Phish • The Documentary • 1983–1987, a new fan-made Phish documentary, offers a look back on the band’s formation with a curated selection of live clips, recordings, and interviews covering Phish’s first five years as a band.

As Phish continues its #Phish40 40th anniversary celebration, this new film—like the band’s temperamental time machine—takes fans back four decades to when Trey Anastasio, Jon Fishman, Mike Gordon, and founding guitarist Jeff Holdsworth were just four long-haired college kids playing parties for their friends.

Highlights of the film include audio from Phish’s first show at Nectar’s, an early cover of the Grateful Dead‘s “Fire on the Mountain” from 1983, the first known version of “David Bowie”, and early versions of several tunes that remain fan favorites including “Dinner and a Movie”, “Punch You in the Eye”, “Fluffhead”, “You Enjoy Myself”, “Divided Sky”, and “Big Black Furry Creature From Mars”, plus old gems like “Lushington”, “The Chase”, and “Skippy the Wonder Mouse”. The most engaging parts of the documentary, however, are the clips that show more personal details about the band members and their relationship with each other and their (still growing) community of friends-turned-fans.

For instance, Trey gives an amusing description of the first time he saw Jon Fishman wandering around the library after their freshman orientation: “It was kind of like love at first sight. … This guy goes by with a tie-dye down to like his knees … and big huge hair and these ill-fitting Coke bottle classes and this ridiculous look on his face, and I was just like, ‘Oh my God, who is that guy?'”

The video concludes with the legendary “Whipping Post Jam” from November 23rd, 1985 at Goddard College, which Mike Gordon described as his peak musical experience of all time:

I had my peak musical experience of all time during a gig at Goddard College in November 1985. At the time I was an engineering student pondering a transfer to film. I’d just completed a series of tests, and the pressure was temporarily off me. The entire week was a peak experience of sorts. The snow had just fallen for the first time that fall the night we played, but it was still fairly warm outside. Located out in the middle of the woods, Goddard was something of an anti-institution at the time. Only about fifty people were on campus the night we played, and of the ten people who came to the dance, eight left after the first set. This was an official college event, so not coming definitely made some sort of statement.

Jeff was playing volume swells on his guitar, which I thought was the most incredible sound I’d ever heard. We turned off all the lights, and I started jumping up and down with the beat, not caring how I looked for perhaps the first time in my entire life. as we jammed, I felt more spiritually in tune than ever before. I felt at one with the building, wall outlets, chandeliers, and these people I loved. as we kept jamming, my ecstatic state didn’t diminish no matter how I played or what style we played in. At one point I had a vision of Trey standing beside me in white tails with a pocket watch, as if we were performing during the 1920’s.

The whole experience was like viewing a huge well-lit room after having been blind. I felt completely illuminated. I decided then and then there to start a journal, and I’ve kept one ever since. The first two volumes were completely about that experience, then they branched off to concern related experiences of life, art, and music. How do music and art help me and others to actualize ourselves? What’s the formula, if there is one? What conditions make it most likely to occur?

I was more like myself that show than ever before, but I was also part of Phish, five people in a circle who seemed to hover above the forest and move slowly through the trees. I wandered into the woods after the second set and decided never to return. Yes, film-making was better than engineering. But film had nothing on the musical experience I’d just had, and I was afraid I’d never be able to recapture it. So why bother? When I did return, the rest of the band decided to play another set. I was terrified another set would soil my past experience, but it turned out to be just as great! We played for hours to the two or three people listening to us in the darkness. I decided my goals in life were to live in the woods, travel around from city to city, and try to replicate the experience I’d just had as often as possible. The whole gig’s on tape, but I’ll probably never listen to it.”

Phish • The Documentary • 1983–1987

Video: Brendan McBride