Mike Gordon has long been the odd duck in the realm of Phishdom. His special management of the eccentric and love for the absurd has fueled various performances with Phish since their inception. The Mike Gordon Band lacks the restraint and possible filtration Trey, Page, and Fish bring to the table. What we are left with is a cross between an avant-garde live art performance and a rock show put on by some of the best musicians living on the east coast. The lineup is a veritable who’s who of the Northeast’s improvisational music scene. Mike is flanked by long time collaborator Scott Murawski who joined Connecticut’s Max Creek in the early 70’s at the tender age of just fifteen. Tom Cleary (not to be confused with Jon Cleary) is a faculty member at the University of Vermont and regularly plays with the group Jazzismo. Craig Meyers who recently left Rubblebucket to focus on other projects split his time on stage between percussion and playing his kamel n’goni. This is a stringed gourd from West Africa. Drummer Todd Isler, of International Orange rounds out the band on kit. The Mike Gordon Band show at the Boulder Theater had been sold out for weeks. There was a palpable excitement in the air when the night finally arrived and we found ourselves standing in line to get inside. The band came on just before 9 PM with “Dig Further Down.”
Fans including myself have been watching the set lists as they are posted each night in order to better gauge the possibilities. With each new Phish song and cover we salivated at what we might get when it was finally our turn. “Yarmouth Road” made its appearance early on. Fans are fairly divided with some feeling it’s a bit sappy while others like myself find it fairly playful with an appealing underlying jam. “Spock’s Brain” has been taken out a few times prior to the Boulder show, but it was far and away the peak of the first set. Historically when Mike has pulled out some classic Phish gems to perform on his tour they have bounced back into Phish’s rotation. Time will tell if that’s the case with “Spock’s,” which hasn’t been played by the boys from Vermont in 244 shows and never in 3.0. Throughout both sets we were treated to a wide sampling off the new album Overstep including “Long Black Line” and the set closing “Face.”
Throughout the entirety of the performance Mike and company used various bits of gimmickry to put their own finesse on each tune. Everything from illuminated guitars to effects pedals on the microphone stands activated by a flick of a finger were utilized. Also flashlights and massive projectors were part of the production. The front of the stage featured an interactive series of pads for fans to ‘play’ along with the band. Though I didn’t see it activated in Boulder. To the untrained eye this could seem like superfluous flashiness. However with Gordon at the helm all this and more seems absolutely standard. A funky “Meat” punctuated the beginning of the second set. A rocking Another Door disintegrated into Sugar Ray’s 90’s smash sensation “Fly” before coming back full circle. This band plays and sounds like a group who tours together full time. The darkly playful “Peel” featured some intrepid jamming from the undeniably powerful Mr. Cleary. The newly anointed Phish tune “Say Something,” also off of Overstep, became a colossal sing-along. Murawski took lead vocals on a crowd-pleasing version of the Talking Heads’ “Cities.” They closed with “Tiny Little World” before returning for an unexpected take on “Baton Hallow” originally from The Civil Wars. Mike Gordon and his band are far from an art show gone awry. In fact they are an occurrence or an event like the passing of a comet or the Aurora Borealis. Deeply rooted in the music, but beyond their prowess, this band utilizes a blending of the familiar and the unexpected to jar the viewer into having an authentic experience. That in itself is a rare thing to find at rock show and well worth the journey to get there.