The Man of Miami

12.30.09 (S.Williams)

Phish’s greatness emerges when the musical spotlight shines not on one band member, but the group as a whole. When Phish engages in top-notch improv, as in Miami, the notion of naming an “MVP” of the run seems absurd. Any musical heights reached directly results from the virtuoso mixture of four, rather than one all-star performer. The old adage that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts has never rang more true than with Phish. That being said, Mike Gordon annihilated Miami like a like a bass-driven assassin, owning his instrument in a display likening a musical Harlem Globetrotter. While leading most jams of the weekend, Mike cast down bass line after mind-expanding bass line, defined by his one-of-a-kind phrasing and unparalleled fluidity. From nuanced effects to ludicrous runs up and down the fretboard, Mike’s mastery jumped from the stage in Miami, and continues to surface with every shows’ re-listen.

12.28.09 (S.Williams)

When Phish decided to reunite, Mike returned to the band in the best musical shape of all. Hot off two acclaimed tours with The Mike Gordon Band, and having just scribed his first solo rock album, The Green Sparrow, Gordon came back to Phish already thumping. (His only other solo project was 2003’s Inside In, the soundtrack to his film “Outside Out,” with a host of guest musicians.) Gordon dedicated himself to his solo project, becoming a band leader for the first time, while playing his originals as well as an eclectic array of covers. Far more active than Trey, Page or Fish in 2oo8, Mike didn’t need the same adjustment period as the rest of the band.

12.30.09 (S.Williams)

But over the year of playing together, not only did Phish regain their band-wide communication skills, but Gordon grew from a beast into a musician that now has his way with his instrument like Michael Jordan crossing over Craig Ehlo. His playing steadily improved from summer to fall, and peaked over New Year’s Run in a superlative bass expose. Forging transcendent pathways in “Tweezer,” “Back on the Train,” Ghost,” and “Piper,” Mike left his mark on each of the weekends most successful jams. But not only did he guide the band through the astral plane, he also peppered their compositions and simpler songs with unique, ever-changing phrases in a non-stop display of creativity. Hell, he even improvised bass fills during “Auld Lang Syne!” All weekend long, Mike launched a personal, bass-led jihad on Vice City, romping around the neon-purple jungle as if a musical King Kong.

Throughout the run, Mike and Fish seemed very much on the same page, and when Phish is in the pocket, things begin to happen. Anchoring arena-sized grooves with a flair for the dramatic, Mike joined Fishman with diverse playing, ranging from chunky and buttery grooves to driving, jazzy and melodic patterns; always hitting that least-expected note to push the band exactly where they needed to go. While all four band members brought their A-game to Florida, Gordon shone with supreme originality and subconscious determination. Mike once described his ideal on-stage mind state, in quintessential Gordeaux fashion, as “half awake and half dreaming.” One can only assume he stood in between worlds for the duration of Miami’s four nights.

12.30.09 (S.WIlliams)

The greatest side effect of Mike’s passionate playing is how it pushes Trey’s imagination. Intertwining ideas in intricate musical passages throughout the run, the duo’s interplay provided the foundation for much of the band’s holiday improv. The greatest Phish jams tend to arise when Trey and Mike are locked in, perfectly complementing each other every step of the way, and this happened more than a few times in Miami. Beyond the weekend’s open-ended excursions, check out “Reba,” “Stash,” “Hood,” “Bowie,” “Slave,” or “Ocelot” for top-notch examples of two minds working as one.

Owning Miami like Tony Montana at the peak of his empire, Mike sat atop Little Cuba in a plush musical throne. With the band also atop of their game, the most engaging nights of the year seemed to materialize with relative ease and a whole lot of fun. But spinning these shows over and over again, new bass lines continue to emerge; the idiosyncratic building blocks of an unforgettable weekend.

12.30.09 (Photo: Shawn Williams)


Jam of the Day:

2001 > Slave” 12.29 II


The exclamation point on a phenomenal set.



…Will return tomorrow. Drop any requests that are not already in the audio archive into today’s comment thread or in an email to In addition, the fall and New Year’s shows, as well as some ’03 and ’04 – graciously uploaded by reader, Jon Gollatz – will be added to the archive within the next little bit. Cheers. Miner


12.30.03 (Photo: Wendy Rogell)

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334 Responses to “The Man of Miami”

  1. Mr. Completely Says:

    @flarr, no confirmation is forthcoming, but the rumor is certainly plausible. The dates fall just late enough that it might be doable.

    1996 is a long time ago. Red Rocks went well, where they were banned from. Bonnaroo went well….why not?

    I’d still wager against it, but I don’t see the 1996 outcome as any reason to rule it out.

  2. flarrdogg Says:

    Apparently they (jazzfest) are gonna announce the addition(s) this Wednesday, so we’ll know soon enough. Would be crazy and Jazzfest has grown significantly since ’96, now invite several big-name artists yearly, and are probably better equiped to accomodate the masses that would surely take over the easy. I would be in that number.

  3. Joe Says:

    kind of funny how the scene got a bad reputation in the post hiatus years, but from some of the new orleans / jazz fest stories (which may be urban legend at this point), it was just as bad back then too. With the exception of the festivals, I’ve kind of always been an in-and-out kind of fan, so I’m not sure I can comment intelligently on the evolution of the lot.

  4. Mr. Completely Says:

    I’m also a fan of the old in-and-out…which relates directly to many of my favorite n’awlins memories, actually…

    more seriously, my few jazzfest trips were quite chill…it’s a degenerate scene but no more so than most of my favorite places…

  5. Mr. Completely Says:

    probably quite a respectable festy by now, of course

    I have not been since…93?

  6. kb Says:

    ive been twice in last 3 years and really enjoyed the experience. the main issue is how crowded the main stage gets. there is a fence that really limits how far back you can go. i saw stevie wonder on the main stage and there was no space. the blues/jazz/gospel tents are great though.

  7. Mr. Completely Says:

    I’d go again in a sec if I was free to travel

    truly a great experience – saw tons of amazing music and met a bunch of cool people, had a guy try to sell me a single joint for $10 that he called “corpse weed” and swore was an “albino strain” grown in a graveyard deep in the bayou. I remember that conversation more clearly than the rest of the weekend, homeboy was really workin’ it. As a former lot worker I respected his pitch and gumption.

  8. Mr. Palmer Says:

    The food down there in NOLA is as good, if not better, than the music. Only went once in 2001, dying to get back. Not so easy these days anymore.

  9. Joe Says:

    I wish I had some of the corpse weed right now. Might even spend the $10 for it.

  10. Mr. Completely Says:

    If I had been rolling a little fatter I might have bought it just because of the story he came up with

    society should support creative types like that, at the time I couldn’t afford the donation

  11. kb Says:

    the food at that fest is def great! great late shows in the french market area as well.

  12. Joe Says:

    my gf left a job that was awful for her a few months ago. Bad atmosphere, made her crazy, etc. BUT her boss had a great connection up here and we never had to pay for the buds he gave her every few weeks or so on the side. Always great high quality stuff. It was enough to keep us going for the last 4 years and now the well is dry. She now has a job that she likes so much better and it’s a little more money but I’m stuck looking for guys who have the albino strain. Guess life is always full of trade-offs.

  13. Mr. Completely Says:

    droughts suck. I feel for ya.

  14. Joe Says:

    not even sure it’s a drought yet. Just have to find something new and actually PAY. and like I said, quality with the old boss was top-notch for the northeast.

  15. Mitch Says:

    “I feel like that Jim was just something they had to get out of their system.”

    they could have taken that tweezer further out of my system and I’d have been ok. Regarding miami that is. Damn I feel cut off everytime. I know it’s 16 mins but they were striking gold. Keep on diggin. I feel like they are too busy staying busy now. Trying to keep it fresh which is what I love. But before this year, I was an ’03/’04 tour kid. Just learning about it all and they would go on for what felt like a looong time. Then again it’s up to them. They never let me down so I should shut up and enjoy.

  16. kb Says:

    i agree, why cut off that amazing last segment of miami tweezer? i wanted a lot more out of it since it had brought me to a great place.

  17. Joe Says:

    you can count on one hand the number of jams that they didn’t stop short (or even start for that matter) this year…ok, maybe two hands and one foot but it’s a small number.

  18. Joe Says:

    been cranking the 7 below>ghost from albany since getting it on my sirius portable device from the broadcast the other night. It seems like most nights they would have cut off the song at the 11 minute mark. Why they didn’t that night is a mystery I guess but minutes 12-24 are the 09 exception. Who knows what 2010 will bring.

  19. Joe Says:


    and a ton of old school from Backspin. (weird combo?)

  20. kb Says:

    i think -7>ghost is the best phish of 09

  21. Robear Says:

    re: the NYE gag

    I call my friend, one of the wild ones and ask how he liked Miami.

    “It was awesome. The third night was really special. So, was that Fishman dressed up like a girl on the drums for New Year’s?”


    see Mr. C’s suggestions for the road

  22. Fatbunch Says:

    Wanted to make one-cd Miami mix:
    Heavy Things
    Cutain With
    Back on the Train
    Seven Below

    Chewy jams and seguey flow!
    Bringing this to the bartender at our local pub…

  23. Fatbunch Says:

    ^label: Meat of Miami?

  24. pagesidehighschool Says:

    7’s jam from 12 min in is really nice. I think the Miami ghost is the best I’ve heard in a long time, they nail the breakdown part it’s really tight! They don’t always hit that one perfectly, I don’t even think it’s that clean on the album!

  25. Mdawg Says:

    was not at Albany for the -7 > Ghost so my top 2009 phish moments that i saw are…

    RR 7/31 Drowned > Crosseyed & Painless
    Miami Tweezer!!!!
    Festival 8 (all three nights)
    Deer Creek (Lightning!)

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