First known Phish performance.
 Restarted after the opening lyric.
 First known performance.
 Extended intro.
 Freestyle reggae rapping from Trey.
This show is mislabeled on many recordings as 8/27/87. Teases were everywhere, including a Trench Town Rock quote from Trey before Hood, a Whipping Post tease from Fish and a Jingle Jangle Jingle tease from Trey after HYHU, a full band Sneakin' Sally tease before Golgi, a Smoke on the Water tease after Sparks, La Bamba lyrics in the Low Rider Jam, as well as a full band HYHU tease and a Slipknot! tease from Trey before McGrupp. Harpua was played by request and was restarted after the opening lyric, which was repeated. The intro to Sparks was extended while Fish relieved himself. McGrupp was introduced as "The Gala Event." The third set was heavy on jamming and light on lyrics. Trey delivered some freestyle reggae rapping before and during the Makisupa Jam that some fans have labeled the “Mouse House Rap.” Mike's included a DEG tease from Trey. David Bowie contained a Tom Sawyer tease and was unfinished. This show contained the first known performances of Bundle of Joy and BBFCFM and the first known Phish performance of HYHU.
Let me admit a personal bias up front: I've never gotten much out of Phish's pre-1993 music. I used to keep a December '86 tape around (decent Whipping Post as I recall?) but I've never replaced it with mp3's, and don't really feel any need to. In fact I only half a tiny handful of pre-1993 tracks on my hard drive at all. I'm not really in a position, therefore, to judge this show relative to others of its time. (@SlavePhan has done a superb job of this anyhow.)
Phish were a different band in 1987 from the institution they've become - freer in some ways, endlessly curious, arrogant like young guys tend to be, funny, brash, quick on their feet, and most importantly *new*...not a lot of miles on them, emotionally or otherwise. (This was only their second show outside Vermont, remember.) It's interesting, I think, to compare their late-80's material to their more fully-developed early-/mid-90's style - to try and hear the throughlines running between their immature music and what came after.
The first thing I notice about this show (v0 mp3 from hoydog23's spreadsheet) is the *sound*: Page has to rely on his early electric instruments, particularly the Rhodes(?), which muddies the ensemble texture somewhat. Really underscores just how far they came as collective creators over the years - and how not-really-rock they were in those days.
Quite a nice AUD all things considered though!
There's also the matter of the vocals, which are (as they say) 'cringeworthy.' Not for technical reasons, really: the problem is that they sing the entire show out of the sides of their mouths, as it were. Most of the lyrics here are stupid or silly, the musicians know it, and - crucially - they're compelled to apologize, in a way, by ironizing or parodying the performance.
It's hard for me to focus on the music when the band is delivering the songs with a smirk; this is a problem throughout the show. The Curtain's climactic vocals are undercut by cheesy falsetto and childish screaming; Trey sings Wilson in a totally misbegotten rube's accent; Golgi, Camel Walk, McGrupp, and (of course) Sanity are sung with Trey's weird early mix of sincere goofiness and a dose of self-conscious embarrassment.
When I say there were a comedy-rock band in those days, this is part of what I mean. The songs were part of it, extraordinary as they were and are.
The jamming too. Maybe most of all.
Trey has spoken many times, over the years, about his/Phish's early improvisatory approach, which was always *supplementary* to his compositions: to have each band member play at all times as if part of a single Great Chord, with everyone's ears tuned to the vibrations of the preceding, diabolically complex written music. This has the major effect of always pulling the band toward ensemble order: four-bar and sixteen-bar phrases, hard group downbeats to resolve rhythmic suspensions, diverging from and then coalescing around the going chord (progression), thickening and lightening the rhythm bed in close concert with one another, and of course their famous ability to change dynamics as one. They play like a flock of birds, nominally leaderless, all as one.
But in the early days they didn't have the same level of responsiveness, nor the mature ability to sit with an idea and let it dictate its own expression and evolution. If you've read 'The Princess Bride' you know what I mean: when the boy Inigo challenges the six-fingered master swordsman to a duel, it's over quickly without any uncertainty as to the outcome, but for a few seconds the master is terrified, because even in that hopeless minute the boy's genius shines through. That's how Phish jammed in those days: impetuously and impatiently, able to provide thrills without ever sending your heart soaring.
Even their funk grooves had air quotes around them.
Just listen to this version of Funky Bitch, which @SlavePhan has singled out for praise. I don't hear anything particularly wonderful here, quite the contrary: Trey doesn't seem to know what to do with the blues, his clever ideas (like building tension with a plodding triplet line in his third-last chorus) cut against the groove instead of flowing from it, and there's no sexiness or swing at all in his playing. (In a song called FUNKY BITCH, for Christ's sake!) He sounds like a tourist in someone else's genre. They play so well, but...why?
Same category of thing happens in Harpua, where the rhythm patterns sound overstuffed and clunky like one of the old space-filling Hey exercises instead of, y'know, a groove; in the modes-by-numbers solo on Curtain With; in the gradual breakdown of the Camel Walk jam; in the rote nature of the Flat Free playing, which is the kind of thing Phish fans like me have (for years!) inexplicably cited as evidence of Phish's 'jazzier sound'; in the related weird practice of playing a haunting song like Swing Low Sweet Chariot as bright midtempo swing.
The good parts are stunning, as they tend to be with Phish, though in a different fashion from what latter-day fans (like me) would think of as normal.
The show's highlights reveal a band about to break through an invisible musical barrier into something extraordinary. At this point Trey's band had picked for themselves an interesting musical problem: how do you fully integrate true four-sided rock-idiom improvisation into these complex, formally ambitious compositions without descending into pure randomness.
Their solution has become famous: the 'Hey' exercises, the Oh Kee Pah ceremony, the 'become one chord' style, the democratic musical approach, the really unprecedented level of group *listening* that all four musicians demanded of each other. At this point in their history, though, after just a few years together, their solution was still more proof-of-concept than emotional wellspring. But even after a quarter-century, just hearing the concept proven is still a *thrilling* experience.
Indeed, *thrill* is the emotion Phish have always been able to share: their own, their fans', the sheer joy of musical communication. This first show at Ian's Farm is genuinely exciting, even to me: it overflows with promise.
The jam out of Clod, for instance, is a perfect demo of Phish's improvisatory approach. The ear-boggling intricacy of the composition carries over into rich group improv, which grows in complexity and intensity without losing the basic Clod sound. The Skin It Back jam sounds like an attempt to harness the energy of a Dead/Allmans (or Trey Band!) improvisation without the benefit of genre cues: an experiment in shaping new music at high speed from scratch, not as solo statement or remembered social experience, but as stochastic sonic architecture. The aim isn't 'beauty,' nor is it 'fun' exactly; it's a bit like a private musical algebra, all about balanced group *sound*...
All the music is very very *busy*, of course, as Phish's jams almost invariably tended to be prior to 1997; even the McGrupp > gnarly Stir It Up jam provides little space for relaxation. (Y'know, a couple of generations of players came up revering logorrheic genius John Coltrane, seeming to forget that his most important mentor was lyrical-minimalist genius Miles Davis...) Trey can't resist the urge to insert stupid pseudo-Rasta 'rapping' into the long long reggae jam, but the onset of David Bowie restores the band to a more familiar order, and the song journeys far from its moorings while keeping to Phish's comfortable 1970's jazz-lite jam-rock milieu. The competence on display is impressive as always, but more exciting is the way the band is starting to surrender to (ahem) a musical energy much larger and more organic than their own identities. At its best moments, the music stays busy but doesn't seem it: it gets 'tight-loose,' containing lots of musical information while still moving fluidly. The long third-set jams point in this direction, which the band would explore in the mid-90's.
Indeed, for a couple of years Phish played seemingly effortless 'tight-loose' music every goddamn night, all night. Not in 1987 though.
Trey is a skillful melodicist but his solos usually stay away from traditional one-man 'here is what I feel' statements in favour of a sort of musical building-block approach: he's always trying to feed his playing back into the collective sound, the atmosphere, the groove. As much a rhythm player as a lead voice. That approach is already paying dividends at this early stage. The density and well-wrought quality of the jams is surprising; even if the band had yet to learn the value of space and sparseness, they were doing a lot of work in their own clattering early-maximalist style, led by Trey's fluent, voluble guitar playing.
But the fetish for musical order can get in the band's way at times. Quoting 'Tom Sawyer' in the middle of the Bowie jam makes sense given the patterns they're already playing, and that's exactly the kind of whole-cloth construction Trey delights in, but what difference does it make? Playing those off-time arpeggios later in the jam makes for a neat intervention, but hadn't 'Remain in Light' been out several years when this show was played? Weren't white minimalist art-rock nerds allowed to play music from and for the body at this point, rather than just the head?
It's still exciting, engaging music.
They say everyone's got 2,000 apprentice pages to work through before writing real poetry. This is apprentice work by Phish, even if their formal ambitions and extraordinary natural talents marked them as special from the start.
Yet you can't fault them for being who they are - now or then. The prickly brilliance on display at this show, in the third set especially (as (self-)conscious intention dissolves), would find its sensual and empathetic complements as time passed. It's certainly possible to take great pleasure in this music, as @SlavePhan obviously (and generously) does, but I find it a pleasant warmup to Phish's soul-searing mid-90's music, when the band's nervous edges and whipsmart self-referential intelligence started to take a back seat to a full exploration of their emotional palette.
All this said, I should listen next to some Amy's Farm stuff, which marks an intriguing creative midpoint between this band, barely old enough to drink, and the rock quartet that could bring a storm to Red Rocks and set off nuclear explosions night after night in 1993.
Thanks for spending time on this show, @SlavePhan - it's given me a lot to think about and I'm glad to have finally heard it, even if I'll never be a diehard 80's Phish fan.
I'm moderately floored that there hasn't been a substantial review of 8/21/87 yet. This show was one of my very first tapes, and I've listened to it so many times that I can write this review just from memory. I bet I've listened to the first set hundreds of times. I'll try not to be biased when writing this review, but if it shines through, I hope it doesn't detract.
Commonly listed as 'Ian's Farm', this show took place at the Condon Farm in Hebron, NY, about 2 hours from Burlington, and was played at Ian McLean's pig roast (a friend of the band). Phish played at Ian's party again in 1989, the famous show featuring the Poop vocal jam and Merry Christmas wishes due to all the smoke from the pig roast.
What is important about this show is the fact that the atmosphere at these outdoor gatherings allowed the band to loosen up and explore. Ian's shows were the precursors to shows like Amy's Farm, which in turn led to some of the larger Phish festivals. While the band also acknowledges the atmosphere at the open Goddard gigs of this time period in the ideas for festivals, there is no doubt that Ian's Pig Roast shows helped as well.
Wonderfully crisp AUDs of this show are on the spreadsheet and have been floating around for decades. This show is one of the most commonly traded early tapes in existence, so it should be an easy find. What is not mentioned is the wonderful looseness with which the band plays. This show really features some clear lengthy jams into unknown territory with no real roadmap out. As such, some of these jams end up falling on their face, and some end up in some of the band's most interesting jams of the time period.
A perfect Dog Log begins this show. It is worth noting that these tapes contain dogs barking literally throughout the entire show. Often Trey has to yell at Marley and the audience will growl at the dogs, but it never out-shadows the band, so it adds an interesting element to the recording. My all-time favorite version of Peaches is next, after which, Trey remarks in a cracking voice "Remember this one Garrett, wink wink, nudge nudge...the one with the delay on the vocals?" in reference to Divided Sky. He then asks to have that cut out of the tape, and is told, "too late!" Clearly at this point, Divided Sky in its short form is in its infancy, although one wouldn't know from hearing it. This version is wonderful, with Mike exploring throughout. It's also clear that there are probably only 3 or 4 people listening to the band at this point.
An absolutely raging Funky Bitch is next. Having heard more Phish than I care to reveal, I can say that this is probably one of the top 3 no-guest Funky Bitches the band has ever played. Trey is absolutely everywhere and enjoys the freedom to play around. I can't overstate just how locked in the band is here. The song ends in a sheer of feedback.
A super-slow and lunky start to Hood takes an extremely long time to make it to the composed section, providing a great release. Dogs are barking throughout this Hood, but the band totally steams through the composed section. The jam is really soaring, but the end features this wonderful part when Trey dies down and hammers away at the main chords, allowing Mike to open up and Page to layer over top. A great version, highly recommended to the point that Fish even remarks "that's why I'm in the band" afterwards.
Clod, in its heyday, is next, which is unusually long and extended. The band locks into a totally raging groove at the end of the song which lasts a full three minutes longer than most Clods. For those of you who enjoy Fluffhead in its long-standing current form, I suggest listening to this Clod and wondering what it would be like if Clod were liberated. "Would you rather hear something normal, or something else weird" asks Trey afterwards.
The band then moves into the Curtain, which outshines the early August version and is very exploratory compared to future 80's versions. Light Up follows and features a chaotic and frenzied jam which most people will find totally dissonant, but I find raging. Great work from Fishman. The jam upsets Marley, though, who by this time is going absolutely nuts and Trey has to get her to calm down. Funny banter here. Accordingly, the band breezes through Shaggy Dog and starts Wilson. This Wilson, again, is one of my favorite versions, maybe ever. It certainly is one of the longest non-heavy-metal versions the band has played and features the absolute best Wilson 'breaks', when a series of Marley barks coincides with a break in the song.
The Camel Walk closer doesn't go over particularly well with the audience, as someone whistles briefly, but I think this is one of the more crisp exploratory versions there is. Mike is very very funky in an old-school way here and Fish is fantastic. What a set...worth listening the whole way through.
The second set opens with a early Mike's, featuring an extremely slow beat. If you like totally dissonant jams, this Mike is for you. Think Union Federal here. After meandering, the band locks on a two-chord groove which dissolves into quiet carnival-like eerie sixteenth notes from Trey which moves back into chaos. Out of the din, the whole band fully jams on Hold Your Head Up before fading away.
Harpua is 'by request', but the audience is laughing so hard that the band has to restart. It's clear that everyone is enjoying themselves, including the band. Despite the goofy sloppy start, this Harpua is slow to begin but Mega-fast and funky once it gets going. I love the changing dynamics in this version. Within it, the band plays Bundle of Joy, which makes its debut, but instead of the familiar Fluffhead outro, Fish's cowbell brings us into a funky Harpua jam which absolutely rages. Without breaking stride, the jam somehow lands into Golgi, which is particularly strong.
The last chord of Golgi leads to some spacey chords while Fish takes a leak. The audience is clamoring for Fish to sing, which is funny, but the band instead launches into a totally ripping Sparks. Afterwards, Trey chatters a while and explains that the band has 'two songs called Fee', which Mike says 'we learned in the service. The short Flat Fee moves into a tailored Fee.
"We'd like to do an original by Little Feat", quips Mike, so the band plays Skin it Back. Skin it Back is absolutely and totally chaotic and atonal, with Trey playing literally ALL over the place for a solid 5 minutes. Somehow, Fish moves the band to a slinky groove which ends up into Low Rider, although Trey sings La Bamba and the band continues the slink for another few minute. The pace quickens and ends up into Back Porch Boogie, which, again, totally rages. At around 7 minutes, Fish is in a latin groove, Trey is playing muted scales, and Page is all over the place and the band somehow goes right into the Sloth, which closes. Aside from the two Fee's, this show looks on paper like a set from late '97, with continuous playing and 10+ minute jams.
Set 3 is short, but also full of total gems. BBFCFM is introduced as Melanie's "Brand New Key". The slower BBFCFM, to me, works way better as a song than current versions at break-neck speed. After singing falsetto, Trey says that BBFCFM was actually by Jermaine Osmond. Then, for perhaps the first time ever, the band teases Fish by playing HYHU. Fish doesn't play along and it's clear that he 'doesn't think its funny'. It is obvious that he totally hates the song, which is hilarious. The audience goads Fish to sing, but he won't. It's a good thing because Trey leads the band into "the Gala Event", aka, McGrupp, which is a wonderful version. I love the way Fish approaches it here.
The band stretches out McGrupp into unknown territory and soon into driving chaos which exemplifies the jams of this period. However, Mike guides them back to normalcy by playing 'Stir it Up' which the band plays for about 5 or so minutes. Continuing the reggae theme, the band moves into Makisupa which has Trey freestyle rapping, akin to the Happy Birthday rap from 3/6/87. This rap has everything from Rasta Jah screaming to talking about picking up Marley doo. While this is the Makisupa chords, the band never really sings Makisupa and instead stretches everything out over volume swells by Trey.
Finally, Trey gathers his sanity and the band starts up David Bowie. After some stuttering, the band locks on. Bowie is herky-jerky, very quiet, although does contain a heavy Tom Sawyer tease. Bowie never ends, but moves into marching chords which somehow turn into Sanity. This Sanity is also chaotic and totally goofy. Swing Low is beautiful and serves as a lullabye for the by-now quieted audience. It's also 'an original song...by a slave'.
Highlights of this show are too many to name. The Dog Log, Peaches, and Bitch are easily some of the best early versions. Hood smokes, and Light Up is probably also one of the best ever. I really can't say enough about set I. The whole thing is worth a spin. I've recommended this show to countless people over the years.
Set 2 features absolutely chaotic jams and difficult-to-believe transitions into totally random covers. I particularly like the Harpua>Bundle of Joy>Harpua>Golgi>Sparks here. Set 3 is also a joy to listen to. While the McGrupp ----> Makisupa -> Bowie is the highlight, Sanity and BBFCFM are hilarious.
This is absolutely one of the strongest Phish shows of the 80s, and likely one of the best shows the band has ever played, as it continues to show up time after time in polls and in forums. Definitely check this one out. Don't be scared away by the fact that it's from '87!
When listening to early Phish shows, its exciting to hear these songs in their infancy. Musically, they're tight, fast, and technical. Its always the vocals that somehow fall short. I could never really put my finger on exactally what is wrong vocalls, but @waxbanks said it best. "the problem is that they sing the entire show out of the sides of their mouths, as it were. Most of the lyrics here are stupid or silly, the musicians know it, and - crucially - they're compelled to apologize, in a way, by ironizing or parodying the performance."
That being said, this is one of my favorite 80's era performances. definitely worth checking out.
There are dogs barking throughout most of the show. Trey made reference to this at the 7/5/13 show at SPAC after spotting Ian in the crowd, and saying "have you heard the tape with the dogs barking? That was at Ian's"
The Harpua is also available on LiveBait 5 (a Phish festival greatest hits!)
There are already some excellent reviews of this show on the show page, which are undoubtedly written more succinctly and excellently than mine will be, so I’ll try to keep this short. I also wrote my own jam chart entries at the end, to prove that it is very hard to write blurbs for the jam charts, and the editors who do so deserve more respect.
This is kind of a surreal show to listen to, knowing what we know about the band today. Phish is at their absolute silliest on this night. Those of you who are fans of Trey singing about “doggy doo” should search no further, as the band not only opens the show with “Dog Log”, but also go as far as to create a reggae soundscape with stupid made-up dog poop lyrics in the third set. The show sounds like they are playing for about three people and thirty dogs.
The band is *very* loose, and as a result, certain moments come across as too strange and bizarre (Wilson) to be have any real listening value beyond mere, initial curiosity. Other low moments are straight-up flubs (several in Camel Walk and Harpua, and tons of lyrical flubs that might be on purpose) that just don’t sound good to the ear. By the mid-second set, though, most of that stuff has calmed down, and the show proceeds as “normal”, save for some cringe-worthy Page vocal-flubbery in McGrupp, and Trey in Sanity (again, maybe on purpose?). Phish is more exploratory in this show than I think I’ve ever heard them in a live setting, and this show would certainly qualify for a Top 100 Most Experimental Phish Show list, but I’m not sure the show as a whole truly deserved to make TPC3.0’s Top 100 list. At times, it seems that the band is almost humiliated by the ludicrousness of their own lyrics and lampooning their own material, something perfectly observed by @waxbanks in his review of this show.
Not to say this show doesn’t have it’s fair share of highlights. Oh yes, it certainly does! For starters, this Mike’s Song should be required listening for anybody who considers themselves a phan. The jam is so exploratory, it’s hard to even explain, so it might be best for you to just listen to it. Directly following the Mike’s, the last minute of Harpua -> Sneakin’ Sally tease -> Golgi is spectacular. I love a good Phish segue, and this is one of them. Closing out the set is an incredible thirty minute rolling jam, where the band seamlessly segues from one song to the next. This is reckless jamming of the highest order, and must be heard to be believed. The third set is chock full of funny banter (see: BBFCFM), and is satisfying musically as well. For those of you who are so inclined, please listen to the McGrupp and see if the jam doesn’t sound remarkably similar to Chalk Dust Torture, and maybe a skosh of Possum. Maybe I’m just insane, but that’s what I hear. Let me know.
There is a relaxed quality that pervades this entire show due probably entirely to its context. It makes for some incredibly high highs, and some head-scratching moments where the band is experimenting just a *little* too much. Overall, I’d say this show is absolutely worth a listen, and definitely belongs on a list of the most relevant and representative shows the band has ever played (in the context of their entire career), and certainly belongs near the top of a “most exploratory shows” list, but is it a top 100 show of Phish’s entire career?
...you decide. I give it a 4.5/5.
Mike’s Song- Clocking in at just over 14 minutes this early Mike’s (-> HYHU) is all over the map and contains exploratory, unique, indescribably incredible MUST HEAR PHISH.
Skin it Back through The Sloth- This spectacular thirty minute sequence begins with an excellent reading of the classic Little Feat tune “Skin it Back”. This one features sick machine gun Trey and heavy metal (bagel) death for about three minutes. By the time Trey is done ripping you a new asshole, the band drops into “Low Rider” (with hilarious La Bamba quotes). Suddenly, and without warning, the band stops on a dime and dives into a blues-rock jam that ->s into a ferocious Back Porch Boogie Blues. Anybody who underestimates 1987 Phish’s ability to jam and do interesting, amazing things should not miss this segment, which concludes with an ingenious -> The Sloth.
McGrupp- As I said, this playing of McGrupp is interesting mainly for the post-McGrupp jam, as Page/Trey seem to suggest Possum and Chalk Dust Torture at multiple points throughout the jam.
David Bowie- Remarkably exploratory early version with a weird Tom Sawyer tease from Mike and Trey. Bowie would remain one of the most consistently exploratory songs in the Phish canon from that point until about...oh, say, 2009.
Another gem from '87 and it sounds like the band is having a great time. Lots of song teases including teasing Fish with HYHU already. I agree with both reviews on here for the most part. There are some moments of brilliance, but also it's just another college band from the 80's jamming in front of their friends. Definitely check this out if you're into old school shows.
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