. You can hear Trey following Page at times. It’s a very interesting early jam.

Set 2 kicks off with a solid, if note heavy, “Divided Sky”. After “Walk Away”, despite a very vocal request for “A-Train”, the band knows better and busts out “You Enjoy Myself”. The “YEM” never really hits the spot though. The vocal jam drops into “Split Open and Melt”. The “Melt” here is much more solid than the last one but still contains Fish’s odd drum solo. It really hurts the flow of the song. It also is closer to the standard tempo but still a little slower but not as bad as 4/15/1989. The “Lizards” and “Mike’s->Groove” are standard but solid. The “Weekapaug” does pack a little extra punch with falling lines from Page and Trey that are gorgeous. Fish busts out Syd Barrett’s “Love You” for the first time since 10/31/87. It feels like a step backwards from “Undun” and “If I Only Had a Brain” but it is at least much clearer now.

The clear highlight of this night though is Harpua. “Sounds to me like the song you want to hear begins with an ‘Oom Pa Pa’, says Trey, words that still make any Phish fan fill with delight. I still would love to know what those were. Anyway, they riff on combining the song with the Allman Brothers’ “Whipping Post” before going right into “Harpua”. Trey launches into the story, talking about Harpua, leading to Trey telling that someone had shot Marley in the ass recently. He then proceeds to describe Harpua and Jimmy’s cat with each having a non-shot-ass, repeating the phrase over and over, until Mike yells out “LET’S HEAR IT FOR NON-SHOT ASS!” The band then jams on “Non-Shot-Ass” for a short bit and it’s hilarious. We get the first time Trey leads up to introducing the name of Jimmy’s cat in a huge build-up, similar to Icculus. During the buildup, the band riffs on Spencer Davis Group’s “Gimme Some Lovin'”. Trey also yells out “MY GOD!” several times, to which Mike responds “HIS GOD!”, a great back and forth adding to the theatrics. They do this a few times during the song. There’s also a tease of Ninja Custodian’s “The Price of Love” right before the fight between Harpua and Poster Nutbag. As always, Poster is killed in the fight and the song ends with it’s great rock opera finish. Man, I will always go for a “Harpua” and this one stands out as one of the best, if only for Mike and Trey riffing off each other. Just a good overall show made better by an outstanding track.

Show #90: 3/24/89 The Paradise Rock Club Boston, MA

Friday, 03/24/1989
The Paradise, Boston, MA

Set 1: Possum,  Mike’s Song >  I Am Hydrogen >  Weekapaug Groove,  Golgi Apparatus > Divided Sky,  AC/DC Bag,  If I Only Had a Brain,  Take the ‘A’ Train,  David Bowie

The exterior of the Paradise Rock Club before renovation.
The exterior of the Paradise Rock Club before renovation.

I’m just gonna cut right to it. There’s no need for anyone to listen to this recording. It’s all songs, which there are better versions from this year. The songs aren’t even presented in the right order. “I Am Hydrogen” is cut out of the “Mike’s Groove”. “If I Only Had a Brain” sounds like it opens the show despite being in the number 7 slot on the recording. It does have an early vacuum solo, which is cool to to hear and also to hear Page advised Fish “take it around!” for another 8 bars of solo.  A couple of fun “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” teases in “Possum” and “A-Train”. But for the most part, I’d stay away from this recording for a variety of reasons. Big show at the Front tomorrow.

Show #81: 1/26/89 – The Paradise Rock Club Boston, MA

Thursday, 01/26/1989
The Paradise, Boston, MA

Soundcheck: The Sloth > Possum

Set 1: I Didn’t Know[1],  Golgi Apparatus,  Alumni Blues[2] >  Letter to Jimmy Page > Alumni Blues,  You Enjoy Myself,  The Lizards,  Take the ‘A’ Train,  Sanity[3],  Divided Sky,  Fee, Good Times Bad Times

Set 2: Suzy Greenberg,  Icculus,  Colonel Forbin’s Ascent >  Fly Famous Mockingbird,  The Sloth ->  Possum,  Contact,  Big Black Furry Creature from Mars,  Foam,  David Bowie

Encore: AC/DC Bag,  Fire

[1] Fish on trombone.
[2] Additional lyrics.
[3] Fast version.

The exterior of the Paradise Rock Club before renovation.
The exterior of the Paradise Rock Club before renovation.

For those not familiar with the Boston music scene, there’s a certain air to the Paradise. It’s not that glamorous a room. It’s long and narrow with the stage on the left side and balcony on the right. Back when Phish played the club, the stage face one of two support columns in the center. Since then the stage has been moved, further back centered between the columns. But the reason the club is such an industry icon is the people who have taken its stage. Opening in 1977, the club hit the national stage as U2 opened for  Barooga Bandit on December 13, 1980 became known as the starting point of the band’s American career. They say only 150 people showed up for their set that night and only 40 remained for the headliner. That following March, they pulled in to play 2 sold out shows at the venue and never looked back. Those 1981 shows would also be some of the band’s first live recordings released on early singles. Everybody in alternative music plays the Paradise on their way up. Some of the acts who had graced the stage before Phish included The Police, Elvis Costello, Tom Petty, AC/DC, Todd Rundgren, R.E.M., and Warren Zevon to name a few. Boston bands that would make their name on the stage include Pixies, Galaxie 500, and Mighty Mighty Bosstones,

Snoop Dogg plays the 'Dise after renovations.
Snoop Dogg plays the ‘Dise after renovations.

Phish had to take that stage to continue their rise. John Paluska and Ben Hunter knew it was the next step. Gigs at Molly’s had proven successful with sold-out shows but this had not transferred to the Paradise’s management. Their talent scout wouldn’t even listen to their demo tape. Planks and Hunter knew that Phish had the talent for the room. So, they decided to rent the Paradise and sell tickets at $5 a piece. Hunter and Paluska promoted the show heavily but it was the strength of Burlington, VT that led to this victory. Tow friends of the band ,Tom Baggott and “Brother Craig” rented buses and charged $20 a head for the trip. The filled two charter buses and helped push the gig to it’s 650-person capacity. Baggott recalls the situation in The Pharmer’s Almanac Vol. 6 as, “It was a hair-brained scheme to get Phish’s Burlington support down to the club. The bus was fucking insane. It was truly a magic bus. The only rule was no glass bottles.” The show was so successful about 200 more people found themselves shut out. Bouncers “who wondered if Phish was a real band” now were stunned at having to turn people away.

The original flyer for 1/26/89
The original flyer for 1/26/89

On the tapes, you can feel the energy in the air. The band sounds excited for the show. Page thanks the crowd after each oft he first few tunes. Mike even gives out a “Thank You, Boston!” before they tear into “Alumni Blues”. This is the first recorded version we have with extended lyrics, taking the song from a simple blues to having an actual narrative about how the protagonist gets jailed but is happy he now has a floor. Another interesting part is during the “Alumni Blues” jam after “Letter to Jimmy Page”, Trey plays the chords to Possum instead, creating a very interesting “mashup”. It’s unclear whether he forgot what song it was or was just so in the moment, it sounded similar. But no one is more excited to be on stage at the ‘Dise than Ernest Guiseppe Anastasio the 3rd. Trey takes a moment to let it sink in and then address the crowd, “Alright well this is pretty wild. (Nervous laughter)”. You can hear the energy in his voice. If you juxtaposition this against 8/27/88, this Trey actually being a rock star. He knows the crowd is hanging on his every word for the first time. The takes the opporunity to thank his mom for coming up, joking that she’s from Ireland. This might even be a subtle U2 reference. Then, it’s time and the band plays a flawless “You Enjoy Myself”. It’s to very jammy but every composed section is nailed. Page takes some great leads here as he also does with his organ part on “Divided Sky”. Trey then takes a moment to acknowledge a fan calling for “Minkin” and pointing out the new backdrop behind the band done by Mike’s mother, artist Marjorie Minkin and that she is in the crowd. Trey and Page also bust out a small tease of Minkin, the only time the song from The White Tape is acknowledged in the band’s career. Another first set highlight is “Sanity”, presented here in its “fast version”. There’s a manic late New Wave feel to the version, released as a single in 1986, it might have launched the band’s career but it was too late as alternative music has passed away from this style. It’s sill a delight to hear here and we’ll see if it evolves at all.

Set 2 was much harder to track down but luckily one torrent exists on Because of this, the quality if not very good. I will say if you proceed to listen to set 2 and the encore, you are at your own risk. We get a really short and succinct “Icculus”, not many jokes in this version either. “The Sloth->Possum” segue is worth the price of admission alone, it’s firmly work by Fishman to keep the beat at such an odd rhythm and Mike his dissonant bass riffs all leading up the driving beat of Possum. It’s really top notch work, especially Jon Fishman. “Contact’ you can hear the rowdy crowd sing along loudly, showing their enthusiasm. In the home of pre-grunge rock, “Big Black Furry Creature from Mars” is given a rowdy rendition. “Bowie” has a “Melt The Guns” tease during the longer intro. All in all, a very energetic night from Phish at their big club debut. Well worth a listen to feel the band taking in the crowd. Mike would say in The Phish Book years later,

“When we started touring in 1988, we played one landmark gig after another: the first time we played the Paradise in Boston, for example, or the first time we played for a thousand people at the University of Massachusetts. When we played the Paradise, we’d never seen 650 people in a room before. Looking out at them through this little window before the gig was one of the most exciting moments of my life. But the show itself wasn’t a peak musical experience at all; I remember it as raunchy noise. The following night (actually being two nights later at Dartmouth College), however, was a music thrill because we’d been relieved the pressure of playing a big rock club for the first time.”

The Paradise show would lead to more bookings up and down the East Coast as word spread throughout the industry. It would also cement the standard of two sets and an encore format that remains today. The band would play 6 more gigs at the Paradise itself over the next few years. It would also mark the beginning of the following Phish phenomena as people who had traveled to Boston realized they were missing out on the band’s growth. It can be clearly stated this is the pivotal moment when Phish went from Burlington bar band to PHISH, from Burlington, VT. This is the first modern Phish show.

Show #79: 12/10/88 The Red Barn at Hampshire College – Amherst, MA

The Red Barn at Hampshire College.
The Red Barn at Hampshire College.

Saturday, 12/10/1988
The Red Barn, Hampshire College, Amherst, MA

Set 1: I Didn’t Know[1],  Golgi Apparatus,  David Bowie,  The Lizards,  Foam,  Fee,  Mike’s Song >  I Am Hydrogen >  Weekapaug Groove,  Wilson,  Colonel Forbin’s Ascent >  Fly Famous Mockingbird

Set 2: Alumni Blues[2] >  Letter to Jimmy Page >  Alumni Blues,  You Enjoy Myself,  Contact, The Sloth,  AC/DC Bag ->  Possum,  Good Times Bad Times

Encore: Run Like an Antelope

[1] Fish on trombone.
[2] Additional lyrics.

This show may be overlooked by many even within just the year 1988 but this show is just as important as Pete’s Fabulous Phish Phest and the Colorado trip. Part of that might just be the fact it’s a “late addition” to Phish history. This show didn’t appear in any version of The Pharmer’s Almanac but did appear in the 1st edition of The Phish Companion. So, it finally hit circulation in 2000, the near end of tape trading. This show is a benefit for the National Organization to Reform Marijuana Laws or NORML. This would mark a rare Phish benefit show and the first. The interesting perspective of that is Paluska had convinced the organization that Phish was big enough draw in the Pioneer Valley for the fundraiser. Of course the location helps to. Hampshire being a kindred spirit to the band’s home base of Goddard College; two progressive schools that foster free thought and independent learning. So it’s no wonder that in this sphere, Phish throws down a tight performance. The star here though isn’t individual tracks, though we will run down some highlights as always, or a band member’s growth. The highlight here is the setlist. If you give it a rundown, you’ll find there’s only one cover! This is a major breakthrough. Even at the Molly’s show, they still were averaging about two covers a set. To pull up to a big gig like this one and finally have the confidence in the material is a huge step forward for the group and almost puts a big exclamation point on the transitional year that was 1988. I wish this was the last gig of the year for that reason but history sometimes isn’t neat and proper. We have one more from ’88 to go.

The interior of the Red Barn during a wedding.
The interior of the Red Barn during a wedding.

The music within the setlist is also worth the listen. Everything here is played pretty note perfect. I’m sure working on Junta around the time of these gigs was a huge help as the band was doing take after take of the material, in addition to usual band practice. YEM is hot with inspired playing by Page. You can hear how comfortable with the material he is and is starting to take risks within the structure. “AC/DC Bag” is played a little slower, more at the tempo we know it today, and the band pulls an amazing segue into “Possum”, pushing the tempo to its rollicking beat. A wild “Good Times Bad Times” closes set 2 and it’s worth listening afterwards to hear the crowd chant “Phish” like they just burned down Madison Square Garden. It’s almost like the closing scene of a biopic, where they flash forward and the same chants going on but in a much larger room. The crowd is rewarded with the first Phish encore on record and they bring the house down with a smoking “Run Like An Antelope”. This show is a great early show and right up there with the best of ’88. I recommend you listen to it RIGHT NOW.

Show #76: 11/3/88 – Molly’s Cafe Boston, MA.

Tavern in the Square in Allston at 161 Brighton Ave. This occupy the spot where Molly’s Cafe was in the late 1980s/early 90s.

Thursday, 11/03/1988
Molly’s Cafe, Boston, MA

Soundcheck: Shaggy Dog, Foam

Set 1: Fire,  Golgi Apparatus,  Fluffhead >  Possum,  Fee,  Alumni Blues >  Letter to Jimmy Page >  Alumni Blues,  Good Times Bad Times

Set 2: Time Loves a Hero,  Walk Away,  The Lizards,  Shaggy Dog,  Whipping Post,  Contact, Bold As Love,  Take the ‘A’ Train,  Run Like an Antelope

Set 3: Suzy Greenberg,  Foam,  I Didn’t Know[1],  Big Black Furry Creature from Mars, Harpua,  David Bowie

[1] Fish on trombone.

A theme I’ve been hammering on these last few posts is the fine line between being silly and being professional. As the members of Spinal Tap put it, “There’s such a fine line between stupid…and clever.” And the reason for this is we’re not only seeing this duality right now as Phish expands beyond their hometown crowd of Burlington but I want the readers to know this is a very common theme of Phish’s career. They have such silly lyrics but such serious musicianship that towing that line is very important and will impact the band’s direction for the entirety of their career. I once had a history professor that said the entire history of the United States can be charted on a graph that shows the struggle between Liberty and Security and every moment pulls one way or another. Phish’s career could be marked the same way with Silliness and Professionalism replacing Liberty and Security. I will to use that to put this show into context. At this point, no band from Vermont had really broken into the important regional music hub that is Boston, Massachusetts. So, when Ben “Junta’ Hunter was able to book Phish into Molly’s this November night, there was a lot riding on the show.

The Allston neighborhood of Boston is well known as a music hot spot, so much so that it’s earned the nickname “Allston Rock City”. The place used to be a bevy of clubs due to its proximity to Boston and Harvard Universities and easy spot on both the B branch of the MBTA Green Line and the 66 bus from Harvard Square. This means that its the epicenter of the collegiate world with its low-cost housing and many nightclubs. In the late 80s, there was a huge college rock scene happening in Boston. Many of the bands who were playing the same circuit were Pixies, Mission of Burma, The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, and Dinosaur Jr. But you think of those names and it’s all punk rock/ska/grunge, almost the opposite of Phish. The band could find their own niche here in Beantown if promoted right and Ben Hunter thought he was just the man to do that. He and John Paluska teamed up to work with Phish, Paluska handling Western MA and the Northampton scene and Hunter taking on Eastern MA and the Boston scene for now.

Mosko’s at 161 Brighton Ave in the 1950s. (Photo credit: Dirty Old Boston blog)

Hunter, in an interview with Ellis Godard for The Phish Companiondescribes Molly’s Cafe as “It was the kind of place that had live music only one night a week. If memory serves, they had Dead cover bands and the like on Sundays, and the rest of the time it was a rather, if you’ll excuse the expression, “Euro-trashy” type of dance club.” But, he said “there was a band called Chuck & Helen who used to play a couple of times a week at several Allston (the part of Boston affectionately dubbed “the student slums”) bars (they probably still do). They played some Dead songs and all the other predictable covers – “Love the One You’re With,” “Moondance,” etc… Anyway, they always played to a packed house, which meant a hundred, maybe a couple of hundred people on Friday and Saturday nights. They were a merely adequate outfit and they did very well in terms of people coming out to see them, so I knew there was a market of hungry music fans just waiting for a quality band like Phish. But since they hadn’t played any gigs in the area they weren’t an attractive booking for any local clubs. I thought to myself, Why not just rent a room and tell all my friends and basically throw a huge party with great entertainment? As it turned out, at both those shows there were hundreds of people who showed up.” You can read more of this interview over on

So, the gigs ended up being a success and put Phish on the Boston music map. As for the music itself, user Shae_Dougall writes, “This show is unremarkable in almost every way. It’s not bad under any circumstances, but this is nothing that the band hadn’t played before in terms of adventurism.” But I doubt Shae understands the importance of the gig. The move from Burlington to Boston is as important as the Beatles going from Liverpool to London. It’s not the giant jump across the pond to Ed Sullivan but if the Beatles don’t win over London, then rock music would be dead on arrival. So it also goes for Phish’s career. Sure, they might have moved on, maybe tried to make a splash in New York but if Phish can’t get into Boston and its college rock world, it might have been the end. So, if you’re playing your first gig on a huge music scene, do you bust out Gamehendge? No, the talking alone would have killed the room, even if a good chunk is Hunter’s friends. You play your best material as tightly as possible. Even when they do get silly late in the 3rd set with “Harpua”, it’s about the shortest cleanest “Harpua” yet. The play “The Lizards” and the only banter is a dedication to Mike’s girlfriend Cilla for feeding them dinner that night. You lead off with a smoking Hendrix cover and close the first set with a hot Led Zeppelin cover. I’m sure Trey worked hard on this setlist like he hadn’t before, making sure everything fell into place. “Whipping Post” is kept neat with the only jam really being “Dave’s Energy Guide”. “Foam” improves upon its debut. In Phish 3.0, this would be called a “festival set” and derided by many. I think this actually a really strong night of Phish in 1988 and I like it better than 10/29/88. Next it’s out of the bars and back to the college circuit.

Show #74: 9/24/88

Saturday, 09/24/1988
Humphries House (The Zoo), Amherst College, Amherst, MA

Set 1: Golgi Apparatus,  On Your Way Down,  Alumni Blues >  Letter to Jimmy Page > Alumni Blues,  You Enjoy Myself ->  Wilson >  Peaches en Regalia >  La Grange,  Take the ‘A’ Train,  Divided Sky[1],  Bold As Love

Set 2: David Bowie,  The Lizards,  Walk Away >  Possum,  Fee ->  Sparks >  Whipping Post

Set 3: Good Times Bad Times >  Fluffhead,  The Curtain >  AC/DC Bag,  Dinner and a Movie, Contact,  Big Black Furry Creature from Mars

[1] First known complete version.

This gig looks fairly tame. It’s a former frat house turned co-op living down in Amherst, MA, the Pioneer Valley of course being a dense region of colleges being a perfect landing point for Phish. The actual name of the building is Humphries House, if you’d like to go looking for it. I’ve mentioned before in the post about 3/12/88 that future band manager John Paluska was in the house and it was based on the strength of Gamehendge that he booked Phish for the Zoo’s Full Moon parties, a tradition that apparently remains today. Well, the first Zoo gig was April 2nd and while not much is known about it, clearly it went well enough for a second gig. This is that second gig but as notable as it was that Paluska believed in the band enough to keep booking them at his place, John also had a long-time friend in Boston named Ben “Junta” Hunter. Yes, this is who Phish named their first album after. More detail will come on that later. However, by seeing the band’s “legendary” Zoo parties, he felt that there could be room in Boston’s busy club scene for a band like Phish. This would escalate mere months later but more will detail about that in an upcoming post. No history will be written until it’s time.

There’s something about this show that feels so different from the club gigs though. I think the easy feeling that a friend was running the show but the band at ease. The result is a much more balanced setlist, putting ample emphasis on originals and covers. No doubt the strength of the originals here and how well they meshed with the covers selection furthered Hunter’s thoughts on the band’s marketability. Set 1 kicks off with “Golgi” minus the extended intro from 8/27/88 and it’s well played. “On Your Way Down” is pretty standard as is the following “Alumni>Letter>Alumni”. The “YEM”, dedicated to host John Paluska, is where the show picks up. It’s a tight version with an awesome segue right into “Wilson” with Trey using the song’s chords as the marker and it also ties in “Peaches” again with Trey using the “Boom Blat” section to sound out the drum intro as on 9/13/88. A ripping “La Grange” follows with a loud crowd into the selection. Trey plays rock star and wails on the ending. Taking it down a notch properly, Page gets a nice showcase on “A Train” as per usual. Again, setlist building is coming along there. But it’s all fodder compared to the main event. For the first time, Phish plays “Divided Sky” in its entirety. Combining the original opening snippet heard in earlier shows with the closing segment to “No Dogs Allowed”, everyone knows it’s a masterwork. There’s still some kinks to be worked out. Trey plays a weird ascending riff during the opening segment when Page has his piano fills. Trey hits a few flubs on the crossover point between the two songs. But the jam is beautiful with some “Popeye the Sailorman” teases thrown in. Not even the old stop/start style outro here as it goes full blast and picks up speed to the ending. The crowd erupts. How do you reward that enthusiasm? You bring the house down and end the set with a screaming cover of Hendrix’s “Bold as Love”. Trey hits the tone just right and it’s truly triumphant. Best version yet.

“The window is now ajar.” – Trey
“Once a window, now a jar.” – Mike

Set 2 kicks off with another Phish original “The Lizards”. With the energy of the new “Divided Sky” in the books, this ends up being a ripping version of “Lizards” played at a faster temp than usual. It has a beautiful “If I Were A Dog” segment that not even the crowd clapping can destroy. Hot cover du jour “Walk Away” follows and it’s a very nice concise version that’s much cleaner than previous attempts. The “Possum” that follows is also quite good. This is one of those gigs where the band knows it has home-field advantage and it’s going to run with it. It’s clear on this Possum that Trey’s solos feel more melodic and less chaotic. He’s hitting the right notes instead of playing notes just to play notes and that restraint is coming across beautifully here. “Fee” is performed without the megaphone and is played note for note. Almost catching the fact that most of the set has been original material at this point, the band decides to close with two covers. The Who’s “Sparks” from Tommy serves a bridge from “Fee” to “Whipping Post, making it’s first appearance in a year. The “Whipping Post” is noteworthy because previous versions had been rather unwieldy, building into a cacophony of noise that almost loses the rhythm. This one maintains subdued and Fish opts to keep the high-hat running rather than join in the solo and it makes the song more melodic but also keep it tied together as Page and Trey get spacey during the jam. It works much better in this aspect than “crazier” versions. Again, this show of restraint will be very important for the next few years in establishing a fan base.

We don’t get all of Set 3 but what we do get is pretty amazing. A ripping “Good Times, Bad Times” to kick it off is always a great idea. Knowing they have the audience now, they go right into “Fluffhead”. It contains another “Popeye” tease and Mike actually gets the crowd to sing along to the “Bundle of Joy” section humorously. Keeping it going, the band launches into “The Curtain”, the intro being picked out amazingly. My only beef is Page is a little low in the mix but the band hits those out of the park. The recording closes out with a very well-received call of “AC/DC Bag” and you can hear the enthusiasm from the crowd. The band gets really loose and funky on this version. It’s probably the loosest version yet. They’re slinking along just behind the beat in all the right ways. It’ll make you want to groove right wherever you are. The jam is also a lot of fun and has some fun teases by Trey including “Popeye”, “The Flintstones Theme”, and “London Bridge”. Again, the song ends and you can hear how loud the crowd is. Clearly, the band is staring to find faith in their original material and its strength. The covers will help keep the crowd interested and gain new fans but the fans are coming around. They are just starting to hit the high gear down in Amherst and you can feel the shift forward on this night.