Mike Gordon | Haight-Ashbury Free Show | Review

Words & Images by: Steve Silberman

Mike Gordon Band :: 11.07.10 :: Haight-Ashbury :: San Francisco, CA

Mike Gordon by Steve Silberman
The rollicking free set on Sunday afternoon by Mike Gordon's band was a dream come true for Phish phans in the Haight-Ashbury. Though the neighborhood has a glorious legacy of street entertainment (including the landmark show by the Grateful Dead on March 3, 1968 depicted in the gatefold of Live/Dead and archived here), and many a sidewalk busker has pulled out a guitar in front of the local music store, full-fledged performances by bands of the caliber of Mike Gordon and company are rare. There was gleeful electricity in the air, hardly dampened by a steady drizzle, as a modest crowd gathered down the block from the Ben and Jerry's ice cream shop at the iconic crossroads of hippiedom.

"'Dog Log' soundcheck!" one shaggy phan whispered as we approached the corner. I have no idea if that actually happened, but hearing the rumor was thrilling. Judging by the aroma in the air, the Ben and Jerry's flavor of the day must have been "Skunky Monkey," but the local cops didn't seem to mind.

After a brief soundcheck, Mike said, "We'll be back in four minutes." The interval lasted longer than that as the sun played hide-and-seek behind the clouds, but when the band finally came out, they were on it from the first bars of "Middle of the Road," which Mike introduced as a Leo Kottke song - the verse about rain seemed particularly appropriate. The interplay between longtime Max Creek guitarist Scott Murawski, Mike, and versatile keyboardist Tom Cleary was tight and focused, but also gutsy and adventurous, and as the set continued, the collective heat of the band intensified to a steady roaring burn.

It was a delight to watch Scott and Mike exchanging little glances of pleasure and satisfaction when the tension built up in a jam would suddenly cascade into a luminous release of bright notes. That's what Phish is all about, and Mike's band was more than up to the task of doing it themselves in their own way. At one point, Mike looked out at the crowd - which by then had risen onto the stairs and entryways of the pretty Victorians lining Ashbury Street, with one cat perched precariously on a window frame, eyes focused on the stage - and said, "So this is fun, isn't it?"

It was indeed. There were no slack moments in the set, and by the time the band was deep into "Dig Further Down," the collective communication was so intense that the band morphed into a single fire-breathing organism. And then it was over - a wonderful way to spend an afternoon, and another milestone in the history of free rock and roll, in the neighborhood where it all began.

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[Published on: 11/8/10]

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