I have to preface this by saying this is less of a show review than a tale of my experience. More than twelve years have passed and not once have I owned a tape of this show.
As a freshman at Johnson State I spent most of the year partying in my dorm. This is because at the very first party I went to, they carded people to weed out us freshman losers. So after that I just never left campus. This was fine and dandy as political correctness hadn't yet taken over alcohol policies on campus, and the sky was the limit. My point is that not having anything else to do in a small town in Vermont forced me to head down to the Base Lodge for each and every show that happened. It was my money going into these shows and I wanted my money's worth from college!
Most of what I saw was a disappointment. I came from the classic rock school of thought. My favorite bands at the time were Yes and Genesis, and no one could touch them as far as I was concerned. This was mainly because they were so different from everything else out there. But I kept an open mind. The ‘80s were bereft of quality music and I had had about enough of it, but that quickly changed one night at the Slodge. (We called it that as a term of endearment. Also the Moose Lodge, Space Garage…the names go on and on.)
Anyway, there was a bit more of a stink made about this one show than the typical night at the Base Lodge. But that wasn't saying much; all it warranted was a slightly larger party than normal. Phish still wasn't that well known , even in Stearns, only thirty-five miles from Burlington. There were a few folks who made trips to Burlington to see them, but those travelers were few and far between. As for myself, it took this visit to my usual hangout to facilitate my first Phish show.
After some typical college pre-show preparations, I went down to the Lodge, which was part of the student center. Strange that they didn't bring in enough of a crowd to play at Dibden (the auditorium) which isn't that big, but much bigger than the Lodge. The room couldn't hold much more than maybe a couple hundred, and on this night there was less than that. I kind of recall it feeling roomy. It didn't even take rubbing elbows to get to where I stood up front. I noticed that there were a few hippie-looking outsiders who had made the trip for the show. This in itself was pretty new to me. JSC had a large Dead following, but I hadn't been part of that so this Philly boy was in a new world.
Once I got in place, I spent most of the night standing literally three inches away from Page's Hammond organ; in fact, I may even have been leaning on it. I watched the Leslie speaker spin round and round the whole time, and thought that was the coolest thing I had ever seen! I thought, "Man, what a cool band to have this neat thing." I was just smiling away and I caught Page laughing at my obvious amazement with the Leslie.
They opened with “The Chicken”, followed by “Funky Bitch”, both songs I had never heard before. The performance didn't impress too much upon me, but it was rocking, garage band-type entertainment so I wasn't ready to leave just yet. Next came “Sneakin’ Sally”. I was a huge fan of this song at the time and they didn't disappoint me by playing it. That sealed the fact that I wouldn't be wandering back to my dorm room anytime soon. Following this they played “Take the A Train”. I didn't know jazz from a hole in the ground, but I did understand enough to know that this was not your ordinary band. It was the next tune that changed my life forever.
When I first heard “YEM”, I knew that it was the end of an era. The lack of originality that marked the ‘80s had come to a screeching halt. This was the first Phish original I ever heard, and I was dumbfounded! This is the Phish sound. It's what differentiates them from other bands. It was incredibly refreshing to hear something so different. Yes, in progressive rock I had heard things like it, but this was different. And (for me) new. The way it kept intricately building into near noise until it exploded into a tight groove wasn't necessarily new to music, but the way this band did it was new to me. And such a distinct overall sound. Somehow it came from a band that came from the ‘80s. I sincerely thought I would forever be stuck in the world of classic rock from the ‘60s and ‘70s; yet here was a song that obviously was influenced by that music, but so different at the same time.
They had opened up with covers and I thought they were just going to be a cover band with a few originals thrown in for good measure. But song after song of composition and improvisation with sick jamming continually bombarded me. I'll be honest that the only other thing I really recall after twelve years is “Lizards”. For some reason this song truly struck a chord in me. I left that night singing, "But I'm never ever going back there / and I couldn't if I tried / cause I come from the land of the Lizards / and the Lizards they have died / the Lizards they have died / the Lizards they have died!"
After this, I wanted nothing but Phish in my ears. I knew there was finally hope in the world…musically, anyway. I saw them again in two months; if not for lack of a car, the return would have been even sooner. In retrospect, this unsuspecting night at the Lodge changed my life.