Show # 93: 4/15/1989 Billings Student Center The University of Vermont Burlington, VT

Saturday, 04/15/1989
Billings Lounge, University of Vermont, Burlington, VT

Soundcheck: Time Loves a Hero

Set 1: Mike’s Song >  I Am Hydrogen >  Weekapaug Groove,  Esther >  You Enjoy Myself > Wilson,  Peaches en Regalia,  On Your Way Down >  Alumni Blues[1] >  Letter to Jimmy Page>  Alumni Blues,  I Didn’t Know[2],  McGrupp and the Watchful Hosemasters[3] >  Foam, David Bowie

Set 2: Funky Bitch,  Golgi Apparatus >  Slave to the Traffic Light,  The Mango Song,  Divided Sky,  Split Open and Melt[4],  Suzy Greenberg >  Fluffhead >  Good Times Bad Times

[1] Additional lyrics.
[2] Fish on trombone; with sound effects from an electronic drum machine.
[3] With sound effects from an electronic drum machine.
[4] With drum solo.

Billings Library (formerly Billings Student Center)
Billings Library (formerly Billings Student Center)

Unlike the gig at Johnson State, this surprisingly would not be the band’s last gig at the University of Vermont. There are a few more left to document. It’s more interesting that the band wasn’t playing a larger space at UVM yet. Back in the cozy confines of the Billings Student Center, the band turns in a fine performance all for the benefit of VPIRG, the Vermont Public Interest Research Group. Set 1 is excellent audio quality. It’s interesting that we have the soundcheck in tact, more than likely the student center was just open and people could come in during the soundcheck. “Time Loves a Hero” continued to get better and better and it’s interesting it wasn’t played again until 1998 when it would have been a great cover staple. The opening “Mike’s Groove” is very tasty with Mike finally not straining on his vocal on “Mike’s” and “Weekapaug” played at the regular faster pace. It sounds gorgeous. The band welcomes the crowd to the VPIRG benefit and then Trey informs that someone lost their birth control pills at Johnson State and then band brought them to the next gig. A hilarious banter moment. “Esther” gets a much needed redemption after the previous night’s closer and here we get a near-perfect version. “You Enjoy Myself” is quite nice with Trey bringing the jam to a blistering peak before the bass and drums section. The “Wilson->Peaches” blat-boom transition returns nicely. After “Peaches”, we get some very nice banter from Page, again reinforcing why probably Page delivers so much of the banter now. He advises people to buy some cider and lemonade in the back and then plug their upcoming Pearl Street gig on May 1st. He says that if they sell enough tickets, they’ll move from the basement space to the main hall. We’ll see soon if that happened! They play “On Your Way Down” but I really think “Times Loves a Hero” is the better Little Feat cover for the band. Page does a nice job though. The song’s just too heavy for my taste I guess. We get a lightning fast “Alumni>Letter>Alumni” triplet. “I Didn’t Know” has the really odd mixture of Fish playing trombone and a new electronic drum machine on the tune, adding weird sound effects to the acapella lines. I hope the drum machine is NOT a permanent fixture. Yikes. Fish does add some nice woodblock textures to the opening of “McGrupp”. “Foam” is interesting because Trey tries to segue directly in it and you hear him picking out the notes solo and it takes a good couple of rounds before the rest of the band catches up. I like it because it shows there’s more work to do on some of these tunes and room for improvement; taking risks. The “Foam” itself is starting move at its signature tempo and meshing nicely. We get part of “David Bowie” but nothing noteworthy.

Set 2’s tape is less clean than set 1. It’s very rough in places so proceed at your own risk. The set kicks off with a dirty “Funky Bitch” though, setting the tone. “Golgi” and “Slave” offer some varied playing by Trey but otherwise have nothing outstanding. After “Slave”, there’s a fun bit of banter with Trey saying they’l play their newest number next. Trey then says Page will use a new synthesizer on the song but the synthesizer is broken already on its first time out. Trey then says Fish will use his new woodblocks and advises Fish to play the song he just learned. This pans into a “Name That Tune” bit where Fish plays the “Charge” riff on them and an audience member wins a date with Fish. Trey also says there’s a special way to dance to the next song with only your hips and body, keeping your head still. Trey also says that Paul puts feedback pack in the monitors and takes it out to trick the band in thinking he’s a great soundman. The band then busts into “The Mango Song”, playing a much-more polished version and follows it up with a strong “Divided Sky”. Then, we get our first recorded “Split Open and Melt” and I’m excited for this only to be let down. The song is played a little slower than most fans are used to, probably because of its infant stage, the band is not up to speed on the intricacy of its dissonance. In the middle before the “Steam Dream” breakdown, there’s a long drum solo by Fishman at just feels wrong. The jam also isn’t much but Trey wailing on sustain. There’s potential but I don’t see it yet here. The show ends in typical 1989 fashion with “Suzy”, “Fluffhead”, and “Good Times Bad Times”. All fun show for the UVM kids overall. At the end of “Fluffhead”, Trey plugs a couple of gigs, the all-ages gig in Northampton again (but with the wrong date of 4/15), Johnny B. Fishman Jazz Ensemble with Russell Remington at Noonie’s Deli on Mondays, and the Rock Rumble at the Front this weekend! Will Phish win the Rock Rumble? Find out on future installments of the Phishsonian.

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.

2007 067

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…

Show #91: 3/30/89 The Front Burlington, VT

Thursday, 03/30/1989
The Front, Burlington, VT

Set 1: Bold As Love,  McGrupp and the Watchful Hosemasters >  Divided Sky,  The Price of Love[1],  On Your Way Down,  Ya Mar,  Fluffhead,  Run Like an Antelope

Set 2: The Mango Song[2],  Mike’s Song >  I Am Hydrogen >  Weekapaug Groove,  You Enjoy Myself,  Undun[1],  La Grange,  Golgi Apparatus

Set 3: Peaches en Regalia >  Foam,  AC/DC Bag >  Big Black Furry Creature from Mars, Satin Doll,  Rocky Top

Encore: Makisupa Policeman

[1] First known Phish performance.
[2] First known performance.

The SkiRack (formerly The Front) looking up Main St. towards The Woodbury Armory (formerly Hunt's).
The SkiRack (formerly The Front) looking up Main St. towards The Woodbury Armory (formerly Hunt’s).

We finally get another full show after some segments and what a beauty we have to go over today! This is the best show of 1989 so far and not just because we get to hear everything. It starts off with a solid “Bold as Love” which Trey has dropped the horrible flanger effect he played at the end. “McGrupp” builds to a soaring dissonant peak in the jam. “Divided Sky” is played with such fire. Phish slays local colleagues’ Ninja Custodian’s “The Price of Love”. A fiery “On Your Way Down” with delicious Page vocals goes nicely with “Ya Mar” to bring the mood up. “Fluffhead” has some very nice licks by Trey to accompany the composition. “Antelope” is the best yet with whole band movement during the jams and a fun dissonant undercurrent to the Marco Esquandolas section.

Set 2 we get the first recording of “The Mango Song”. The song is not the powerhouse it will e like most early Phish versions but it does have really tight licks from Trey and the general feel is there. “Mike’s Groove” is pretty good. The “Mike’s” is very short but hot, the “Hydrogen” is perfect, and the “Weekapaug” is the fastest yet but unfortunately gets cuts short. “You Enjoy Myself” is also quite nice with great interplay between Trey and Page and an awesome drop into a tease of Linda Ronstadt’s “You’re No Good” and hen working it around the “Wash Uffizi Drive Me to Firenze” of the vocal jam. The Guess Who’s “Undun” here is a Fishman song and continues what began with “If I Only Had A Brain” but this time has less theatrics and is more a fun romp through the song. No longer just singing with his head down and mumbling Syd Barrett, here he duets with Page and puts some real emotion in the song. Well done Fish! A ripping “La Grange” follows and then “Golgi” closes the set.

Set 3 kicks off with the always strong “Peaches”. “Foam” continues to be a strong showcase piece for all 4 members of Phish with Page and Trey trading licks, Mike playing inventive bass lines, and Fishman playing a strong underlying rhythm. “AC/DC” is good but nothing special. “BBFCFM” is fun as usual. “Satin Doll” has excellent solos by both Mike and Fish, demonstrating their abilities at the time. Trey tries to explain the band at the end by introducing them as “The Phish Fusion Hardcore Jazz and Bluegrass Band”. Little hard to fit on a marquee. The band then rips into “Rocky Top” to end the set. An encore of “Makisupa Policemen” with a solid Mike-heavy reggae jam ends the show.

Chris Kuroda - The Early Years. (Photo Credit: Phish.com)
Chris Kuroda – The Early Years. (Photo Credit: Phish.com)

This show would not only be noted for the music but it was also Chris Kuroda’s first night on Phish’s crew as a simple roadie, lugging gear. Apparently, Trey asked Chris he if he knew anyone bring their guitar lesson and Chris responded by suggesting himself. This is why 2/7/89 might be CK5’s favorite show as it was one of his last as a common fan.

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 #89: 3/14/89 Nectar’s Burlington, VT

Tuesday, 03/14/1989
Nectar’s, Burlington, VT

Set 1: The Curtain >  Ya Mar,  Mike’s Song >  I Am Hydrogen >  Weekapaug Groove, Fluffhead,  Contact,  AC/DC Bag >  Wilson,  You Enjoy Myself,  Harpua,  Foam

Set 2: Wilson,  Fluffhead

Set 3: Fire,  Sneakin’ Sally Through the Alley,  Alumni Blues,  The Lizards,  La Grange,  You Enjoy Myself,  Good Times Bad Times

Encore: Halley’s Comet

(Setlist may be incorrect)

The final nights at Nectar's on the club's booking calendar. (Photo credit: Nectar's/Burlington Free Press)
The final nights at Nectar’s on the club’s booking calendar. (Photo credit: Nectar’s/Burlington Free Press)

Aside from the Paradise show, no indicator of how fast things were moving for Phish in 1989 is greater than the end of the Nectar’s era. This was the incubator. No one can honestly say that Phish would have done much without the safe space of their weekly gig there. Any place that’ll let you debut a rock opera after a Frank Zappa show deserves some applause. Nectar’s is fortunately celebrating its 40th anniversary. The ownership may be new and they may have renovated the place but that vibe of music above everything else remains. I wish I could say that we had the whole affair and it was glorious and moving but alas, time has not been kind. We have a conflicting setlist and a 1st set that seems patched together. It even has “Harpua” as the last song but conflicting reports says it is not so. I like to think that Nectar’s went out with one more story from Trey myself, so in my mind, it did. The circulating recording says Set 1 but with “Harpua” being introduced as “the last song”, I think it’s safe to say that’s incorrect. Others think the recording may have come from another show but I don’t think a show with this much weight would have been mislabeled. We’ll never know the real answer.

Phish on the Nectar's stage. (Photo credit: Max Brown/Phish/Burlington Free Press)
Phish on the Nectar’s stage. (Photo credit: Max Brown/Phish/Burlington Free Press)

What we do have is a nice set of club Phish. “Paul? You ready to go?”, asks Trey to kick things off. The band kicks into a vivid “Curtain”. “Ya Mar” happily follows it up and it’s clear from the tracks we have that this will be a grooving night. Also, this is the 1st “Ya Mar” on record since 1988, about 74 total shows, the second longest gap for the song. The “Mike’s Groove” here is really taste. Played very tightly and doesn’t wander too much. The “Weekapaug” is really slow though but makes a nice dance tune here. “Fluffhead” is strong as usual. “Contact” gets cut in the middle adding to my though that this tape is pieced together. We get a Gamehendge two-fer of “AC/DC” and “Wilson” that’s good. “You Enjoy Myself” never goes out there but again is super tight. The level of interplay is getting closer to what made the band legendary. The highlight here is “Harpua”. Trey tries to get the whole crowd into the intro, teaching them the oom-pa-pa and hand gestures. The song is a classic Harpua, with the perfect storytelling from Trey about Harpua’s search for raw flesh and finding Jimmy’s cat named, the cat whose name is, the cat who was known as…POSTER NUTBAG! The fight ensues and as always, Poster is dead. Real passion in this version that makes it fun. There’s a “Foam” tacked on the end but I think that that is filler from another show and not an encore.

Phish would continue to have a stage in Burlington until 1992, taking residence at the larger Front, eventually playing more gigs there than Nectar’s but Nectar’s importance in the first 5 years of the band will never be understated. Unlike the Front, which was Phish polished, Nectar’s allowed the band to find their sound and style in a way that is not usually how the industry works. The band said it best in the liner notes of their 1992 album A Picture of Nectar:

“Eight and a half years ago, we played our first bar gig at Nectar’s in Burlginton. Nectar Rorris, the proprietor, was happy to give us a gig despite out lack of experience, organization, or a song list long enough to last two sets. The night went well enough and soon we were playing a series of monthly three night stands – three sets a night on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday. Like countless other bands in Burlington’s diverse music scene, those nights at Nectar’s taught us how to play. We dedicate this album to Nectar Rorris for 16 years of bringing Burlington live music every night of the week with no cover and the best fries this side of…France.”

Thanks to Nectar and new owner Chris, and former owner Damon for being the cornerstone of Burlington’s music scene. Here’s to 40 years of Nectar’s and hopefully 40 more!

Show #88: 3/12/89 Nectar’s Burlington, VT

Part of what’s weird about history is what survives the years. Sometimes it’s the obvious things like the Rosetta Stone or The Magna Carta. Sometimes it’s President Harding’s pajamas or an ancient chamberpot. It is in the evidence of these stunning finds that we are presented with what we have from this show at Nectar’s on March 12, 1989. It doesn’t have any standout jams or even real bustouts. It has one theatrical debut that some might say is the ‘real” beginning of the Fishman song tradition and then it has probably one of the oddest moments of Phish history on tape. We get a well-played but boring Mike’s Groove, though it was enough for Fish to allegedly break his snare drum. This evolves into a cover of “If I Only Had A Brain” as the delay and song choice is due to his error. Such a setup for a cover. These Fishman theatrics continue today, most recently with the “Dem Bones” cover setting up the “Suck to Blow” New Year’s gag. Rather than just have Fishman come out to do another Syd Barrett cover, this one has a script attached. A good precursor to the “Hold Your Head Up” tradition.

Then, we get “Alumni Blues” with the alternate lyrics. “Letter to Jimmy Page” goes off the rails when Phish has Eyeburn take the stage and perform one of their own “punk rock” songs that sounds like a terrible CBGB-era band. Just awful and complete time warp. This might have been popular in 1981 but 8 years later and you’re still doing that schtick, yikes. I don’t know who in Phish let this go down, let alone bug their show at the Front 5 days later, let alone that they could get a gig at the Front. Maybe they had a better songs in the catalog but that would not have gotten me to the Front that weekend. No other information about Eyeburn could be found online, the only links were to this show. It’d be interesting to know more about them and how they appeared this night. Also, how their performance survives 26 years later on a Phish tape. The rest of the set has no real highlights. This show can be important though because it would be the 1st show of the last 3-night stand at Nectar’s. The 2nd show remains uncirculated but we’ll have part of the last Nectar’s show next.

Show #87: 3/4/89 The Wetlands Preserve New York, NY

Saturday, 03/04/1989
The Wetlands Preserve, New York, NY

Set 1: Take the ‘A’ Train,  I Didn’t Know[1],  Mike’s Song >  I Am Hydrogen >  Weekapaug Groove,  Fee,  Golgi Apparatus,  Good Times Bad Times

Set 2: Possum >  Fluffhead,  The Lizards,  Run Like an Antelope,  Contact

[1] Fish on trombone.

The Wetlands at the corner of Hudson and Laight, NYC.
The Wetlands at the corner of Hudson and Laight, NYC.

It’s hard for a band, especially an East Coast band, to truly get somewhere without making a splash in New York City. However, New York in the late 1980s was not really a hippie-friendly environment. Most of the clubs were places to be seen and not see music. Those that did host music were catering to Punk and New Wave bands lingering from the city’s own musical renaissance in the late 1970s.  Not the most welcoming place for a noodling progressive jam quartet from Vermont. Enter Larry Bloch. Bloch was the visionary behind The Wetlands Preserve. Located at 161 Hudson St in the TriBeCa neighborhood, the club was both a nightclub and an activism center for environmental issues. The building was a former Chinese food warehouse. The club opened at just the right time on February 16, 1989 with a sold-out show from the Grateful Dead-influenced band New Potato Caboose instead of rising jamband Blues Traveler. Less than a month later, Phish played their first gig and really found their NYC crowd at the Wetlands. The club would be a lasting impact as totally different from anywhere else in the city. Several things set the club apart: a more laid-back attitude than another club, a unique downstairs “chill” space with couches and pillows but still a live feed from the main room, and an information center built into an old VW bus, where concertgoers could learn about environmental issues. Phish would go on to play 7 more shows at the Wetlands, 5 of which will be reviewed here. The Wetlands doesn’t get the nostalgia that CBGB gets in New York’s music history but in reality, it’s every bit as important. Nearly every band that made the early to mid 1990s rock scene, with the exception of Nirvana graced its stage. Heavy hitters included “house band” Blues Traveler, The Spin Doctors, Pearl Jam, Hootie and the Blowfish, Sublime, Ween, almost many others. I won’t give the entire Wetlands story away since we’ve got so far to go. The main point being where else could Phish play on a Saturday night in New York in 1989. It’s also key because if you follow the band’s career in a certain city, it will add another dimension to their tale. In the coming days, we’ll add City as a category so you can view every review per city to show that transition.

Inside the Wetlands at the info bus.
Inside the Wetlands at the info bus.

As for the actual show, we only have half of it. This is a great sounding early audience recording. Clearly there’s a crowd but doesn’t sound like a packed house. “A Train” features an extensive “Flinstones” theme tease. The “Mike’s Song” has a great jam with an ending lead by Trey instead of Page, which is odd. “Weekapaug Groove” has some unusual drumming from Fishman that’s worth checking out. First real standout track about Fishman so far. “Antelope” has a very neat and tidy jam for the song. Lastly, Trey says that Bruce Springsteen will be coming out to join them. Funny now that 20 years later at Bonnaroo, that would actually happen. It’s sad that we don’t have the 3rd set. Given the venue, it probably got a little weird and fun. Next, we head back to Burlington for the end of an era.

Addendum: I know that if you look at Phishtracks or Phish.in, you’ll see there was a show on 3/3/89. The setlists and information vary so differently between Phish.com and Phish.net that it cannot be historically accurate at all for this blog. Therefore I have opted out of reviewing to.