March 18, 2011
On break from Phish duties and in support of his most recent studio release, Moss, Mike "Cactus" Gordon and band mates Scott Murawski, Todd Isler, Craig Myers, and Tom Cleary took to the road for the month of March.
In the midst of a coast-to-coast effort, there was no rest for the weary when the ensemble arrived at the sold-out Mercy Lounge in the Music City of Nashville. Though spring had not quite sprung, fans approaching the venue had a bounce in their step indicative of not only the beautiful weather and full moon above (a supermoon was on the horizon for the following evening), but also of the recent buzz regarding the short tour. Message boards had lit up in the preceding week, proclaiming that the tour was not only featuring Mike in his finest form, but that it was also boasting a band of players that had truly come into its own.
Once inside the venue, though the anticipatory energy was still overt, the densely packed small room made for some mild discomfort and unclear sightlines due to the pillars that interrupted much of the area one would consider dance space. On the positive side of things, the venue boasted JBL audio throughout, which filled the room with as clean a sound as possible for a venue with acoustically subpar space. Regardless, this is where the band and those who came to share in the sound would call home for the evening and as the evening progressed, it became clear that the club setting is Cactus’ natural musical habitat.
It is difficult to write about Mike Gordon without mentioning Phish, the most influential band with its entire original lineup intact on the circuit today. They conquer outdoor sheds with the same ease that Carl Lewis leapt hurdles. A Phish show is a grand experience—an excited stimulatory occurrence that impacts all of the senses. But the thing that it lacks, intimacy, is exactly what Gordon capitalizes on and from where he makes his most hearty delivery. Within the club environ, Mike can be Mike…in all of his improvisational oddness, genuineness, and overall bass-melting humility.
Opening the night was the subdued number, "Horizon Line," that took off quite well in spite of the futile attempts of the crowd to drunkenly introduce themselves to their bass idol. The swift progressiveness of the number drew the crowd into the groove and out of the "I love you Mikes." Though individual chops were displayed, the collective pace of the jam made discernment between instruments difficult. It was absorbing and the throng of attendees lapped it up like parched puppies.
Following the opening number was the first display of Mike’s interaction, as he explained that he would be tapping into another personality for the evening (a late night jazz DJ) before scrapping the idea altogether as his deficit in attention spans seems to cause regularly (see the hotline), and launching into The Green Sparrow tune, "Jaded."
As stated, this outfit has chops at every position and in this number, ivory-tickler Tom Cleary led the way into the impressive improv that signaled the first appearance of Mike’s favorite toy, his Korg Kaossilator. The floor of the venue literally shook with the lowness that this cheap little trinket brought into the mix…though the highfalutin group who had rented the space below for a private party most likely did not share the same affinity for the device as Gordo and his mass did.
It’s clear the art of the segue has not been lost on Mike. The outfit seamlessly worked their way out of "Emotional Railroad" and into "Funky Bitch," with a steer into GRAB’s "Suskind Hotel" and new Middle Eastern-esque number "The Spiritual Jam" before rounding out with a return to the bitch. The series was dirtily funky, technically tight, loosely played, genre defying, trance inducing and awe inspiring…all at various places throughout. The depth of the improvisation and the flawless transitions and (more or less) uncalled changes spoke volumes about the musical connectedness of the quintet. And their connectedness enveloped the crowd, with Murawski’s sustained yet simple refrains intertwined with Mike’s intermittent over and undercurrent, Cleary’s keys and the remaining percussive members (Isler and Myers) who literally kept things nailed down while simultaneously bolstering them to another notch.
After reverting back to his alter-ego (jazz DJ) for the evening, inebriated "Fuck Your Face" hoots from the audience and a well-played cover of Beck’s "Black Tambourine," the most shining example of Mike’s quirkiness of the night surfaced. Peering through the window of the venue and noticing a train passing by, it became the audience’s responsibility to spot any trains as they came by and signal the band to play a "train related song." Classic. With that order, one line from Dylan’s "It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry" and "Can’t Stand Still," the opening number on Moss, set one was a wrap.
The second set brought a much smaller crowd, which was a good thing. This music is not for everyone and the profundity of lateral music that had come in set one was not fit for the greenery of some of the ears that surely came out for the evening with ulterior motives.
Though not quite the opener one may hope for, "Radar Blip" was well played though somewhat standard, which was expected out of a tune with little capacity as a jam vehicle. It seemed to lose some in its jazzy current, but any who were lost quickly found themselves and their headspace in the cover of David Bowie obscurity, "I’m Deranged."
Between the Kaossilator, Murawski’s trickling, Craig Myers’ chimes and Mike’s subtle vocals, the setting for a storied trance experiment was complete and trance was exactly what took place.
Highlighted by a sandwiched "Meat" that ended in Murawski’s Max Creek original classic "Jones," the set was toned down and fed directly into what the crowd needed: a subdued jazz-funk supplement to the high-energy fiasco that had taken place to begin the evening’s festivities.
After the last lick of the encore, "Idea" was played, Mike made his way to the merch table to mingle with fans, sign autographs, and do other things on which he seems to thrive. From hotline messages to bicycle and golf cart appearances in pre-show parking lots and unannounced sit-ins with a host of outfits, Gordon loves what he does as much as the fans who appreciate him and his talents. His level of congeniality is in direct contradiction to his perceived awkwardness and this is one of the many facets about him that is so appealing. Perhaps most indicative of all of this: after signing and chatting, he picked up the "Idea Box" that had sat on the merch table all night for fans to place their ideas in and walked away…to presumably read all of the strangeness contained therein.
Setlist (courtesy of phish.net)
Horizon Line, Jaded, Emotional Railroad > Funky Bitch > Suskind Hotel > The Spiritual Jam > Funky Bitch,
Got Away, Black Tambourine, It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry, Can’t Stand Still
Radar Blip, I’m Deranged > Spiral, Soulfood Man, Flashback > Meat > Jones > Hap Nappy, I Miss My Mind, Voices
To download the audience recording of this show, please click here.
Click the thumbnail to view David Shehi’s photos from The Show!