Review & Photos | Mike Gordon | New York City

Images by: Andrew Blackstein
Words by: Scott Bernstein

Mike Gordon :: 3.1.14 :: Webster Hall :: New York, NY

Read Scotty's review after the gallery...

One of the many great aspects of Mike Gordon returning to the road with his five- piece band after a near two-year hiatus is the opportunity to watch the bassist in the role of front man. Gordon is more often than not quiet on the Phish stage, but at Webster Hall in New York City on Saturday night he showed he's quite capable of fronting a band. Despite the long layoff Gordon's ensemble didn't display any signs of rust as they worked through a setlist packed with songs from throughout the last few decades of Mike's career as well as a choice cover. Mike's role as front man was on full display as he bantered with the crowd and led the band musically via both verbal and non-verbal communication. He even used a talkback mic to deliver instructions to his band mates. The usually quiet musician took an opportunity during the second set to thank the ATO Records team who handled the release of Overstep - a rare instance of talking business on stage.

Outside of the Phish bassist there may not be any big names in the group, yet it's filled with top-shelf players who each impressed in front of the capacity crowd. Drummer Todd Isler capably held down tight grooves, aided and abetted by percussionist Craig Myers, that provided a full-on dance party throughout most of Saturday's two sets. Keyboardist Tom Cleary showed a propensity to fill open spaces within the music without dominating, a characteristic also displayed in Scott Murawski's guitar work. The five-piece spent lots of time woodshedding the material they'd perform on their first extensive U.S. tour since 2011 and it showed.

There were surprises galore littered throughout the show. The band opened with the live debut of Overstep track "Tiny Little World" and reprised the tune a couple of times later in the evening. You can always count on Mike for interesting cover choices and on this night the five-piece treated fans to an intriguing arrangement of the Flaming Lips's "Are You A Hyponotist??." Gordon utilized a resonator-like guitar for the debut of Tom Cleary's "Pretty Boy Floyd" as well as for the debut of the mellow "Loon" earlier in the night, which also saw Murawski pluck bass notes on an instrument that looked like a ukulele.

Gordon dipped into the Phish catalog for the uber-rarity "Spock's Brain" and "555," which the Vermonters debuted as part of the Wingsuit set on Halloween. Both arrangements didn't stray too far from the originals, though each had a more rock-heavy feel in NYC. Yet it was the extended arrangements of the Overstep tracks which stood out on Saturday night. "Surface" in particular was delightfully jammed out and gave Murawski one of many chances to shine. Scott's tone during "Surface" was reminiscent of the MuTron-heavy sounds Jerry Garcia utilized in songs such as "Shakedown Street" and "Estimated Prophet."

Before the tour Mike revealed "the band’s new repertoire will be augmented by hints of secret synesthetic mad scientist gadgetry on and around the stage." Not only was the stage equipped with a funky-looking moire backdrop, but there was also a a panel that spanned the length of the rail in front of the stage that at one point lit up, almost like keys on a piano. When pressed, the keys made sounds that gave those triggering them an ability to participate in the jam. This bit of audience participation continues a tradition started in the group's early days, when Gordon let fans use a Kaosillator to take part in the band's improvisational excursions. At various points throughout the show, Mike and Scott turned on neon lights within their guitars that flickered and changed colors, providing a cool effect.

There were lots of smiles and high-fives exchanged as the capacity crowd filed out of the venue around 10:30 on Saturday night, so Webster Hall could turn itself into a dance club. Yet there was plenty of dancing going on within the room before its transformation. Gordon's tour continues throughout the month and you'd be well served catching them when they come to town.

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[Published on: 3/3/14]

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