Show #105: 5/21/1989 320 Spear St. Burlington, VT

If you’re a Phish fan, you probably dreamed about Phish playing your backyard. Shows like The Ranch in 1987 and this one here are why people have that dream. Phish played probably in more backyards than we’ll ever know about because less ability for tapers to show up and the loss of the Del Martin tapes. At least with this show, we have a street address so we know exactly where it took place. 320 Spear Street is located on the small strip of Spear Street between UVM’s Redstone Campus and their Paul Miller research center, which is a working dairy farm and equine facility. It’s proximity to campus made it an ideal spot to have a party and also lead to some interesting show banter as Phish knew many of the people at this party.

320 Spear Street as it appears today. Notice how narrow the roadway is, causing all the cards to be towed. Gig was in backyard facing Interstate 89.
320 Spear Street as it appears today. Notice how narrow the roadway is, causing all the cards to be towed. Gig was in backyard facing Interstate 89.

We join the show in progress with a very solid “Harry Hood”. This “Hood” is fairly typical of 1989 but reaches its usual enjoyable peak with solid fills from Page and wonderful trills from Trey. Some banter about changing monitor levels or positions ensues with Trey asking about too much piano. Still forming the sound in these early days. Trey joking introduces the band as “Phish, from Burlington, Vermont” with a chuckle after hearing it from Mike before launching into “Foam”. The “Foam” is rough around the edges, especially Trey who messes up his part enough to deliver an “Aw Fuck” (not the secret language signal but actual words) midway through the intro. The band recovers fairly solidly but still working out the kinks. The song finishes and Trey informs them it’s about Mike McKnight’s like apparently. Mike then announces that all the cars on the road are going to be towed and they there’s a parking lot down the street. The parking lot is most likely that at Gutterson Field House, the UVM hockey rink. Spear Street is very narrow but often travelled road connecting Burlington to South Burlington and Shelburne and used as a substitute for the congested Shelburne Road. So clearly the city would want the road clear at all times. Fish says that it reminds him of a song and Mike and Trey concur, leading to a sublime performance of “Contact”. The “Contact” has “jump on it, son!” quotes from Mike but I have no idea what brought that…maybe a Jerry Reed reference? Trey tries to get the kids to sing the ending part. “Now that we’ve scared the 4 little kids away,” the band introduces the next song as being one they wrote that afternoon about Molly’s life. Trey asks to wear the hat and she declines. Trey then introduces “She No Are No Nice Gal” and someone brings the band a wallet that was found. Trey mentions “This is the kind of wallet I like, no identification, just cash.” Trey asks the crowd to bound joyously as they reach the trampoline section. After this long banter, they finally go into the song which is just “Mike’s Song”. The “Mike’s” gets super crunchy especially the 2:50 mark where Trey unleashes the first real true showing of his ability to sustain. He holds the note for almost a full minute while the rest of the band takes the opportunity. Fishman hits crazy fills and Page throws around organ riffs like it’s Dollar Draft Night at What Ales You. Tight little jam that I recommend. The Molly theme continues in the groove as Trey says “I Am Hydrogen” was written about Molly’s lighter side. It’s very nicely played except Trey botches the last note. The “Weekapaug” features a lot of fireworks from Trey but not a lot of movement; a lot of notes but no real development. “Split Open and Melt” is dedicated to the pig coming up at Ian McLean’s party on May 28th. We’ll have a lot more about that show soon. The “Melt” is still in its infancy and is nowhere near the heights the tune will reach. Trey attempts a “Mission: Impssible” tease but it doesn’t develop. Mike gets pretty loose with the bass line but seems to get out of step with Fishman at times. Page is barely audible. It’s very sloppy still. Trey notes he broke a B string during the jam. He meant to call someone to bring another one but forgot. Trey’s tone changes as I think he borrows a guitar from Alex. Trey uses this new overdriven tone to pound out the only known version of Led Zeppelin’s “Dazed and Confused” by Phish. It’s half serious/half joking but still worth a listen. They definitely captured the feel of the original. Page makes the announcement that cars are now actually being towed and it’s worth the walk to see if your car is being towed and that’s longer to walk to the Getty station on North Avenue that the car’s will be towed to. No doubt since North Ave. is the other side of town. A fan asks Trey about Tom Waits and Trey responds that he loves Rain Dogs, saying Fish has the bell for “Gun Street Girl” allegedly Trey’s favorite song from the album. They don’t play it though, busting into “You Enjoy Myself”. The “YEM” is a solid effort with odd tone from Trey’s borrowed guitar. The short bass and drums section is fun with solid work by Mike. The vocal jam becomes Zenzile, referencing the poet Phish played with back in 1986 and then evolves into Blue Oyster Cult’s “Godzilla”. Trey’s tone seems to return to normal for the rest of the set, indicating that someone did run home and get Trey’s B string in time for “Ya Mar”. The rest of the set is pretty standard. Apparently we also miss guest vocals by Chris Kuroda on “Alumni Blues” and “Possum”. That would have been very fun to hear. All in all, a fun afternoon on Spear Street with Phish.

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 # 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 #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!