January 2012 - Posts

PHISH: 12/31/91 The New Aud – Worcester, MA

12/31/91 Worcester, MA at LivePhish.com

I treat every minute like an hour and then it seems like a year has just flashed by again. Twenty years later, I’m still upside down.” The Worcester Memorial Auditorium (known at the time as The New Aud) in Worcester’s Lincoln Square was designed by Lucius W. Briggs in the 1930’s as a World War I memorial in Art Deco style with magnificent murals and ornamentation. The building had been recently refurbished when Phish announced their third annual New Year’s Eve show there and excitement about the show was unprecedented. It seemed the whole of the fast-growing Phish Nation made plans to attend.

With a stated capacity of 4,000, The New Aud was the largest indoor venue the band had played at the time. It was a perfect room for a New Year’s show with features like an open dance floor sans chairs and a wrap-around balcony overlooking an impressive proscenium. From the outside, the building’s imposing pillars framed the faithful gathered for the 9:30 PM showtime. It was a bitter cold night and the City of Worcester was offering tours of The New Aud as part of their First Night celebration. Meanwhile, tapers and other early arrivals were huddled on the steps trying to stay warm until the doors opened to concert goers. The building is currently a storage facility for court records but, on December 31, 1991, it was an ideal vessel for the band’s fast-expanding creativity and appreciative audience. Tickets for the all-ages show billed as “Dionysian Productions Presents New Year’s Eve With Phish”, cost $16.50 and were sold out. After two-set shows with support acts the previous two years at Boston’s World Trade Center Exhibition Hall, Phish blew the roof off The New Aud and created the template for modern Phish New Year’s events. This was the band’s first three-set New Year’s show, their only stand-alone New Year’s gig without other holiday shows and the only New Year’s Eve when the midnight hour fell during set II. It was also the only show between December 1991 and March 1992, making it a true destination affair.

Phish had a busy year in 1991, signing a record deal with Elektra and touring coast to coast for a total of more than 130 shows including a fourteen-show Horn Tour with a three-piece horn section and the first official Phish festival at Amy’s Farm. Phish also recorded an album backing Trey’s old friend, The Dude Of Life (aka Steve Pollak) and, during the summer, recorded their third studio album, A Picture Of Nectar. The band’s hometown White Crow Studios in Burlington, Vermont provided the backdrop for Nectar’s namesake with engineering duties covered by Kevin Halpin and Jon Altschiller. While Jon was still getting his start as an engineer, he was also a fan and was among the dozen-or-so tapers at The New Aud. Thanks to his work on Nectar, Jon was allowed to set up his microphones inside the front-of-house position. He also managed to snag a then-rare soundboard patch from FOH engineer Paul Languedoc. Fast-forward to 2010 when Jon returned to work with Phish full- time as LivePhish remote engineer and the seeds were sown for the long-awaited release of this classic show. Two decades later, Jon combined his discreet audience and soundboard DAT recordings to create the matrix master for The New Aud release. Mastered by Fred Kevorkian, this unique source is a proper document of the show, combining the qualities of both sources and harnessing the stunning music and electricity that characterized this special performance.

The New Aud show saw a number of new additions to the band’s repertoire, most notably the debut of Marjorie Minkin’s new 8- panel, painted lexan (plexiglass) backdrop replacing her original canvas piece the band had used to catch lighting designer Chris Kuroda’s work. Toph also employed a disco ball and sirens as well as extra strobes and hazers to extend the occasion’s impact. Starting with this show, the crew grew to formally include Brad Sands, a longtime fan who worked with Phish for the next decade and a half. Brad joined Paul, Chris, monitor engineer Pete Schall and tour manager Andrew Fischbeck to round out what was then (and, though it’s changed, is still today) the best road crew in the business.

The band was noticeably excited by this venue as they tore into set I with a scorching Possum opener. Foam came next as the band stretched out to demonstrate their budding skills as a swinging jazz quartet. Trey used Sparkle to first demonstrate his Christmas gift known as The Final Word – a keychain which uttered curse words on demand. He played with the thing at key points throughout the show creating some precious moments during Esther and an uncommonly hilarious rendition of Wilson. The band started to let loose during Stash and continued with inspired takes of The Lizards and Guelah Papyrus. The Divided Sky was dedicated to local fan Chris Gainty who was at his first show since recovering from a car accident earlier in the year. Llama unleashed a fury of incendiary guitar and Golgi Apparatus closed the set as 4000 ticket stubs were waved in the air.

After a setbreak, the band took the stage for set II with an opening of Brother that picked up where Llama left off, rapid- firing on all cylinders. Brother led into Bouncing Around The Room, during which Super Balls were bounced from the balcony onto the floor, making for some surreal footing on the wood floor. Buried Alive was next and Trey counted down the last two minutes of 1991 while deftly teasing Auld Lang Syne and building into a frenzy for the final countdown. A full instrumental Auld Lang Syne followed, punctuated by confetti explosions that further set this show apart from all that came before and foreshadowed the elaborate NYE gags that followed. A glorious Runaway Jim was the first song of the new year, leading to a hot combination of The Landlady > Reba. Cavern came next, setting the stage for My Sweet One > Run Like An Antelope to round out the second set. During Antelope, the band’s playing rose to meet the majesty of the room and the unbridled passion of the huge (for the time) crowd...and this was still set II!

The first-ever New Year’s Eve set III started with Fish’s kick drum and Trey’s Final Word commentary about the evil King of Prussia. This was years before fans began chanting “Wilson” and the spellbound spectators cheered with anticipation as the band dipped into The Squriming Coil. Trey joined Page’s piano outro near the end to set up the show’s improvisational highlight – a ground-breaking, earth-shattering Tweezer complete with primal vocalizations and a ferocious jam that decelerated naturally into McGrupp And The Watchful Hosemasters. Leading the assemblage through Gamehendge, this pretty McGrupp paved the way to a set-closing Mike’s Groove that found the whole band hooked up and soaring from start to finish. As they took it to Rhode Island with Weekapaug Groove, Trey teased The Lion Sleeps Tonight, fueling the band and audience to ever higher levels. After Weekapaug Groove, the band returned for an Encore that began with them asking Chris to illuminate the new Minkin so they could enjoy the sweet effects of the lights-on-lexan that were otherwise hidden from their view. The band and audience gave Mike’s Mom a round of applause and the backdrop remained a signature part of the light show for years. The Encore continued with Lawn Boy, punctuated by an enchanting seasonal nod to The Christmas Song. Rocky Top and Tweezer Reprise ended an exciting and historic night of music.

The New Aud release demonstrates a creative peak before a record crowd that was treated to a spectacular show in an especially inspiring setting. The three-set New Year’s Eve show became a hallmark of Phish’s year – a ritual that has occurred nearly every year the band has been active. The New Aud also began the Moore’s law of Phish New Year’s gigs, a customary doubling of capacity until the venues couldn’t hold any more and elevating the New Year’s tradition into legendary status. This is the first matrix release from livephish.com, capturing the electric energy of this special performance for veterans and new generations alike. The New Aud celebrates more than three hours of Prime Phish and is a perfect 20th anniversary view inside this formative show. The 3-set download (also available as an on demand 3-CD set at livephish.com) slated for release December 31, 2011 is a staple for everybody who remembers the good old days and those who wish they did...but we all start out small.

Enjoy! --ks


Essays by Kevin Shapiro



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