MIKE 'n' LEO: LESSONS IN LISTENING

Leo Kottke and Mike Gordon :: 09.28.05 :: Paramount Theatre Denver, CO

Words by Nathan Rodriguez :: Images by Robert Foster

Located in the heart of downtown Denver, The Paramount Theatre provided an ideal backdrop for Leo Kottke and Mike Gordon to showcase their talents. The Paramount is one of the more unique venues around. Listed in the National Register of Historic Places, it has seen countless national acts roll through in its 75-year history. The acoustics are crystal-clear, and with a capacity of less than 2,000, a great seat is guaranteed.


Gordon & Kottke :: 09.28 :: Paramount Theatre, CO
The Paramount has its own café as well, boasting some of the best burgers and brews in the metro area. We strolled into the café a couple hours before showtime, and as we approached the door, a familiar face was perusing the menu outside the entrance - that of Mike Gordon. We walked in as a group, and Mike was instantly bombarded with goodwill from random faces in the crowd. "Lookin' forward to the show tonight, Man." Everyone had a similar greeting. Before long, he vanished into the relative obscurity of the 16th Street Mall.

"From Pizza Towers to Defeat" opened the show, with Kottke absolutely nailing the vocals. The set became a loose affiliation of tunes from Clone and Sixty Six Steps, with a fair amount of entertaining banter tossed in for good measure. It was one of those rare, special occasions where nearly every song was played well enough to have gone on an album with no overdubs. The biggest surprise of the night by far was that so few managed to witness it - the theater was barely half-full. Consequently, the suckers (my friends and I) that paid full-price for the best available tickets were able to sit anywhere in the theater hassle-free.


Mike Gordon :: 09.28 :: Paramount Theatre, CO
Having seen Leo Kottke perform solo before, I remembered that he can easily keep the crowd entertained on his own. That begs the question "Why, after thirty years, do you go and play with somebody else?" The answer quickly became self-evident for those in attendance: pure chemistry. There may be other bassists who can play more notes, but few, if any, play as many right notes as Mike seems to. Leo is able to do what he has always done, but now he has the support of one of the best in the game. Together, they allowed the music to flow loosely yet reacted almost instinctively to one another. The closer you listened, the more you appreciated it.

Some songs received the royal treatment - both "The Grid" and (especially) "Disco" saw the duo stretch each song beyond its original capacity yet retained the tightness you would expect from a composed piece. It most certainly was not a jam-fest by any stretch of the imagination, but it didn't have to be in order to uncover moments of musical brilliance. Midway through the show, everyone in our coterie was on the same page - they put on one of the best performances of the year. It was flawless.


Gordon & Kottke :: 09.28 :: Paramount Theatre, CO
In introducing the set (and show) closer, Mike relayed a story of vacationing in the tropics as a child with his family and hearing a bass line while he was underwater. He told his dad right then and there that he wanted to play bass. His dad's response: Get through school first. In unearthing the song later, he found that it was the only track on the album that wasn't overproduced, but it still lacked the purity that he felt it had when he first heard it in the pool. By this point in the story, every Phish fan in attendance had their ears ready for a tasty "Ya Mar." The duo wasted no time getting into it, and though it was a bit choppier than the gliding version that Phish performed, they brought the house down with it.

"Ya Mar" coincidentally brought the only mild disappointment of the evening: Mike didn't belt out a nice ol' "PLAY IT LEO!!!" during the song. A minor complaint, yes, but hey - it would have been a nice nod.

In looking at how they did play rather than what they didn't play, it is difficult to come up with any gripes at all. The two melded together and played as one instrument. Fans of either of the duo's first two releases should not hesitate to witness the magic firsthand. After seeing the "other" side projects on which the former Phish members have embarked, there's no question that Mike is right at home. Together, Mike and Leo are taking a simple acoustic sound and reinventing it. And in doing so, they are actively creating some of the most unique and brilliantly quirky music today.

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[Published on: 10/14/05]

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