November 19, 2010
Mike Gordon, founding member and bass player for Phish, arrived in Bloomington with two buses full of gear and a head full of funk. Gordon’s current touring band consists of Max Creek’s Scott Murawski on guitar, drummer Todd Isler, keyboardist Tom Cleary, and percussionist Craig Myers. The small intimate venue provided the atmosphere that Gordon seems to relish. The low lying ceilings and cocooned walls swathed the deep percussive tones, enveloping everyone, and providing the perfect arena for Gordo’s funk variety. The normally barren stage was covered in carpet, every inch filled with instruments and gear, and in contrast to the massive rigs of Phish tour, the subdued foil backdrop served the purpose of dim bar light reflection and intimacy retention.
Mike’s new album, Moss, was released the day of the show and naturally the band treated us to several of the tunes contained therein but did very little else and certainly did not overly promote the day as many would expect. That simply is not Mike’s style. Â
They kicked off the night with “Fire From A Stick.” Although it seemed to take a moment for the band to effectively gel, they would do so through Tom Cleary’s harmonic scale work on keys that lead straight into a freeform riff by Murawski. During “Voices,” a track from Gordon’s previous release, The Green Sparrow, Mike grabbed a loop pedal and let several people on the front row bang out a rhythm that he in turn incorporated into a funky beat while Cleary continued to hold down the fort with his jazzy piano. Gordon had a good chuckle at the joy from the front of the stage as he jammed on through the tune watching them beam from the excitement. It was a classic crowd interacting Mike moment that was reminiscent of the golf cart and bicycle days when he would be seen perusing the wares on parking lots at Phish shows, taking pictures with people, and simply being genuine. It is a side of Mike that is not seen nearly as often in this day and age of Phish, but one that is always welcomed. Â
“Emotional Railroad,” an upbeat Max Creek tune, was covered by Murawski and went straight into “She Said, She Said,” a slinky bluesy number that had Gordon growling into the mic. After a brief moment of chatter amongst the band mates, another new tune “What Things Seem” segued into rare Phish number, “Weekly Time.” Though originally written as bluegrass standard that was to be included on Phish’s Billy Breathes, it was heavy funk on this night to the point of depth that steamed with murkiness. This song has never seen a Phish stage. Can we say “bust out?” Â Though from song title alone it seems as though a cover C + C Music Factory’s “Things That Make You Go Hmmm…”could come across as awkward, it was just the fun that the night needed and was equally owned by all pieces of Gordon’s outfit from quirky vocals to the percussion play of Myers.
The second set started with a first time played drum/percussion session that jammed right into, “Can’t Stand Still.” Both very new tunes, with “Can’t Stand Still” from Moss and the drum/percussion jam so fresh that Gordon had to ask Isler the name. Isler was as clueless as Cactus, so they collectively decided Â to call it, “Bill.” Afterward it was explained that Isler had just returned from a trip from India and Myers had just returned from Africa and that they had “accumulated various rhythmic information” and pieced the number together. It has now been given an official name, “Mount Philo,” but “Bill” would have been fine as well. Â Â
After “Spiral,” Gordon made the announcement, “by the way that one and a bunch of other fucked up little tunes are available on my new album and so we’re going to hang out way way later over there where they have them if you want to come by and say hello later.” After mumbling a few more things about the new album he told the audience he launched into some typical Mike-speak by stating that “the next tune is what happens when Lynyrd Skynyrd steals something from another band. This is what happens when Lynrd Skynyrd steals something from my band, when they steal a particular groove.” As the audience was still scratching their heads, the band busted into the “Possum” infused rendition of Skynyrd’s “Swamp Music,” and demonstrated what a single recurrent riff of a Phish tune can do to its faithful.
A very long break would follow “Morphing Again” but once the break was over, the audience was met with Phish’s “Meat” with the only variation being the added element of pure hand percussion by Craig Myers, a more funk filled overtone, and Scott Murkawski’s demonstration of how goofy almost anyone would sound as he attempted to hit the high harmony. Â An appropriate closer, “Taking it To the Streets” The band wrapped it up with Cleary banging away on the keys and singing along to a classically cheesy number that has never seen as much beautiful bass as it did at the hands of Cactus with Doobie Brothers “Takin’ It to the Streets.”
As promised, Gordon met the crowd at the merch booth to sign things that people brought and bought for a lengthy period of time. Everyone glowed as they waited to shake his hand before, as the closer commanded, taking it to the streets.