Show #102: 5/9/1989 The Front Burlington, VT

Tuesday, 05/09/1989
The Front, Burlington, VT

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).

Set 1: Wilson,  Peaches en Regalia,  Ya Mar,  Mike’s Song >  I Am Hydrogen >  Weekapaug Groove,  The Sloth,  Possum,  Divided Sky

Set 2: You Enjoy Myself,  La Grange,  If I Don’t Be There By Morning[1],  Slave to the Traffic Light >  Esther >  Run Like an Antelope,  I Didn’t Know[2] >  Nowhere Fast[3] ->  I’ve Turned Bad[3] >  I Didn’t Know,  The Lizards,  Bold As Love,  Harpua,  Whipping Post

[1] First known Phish performance.
[2] Fish on trombone.
[3] First known performance; Sofi Dillof and “Joe” on vocals.

If you’ve ever been in a rock band, the record release show is usually a big deal. You pester all your friends and acquaintances to show up so that it feels like a big deal and also in hopes that they buy a copy of your album. You also flyer the whole town, putting out the word that your band was focused enough to record the music you’ve been playing. This doesn’t feel like that. Sure Chris Kuroda and friend of the band Kiki Colgan spent the afternoon stuffing j-cards into cassette boxes to make sure they had enough copies on hand but, announcements aside, it doesn’t seem too different from any other night at The Front. Probably because Phish knows they have the fanbase who’ll pick up the new cassette handily.

The show kicks off with the “Wilson>Peaches” combo. Helpfully Trey shakes it soon because it’s starting to become stale. Trey takes the audience to the Bahamas, eliciting a single woo from the crowd, and Phish launches into “Ya Mar”. It’s a solid version. Trey then borrows a bit from 5/6/89 saying now “let’s take it away from the Bahamas and take it to Rhode Island!” launching into the “Mike’s>Groove”. The “Mike’s” is short but builds to a nice frenzy structured by Page’s organ layering. They like it so much that they play the ending chords twice with a real nice sustain by Trey in the middle. The “Weekapaug Groove” is excellent though with great bass work by Mike and very fluid playing from Trey ending with solid machine gunning. After the “Weekpaug”, Trey finally plugs the tape that you can now buy at the soundboard and Mike adds that “Junta has no meaning in Nicaraguan.” The “Sloth”/”Possum” combo is fun if not outstanding. The set closes with “The Divided Sky”, which is another solid whole band effort.

“Self!,” Trey calls out to start set two, calling for “You Enjoy Myself”. “This song’s from our first album! This next’s one’s from our first album, available at the soundboard,” says the band. “FOR FREE!,” replies an audience member jokingly. Trey also comments it’s Mike’s birthday, an audience member not Mike Gordon and then Page says later we’ll play something for Chris’ birthday. Trey counts it off and “YEM” begins. It’s solid but highlights are when Trey gets shred at 12:30 before the bass and drums section and a sucking a bone (?) vocal jam and ends with a Fishman bass drum solo brought on by fan and Trey’s encouragement. Mike also teases “Moby Dick” in a nod to Fishman’s drum solo, starting a trend that will last a career. A ripping “La Grange” follows. We get an odd cut and dump right into “Slave to the Traffic Light” in progress and with some quality issues, missing the Bob Dylan cover “If I Don’t Be There By Morning”. “Slave” isn’t very good and doesn’t peak. The non-reaction of the crowd is fitting. “Esther” comes next and has some interesting woodblock coloring from Fishman, keeping time with Page’s organ riff. This “Esther” also is played at a faster tempo than usual and hilarious ends with the rest of the band ending the song early on Trey who’s still soloing. A solid yet average “Antelope” comes next. Antics come to the front in “I Didn’t Know”. Out of Fishman’s trombone solo, he calls “Sing with me Sofi!” Brining Sofi Dillof, Page’s future first wife, and “Joe” who is believed to be a member of Ninja Custodian up to play two Ninja Custodian songs “Nowhere Fast” and “I’ve Turned Bad”. A little punk rock break in the middle? Why not. Phish brings the tempo back down with a nice slow closing reprise of “I Didn’t Know”  I didn’t know that I was that far gone takes on new meaning. Chris finally gets his birthday song in the form of “The Lizards” and it’s a solid version, again played at a faster tempo than usual, especially in the “If I Were a Dog” section. That section is also preceded by a tape cut and leads off with just Trey and Fish, which adds to the beauty. “Bold as Love” has Trey shredding but not over the top. It’s a very tasteful version with some hot licks. The well-loved story of “Harpua” follows. Trey begins the story and when introducing Harpua, Mike goes “Tell ’em about the ass.” recalling 4/20/89 when the band jammed on “non-shot ass”, and the band plays the defending riff that used for that version during Trey’s story. This time Harpua has the “twice shot ass”. The fight is underplayed by a jam on the Spencer Davis Group’s “Gimmie Some Lovin'” ironically. It’s a good version but nowhere near as amazing as 4/20/89. The show closes with a meandering “Whipping Post”. For a show with some history, there’s not much here that’s historical but a solid effort.

Shows #95-96: 4/21-22 The Front Burlington, VT

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).

Today I want to talk about two important shows that we don’t have much of a setlist or any recordings from. I know what you’re thinking, “How can you write up shows that you don’t know much about?” The fact is these two shows were extremely important in the history of Phish that our lack of first-hand accounts can’t be reason alone to skip them.

Much of the mythos of the Phish story is Phish rose to be the kings of live music without radio, MTV, or album sales. While on a national front this is true, at home, Phish was all supported by local radio stations. Most notably here at the Rock Rumble at the Front. WIZN was a major player in the Vermont radio scene alongside WNCS out of Montpelier, a station we’ll cover later in this series. Starting out in 1983 in Vergennes, the same year as Phish, with Arty LaVigne as general manager, the station would become a champion of local radio with a popular local morning show, Corm and the Coach, and a focus on Vermont artists. The station would become the predominant rock and roll radio station for the town until 1997 when it added 99.9 The Buzz as its “younger-focused” sister station. As a kid, I used to listen to these three stations ad-nauseum. I still remember listening to Rich Haskell and Arty LaVigne riding down Shelburne Road with my parents in the summer, usually talking about some promotions at the Chickenbone Cafe. On all these stations, around 1992-94, there was always room for Phish between Led Zeppelin and Eric Clapton. I probably heard Phish over the airwaves long before I knew exactly who they were. Also, a WIZN DJ gave me a copy of Hoist in June 1994, my first conscious moment with the band and one that clearly changed my life forever.

The official T-shirt of the WIZN Rock Rumble
The official T-shirt of the WIZN Rock Rumble. (Photo credit @JayCatVT)

Part of that was these two shows. The shows were hosted by WIZN’s own Arty LaVigne, who had just bought that station outright in June 1988. Nighttime drive DJ Mike Luoma was also believed to be a judge that evening. The only known fact is Phish pulled out the theatrical stops, climaxing their one set on April 21st by lowering Fishman naked from the rafters for his “I Didn’t Know” vacuum solo. The vacuum, however, was not plugged in. Fish did play a naked trombone solo though. The band also played Contact. Mike’s lone notes from the show are they played “loud and hard”. The band obviously brought it enough to be named a finalist. All the finalists performed with Phish winning the whole thing on April 22nd. Phish used the Archer Studios time won to record “Split Open and Melt” and “Bathtub Gin” for the forthcoming Lawn Boy. Phish were now officially the kings of Burlington’s music scene. Now on the radar of local radio, the band could continue to grow outside of the city of Burlington and college scenes.

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 #85: 2/24/89 The Front Burlington, VT

Friday, 02/24/1989
The Front, Burlington, VT

Set 1: The Man Who Stepped Into Yesterday >  Avenu Malkenu >  The Man Who Stepped Into Yesterday,  The Curtain >  Foam,  Colonel Forbin’s Ascent >  Fly Famous Mockingbird > Run Like an Antelope >  Golgi Apparatus,  Possum

Set 2: On Your Way Down >  AC/DC Bag,  You Enjoy Myself ->  Camel Walk

Teases:
· Jean Pierre tease in You Enjoy Myself

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).

Are you starting to see the pattern of the Front being a home base for the band during their early touring years? They still had that weekly gig, 3 nights a week to ground the band as their world got crazier and crazier. This is the second of three nights, the other two do not have recordings, and what we get is just good solid Phish. The problem here is the quality of the recording. This is most likely a later generation tape and that’s why the dubbing is incorrect. Because of the poor dubbing, we get everything a half step higher then it originally was played. Historically, it’s great we have anything at all but it’s a little hard to judge the playing because everything’s sped up. Did Phish really have crazy chops like that earlier on? Most likely yes and we can tell from other tapes but here’s other factors that we’ll see in following Phish’s history that are impacted by the quality of tapes we have access to. One of the benefits of early Phish is tapers had access to patch directly in to the soundboard. That means they could take their rig and plug it in for a direct recording of the soundboard. Starting in the early 90s, we’ll see a transition as many of the shows reviewed will become audience recordings as Phish cut off access to the soundboard. For more on the history of tape trading, check out this article by David Steinberg aka zzyzx.

It’s also important to note that some of the recordings on PhishTracks or Phish.in are probably 3rd or 4th generation tapes. I’m still grateful for what we have though. There’s no way an undertaking like this could have been done until at least the mid-2000s and even then it would have been difficult due to space constraints. Everything, even the bad shows, would have had to been downloaded to a hard drive. Those hard drives still exist but streaming the show makes it easy to listen anywhere and that is a timesaver. As for the show itself, it’s a solid night. Excellent to see “The Man Who Stepped Into Yesterday” back on a recording. The highlight is the “YEM->Camel Walk”. The “YEM” is the first time you really hear Phish’s signature tension and release jamming as the jam builds and builds until it hits that right moment to come down and then they effortlessly transition into “Camel Walk”. It’s really a great early highlight despite being presented a half-step up.

P.S. Happy 6th Anniversary 3.0! I’m so glad I’m writing about living history instead of just history! Thanks Phish!

Show #83: 2/7/89 – The Front, Burlington, VT

Tuesday, 02/07/1989
The Front, Burlington, VT

Set 1: Esther >  McGrupp and the Watchful Hosemasters[1] >  Foam,  The Sloth -> Possum,  Mike’s Song >  I Am Hydrogen >  Weekapaug Groove,  Golgi Apparatus

Set 2: Makisupa Policeman,  Dinner and a Movie,  AC/DC Bag >  The Lizards,  Timber (Jerry), Contact,  Alumni Blues[2] >  Letter to Jimmy Page >  Alumni Blues,  Fee >  Run Like an Antelope

Set 3: Sanity[3],  Fluffhead,  Suzy Greenberg >  Slave to the Traffic Light,  Bike >  Whipping Post[4]

Encore: Fire

[1] Fish on trombone.
[2] Additional lyrics.
[3] Fast version.
[4] First known Fish vocals.

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).

While we don’t know what happened the first night of this three night stand, I can easily say that this is the better show between the two that we do have. With a more varied setlist than the shows that became before it, it gives that band a chance to work on some lower tier tunes. The Phish catalog is very interesting in that it’s very clearly layered. You have the top tier of compositions. In this layer, you’d find “You Enjoy Myself”, “Fluffhead”, “Divided Sky”, “Mike’s”, “Weekapaug”, “Harry Hood”, among a few others. However, there’s another stellar layer but not considered essential by the amount of times played by the band. I would put in this level “McGrupp”, “Esther”, “The Lizards”, “Fee”. This is still an amazing bunch but if you were making the essential Phish, they might not make it. When they string a bunch of these together, it always makes for a more interesting show. This night at The Front, we get a whole bunch of this tier of Phish and it makes for a fun night and breaks up what had become a fairly monotonous run of important shows. The band was just getting into more varied setlist as their repertoire grew and it’s here on this night that you get that feeling of changing the sets every night that would become a Phish trademark. It also important to note that this is lighting director Chris Kuroda’s favorite show, as mentioned in an interview with JamBase. He said if he ever got to pick some live shows for release, this show would be number 1. It’s a curious pick but I think it’ll become very evident why it might be one of his favorites in upcoming shows…

We get a really interesting open in the form of “Esther”. The song is presented here with its updated and current lyrics, where the mob attacks Esther instead of the old man at the end of the song. I also like how it opens with the omnious circus music and I don’t get what the audience member yells but Trey’s reaction of “Damn Right”, kind of hits the determination of the band in a way that makes me laugh. This is also interesting because this will be the only “Esther” opener in the band’s history. I guess a story and menacing circus music isn’t a great show opener outside a Tuesday night in Vermont. Another thought while listening to “Esther” is you hear the organ coming out a lot more. I have to believe it was some time in ’88 that Page augmented that Yamaha CP-70 piano with his Hammond M-100 and that enabled him to play more organ parts, a signature that would only continue to develop. “McGrupp” follows continuing the theme of lesser-known compositions. “McGrupp” is very beautifully played and subdued. Almost a downer but why not start the night off easy? “Foam” continues the trend as it seems to be taking the spotlight in the ramp up to Junta. These three songs are also very Page heavy tunes. An odd trio to kick off the set but that makes it interesting. A lovely pairing of “The Sloth->Possum” seems to really signify the start of the evening, at least for Trey. “Possum” itself has a really nice lead and gets nice and quite before ramping back up for the ending. The “Mike’s Groove” in my opinion is the highlight of the set. It starts of timid. Mike’s vocals are a still little shaky with the existing melody just a hair out of his range. But around the 4-minute mark, the jam begins to build and led by Trey, the intensity picks up. It’s as if a tiny whirlwind is now a tornado. The 4-headed monster build and builds. Trey even continues to play licks, despite cues from his band members that the end is coming. A fan would get the feeling this would have a second jam if the year was 1994 or 1995. However, it drifts off to a very slick “Hydrogen” before dropping down into “Weekapaug” for a nice danceable jam.

More rarities second set. We get a fun “Makisupa” to set the scene and then “Dinner and A Movie” gets a welcome return to rotation. After that, the show loses its uniqueness and we get a lot of the same things we’ve been hearing throughout 1988. There’s a hilarious “Timber (Jerry)” where Trey doesn’t seem hooked up with the band at all and keeps missing the rhythm of the lyrics. Despite the train-wreck, it has a hot fiery jam. “Alumni” has the story lyrics as opposed to the regular lyrics. “Antelope” is very nice as always. The fast version of “Sanity” kicks off Set 3 and is still a lot of fun to hear. The set ends with a fun double dose of Fishman singing not only Syd Barrett’s “Bike” but also doing a tortured version of “Whipping Post”, which is a nice deviation from the previous night’s “straight” version. All-in-all a fun night at The Front. With its unique setlist and antics, it’s easy to see why Kuroda would enjoy this one so much.

Show #82: 2/6/89 – The Front Burlington, VT

Monday, 02/06/1989
The Front, Burlington, VT

Set 1: Suzy Greenberg,  The Curtain >  Wilson >  Peaches en Regalia,  Fee >  La Grange,  You Enjoy Myself

Set 2: All Blues >  Sanity[1],  Take the ‘A’ Train,  Golgi Apparatus >  Divided Sky,  On Your Way Down,  I Didn’t Know

Set 3: Good Times Bad Times,  Walk Away >  Harry Hood,  Big Black Furry Creature from Mars,  The Ballad of Curtis Loew,  Colonel Forbin’s Ascent >  Fly Famous Mockingbird > Whipping Post,  Corinna

Encore: David Bowie

[1] Fast version.

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).

While the band was beginning to grow in statue outside the Green Mountain State, Phish remained deep in the fabric of the Vermont music scene for years to come. So after taking Boston by storm, the band played Dartmouth College, their usual Wednesday night gig at Gallagher’s in Waitsfield, and their first New York City show at Forty Worth, an art gallery/performance space in Tribeca. Unfortunately none of these shows exist in circulation. The leaves us with night 2 and night 3 of the band’s first Burlington shows since the Paradise gig. The band is continuing to establish the Front as their home base but they haven’t quite left Nectar’s yet. The only problem with 3 nights and no albums yet, the material stays about the same as recent shows. That’s not to say there are no highlights here on Night 2. The “Wilson>Peaches” combo is back. A really tasty take on “La Grange” happens though that I like. We get a taste of Phish’s version of Miles Davis’ “All Blues” into the fast version of “Sanity” again. “Divided Sky” continues to be amazing. The ending jam to “Harry Hood” has some interesting interplay between all 4 members. But the standout is “David Bowie”. The band has fun with the opening segment as that tradition seems to be improving. Trey does the Batman TV theme to open, when the composed section is about to break into the jam, the whole band gets in on the riff. Then Trey starts the jam on the Batman riff and they use that as a launchpad into the jam. It’s an interesting look at the band listening to each other early on and moving as a unit, rather than just Trey wild over the top. At 8:46, you can hear Page signal to the band and he initiates a call and response with Trey that’s just magnificent for them to build off. Also, Mike plays almost the base line to Wipe Out at such a fast pace that holds it down. Tight playing indeed. Night 3 next!

Show #71: 9/8/88

Thursday, 09/08/1988
The Front, Burlington, VT

Set 1: Peaches en Regalia >  Walk Away,  Slave to the Traffic Light,  Wild Child,  AC/DC Bag, Colonel Forbin’s Ascent >  Fly Famous Mockingbird,  Bold As Love

Set 2: Possum,  You Enjoy Myself,  Cities ->  Dave’s Energy Guide >  Cities,  Good Times Bad Times,  On Your Way Down >  Whipping Post

Another week, another gig at the Front. As it’s still the top played venue in Phish history, we’re gonna have a lot of these. Not a lot to talk about with this show. It’s solidly played top to bottom. Phish t-shirts had clearly been around before this gig as they’re seen in photos from the Colorado road trip and there’s the legend that at the March 12, 1988 Frank Zappa show at Burlington’s Memorial Auditorium, he hung one on the clothesline on stage after a fan handed it to him. Much in the grand tradition of Phish Dry Goods, Trey doesn’t hesitate to tell the crowd they have new t-shirts available at the soundboard after a hot “Slave to the Traffic Light”. More things change, the more they stay the same. I wonder if it was just logo shirts or some unique design. Unless someone out there has one sitting in mothballs, we’ll never know. After this announcement, we get the last every played “Wild Child”. This Lou Reed tune was last played in 1985, making it a very early “bustout”. You can really hear the band on the verge of breaking in “Bold as Love”. It’s just fantastic and on par with any other version, clearly its band had the chops for something. After “Bold”, Trey announces home movies coming up.

Set 2 kicks off with a raging “Possum” and then it’s movie time. Trey, about to tell Paul a suggestion, decides to tell Paul “You know what you’re supposed to do.” It’d be interesting to find these movies and sync it up. I wonder if it was the band or actual old home movies or if they found random home movies. The most notable thing about this is shows the band was experimenting with making their live show more of a spectacle. The inkling that would fuel their holiday shows and festivals was a glimmer in the band’s eye from the very beginning. “Cities->DEG->Cities” is a combo that we’ll see a lot of over the next month. Very interesting that the band’s repertoire is growing but Set 2 closes with 4 covers in a row. Maybe trying to harness them for a growing fan base? We’ll see but they’re played well. This show had a Set 3 but apparently the taper had to catch his ride home! Too bad, might have been historic! I would have opted to sleep in my car that night instead. I know you can get away with it on Pine St. around the corner, pretty easily, at least 15 years later…