While Trey was busy fulfilling a dream on Saturday night in New York City, Mike was on the road living his own, as a band leader of his own group, playing his own music. And only five shows into his “Get Bassed” tour, Gordeaux is doing just that. Mixing eclectic originals with an an array of diverse covers, Mike is at the forefront of percussive, bass-led jaunts largely rooted in the tradition of Americana rock.
Combining his signature, chunky bass lines with Scott Murawski’s southern-tinged melodies and layers of percussion, Mike’s band has delivered upbeat jams that are most often rhythmically focused. The most popular songs from The Green Sparrow- “Another Door,” Andelmans’ Yard,” “Sound,” and “Traveled Too Far”- have become anchors of Mike’s sets while many other originals have been worked in. Aside from his own songs, Mike has featured a wide spectrum of covers in the first week of tour. Giving musical nods to Coldplay, Radiohead, Desmond Dekker, The Allman Brothers, Deee-Lite, The Beatles, Lynyrd Skynyrd and Leonard Cohen, Mike has embraced musical diversity, both old and new. In addition, the band has played originals penned by three other group members.
While Trey’s side-projects are, most-often, directly related to Phish’s musical future, Mike’s have been an opportunity to distance himself from his other band. With Leo Kottke, The Duo, and now The Mike Gordon Band, he has taken advantage of his opportunities to broaden his horizons with musical experimentation unrelated to Phish. But never forgetting what got him there, he always seems reference Phish songs; this past week working”Meat,” “Sugar Shack,” and GRAB’s “Suskind Hotel” into his sets.
With jams heavy on percussive groove and layered improv, The Mike Gordon Band has received rave reviews after “bassing” people for only a week. To check out what’s been going on, I downloaded Saturday night’s show in Falls Church, VA to see what Mike was up to while Trey played in New York City. This is what I found.
Opening the show with his two most recognizable numbers, “Another Door” and “Andelmans’ Yard,” the band spliced improvisational segments into both, creating engaging extensions of these songs’ changes and rhythms. Very danceable music, it sounded like the energy in room on Saturday night was palpable. The third song, “Emotional Railroad, scribed by someone Scott Murawski, and sounded a bit more generic with Garcia-esque runs up the fretboard by Murawski and complementary piano leads by Tom Cleary. There was certain Grateful Dead feel to this one, as Mike included his envelope filter bass-bombs towards the end of the jam, and throughout the night.
Speeding up the tempo and seamlessly segueing into a new original, “Can’t Stand Still,” the band was locked into some fluid and spirited playing. Communicating proficiently as they dug into the song, this didn’t sound like a band’s first week out on the road. Their musical comfort with each other was clear as the music pulsated with Mike at the center.
Before the next selection, “Spiral,” Mike indicated that the band had only played it once and it was “an intentionally trippy song,” though he wasn’t “speaking from experience, just from conjecture.” Following that sentence up with the absurd Gordonism, “Actually I’m not speaking at all,” they started the song. As the slow opening unfolded, Mike’s lyrics crept out at the same tempo, creating a very trippy vibe, indeed. This song sounds like one Phish could (read: should) adopt and interpret masterfully as a layered addition to their catalog. Drifting into abstract psychedelia, this jam held the distinct feel of Grateful Dead-Phish fusion- some really engaging music. My favorite piece of this show, I now await the day Phish breaks out “Spiral;” it will be sick.
Inviting folk-rock guitarist, Reid Genauer, (Assembly of Dust, formerly of Strangefolk) to the stage, the band launched into a cover of the the Allman’s “Ain’t Wasting Time No More.” Taking the tune for a somewhat generic ride, they eventually broke form with Mike’s pumping bass lines heading the charge as they segued into a textured take on Fatboy Slim’s “La La La.” Check out the basscrabatics on this one, as Mike got straight silly.
Genauer stepped off stage and the band returned to Gordon’s music with “Sound.” A song that embodies Mike’s emerging writing style- with melodies featured as prominently as his unique rhythmic concepts- in the vein of “Another Door” and “Andelmans’ Yard,” “Sound” is a favorite off The Green Sparrow. A bass intro gave way to a soft, blooming arrangement that likened a comfortable musical swaddle. Cleary’s piano leads lent a jazzy feel to the jam of this very collaborative piece.
With complex percussion, the band began “Sarala,” an impressive jazz composition written by percussionist, Craig Myers, himself. Not only is Mike embracing the music of pop-culture and his musical roots, but he is also using his band a as a platform for his lesser-known bandmates to get some of their own music out there. So far this tour the band has played songs written by all three other band members besides drummer, Todd Isler.
Breaking the music down into a more bluegrass-laced place, the band again transitioned from song to song into another original, “Couch Lady.” While this is sounds like classic Gordeaux, this was definitely my least favorite piece in the show; but I don’t dig on bluegrass. A cover of Radiohead’s “15 Steps” came next, illustrating Mike’s risk-taking and willingness to cover one of today’s most prominent acts. Featuring heavy bass work and organized cacophony, I wish I could say more in relation to the original, but Radiohead, like bluegrass, really isn’t my bag either.
Mike clearly has tons of music that no one knows about unless you are hitting up these shows, and he broke out another original to close the set, “Only A Dream.” One of the longest pieces of the show, the rock composition turned far more interesting once the lyrics fell away, but still fell short of the most engaging pieces of the show. Honoring the request of “Sugar Shack” for the encore, Gordon played a more bass-led version of his new Phish song before finishing with an inspiring and extended take on the Doobie Brothers’ cover “Takin’ It to the Streets!” Never a dull moment with Michael Gordon.
Touring with a band of legitimate improvisers, Mike’s shows take on a the contours of dynamic band interplay, creating unique paths nightly. Rooted in rhythmic textures, getting “bassed” has never felt so good. Don’t let the lack of media coverage fool you- Mike is a secret agent after-all- the music being churned out by his band is both fresh and exciting, and if you can get your face in front of the bass, I highly recommend checking it out.
Jam of the Day:
The Pyramid’s enormous “2001” took it to the next level, and its energy spilled right into a blistering “Disease.”
DOWNLOADS OF THE DAY: Side Projects
Another Door, Andelmans’ Yard, Emotional Railroad, Can’t Stand Still, Spiral, Ain’t Wasting Time No More* > La La La*, Sound, Sarala^, Couch Lady, 15 Steps**, Only A Dream
E: Sugar Shack, Taking It To The Streets^^
* Allman Bros cover, Reid Genauer on guitar & vocals, ^ Craig Myers original, **Radiohead cover, ^^ Doobie Bros cover
Source: Schoeps CCM41V’s DINa>Sonosax SX-M2 + B&K 4023’s DIN>Neve Portico 5012 (Silk) HPF@65HZ>Sound Devices 744T @24/48 (Taper – Ned Struzziero)
I: First Tube, The Inlaw Josie Wales, Brain & Robert, Divided Sky, Water In the Sky, Pebbles and Marbles, Guyute Orchestral
II: Time Turns Elastic, Let Me Lie, You Enjoy Myself E: If I Could
NEW Source: SP-TFB-2 > SP-SPSB-10 > MARANTZ-PMD620