With the next episode of LOST coming tomorrow, I figured we’d do a little time traveling of our own. Let’s hop in, fire up the flux-capacitor, harness 1.21 jiggawatts of electricity and be on our way back to 1988. August 6th, 1988 to be exact. Upon vanishing from 2009, and skidding into the past, we find ourselves amidst the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. We land in the small town of Telluride; a ski town during the winter, but, for us, it is a fine summer night. It feels like we were brought here for a reason- but what is that reason? The quantum puzzle is a bit overwhelming and we just need a beer to relax for a minute. Taking a turn down the nearest street, we ditch into the first bar. It was called “The Roma.”
Sitting at a table, we order a few drafts. But before getting them, we notice a thumping groove coming from the stage behind us. Turning around, we are struck by the absolute dorkiness of the musicians, yet the music is good, no it was better than good, this shit is funky! These guys are…Phish?!
As our side-effects dissipate from the journey through space-time, we figure out we have been summoned by an old-school YEM jam to this very bar, but why? When is the last time we have actually listened to 1988 Phish? Maybe that was part of the answer? All these existential thoughts are quickly wiped from the forefront of our mind as a huge groove takes over the bar.
The jam is laid back, very relaxed- almost like a half-speed YEM from the future. But what stands out is the patience of such a young band and the way they use each other’s musical ideas to further their own. They might be young, but these guys have the chops; they can play. Forming some truly funky rhythms during the beginning of the jam, Trey sits way back and let Mike and Fishman lead things out of the gate. Page provides the lead melody in the form of large organ swells, while in the background, Trey smiles that goofy smile and begins throwing down a series of exact rhythm licks that we would come to love and know by heart nine years later.
Trey remains in the background as the other three direct this jam’s initial course. But when Trey slides into the improv, he begins to wail some signature YEM leads with authority over the already fat groove. All of a sudden we are smack in the middle of a raging YEM and Gordon begins to assault us with huge bass bombs, digging in far deeper mid-jam, launching the explosives into the small audience without concern. The music far out-sizes these tiny surroundings as the band brings the YEM to a soaring peak- eighties style.
The drop into Mike’s bass solo lasts only a short bit before the rest of the band hops back into the mix, engaging in song-ending antics where Trey and Fish straight go batty. As the two improvise lyrics such as “Baby! Baby! Baaabay!” and shouting “Good God y’all!,” all of a sudden, we are witnessing a legitimate old-school Phish freak-out! The band emerges from this absurdity with a funky groove, different than then the previous jam. Before getting a chance to acclimate to the jam, Phish shifts right into “Cities” without missing a beat. Hearing this version that doesn’t sound all-together different from the versions of the late ’90s, a thought begins to stir inside your head.
While Trey sings the song as a twenty-something rather than a forty-something, the music behind it is still so slammin’! All of a sudden, you find yourself carving out a slice of dance floor and bumping to the infectious beats. This band was going somewhere- you knew that- but now you knew why.
As the second verse ends, Trey and Page begin a shrill pattern that departs from “Cities,” while Mike and Fish create a uniquely Phishy groove beneath them. What the hell was going on? You’ve never heard this before. That is correct, this is a full on raging “Dave’s Energy Guide!” As soon as you realize it, boom! The band slams back into the full speed grooves. And people say that Phish funk started during 1997!? Ha! This was funky as hell. Phish had played funk all along! Just as quickly as this crazy experience happened, the band slammed on the breaks, ending the song, and the 25 minute multi-dimensional experience.
As we begin to join in the applause with the rest of the intimate bar, we feel a force drawing us backwards towards the door. We try to stay, but we can’t; someone or something won’t let us. As we are pulled though the doorway, we drop a couple twenties on the ground to settle our tab, as we hear Phish start up “Take the A Train.” Once outside, we can barely hear anything at all. What was the point if we couldn’t even stay for the second set? The show had just started! Hmmm. Something strange was afoot at the Circle K.
As we are pulled back into the DeLorean and sped back to the future, the reason for this escapade dawns on us. Someone wanted to send us a message, and the message came loud and clear. Phish didn’t get funky on Halloween ’96. Phish didn’t even turn funky in Hamburg, Germany on March 1st, 1997, even though they made an album out of it. Phish were born funky. Now we understood.
The myth goes that Phish was a band that didn’t play dance grooves until their seismic transformation in 1997. However, go revisit any show from any year, and I guarantee that you will hear echoes of the late ’90s ring true. While the cosmic magnifying glass was certainly placed on whole-band groove come ’97, this was something Phish had incorporated into their music from day one. Well, at least since that crazy “YEM > Cities” in 1988! That much we now know for sure.
LISTEN TO 8.6.88’s CITIES NOW! (Roll over songs and click play.)
DOWNLOAD OF THE DAY:
Keeping with the theme of both yesterday (“Mike’s Groove”) and today’s of old-school improv, here we have a three-set Phish extravaganza from 1988 that features the public debut of “Mike’s > H2 > Weekapaug.” All of the early classics are found somewhere within this marathon gig. Check out very young versions of lots of your favorite songs. Ironically, this SBD recording will be passed onto Pete, the host of the party over 20 years ago! It’s a small world.
I: Intro. Jam, Colonel Forbin’s Ascent > Famous Mockingbird, Mike’s Song > I Am Hydrogen > Weekapaug Groove, Lizards, On Your Way Down, AC/DC Bag, Possum, Walk Away, Bold as Love, No Dogs Allowed
II: The Sloth, Fire*, The Curtain, Terrapin, Run Like an Antelope, Satin Doll, Blue Bossa, La Grange, Alumni Blues, Peaches en Regalia
III: You Enjoy Myself, Contact, Harry Hood, Dinner and a Movie, Slave to the Traffic Light, The Ballad of Curtis Loew, Good Times Bad Times
Show billed as “Pete’s Fabulous Phish Fest.” *With Peter Danforth (host) on sax.