Mike Gordon | 06.30 | Northampton

By: Josh Potter

Mike Gordon :: 06.30.08 :: The Iron Horse :: Northampton, MA

Mike Gordon by Allison Murphy
There are few musicians for whom I'd jump in my car, cross state lines and stand outside a venue with my fingers crossed for a ticket I might not get, just to be close to the joy and genius I'd experienced in this presence. It would be dishonest to say that such an adventure could be nostalgia-free, but four years after Phish called it quits and five years after Mike Gordon's Inside In, the longing is not for literal eras-passed so much as the spirit that drove them and drove everyone sharing this presence to reverence and ecstasy. Trey's clean and Page has spoken candidly about the potential for a Phish reunion, but Gordo, the member who pushed hardest to keep the band alive, has ridden the band's momentum most fluidly into a solo career. Through his country band Ramble Dove, collaborations with Leo Kottke, the Benevento/Russo Duo and a movie, Mike has carried his geeky charm, adolescent wonder and singular musicianship into middle-age. The Green Sparrow, his forthcoming solo album arriving August 5, is merely the latest project for a creative mind as unrelenting as the basslines it produces. On a Monday night in Massachusetts, his brand new band played its very first gig. It was well worth the drive and the wait.

Over the years I've learned to trust Mike's good taste, so when Bow Thayer & The Perfect Trainwreck launched a blazing banjo hootenanny to open, it didn't surprise me in the least. A four-piece from Vermont, the band passes instruments with the best in down home stomp-rock. It's no wonder they've found another ally in Levon Helm, who would host them a couple nights later for his 100th Midnight Ramble.

Mike Gordon by Josh Cole
The room was all smiles when Mike's salt and pepper mop worked its way onstage. Like a surprisingly well-oiled machine, the band dropped immediately into a sunny groove not so dissimilar from "Mike's Song." It was gritty, happy, unapologetic and, most of all, funky – funkier, in fact, than probably anything I've heard since Mike last came around. With the trademark, woody tone of his Modulus, he pushed the outer limits of the pocket in a manner that threatened to rupture the groove but instead gave it shape. A lesser band would have been derailed, but with the small-kit consistency of drummer Craig Myers and Todd Isler on percussion, the whole thing moved forward at the pace of Mike's bobbing head.

His wasn't the only bobbing head owned by a Gordon, however. In the balcony, Mike's father was in attendance. Having grown up only a short distance from Northampton, Mike's choice to premier his new band in this venue gave it a discernibly homey quality. After world tours and festival heroics, Mike was visibly excited to introduce new friends and new tunes (whose titles remained ambiguous throughout). Gordon's dad appeared, likewise, charmed to see his son back in his element.

From a quirky, atonal intro, the second tune broke into a vocal strut, like a greasy "Halley's Comet." It was here that Scott Murawski, the egregiously underrated Max Creek guitarist, let his chops shine through. Armed with a Paul Languedoc custom hollow body and a tone not so dissimilar from another Languedoc-slinger, Murawski systematically deranged his blues phraseology to fit the cubist funk lines Mike provided. The whole thing dissolved into an oblique piano solo from Tom Cleary before clattering into a coda.

After rolling up his t-shirt sleeves, Cactus made his triumphant return with a country ballad. He crooned about how funny love can be before Cleary drove the lilt into a sleek fusion vamp. Knowingly smooth, it felt like the tropical level of a racecar videogame.

Mike Gordon by Tony Stack
While it would have been easy for this band to achieve a sense of spectacle through celebrity and merely go through the motions, Mike's characteristic sense for innovation delivered the band some truly complex arrangements, for which cruise-control would have been impossible. Bouncing between time signatures, modulating keys and delivering on-the-dime segues, the performance became much more than the Mike Gordon show. And while it could have been easy to close one's eyes and picture a different lineup delivering the set, it was more fun to watch this particular configuration give one of the more inspired, happy, healthy shows I've seen in some time.

After a full-throttle rendition of The Beatles' "She Said She Said," a refracted breakdown and triumphant return to the refrain, "I know what it is to be dead," Mike threw some dorky high-fives and stepped forward to address the crowd. He told the story of driving to Murawski's house with a bunch of basslines he figured would be too hard to sing over. With the band assembled and the project coming together, though, he was overcome with "intense thankfulness, happiness, and jubilation." It was kind of like, he said, falling in love.

It only took a few moments for the band to return after the end of their set. From the first notes a cheer went up for what everyone was secretly hoping to hear. With "Meat," the band dipped deftly into one of the quirkier regions of the Phish catalog. Having stuck the angular outro, the band launched a rocker that pushed Murawski up and over the top to end the night.

Maybe it's been a Bush-administration thing, but these past few years have felt really dark. It would be crazy to think that one bassist alone could pull us out of this, but Mike Gordon's music certainly provides the sort of elevation we need right now. And if we can read his grooves like tea leaves, there may be hope for us yet.

Mike Gordon tour dates available here.

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[Published on: 7/11/08]

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Juan starstarstarstarstar Fri 7/11/2008 02:25PM
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Kudos Josh... Wonderfully written article. More reviews like this on Jambase would be an absolute pleasure.

Om shantih

John Smrtic

AZ~*Droo* starstarstarstarstar Fri 7/11/2008 02:28PM
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yea like maybe a high sierra review JAMBASE

Chaloupka starstarstarstarstar Fri 7/11/2008 02:30PM
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Yeah Mike!

PunkJazz starstarstarstarstar Fri 7/11/2008 02:40PM
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Can't wait for Mike in Seattle. I love the new stuff/band.

Brad&Steve Fri 7/11/2008 02:44PM
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mike gordon can singlehandedly save us from recession.

Suave starstarstarstarstar Fri 7/11/2008 03:18PM
Show -6 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!
T. Ralph starstarstarstarstar Fri 7/11/2008 04:17PM
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Great review, and, yes, Mike has always been there to hold things down while exploring the limits.

crazynate starstarstarstarstar Fri 7/11/2008 04:29PM
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I normally can't make it through a whole show review on jambase and skip straight to the pictures or comments (usally better reading than the articals), but this time i actually read the whole review and thought it was one of the best reviews i have read in a long time.

hisla starstarstarstarstar Fri 7/11/2008 04:56PM
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That was one most excellent review! Can't wait to see big sexy in Chucktown! Love ya

Mountain_Icculus starstarstarstarstar Fri 7/11/2008 06:18PM
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These guys were great at Rothbury. Good Recruiting Mike!

landz starstarstarstarstar Fri 7/11/2008 06:50PM
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Great review, more articulately written than most here...can't wait until Buffalo.

DJ Saturday Baxter Fri 7/11/2008 08:51PM
Show -6 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!
RedHeaven Sat 7/12/2008 06:21AM
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jtcincy Sat 7/12/2008 07:47AM
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C00lmike Sat 7/12/2008 12:55PM
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no purple pants? I thought after Rothbury and the Jammys Gordo was rocking the purple pants full time...

acomma Sat 7/12/2008 01:40PM
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Lord-K. starstarstarstarstar Sat 7/12/2008 07:57PM
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Who doesn't have flaws? people better stop hating on the cactus. are you there to listen to the music or there to be a judgemental prick?

Suave starstarstarstarstar Sat 7/12/2008 09:12PM
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joshpotter Sun 7/13/2008 09:53AM
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Gotta say, I'm a little bummed that this article sparked slander that has long been put to rest. For the record, all charges against Mike were dismissed:http://www.allbusiness.com/retail-trade/miscellaneous-retail-retail-stores-not/4622927-1.html

Trainwreck starstarstarstarstar Sun 7/13/2008 11:35AM
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Thanks for the interesting write-up. All we heard about Rothbury was reunion this and reunion that, and it was looking like Mike's new material would be overshadowed. It's a shame that we still have to compare it to Phish, though. With all of the rumors, statements, interviews, Mike's Meat, and Trey being quartet bound, I guess it's understandable.

EFinley starstarstarstarstar Sun 7/13/2008 02:55PM
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Josh Potter...exactly, that's why it's funny. Both Mike and the parents released a joint letter that it was all one big misunderstanding. While the subject matter is indeed very serious, the fact that Mike raised some eyebrows as a potential pedo when he is anything but is humorous, at least at second glance.

curtbraski starstarstar Sun 7/13/2008 03:21PM
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who is this guy??

Flat5 Sun 7/13/2008 03:28PM
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Well put, EFinley! Are you a lawyer?

Good review, well done. Do Mike a favor though, don't bring up the similarities to Phish so much. kinda bums me out to hear that it sounds like Phish.

PunkJazz starstarstarstarstar Sun 7/13/2008 05:01PM
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Mike killed at High Sierra, but Cornmeal made the people stomp their feet and kick up the dust. Let's see a review JBase.

MarkBC starstarstarstarstar Sun 7/13/2008 08:23PM
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Gordo was awesome at All Good the make your own jam where we all rose our hands to tell the band which direction we wanted them to go was so much fun. He came out again for The Bridge right before Dark Star. MAGICAL!

‹^› ‹(•¿•)› ‹^› {¬¿¬} starstarstarstarstar Mon 7/14/2008 04:47AM
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‹^› ‹(•¿•)› ‹^›      {¬¿¬}

pics of the REST of the band would be nice.

FormulaOBX Mon 7/14/2008 05:47AM
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All Good was great.......Scott tore it up....

KingWilson starstarstarstar Mon 7/14/2008 06:07AM
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Great Review...Excited to see Gordo next month.

By the way, Mike plays a Languedoc also, he only has Modulus pickups.

tourfan starstarstarstarstar Mon 7/14/2008 06:15AM
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JP, way to go man. Fantastic review. I too, attended this show at the Iron Horse. Mike was certainly in great spirits, as he was at All Good, which I too, just returned from. I Had two distintly different perspectives from which to listen to Mike's new material. Def good to here old Gordo again, always my favorite phish. Will see him again at All Good, then, maybe some of the other dates later in the fall too. Catch this while you can, and dig it.

phlip Mon 7/14/2008 07:28AM
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Mike was great at Allgood, so much fun, enjoyed from down front, debuted some new material, even tried his version of a big ball jam.

barnylee starstarstarstarstar Mon 7/14/2008 09:28AM
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Really dug MG's set at All Good! The highlight of the night for me was when he came out w/ The Bridge to play on "Bad Locomotive!" Awesome! Thank you Thank you!!!

cavemandan Mon 7/14/2008 10:30AM
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i doubt Gordon's band would have even been picked to play all good if he wasnt Mike Gordon... way too conventional and predictable...was same ol same ol...blah...all those resources and this is what he delivers?.... what ever happened to jam bands writing...gasp...songs!

bill15 starstarstarstarstar Mon 7/14/2008 10:34AM
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One of the best pieces of writing I've come across on this sight, thanks for the info

Johnny Kashola starstarstarstarstar Mon 7/14/2008 12:43PM
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Great article from a great show. Mike was bringin' the funk and the music was definitely fun to get down with!! I highly recommend checking them out!

thehurricane23 Mon 7/14/2008 02:36PM
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THANK YOU GORDON!! Great review too. Finally some good new music for us phans. Gordons set at Allgood was definetely a highlight of the weekend, under a blazing sun with no chemically induced inspiration other than herb, my whole crew was shaking it down front. As usual, Allgood was Allgood: Four days, 15 thousand SPUN heads, zero cops, and no violence. Phil and Panic just killed it as well, unbelievable 2nd set for Phil, covering Particle's Elevator and showing the electro crowd that he could easily do that type of music if he wanted.

thehurricane23 Mon 7/14/2008 06:29PM
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Oh, and far as the music sounding like Phish, well, it does sound like Phish. Which for me is a good thing. Why fuck with perfection? Mike's life was basically Phish for 20 years. I'm glad to see he's making music again that makes people happy and makes him happy. I guess if you dont like funky danceable music you wont like it. He was beaming up there, grinning and genuinely having fun again. Scott's tone coming off the 'doc is eerily similar to Trey's and their groove as a whole is just tight as hell. I'll admit I too was closing my eyes and literally being transported. After Meat I actually turned to a Panic kid who was with us and had never gotten to see Phish and I made the comment that it was the closest sounding thing he'd get to hear unless the reunion happens. I talk alot of shit on here about reviews, but from what I heard at Allgood the author hit it right on here. I'm buying my tickets tonight for 5 shows, mini-Mike Tour '09, loving it...Just bummed the CD's not out yet!

O1Roggae Tue 7/15/2008 08:07AM
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anyone here catch the 4:20 show at ALL GOOD? One of the hottest points of that whole day but Gordo helped me not think about the heat. His new band is sick as fuck. Stop the little girl bashing by the way there is no need for it, for the record Gordo is a pretty bizarre guy but I think he never has any bad intentions whatsoever. Yea when phil played the particle song it was moll moll central, it was so sick to hear him play some electronica moll moll for once, it was sick. ALL GOOD was awesome this year and hopefully Rothbury doesn't take away a lot of the bigger names next year like they did this year

zzonephan Tue 7/15/2008 01:13PM
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great article, this is all just postponing phish though

O1Roggae Tue 7/15/2008 05:07PM
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Anyone see gordo ridin around on the golf carts at ALL Good?

thehurricane23 Wed 7/23/2008 12:45PM
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Anyone call the hotline lately? My friend asked Gordo a ton of questions and he answered them all. One of the questions, when is Phish coming back? 2012, boo.. Another one, Gordons favorite position? Reverse Cowgirl. Call and listen it's pretty funny.

thehurricane23 Wed 7/23/2008 12:51PM
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I figure Phish has already booked the pyramids at Chitzen (sp) Itza for the Mayan new year 2012, haha. If anyone was on summer tour '99 you remember all those flyers..