SET 1: Jump Monk, McGrupp and the Watchful Hosemasters > The Lizards > Tela > Wilson > AC/DC Bag > Colonel Forbin's Ascent > Fly Famous Mockingbird > The Sloth > Possum, Run Like an Antelope
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Review by SlavePhan
While it hasn't been cleared up exactly when this show took place, the point is that, on this night, the band was inspired to do something they only did 5 times in their entire career. In the spring of 1988, Trey had been putting some serious work into his senior thesis. While several of the songs had already been written and were worked into the thesis conveniently (McGrupp, Wilson, AC/DC Bag, Possum, and the Sloth), many new songs resulted from Trey's project (Forbin's, Mockingbird, Tela, and the Lizards, all of which debuted in this time frame). Perhaps inspired by Zappa, the band decided to give the whole narrative a go. This was the first time that the band had played Tela and Forbin's, and Mockingbird was a mere infant, having only been played once before. As a result, this gamehendge plays much more like the official recording of Trey's thesis than some of the later versions where Trey had developed the story more (e.g. 3/22/93). For that reason, this is likely the weakest Gamehendge the band has played muscially, but also the most mysterious.
Starting the show with Jump Monk, a cover the band would never play fully again, although a song which would be stripped and rewritten to make up a few chord progressions in Stash, the band got right into things in this set with an early McGrupp. This is the only Gamehendge to feature McGrupp at the start of the cycle to serve as the bridge. It is a pretty McGrupp, though, and the long Page solo part does serve as the narration music in the original recording by Trey for his project. Whether by chance, or inspired by Zappa, or just trying to practice the songs he'd just written, Trey begins the narration with the standard "Once upon a time, there was a man...".
The narration is very similar to most versions. Colonel Forbin, noted to be 52-years old here, wants to do something more with his life and a door that he had been noticing recently piqued his curiosity. Off he goes, into the door, and he enters Gamehendge. I won't recant the whole story for you, as there's a great FAQ on it here at phish.net.
Lizards is played really well on this night. It features dedicated playing by Page and a perfect climatic arpeggio section by Trey. The Tela here is different, as it begins with the whole first verse consisting of just Trey playing chords and Page singing. The band doesn't come in until after the first verse. It's important to note here, too, that many early versions of Tela in 1988 had two sections of verses. One that Trey excised to the song structure that we hear today. Another combination of verses was a little more upbeat and with a different progression that lead into the chorus. So, this Tela is definitely unusual to most listeners. While the band played this 'odd' version of Tela for a little while, it was shelved and reworked until 1989.
As much as I like the upbeat-y verses, especially in contrast to the traditional Tela verses, I think that overall Trey did the song a service when he cut the song short. Most folks won't like this longer version, although they may like the ending, which features a totally different ending chorus (Teee-laa, baby bore?, Teeee-laaaa, wild world grown?, Teeee-laaaaa, voice of doom). Then, there's a really weird closing lick, featured by a Who Do We Do series of short notes.
Wilson here is a bit delayed, as there's about 2 minutes of narration as the band plays with Wilson's first 2 notes. The Wilson itself is very short, with a very little extension. It's at the end of Wilson that we can even hear bar music going on in the background (Allmans from what I can hear), so we know the show wasn't well attended. The audience cheers at the introduction of AC/DC Bag, so there are a few fans in attendance. This rowdy bag peters out like usual, and the narration continues.
The first Forbin's is actually played without many major flubs and the band almost perfectly moves into Mockingbird. Fish had revamped the drum section from the previous attempt on 2/7, and the song sounds much better. The narration before this song is interesting, as Trey calls out Steve from the audience for knowing Icculus and the Sloth. This Sloth includes "the whole 11 thing", which Page asks about. What he means here is that this is the first complete Sloth, with the heavy metal bridge. Prior to this version, the band hadn't played the middle section and versions were painfully short (around 2 minutes or so). After the Sloth, the band also plays what I like to call the "Tension Gamehendge Music", music that went into the tapes of the senior thesis and kind of served as an 'ending' to the narration.
This is the only live version to include Possum, as it somehow is related to the story, with Icculus serving as the singer (I come from top the mountain). It's a nice long Possum, inspired, but nothing too fancy. More interesting is the set-closing Antelope, which includes both "Touch Me" and "Dixie" teases by Page and Trey. It comes to a screaming close but tapes cut before the conclusion.
This show, being one of the only times the band ever played Gamehendge, is worth a spin, if only to hear not only how evolved the songs have become over the years (compare this Forbin's Mockingbird to, say, 9/30/00), but also to admire the guts of a young band to play a complete narrative rock opera to a no-cover bar on a Saturday night. The narration is very straight-forward, and Trey has a hard time closing the whole story. He ends it quickly, unlike later versions where he brings the story around to a close. While none of the versions of these songs stand out particularly, it is worth hearing the long full version of Tela, as well as hearing the funky ending to Sloth. '
An interesting aside, this show was the first show that future Phish manager John Paluska ever attended. He was up on a ski trip and came over for the show. After hearing the band on this night (and he recounts his tale in interviews that one can find online), he would later agree to bring them around to different venues in the New England area. Perhaps Phish did know what they were doing when they played Gamehendge the first time.
Also, it is likely no coincidence that the band would play Gamehendge exactly 5 years later. Although Trey does mention on 3/22/93 that he plays the cycle because he hadn't had a good attentive audience, perhaps he was also reminded of the 5-year anniversary of the first time the band played it, which gives us an even stronger clue as to the actual date of this show.