It had been 17 years since Mike Gordon played in Arcata; last time it was with Phish in the East Gym at Humboldt State University. Sunday night, however, he played at the more intimate Van Duzer Theater also located on the HSU campus with his own band. The group, which Mike has been touring with since 2008, consists of Scott Murawski on vocals and guitar (Max Creek), Todd Isler on drums, percussionist Craig Myers, and Tom Cleary on keyboards and vocals. Even though some people in attendance likely had not heard of some of these guys, suffice it to say they are top notch musicians, the band is solid and knows how to groove.
Mike Gordon and his group began the first set to a seated audience but it would not take long for those chairs to be empty as people took to dancing. The band took us back quite a few years when they played the Peter Rowan and Bill Monroe song “Walls of Time” which started off slow and then picked up pace into a quicker jam. Mike mentioned that this was a special intimate setting and he’d be playing some newer songs off his album Moss. He then went into “Got Away,” performed that night for the first time live. The tempo accelerated with “Suskind Hotel,” which if you focus on the bassline and guitar, has some Allman Brothers Band influence. Segueing into a cover of “Time (The Revelator)” Gordon paid respect to Gillian Welch with one of the highlights of the night. As Mike sang he lit up the room and the band jammed out the rest of the song in a fashion that would make Gillian proud, then reprising the rest of “Suskind Hotel.” Keeping the momentum, the band finished the first set with a cover of The Tower of Power’s “Down To the Night Club.” Mike said they’d be back in thirty seconds but in set break terms that equals about fifteen minutes.
Keeping the energy going from the first set the band went into another new song, “Can’t Stand Still.” Looking around, no one was standing still as the front of the theatre was filled with an energetic dancing crowd. Going into “Jones,” Scott Murawski sang lead and Mike laid down some gritty bass lines before dropping into the Phish tune “Meat” sending the crowd into a frenzy. Gordon wasn’t lying when he said there’d be some firsts, which was the case when things got funky with a version of Beck’s “Black Tambourine” that even had some audience participation on the electronic drums beats when Gordon passed the electronic device to a few people up front, each tapping their own beat. Tom Cleary led “Nobody Home,” a gospel type song that had his fellow band members singing back-up, and this led into yet another cover, War’s instrumental “River Niger.” Since the set started off with a track from the new album it was appropriate to finish it off with one. All fifteen minutes of “Idea” featured Murawski taking the lead and turning it upside with his skills.
The encore was tough to figure out at first as the first minute or so was just some noodling but soon the piano and Todd Isler’s drums led the group into The Doobie Brother’s “Taking it to the Streets.” Tom Cleary belted out the chorus while going all boogie-woogie on the keyboards, sending everyone into the aisles to dance off what energy was still left from an evening filled with lots of originals and fun covers. Seventeen years is long time to be away, let’s hope we do not have to wait that long for his return.