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 #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 #75: 10/29/88

The interior of the Sculpture Room at Goddard College. (Credit: Fleming Museum at UVM)
The interior of the Sculpture Room at Goddard College. (Credit: Fleming Museum at UVM)

Saturday, 10/29/1988
Sculpture Room, Goddard College, Plainfield, VT

Set 1: Suzy Greenberg >  The Lizards,  Time Loves a Hero[1],  Golgi Apparatus,  Bold As Love,  La Grange,  Contact,  Costume Contest ->  Harry Hood

Set 2: Halley’s Comet[2] ->  Whipping Post,  Fee >  Alumni Blues >  Letter to Jimmy Page > Alumni Blues,  Walk Away >  Divided Sky,  The Ballad of Curtis Loew[3],  Mike’s Song,  Take the ‘A’ Train >  Fire

Set 3: Fluffhead >  AC/DC Bag,  Foam[4],  Terrapin[5],  Big Black Furry Creature from Mars, Timber (Jerry)[6],  Slave to the Traffic Light[6],  Donna Lee[7],  Run Like an Antelope[6],  I Didn’t Know[8],  Wilson[9],  Peaches en Regalia[6],  Funky Bitch[6]

[1] First known Phish performance.
[2] Richard Wright on vocals.
[3] Bobby Brown on harmonica.
[4] First known performance.
[5] Fish on trombone.
[6] Russ Remington on saxophone.
[7] Russ Remington on saxophone. First known Phish performance.
[8] Russ Remington on saxophone, Fish on trombone.
[9] Russ Remington on saxophone. Unfinished.

Even if you’re making leaps and bounds in your professional career, you’ll probably always have a soft spot for home. So, with this newly gained experience, Phish still came home to Goddard College for their Halloween bash entitled “Resurrection of the Sculpture Room”. The band, clearly excited to play a relaxed gig, perhaps got a little too relaxed for this show. The band’s sounds just a little bit slower and just a hair out of sync. I don’t find it to be that amazing a show (at least compared to 9/24/88) but there are some fun highlights to be found within. We get the first version of Little Feat’s “Time Loves a Hero”. Again it’s little slower than I’m used to and I would find a bigger connection with the song much later in the band’s career but always a treat to hear it. “Bold as Love” continues to be well played but Trey layers on this very odd sliding effect towards the end that just grates on me by the end. “Contact” is played very slowly in order to get as much audience participation as possible it seems. This leads to a very fun moment with a loud crowd singing the song’s chorus. Following “Contact” is the costume contest where “Colonel Forbin” and “Tela” both win dates with Fishman and “Harry Hood” is the contest winner, prompting the band to play the song. No such luck for “Makisupa Policeman” or “The Tire”. “The Serial Friends of Jesus” are disqualified before the contest even begins. “Hood” is another strong version.

Set 2 brings out the first guest of the evening, Richard Wright sings the vocals to his original tune “Halley’s Comet”. “Divided Sky” gets its second run-through but first for the “home” crowd”. It’s not as tight as the first but still is received warmly. “Curtis Lowe” has Bobby Brown on harmonica again and is a nice moment. But Set 2 closes horrible. “Mike’s Song” is WAY OFF and out of sync. The band had no right playing hat tune right then and then they fallout up with a mellow “A Train” that isn’t exciting at all. They then close with a version of “Fire” that sounds straight out of 1986 and not in a good way. It’s just Trey wanking at its worst, no thought to his notes and just a lot of them over the rest of the band. It’s almost like they took two steps back on that song.

Set 3 is know for a few things. It has the debut of “Foam”, formerly known as “Marijuana Hot Chocolate” from 4/22/88. The complex tune was once considered the band’s biggest work as the interlocking lines are difficult to maintain. They pull it off here albeit a little slower than the tune would come to be known for. Impressive for a band only celebrating their 5 year anniversary. Fish comes onto ask what Syd Barrett song he’d like the crowd to hear. They go nuts for “Terrapin” over “Love You and “Bike”. After the enthusiasm for “Terrapin”, Page jokingly plays the riff from the Grateful Dead’s “Terrapin Station” instead and Fish sings the guitar part along before dismissing the notion. It’s a funny moment when you consider Phish would actually play “Terrapin Station” nearly 10 years later. During “Terrapin”, Fish sticks with the trombone as he also does on “I Didn’t Know”. Why no vacuum tonight is a curious thing. The end of the set features saxophone player Russell Remington. This is interesting because it’s the second appearance with horns the band had this year so far. I don’t know how Russell hooked up with the band, none of that is documented anywhere but Remington would be an important figure as a solid member of the Giant Country Horns, which we’ll learn more about in 1991 and a member of Trey Anastasio’s solo band starting in 2001. The addition of horns here is a little hard to discern as Remington did not seem to be mic’d up and so we only get the pickups from the other microphones. We do get the premiere of the Charlie Parker classic “Donna Lee”, a tune that would become a seminal part of Phish’s repertoire. The rest is well-played but not noteworthy. Of note though, the GCH tour would feature horn charts, while these parts all purely improvisation, giving a different feel. Wow, 75 shows down, far too many to go. Onward to Boston…

Show #73: 9/13/88

Tuesday, 09/13/1988
Sam’s Tavern, Burlington, VT

Set 1: Walk Away,  Funky Bitch,  You Enjoy Myself,  Flat Fee,  McGrupp and the Watchful Hosemasters >  Wilson >  Peaches en Regalia,  Good Times Bad Times

Set 2: Ride Captain Ride,  Boogie On Reggae Woman,  Cities >  Dave’s Energy Guide > Cities,  Run Like an Antelope,  Fluffhead

Set 3: Jam,  Andy’s Chest[1] ->  Big Black Furry Creature from Mars ->  Dave’s Energy Guide ->  Big Black Furry Creature from Mars,  Sanity ->  Jam[2],  Fire

[1] First known Phish performance.
[2] Fish on vacuum; first known public occurrence of Fish playing the vacuum.

Night 2 at Sam’s Tavern and what a night for history. The only problem is we don’t have the tapes. We only have the first two sets minus the “Good Times, Bad Times”. This is a total bummer. I wonder if it was another case where the taper had to leave early or if it was the tape was destroyed or lost. We may never know or maybe Phish Inc. is sitting on it waiting for a historic reveal. Only one man knows and I unfortunately am not that man…yet. Let’s focus on what we do have and end with what we don’t have. Phish.com lists Set 1 and 2 as one long get where Phish.net breaks it up. It is unclear not he recording as “Peaches” seems to go right into “Ride Captain Ride” but that might just be due to the loss of “GTBT”. The first set is pretty “Smokin’!” as Trey said at Mont Alto. Two opening rippers int he for of “Walk Away” and “Peaches”. A “You Enjoy Myself” almost played at half-speed. I can’t tell if this is them learning it in anticipation of recording it (for Junta) or a tape imperfection causing playback at a slower speed. Might even be both. It’s definitely a candidate for slowest “YEM” yet. A quick spin through “Flat Fee”. This is interesting because it will be the last performance of “Flat Fee” until the Giant Country Horns tour of 1991. It may be a short jazz tune but it is dearly missed and I can’t wait for it’s return. This “McGrupp” forms a wonderful early showpiece for the stylings of Page McConnell almost taking on a modern “Squirming Coil” feel. The 1st set highlight though is the pairing of “Wilson” and “Peaches”. Right when Trey would normally break in to the “Boom Blat” lyric, he instead yells out the drum into to “Peaches” and it’s a beautiful early segue.

Set 2 kicks off with a trio of covers. First, we get a “Ride Captain Ride” that’s well played but has botched lyrics. The only performance of 1988. Then after a request of “Aborigine Women?” per Trey, he deciphers it for Stevie Wonder’s “Boogie On Reggae Woman.” This is not a very good version and the band rightfully shelved the tune afterwards. While common today and a huge fan favorite, this would be the last performance of the song until 12/7/97 in Dayton, OH. Hopefully, they’ll hit it better after almost 10 years of practice, right? Another nice performance of the “Cites>DEG>Cities” combo but nothing outstanding. We get the first “Run Like An Antelope” since Colorado. This is important because it’s a 19-show gap for the song, the 3rd longest. We’ll have one more long one in 1992, so fortunately for me I like the song and can’t wait to see where it goes. This version gets very jazzy during the build-up and Fishman’s drumming seems a little more erratic, which is fun to listen to. “Fluffhead” ends the recording and gets cut off before it can finish.

Now let’s talk about what’s missing. We’re missing an untitled jam that would have been cool to see unstructured jamming from 1988 before songs could go “Type II”. We’re missing the only known version of Lou Reed’s “Andy’s Chest”. This is the last song by Reed performed by the band until 1995, taking the Velvet Underground influence away until formally acknowledging it in 1998 with Loaded. We’re missing an I’m-sure-wild performance of “BBFCFM>DEG>BBFCFM”. Some real punk rock potential there. The big missing puzzle piece here is the jam out of “Sanity”, which is the first known performance on the vacuum by Fishman. Fish playing the vacuum has become such a huge piece of lore that it has it’s own line of Phan art. Crosswalk signs with him pulling the vacuum would become seen everywhere. It won them the battle of the bands at the Front later.It was the centerpiece of this past New Year’s gag. It would be amazing to hear what that first solo sounded like or the crowd’s reaction to such a wild idea.  Again, I’m not sure if we’ll ever know what it was like and that makes this historian a little sad. This however does earn 167 Main St. a place on the Phish history map.

UPDATE: So, I told Kevin Shapiro about an error on the 9/13/88 setlist page of Phish.com. It listed “Ride Captain Ride” as “Mystery Train”, two totally different songs. Not only did he fix that but confirmed “Ride Captain Ride” as the Set 2 opener. I’m gonna leave my original test as is but it has been updated on Phish.com.

Show #72: 9/12/88

Monday, 09/12/1988
Sam’s Tavern, Burlington, VT

Set 1: Shaggy Dog,  Take the ‘A’ Train,  Fee,  Bold As Love

Set 2: Timber (Jerry),  Satin Doll >  The Lizards,  The Man Who Stepped Into Yesterday > Avenu Malkenu >  Bundle of Joy >  Camel Walk,  The Practical Song[1],  Harry Hood, Esther[1]

[1] First known performance.

As with early shows, you’re going to get some real rough tapes that are either late generations or perhaps were not recorded that well. This show is unfortunately one of those tapes. It’s got tape clicks and poor balances but what survives has some interesting moments. No real banter here just solid playing back at the smaller Sam’s Tavern. “Fee is performed with the megaphone. “The Lizards” unfortunately has the “If I Were A Dog” outro cut. Avenue Malkenu has a “Chag Sameach” greeting from Mike on the occasion of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year that had begun the night before and segues effortlessly into a rare “Bundle of Joy” outside of Fluffhead”. Trey tries to milk time by debuting “The Practical Song”, a song about stocking up on peanut butter. A solid “Harry Hood” is ruined by the poor quality of the tape. The set closes with what probably make this show have any significance. This is the first known performance of “Esther” and it also has different lyrics. This version has more detail about the puppet and ends with the people chasing the old man and not Esther. Without the change, maybe Esther wouldn’t have died in Vegas…but that’s for a much later day. The only must listen is the early version of “Esther” but even then, the quality is poor enough to advise anyone to just skip this one.

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…

Show #69: 8/13/88

Saturday, 8/13/1988
The Front, Burlington, VT

Set 1: Peaches en Regalia, AC/DC Bag, Take the ‘A’ Train, Colonel Forbin’s Ascent>Fly Famous Mockingbird, Light Up or Leave Me Alone, Suzy Greenberg>Alumni Blues>Letter to Jimmy Page>Alumni Blues, Fire

Set 2: Wilson, Divided Sky, Jesus Just Left Chicago, Possum, Harry Hood, Corinna>Whipping Post

The band found their way back to Vermont, riding the beautiful high of a successful trip West. But the band also not only was expanding nationally, the band was also expanding locally and by now had outgrown Nectar’s to move permanently to The Front. This recording comes from night 3 of the band’s first 3-night run at the venue. The Front would be very important to the band, in some ways even more important than Nectar’s. While Nectar’s had been an incubator for the band and their ideas early on, The Front would give them the professional polish that would propel them to stardom. These residencies would also ground the band with a home base while their national touring presence ascended over the next three years.

As for this recording itself, you would think that the energy of Colorado would carry over the band and here it does but not in the way you would think. Especially during “Fly Famous Mockingbird”, I really thought, “Man, the band is flying through this tune but the band’s vocals are a little high.” It was more obvious when Page’s voice seemed a little strained during “Light Up or Leave Me Alone”. The big reveal is during “Suzy Greenberg” when you can hear the tape slow down at the 4:18-4:20 mark (cue getting high and the world slowing down joke here). With this imperfection, I can only suggest listening to it if you’re a completist but there’s not much you’re missing here.