After a busy February with formative gigs in New York City, Burlington (2/7/89 at the Front is regarded by Toph as the best Phish gig ever), and at the Stone Church in Newmarket, New Hampshire, Phish entered March 1989 like a lion.
Having spent the first few years of their career playing almost exclusively in Vermont, the band was now playing regularly throughout the greater northeast region. They had played a string of shows in Colorado the previous summer, had broken into the New York and Boston markets, and were starting to become more popular at clubs and colleges in New England. The crew at the time consisted of Paul Languedoc as sound engineer and tour manager, a roadie named Del, and Tim “Timberhole” Rogers on lights. Co-management of the band had been taken over by John Paluska and Ben Hunter. The Phish Newsletter was being printed and mailed by Trey’s sister Kristy and was also distributed at live shows. The “merchandise line” consisted of the classic white t with the rainbow bleed Phish logo and was available only at shows.
March 1989 began with the “farewell to Gallagher’s” show in Waitsfield, Vermont (subsequently known to band and crew as the “little equipment gig”). Apparently every time the band would show up at Gallagher’s, the proprietor would greet them, saying “Why do you guys have to bring so much equipment?” (Even at this stage of their career, Phish traveled with their own light board, P.A., etc.). He would question their early load-in, long soundcheck and other attention to detail not generally shown by club bands. As a reaction, the band came to their final gig at Gallagher’s with “toy” equipment which included Fish on a toy drumset, among other items. On March 3rd, Phish played the Living and Learning Center at UVM and on the 4th they traveled to New York’s Wetlands Preserve for their first concert at that venue. On March 11th, they went to Sheehan’s in Northampton, Massachusetts for their second show there. On March 12, 13 and 14 Phish played a three night stand at Nectar’s. On the 13th, the band began the show in true “Jazz Odyssey” form, with Trey on drums and without Fish, who was late for the gig. This was the period of the fast version of Sanity, which was featured at the March 13th Nectar’s performance. At the following night’s show, the band dealt with a power outage which interrupted Good Times Bad Times at the end of set II. They recovered power and concluded the set with the rest of the Zeppelin cover, returning to the intimate stage for a Halley’s Comet encore. This was Tim (Timberhole) Roger’s last show working for Phish. After this run he was seen at a couple New Hampshire house parties before moving West to Colorado (Tim, if you are reading this, we would love to hear from you). The band replaced Tim with Chris “Steck” Stecher, who was hired as a roadie and possible Lighting Designer. On March 24th, Phish played their second show at The Paradise in Boston. The next night they made their first trek to Portland, Maine, to play at The Tree Cafe.
About that time, the following ad was posted in local newspapers and attached to the March issue of the Phish Newsletter: “WANTED: Creative light person to run new light show for PHISH on a salaried, permanent basis. This very valuable partner will travel with the band as a 5th member. We are looking for someone from the New England area — no need to live in Burlington. Call (802) 654-9068.”
On March 30th, the band played the first of two nights at The Front. The day before, longtime fan (his first gig was Nectar’s 10/18/87) Chris Kuroda was taking a guitar lesson from Trey at the band house in Winooski and Trey asked Chris during the lesson if Chris knew anyone who would be interested “in carrying some gear in and out of local gigs for $20.” Toph replied “sure, I’ll do it.” It was then that Chris was officially hired by Trey as the band’s full-time roadie. At that point, Steck was LD and Paul was mixing. Kuroda’s first gig was March 30th, a three-set show that featured You Enjoy Myself with a “You’re No Good” vocal jam, a Peaches en Regalia set III opener, and a Makisupa encore. Kuroda (affectionately known as Topher) recalls it being tough to work at a Phish show, previously his dancing stomping ground. His friends gave him a lot of grief because he couldn’t dance with them and instead had to work. They still do.
Chris Kuroda’s life is an epic saga. It began in Princeton, New Jersey on July 26, 1965 when he was born. His mother is Hungarian and his father is Japanese and he has two sisters, Melissa and Andreia. He grew up in Westchester County, New York, but spent most of his time as a teenager in Manhattan. After transferring from New England College in Henniker, New Hampshire, Toph moved to Burlington in 1986 to attend UVM as a computer science major. While there he managed a silkscreen shop. He was lucky enough to catch 232 Dead shows through the years and considers himself an aficionado of “The Fat Man”.
It was on Dead tour that Chris first heard and tasted lights in an arena rock setting. His early light shows were influenced by the work of the Dead’s longtime lighting director, Candace Brightman. Chris and Candace have since become good friends, and they’ve checked out each other’s work in person many times. Chris is also a musician. He played rhythm guitar in a band called Spice, a group that played covers and originals in the Burlington bar scene. It was through his interest in music that Chris met Trey when he approached him for lessons after a Phish show at Nectar’s. At the time, Trey told Chris he had no students but he’d be glad to make Chris the first. Chris’s first lesson with Trey was in January, 1989, during the course of which Chris asked Trey to teach him how to play I Know You Rider. Having experienced 10 years of Phish history since his career began in March, 1989, Chris has a couple thoughts. “The two things I value the most from this experience are the opportunity given to me by Phish to be a self-taught lighting designer with no pressure or influence coming from the band themselves and I’m also thankful just to be given the opportunity in the first place ten years ago to stretch out artistically without knowing that I was an artist.”
March ended with the show on the 31st at The Front, from which Chris remembers a 25 minute shredding Whipping Post, which is still his favorite cover that Phish has ever performed. For Phish, March went out as it came in, like a lion. Seven days later on April 7th, Steck’s career with Phish ended. At a Stone Church show, Steck left the lighting board to use the bathroom during Famous Mockingbird and Toph took over. After the show, Trey complimented Steck on the lights during that tune, only to be informed later by Chris that Steck had been in the men’s room at the time. For the record, Toph never responded to the March “5th Member” Ad in writing. It was all about being in the right place at the right time — at the lights. He has been Phish’s only Lighting Designer/Director ever since.