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1988: The Overlooked Transition Year

Posted 2 years ago by Dog_Faced_Boy - 22 comments Link: http://phi.sh/b/5082e55e

Phish fans correctly identify certain years or periods in the band’s history as “breakthrough” ones, moments when the band elevated its playing style, improvisation, sound, and song catalog to a new and higher level. Most commonly identified among these transition periods is August 1993, 1994, 1995, and 1997. Others rightly point to 2000, 2003 - 2004, and perhaps 2012 as seminal periods in the band’s musical development. 1988 is rarely mentioned in such company, but should be, and here’s why.

At the time, the band was still largely a local bar band based in Burlington, Vermont, occasionally making a few trips to neighboring states and, of course, one storied excursion to Colorado during the Summer. But during this period, the band underwent phenomenal growth, performing some exceptional music that every fan should seek out, not just for historical purposes, but because even to this day, 24 years hence and roughly 1000 performances later, it is timeless and outstanding music.

The band was at a juncture where it was comfortable taking musical risks, unafraid to try out and experiment with longer and more abstract types of exploration. To some extent, 1988 was a temporary high water mark for the band’s improvisational underpinning. During the ensuing three years, Phish would play hundreds of shows, transforming its stage performances into a well-oiled machine, and would write and fine tune a number of new and improvisationally-oriented songs, such as “Bathtub Gin,” “Maze,” “Tweezer,” “Reba,” “Runaway Jim,” “Stash,” and “Split Open And Melt.” But the band’s more profound musical explorations would in some ways remain in check until the spring of 1992, followed by their well-known burst of creativity in 1993.

Below are some examples of excellent, improvisational versions of Phish classics from this important transition year:

The Curtain With:

5/24/88 - One of the finest versions (top 3), EVER.

7/23/88 - Logging in at 21 minutes, it remains the longest version ever performed, and includes a jarring, dissonant jam, including a -> to “DEG” and a -> back to “The Curtain With” midstream.

David Bowie:

6/20/88 - At 16 ½ minutes long, this exploratory version stretches the “type I” boundary at 9:00 mins into it, and then blows through it after 12:00.

11/5/88 - It may be essentially “type I” jamming, but it’s excellent nonetheless with incredible tension building as the jam progresses. Fans would go bonkers if the band played a version anything like this great one today.

Divided Sky:

9/24/88 - The first version performed that includes the now familiar Trey-led, somewhat-improvisational segment is an incredible one by several measures. Not only is the jam itself excellent with amazing playing by Trey, it also has the second longest jam segment of any version performed up until Halloween 1994. In fact, if you never realized that “Divided Sky” can jam, check this version out and compare it with any of your favorite versions.

Harry Hood:

2/8/88 - Wonderful version that includes some incredible trilling by Trey.

Jesus Just Left Chicago:

5/24/88 - At 14 ½ minutes long, the second longest performance ever. This outstanding version includes awesome Page jamming on the piano and then the B-3, followed by strong playing by Trey and a band-wide blues kicking jam.

6/21/88 - Some excellent Page on the organ, and ridiculously good, insane playing by Trey.

7/24/88 - The longest version, ever. Trey’s playing is so low down, it’s just plain nasty and awesome.

Slave To The Traffic Light:

7/12/88 - Very good early version with a great peaking crescendo finale.

Sneakin’ Sally Through The Alley:

2/24/88 - With John Carlton on drums, Fish busts out the trombone. It may sound goofy, but actually Fish (assuming that it’s really Fish) is damned good. A great version that also has an excellent vocal jam.

7/12/88 - Really great jam section between verses followed by an INSANE vocal jam. Makes your typical “YEM” vocal jam seem pretty tame.

Tela:

8/27/88 - Your n00b-cherry will be cracked ONLY after you've heard this. In other words, until you've heard this "Tela," you're a n00b and at the Phish you suck.

Timber (Jerry):

6/15/88 - Played at a slightly slower tempo than most versions, this one has an excellent jam section that’s every bit as mean and nasty as any out there.

7/30/88 - Arguably the most improvisational version ever. True, there are three versions from 1997 that are longer, but as the 4th longest version ever performed, this one has more movements and shifting jamming styles than any of these. Any fan of “Timber” should have this one in their regular rotation (and an excellent soundboard version can be purchased from Live Phish for $0.99 from the Colorado ‘88 collection).

Ya Mar:

5/24/88 - At nearly 19 minutes long, it’s the second longest version ever. Jah Roy joins the band and takes over the vocals towards the end of “Ya Mar” proper, leading the band into an extended reggae medley jam-fest.

6/20/88 - 24 ½ minutes and the longest version ever. Jah Roy again leads the band into a post-”Ya Mar” reggae infused jam.

So, please give 1988 a listen if you haven’t done so. And if you have any additional recommendations, please “comment” accordingly. (And thanks also for the corrections!) Thank you for reading.

Comments

walkinwill Reply
walkinwill I like listening to the old shows. There are some great surprises!!
Score: 0
Kurtzboy Reply
Kurtzboy There's a typo in the first paragraph (1998 instead of 1988). Other than that, excellent article. I've been meaning to dig into '88..
Score: 0
Penn42 Reply
Penn42 This inspired me to break out some 80's shows for the first time in a long time! Gonna listin to 5.24.88, one I haven't heard, setlists is tits!
Score: 0
kipmat Reply
kipmat Great post! It might be too obvious, but the 8/27/88 "Penn State" Tela deserves a mention here. I believe it is available on the Great Went "From The Archives" show. :)
Score: 2
forbin1 Reply
forbin1 I'll admit that I hardly ever listen to anything pre 1990...thanks for some must listen to versions...
Score: 2
OrangeSox Reply
OrangeSox This would be an even more dope addition to phish.net if the shows were hyperlink'd to the setlist database. Otherwise, what phun. Thanks for taking the time dfb!
Score: 0
TwiceBitten Reply
TwiceBitten Thanks for the recommendations. I gotta look into these versions
Score: 0
dsanbensoff Reply
dsanbensoff Penn state Tela was a big omission here, but you are forgiven!

I still think Colorado '88 is the best official release (well, it's in a tie with A Live One for me).
Score: 0
timber Reply
timber Thanks for the list. I noticed that the finale recommendation should be 6/20/88's "Ya Mar."
Score: 0
BigDudeInTheDoorway Reply
Can anyone explain the type 1 type2 and phish3.0? Does 3.0 refer to there hiatus's?
Score: 0
Dog_Faced_Boy Phish.net Staff Reply
Dog_Faced_Boy 1.0 refers to the band prior to 10/7/00 when the "Hiatus" began.
2.0 refers to the band from 12/31/02 - 8/15/04 when the band officially broke up.
3.0 refers to the band since getting back together in 2009.

Type I refers to a jam that stays within a song's melody, rhythmic structure, key, etc. Think of songs like "The Mango Song" or "Funky Bitch." The instrumental sections of these songs almost always sound like the same song - in other words, Type I.

Type II refers to jams the deviate beyond the song's structure, key, melody, etc, and into more free form improvisation. Songs which often have Type II jams include "Piper", "Tweezer", and "Ghost."

Also, thanks to those above who noted the excellent "Tela" on 8/27/88 and also pointed out some obvious typos on my part.
Score: 1
MrKotter Reply
I couldn't agree with this article more! Colorado 88 was the first phish album I heard and it is still one of my favorites to this day. They just seemed so explorative during 88, willing to try things they had never tried before. Thanks for the excellent post!
Score: 0
DollarBill Reply
DollarBill I've been digging into a lot of 1988 lately, so this comes at the right time for me.

I agree that all of us should listen to at least a few of these shows to get a feel for the roots of the band. The Gamehenge and Junta material is still very fresh and new, some of the pieces and parts of the songs are not all there yet, and the stage banter is priceless. The cover songs that fill out the set lists are still well in rotation in 2012, which surprised me a little. In a way it seems as though the band returned to their roots this past summer tour.

A big shout out to @SlavePhan for all the reviews that have been posted so far, including 1987 shows as well, but there are still a few shows that donít have any reviews so letís get cracking on that.
Score: 3
Gamecat Reply
Great read. Thanks.
Now to bust out some '88.
Score: 0
BigDudeInTheDoorway Reply
Thanks for the explanation DFB! I appreciate it. I've been a fan since 96' but this last summer tour was just incredible and I'm more of a fan now than ever. Can't wait for New Years Run!
Score: 0
GAMEHENDGEPHONICS Reply
GAMEHENDGEPHONICS "We'd like to do Tela....Tela is what we'd like to do for you."
Score: 1
nichobert Reply
nichobert As awesome as that Colorado Timber is...I think you're sleeping on the Colorado Timber from 9 years later. 11/16/97 is a smokeshow, and the -> Simple is awesome. The Texas Timber with Gulloti is no slouch either, but it kind of gets buried in the absolute onslaught of excellent jams from those two shows. Timber is the perfect dual-drummer song.

11/16/97 Timber-> Simple and 12/9/97 Simple-> Timber are just two of a million reasons why Phish might as well just go ahead and release all of 97. And 7/25/97 & 7/26/97 are two of a million reasons they should have a Bonus 60 Disc Set of Summer 97 too.. Maybe download codes for the June/July Europe tour while they're at it.
Score: 0
Gumbo72203 Reply
oh man!!! Just listened to that huge Curtain With from 5/24. GNARLY!!!

just started the Tela. This is awesome!!! i love the little jam into it! The lo-fi source on phishows.com makes Page's piano seriously twinkle with brightness. Go PAGE!!!!!!

I'm going to dig into the 26-minute Whipping Post from 5/24 next...

but OMG THIS TELA!!!!!!!
Score: 0
Aiken Reply
Aiken Can't wait to check some of these tunes out. I always listened to 80's phish when I lived in VT 2000-04. Tela is an old favorite so I am psyched to bust for real, finally. Thanks for compiling all this, DFB, it's important!
Score: 0
Aiken Reply
Aiken @Dog_Faced_Boy said:
1.0 refers to the band prior to 10/7/00 when the "Hiatus" began.
2.0 refers to the band from 12/31/02 - 8/15/04 when the band officially broke up.
3.0 refers to the band since getting back together in 2009.

Type I refers to a jam that stays within a song's melody, rhythmic structure, key, etc. Think of songs like "The Mango Song" or "Funky Bitch." The instrumental sections of these songs almost always sound like the same song - in other words, Type I.

Type II refers to jams the deviate beyond the song's structure, key, melody, etc, and into more free form improvisation. Songs which often have Type II jams include "Piper", "Tweezer", and "Ghost."

Also, thanks to those above who noted the excellent "Tela" on 8/27/88 and also pointed out some obvious typos on my part.
I agree, very good def. However, I think it should also be noted that under this definition Type II acumen can be found in much of 97, 98 and 99, without the same edge as the abstractions of post hiatus--02-04, what many refer to as the Oxy Years. Which ironically, since I've been sober, I really don't spend much time with, funny, how about that..
Score: 0
Aiken Reply
Aiken The tela jam sounds like much of what little i've heard of bisco, i wonder if they were at this show? they are from penn state, right?

cool jam, regardless the quality of these old timey tunes.
Score: 0

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