New To Circulation: Phish 1990 Show Featuring ‘Communication Breakdown’ Unearthed

By Scott Bernstein Sep 14, 2016 2:47 pm PDT

On January 25, 1990 Phish played Penny Post in Old Town, Maine; which was just their second show of the year. A recording of the quartet’s performance had never circulated in fan circles until today. Phish’s visit to Old Town featured the debut of “Communication Breakdown,” a Led Zeppelin cover they played a handful of times in 1990 and then never again.

A few days earlier on January 20, the band played Webster Hall on the campus of Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire; where they debuted future classics “The Squirming Coil” and “Bouncing Around The Room” as well as covers of the traditional “Carolina” and Duke Ellington’s “Caravan.” Phish performed all four songs as part of the first set in Old Town. The first set also featured a “Mike’s Groove” opener, an early version of “Split Open And Melt” and more.

Phish’s second set on January 25, 1990 started with “Slave To The Traffic Light” and ended with the first known cover of The Allman Brothers Band’s “Whipping Post” in 78 shows. Guitarist Trey Anastasio sang “Whipping Post” as opposed to a number of other versions of the tune that featured drummer Jon Fishman on vocals. The foursome’s closing stanza at the Penny Post also included covers of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “The Ballad Of Curtis Loew” and James Gang’s “Walk Away” as well as originals “Possum,” “You Enjoy Myself,” “Fluffhead” and “Lawn Boy.” For the encore, Phish treated fans to “Suzy Greenberg” as well as the previously mentioned “Communication Breakdown” debut.

While the recording is a huge find, the quality leaves much to be desired as it was taped by the venue’s owner, probably using a boombox. Thankfully, the original recording has been remastered to make a listenable document of the evening. Charlie Dirksen of the Phish.net Team shared a lossless recording of the show on Etree and revealed the following about how it surfaced all these years later:

Jon Gullotti contacted Phish.net in an effort to get this show circulating and it now does so thanks to him and the work of Jeff Goldberg of The Audio Specialist. Jon acquired this recording on cassette from the Penny Post’s owner the week after the show. Part of the second set is missing (the music between YEM’s cut jam segment and the cut into Walk Away) because Jon copied over it with live versions of the Grateful Dead’s Dark Star and Shakedown (this music was on the beginning of side A of the second tape). According to Phish.com, fan reports noted that Fluffhead was performed at this show, and so it’s likely that Fluffhead was one of the songs copied over; it is not clear if more than the remainder of YEM’s jam segment, Fluffhead, and part of Walk Away were copied over.

Because the raw recording is so flawed (e.g., Caravan is only a fragment, YEM’s jam cuts out, most of Walk Away is missing, and there are cuts at either the beginning or end of numerous songs including Weekapaug, Slave and Loew), I asked Jeff Goldberg to employ his expertise to try to create a more listenable, “remastered” version (Jeff also needed to splice the Coil and AC/DC Bag, pieces of which were on both side A and side B). Jeff’s work included adjusting the pitch so that A = 440 Hz; fixing the hiccup and duplicated bar at the beginning of Mike’s Song; evening-out amplitude levels that were never set during the original recording; normalizing amplitude levels to maximize bandwidth and minimize noise floor; equalizing the sound/timbre of each individual track (different parts of the tapes required different EQ curves); eliminating extreme tape hiss from offending tracks; and setting metadata for each track.

If you have any analog to digital questions (or work), feel free to contact Jeff at audiospecialists@icloud.com or on twitter @theaudiopro or google plus at the.audio.ace@gmail.com or facebook.com/theaudiospecialist.

Great thanks to Jon and Jeff for helping get this show into circulation for the first time after more than 26 years. This gives me a little hope that maybe one day my first show will circulate, too. (10/6/89)

An MP3 version is available via Phish Spreadsheet guru Kevin Hoy:

We’ve also uploaded a few highlights to SoundCloud for your streaming pleasure:

[Communication Breakdown]

[Slave To The Traffic Light]

[Whipping Post]

JamBase Collections