December 1989 capped a busy year of shows and recording for Phish. By now they had grown out of their regular monthly multiple night run at Nectar’s, and over the past year had begun touring extensively throughout New England and beyond. Three years had passed since Trey and Page joined members of The Joneses for a last-minute New Year’s show billed as “The Phones” in Londonderry, Vermont, and a full year had passed since the band recorded and mixed their first album, Junta. As this month in 1989 arrived, Phish were deep in preparations for the first in a long tradition of New Year’s performances (see TMIPH December 1993).
The month began with the second day of their first two night engagement at The Paradise in Boston. Less than a year earlier, in January of 1989, the band’s debut appearance there had been a surprise sellout, and may be regarded as a crucial turning point in their early history. Old friend Tom Baggott organized three school bus loads of fans from the Burlington area, much to the amazement of Paradise’s seasoned staff. From there, the band returned home to Burlington for two nights in the cozy confines of The Front. These all ages shows on December 3rd and 4th made for a more-crowded-than-usual atmosphere at The Front, which had replaced Nectar’s as the band’s regular local haunt.
In the meantime, the truck the crew was using to haul equipment threw a rod, destroying the engine and forcing Paul Languedoc (Front of House Engineer, and jack-of-all-trades) to take it for last minute repairs. Apparently the repair shop was able to replace the engine with a rebuilt one, but lacked an oil pan. Paul then had to scramble to find the proper part elsewhere and deliver it to the shop, further delaying the trip south. By the time the truck was roadworthy again, there was hardly time to make the five hundred mile drive before load-in. Paul came through in the pinch and arrived in Washington, DC with seconds to spare. On December 6th, Phish and their repaired truck rolled into Washington, DC for their first show in the nation’s capital and their furthest trek down the East Coast to date. There they played in a small club called The Roxy. The following night was their first appearance at the 8X10 Club (commonly referred to by the crew as the 4X5 Club due to its tight confines) in nearby Baltimore, Maryland, where they made their way through an adventurous first set. When introducing the set-closing Divided Sky, Trey asked the audience to “come with us now on a trip through time and space to Gamehendge” and proceeded into a narrative about the Rhombus. The second set featured spirited versions of Walk Away and Run Like an Antelope and closed with a rare performance of The Guess Who’s classic Undun.
From there, it was a sprint back to Vermont for a weekend of college shows. The first was Friday December 8th at Green Mountain College in Poultney. That show featured a first-set rendition of McGrupp > Fluff’s Travels > AC/DC Bag, and the second set featured Tela, Timber Ho! and Slave to the Traffic Light. A double encore of Lawn Boy and Jimi Hendrix’s Fire closed the night. Saturday night’s show was at the state college campus in Castleton, Vermont. There, an opener of Dinner and a Movie followed by LaGrange kicked off a first set that also included Foam and closed with Golgi Apparatus. Set two consisted of Take the A-Train, Fluffhead, Esther, Alumni Blues, Fee and closed with Mike’s Groove, finishing up with a Contact > Creature encore. This couple of shows has since become a favorite pair of many fans.
After a few days off, band and crew traveled to New York City to join Blues Traveler for a double bill in the unlikely confines of the Ukranian National Home. Blues Traveler had discovered this most unusual venue a few months earlier and suggested joining forces in hopes of drawing a capacity crowd to this fairly large space (approximately 1200 capacity). Phish played the first set and were joined by John Popper and his blitzkrieg harmonica during Funky Bitch and Jesus Just Left Chicago. The next night, Phish returned to Vermont for a show benefiting the Burlington Community Boathouse. The December 16th event took place at nearby City Hall, in Contois Auditorium and featured the last performance of In a Hole. After a short break for the holidays, the band returned to the road on December 29th for their second performance at 23 East Cabaret in Ardmore, Pennsylvania. There, Divided Sky again began with a Rhombus narration. This show also featured Oh Kee Pah Ceremony > AC/DC Bag instead of the already-standard Oh Kee Pah > Suzy Greenberg.
December 30th marked the band’s fifth visit to New York City’s Wetlands Preserve where a band from Virginia called Indecision opened the show. December 31st was Phish’s first New Year’s Eve concert and began the long tradition of the band playing on the last day of the year. The show took place at Boston’s World Trade Center Ballroom and featured opening act The Ululators. The event extended from 8 pm until 2:30 am, and was entitled “1st Annual New Year’s Eve Extravaganza”. “Creative formal attire” was requested in the newsletter and the band set the pace. When asked for his recollections about the performance, Jon Fishman replied, “I recall nothing.” The show featured YEM, YaMar, AC/DC Bag, Bathtub Gin, Highway to Hell, Mike’s Groove and the indispensable Auld Lang Syne to ring in the New Year. Having launched the New Year’s tradition which would carry them through the remainder of the millennium, Phish entered the nineties.