This week on Vanyaland we are celebrating all things 1987 with a look back at moments, trends, and icons in the worlds of music and film. Follow along #V87.
Let’s transport back to Burlington in the 1980s: The Grateful Dead played Patrick Gymnasium at the University of Vermont; Ben & Jerry’s was still in its downtown garage location; Bernie Sanders was mayor, and Phish began to fill the sound at Nectar’s — as well as at Hunt’s, in the backyards of friends, and at house shows on Spear Street.
It’s been 30 years since, but Phish prevails, and the feel of 1987 Vermont and Phish continues to stay very much alive.
A blend of nostalgia and maybe a jaded spunk, the Vermont cult favorite still plays many of their oldest extended grooves dating back to their early days, from the day they kick-started their career at frequent Nectar’s shows in the mid-‘80s to their instantly infamous Baker’s Dozen run at New York’s Madison Square Garden that concluded earlier this month.
The four-piece showcases a new, mixed style of complex riffs that intertwine a subset of genres, making them that evolving, bizarre, one-of-a kind eclectic jam band that seemingly sustains their sound and cultural value from the start. Their long set lists never go repeated and seem to hone down the aura of Vermont grooviness of and free-spirit while morphing and staying with time through music and culture, and it doesn’t look like the jam band will stop anytime soon.
But taking a look back at August 1987, that time really marked the beginning of Phish’s showcasing jam pysch that embarked the summer months and years to follow.
The band was in the making of finishing their undergraduate degrees at UVM in 1987, and they started to make the transition from dorm room shows at Harris Millis to late night gigs at Nectar’s and beyond. Of course Trey Anastasio, Mike Gordon, and Jon Fishman had been together for three-and-a-half years at this point, and had written some of their whacky and infamous extended jams already like “YEM”, “AC/DC bag”, “Divided Sky” and “Antelope” throughout their college years together between 1983 and 1987 (Paige McConnell joined the trio in 1985).
Nectar’s marked the transition for Phish and facilitated their run into the mainstream world of jam bands. The two-night ’87 stand at Nectar’s on August 9 and 10 featured some of the most raw and early Phish: Ranging from “Golgi”, “Fluffhead” and “Divided Sky” that are still improved on endless jam (their 1992 tribute LP A Picture of Nectar features some of Phish’s most well known, like “Tweezer”, “The Mango Song” and “Glide”).
But this year is important, because Nectar’s gave Phish to ability to express their warm, free, and bluesy spirit with 15 to 20 minute riffs and maybe a vacuum solo from Fishman, and helped steer the group to a seemingly vast following and to the massive music festivals dedicated to Phish and Phishheads, such as the Clifford Ball in ’96, The Great Went, and the recent Magnaball (and, not to forget their Madison Square Garden runs which cover a span of 57 dates).
Phish is warm, free, and bluesy, all while still holding some rock and complex chord progressions keep the audience just as alive as the music is. They seem to be that one group that mirrors and backs those warm summer days over looking Lake Champlain with Frye clogs and gauzy shirts packed for a beach day. It was an imperative time for the making of Phish and even the history of Burlington and what it means to be a “jam band.”