The first set kicks off with a couple standards of the day, Bitch and Sneaking Sally. They are both well played, and the Sally is fiery and a slightly above average edition. After some banter about the newish song “Tela”, Trey claims it’s a debut, and someone in the audience complains that they’ve already played it.
The banter continues in Alumni>LTJP as Trey implores Fishman to play LTJP by himself due to an audience request. Pretty funny. There’s also an amusing comment about how Phish never plays Lushington anymore.
Next is a YEM that is probably one of the better ones they’ve played since the start of ’88, but there’s no vocal jam, which is a disappointment. Following that is St. Thomas, a debut. It’s very jazzy and includes a nice Mike solo. I’d never heard this song before, but it’s definitely a point of interest for people who like songs like “Flat Fee” and “Caravan”. This show is at least worth checking out for this one. A duo of Golgi and Fire close out the set. Both are pretty standard, but Golgi goes over very well with this crowd.
To start off the second set, La Grange is an excellent blistering version as usual. Possum and Lizards are both played well, despite numerous lyrical flubs in the latter. Timber is a very spirited, explosive rendition, but probably not a standout.
Tela is another highlight of this show, debut or not. Even if it really isn’t the debut, I’d check it out anyway just to see how the song compares to versions played today.
After a throwaway version of Happy Birthday To You, the band plays Fluffhead by request, sadly ignoring shouts of “Fuck Your Face”! As it had been in other recent performances, the “Clod” section was again overslow, but the rest of the song was good as usual. Bike follows, and is getting a bit tired by this point in this listener’s opinion. GTBT closes the set and is as standard as standard gets.
Unless you’re a fan of any of the songs in the third set (Curtain With excluded), you can pretty much skip it. Curtain With is particularly well played and is probably my #4 highlight of the show (it’s so good, it’s almost always a highlight anyway), but sadly, most of the crowd talks its way through it.
In short, 5-21-88 is just as good as any other show thus far in 1988, but Phish has yet to blow my balls off like they did in August of 1987. They are playing more consistently than the year previous, but they aren’t turning in anything that stands out at a superior level. As I continue my travels through Phish’s career, listening to every show, I hope 1988 can (and, I am confident, will) become something really special by the end of the year. I’d give this show a 3.5/5, just because the pretty mediocre third set brings down the rest of the show to a lower level.
The Curtain With