Wednesday 05/22/2019 by howard_roark


[Welcome To Weekly Catch With Osiris! A weekly series brought to you from the team at Osiris. Each Wednesday we're going to bring you a historic Phish show from that week with some commentary. Our goal is to go beyond official releases and well-known shows to bring you some of the overlooked gems throughout Phish history. If you like what you find, we'd encourage you to check out the assortment of podcasts at the Osiris! This week's catch comes from Brian Brinkman of Beyond The Pond.]

Link: Nectar's, Burlington, VT - 05/24/1988

The year 1988 was a huge one for Phish. It could be argued that it was the biggest year of their career until 1992. Their sound quality took a massive leap forward with upgrades in gear. Their catalogue deepened and became more varied. Their setlists flowed with focus and deliberateness. They traveled west to Colorado & laid roots that would reap longterm rewards for decades to come. And, perhaps most important, their jamming, which they would relegate for the next five years, finally reached a level of maturity, thus previewing the transcendence the band would routinely display come 1993.

Spring '88 was the spring of the Nectar's Residencies, and at this point, five months into the year, we find the band deep into their fourth of the year already. A three-set show, this show features a fantastic setlist, guests & humor, and most importantly, quality jamming. Kicking thing's off with "The Curtain With," we hear the band execute the song proper with precision before jumping off into a gorgeous jam. Not quite the exploratory monster we'd hear just two months later at Pete's Phabulous Phish Phestival (shameless plug for Beyond The Pond Episode 059), but still a gorgeous rendition that reminds everyone why we should be so grateful the band brought this song back in 2000.

Standard fare - both for the era and their career - dots the rest of the set until we reach "Sneaking Sally Thru The Alley." A song that leaps off the tape, there's clear excitement and joy in the performance, particularly in the vocal jam that - aside from Vegas '04 - wouldn't join the band upon its return from exile in late-1997. The set ends with spiked takes on "Suzy Greenberg" and "Fire," leading to what must have been a sweaty and energized set break at the bar. Gravey Fries and hazy IPAs (did they even exist in 1988???) had to be consumed in droves throughout the bar.

Set II is a masterpiece for the era, and would hold up in pretty much any period of the band's history. It reads: "Jesus Just Left Chicago," "Fluffhead>" "WHIPPING POST." Three songs. Nearly Sixty Minutes. One All-Caps jam.

The set opener sounds fully-formed. It perfectly encapsulates the late-night sultry vibe of the tune, and Page just shines throughout. In a jam that sees him favor his piano before switching to the B3 are really pushing the jam, it's a Type-I extended beast that's up there with 3/1/97 and 11/17/97 for the best versions of the song that have ever been played. Page always comes off at the most "normal" member of Phish, and it's always particularly wonderful to hear him sing like such a rock star during a song like this.

Following a perfunctory version of "Fluffhead," we get a 26-minute version of "Whipping Post." A jam that seems to leap ahead six years, this is a vision of who Phish will become. Trey rages here. A man possessed. Shifting between arena-rockstar-to-be to psychedelic jazz band leader to southern rock emulator, the whole range is on display. We hear a Trey possessed. In many ways, this is as close to Fall 1997 Trey as we'll hear for the next nine years. And, yet, what makes this version so remarkable is the midsection breakdown jam between Trey and Page that showcases the intra-band listening skills that will deepen their jams over the next decade.

Set III is an amalgamation of humor - "Ya Mar -> Jah Roy Jam," "Halley's" w/ Nancy, "BBFCFM" - narration - "Harpua" - and even more intense Trey lead-work - "Antelope." It doesn't flow quite like Set II and in some cases, ahem, "Jah Roy Jam," showcases the evolution and maturity the band would still need to understake, but it's a total joy in the end. Particularly the "Antelope," if you want to hear the band foreshadow their 1993-1995 selves, this is the perfect jam to do so.

Nectar's was a formative venue for Phish and nights like May 24, 1988 showcase the comfort they felt in their familiar digs an the music they were capable of producing at their best. While they'd spend the next four years refining and tightening their sound, here, in Spring 1998, they were still experimenting with precision and foreshadowing the brilliance we'd hear from them in just a few years.

Thanks for reading and hopefully you're enjoying this series. Another Weekly Catch with Osiris will be up next week!

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, comment by lysergic
lysergic I enjoyed reading this. Thanks for doing the series. I especially appreciate the focus on early period shows, which I'm generally not too familiar with.
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