[ATTENDED: November 28, 2016] Mike Gordon
I saw Phish for the first time this summer. But I’ve been a fan of the band (especially their live stuff) for years. And while Trey Anastasio is the defacto leader of the band, I’ve always loved Mike–his bass playing is funky, his songs are a catchy and he seems like a generally fun guy.
So when I saw that he was playing a small club tour, I grabbed tickets right away. With Phish I could never get anywhere near the stage, but here at Union Transfer I could have been literally up against the stage. I was frankly surprised at how uncrowded the show was–where were all the Phish-heads?
I really like Mike’s album Overstep (from 2014), and was happy to see he’d be playing songs from that album as well as covers and new songs.
But aside from that I didn’t really know exactly what to expect. I wasn’t sure if the point of this band was to be different from Phish–short structured songs–or just a chance to play with different people or what.
Well, it was not short structured songs, that’s for sure. In fact, Mike and friends played for almost 3 hours (a brief intermission in the middle). And there were only fifteen songs in those three hours.
As for the other musicians, two had played with him before–on guitar was Scott Murkawski, and on percussion and more was Craig Myers. There were two newer members for this tour : Robert Walter on keys and drummer John Kimock.
I didn’t know Murkawski before this show and didn’t realize that he had co-written most of Overstep with Mike. I also didn’t know of his band Max Creek (this band played a song from Max Creek). But I was parked right in front of him and it was fun to watch him solo and to see the great rapport he had with Mike. It was also funny to see everyone (including me) mostly watch the bassist at a show even when the guitarist was soloing.
Speaking of soloing, Mike didn’t do a lot of soloing. even in the jams, he was never the lead instrument, which kind of surprised me. I thought he might show off a bit since we were there for him, but he kept his role as bassist pretty spot on–keeping thee rhythm and occasionally doing a few fun runs.
The first set was notable for having the bass way too loud. It was so loud that it was distorted and a little unpleasant (especially being as close as I was). That was fixed for the second set, but it was quite distracting during set one.
They opened with “Say Something” a song from Overstep, and it was fun seeing Mike up close singing. They did some fun jamming in the song and then played “Spiral” a song from his album Moss, which I didn’t know, but which features a great bassline running through it.
Then Scott sang a song. This surprised me, although it shouldn’t have since he is more or less the co-dude in the band. It was a cover of Max Creek’s “Jones” which had a great groovy bassline.
Mike told us that the word of the night was “spunk” based on an idea that someone (possibly Tom Marshall?) had for a song. He’d just said that one word and they came up with ideas for a song. Mike shouted “spunk” a bunch of times during the first set. Then in teh second set he told us that the word was actually “Skunk,” and played with that for a while.
And then they started playing a song that I didn’t recognize until they started singing the words and I realized it was Robert Palmer’s “Looking for Clues.” Before Palmer was the cheesy star of MTV, he had this trifle of a song with a really funny video. I loved it back in 8th grade. Haven’t really thought about it in a decade or more. So I was delighted to hear their take on it. There was a long middle section that was a lot of fun.
And then there were a couple of new songs: “Daisy Hill Grove” (sung mostly by Scott) with a really catchy section (I believe singing “get it, get it”). A song that I really liked a lot “Check Your Pepper” (this was only the sixth time they’ve played it). What was especially fun was that when they got to the middle section, Mike and Tom’s guitars both lit up. They were otherwise matte black and kind of plain, so when they lit up it was very cool. I suppose everyone knew this would happen, but I didn’t.
I enjoyed not having to guard my spot during the intermission (there is something to be said for smaller crowds). And when I got back to my spot, there was some shifting and I had an even better view for Set 2. They’d fixed that distorted bass as well.
They returned to the Overstep album with a great sounding “Ether” my second favorite song on the album. And then they totally surprised me by playing Beck’s “Black Tambourine.” As with the Robert Palmer cover, I didn’t quite recognize it at first. The bass line sounded familiar, but it sounded so very different from Beck’s version. But it was really funky and retained the original spirit–it was a great cover. They did a really lengthy jam during this song and at one point it all coalesced into a fabulous groove wherever everyone was in total sync. A great moment.
Then it was back to Overstep for “Peel,” another great song with a kind of reggae vibe. And it very fun to see them playing it live (with some fun trippy sounds from the keyboards). There was a long jam with that song too before they shifted to “Susskind Hotel,” a song I recognized, but wasn’t sure where. Well, it’s a Mike song that he recorded with Marco Benevento and which Phish has played a few times (and which sounded very Phish-y to me). There was a long and fun jam with guitar and bass all lit up.
And then yet another surprise. Scott sang Fiona Apple’s “Sleep to Dream.” I’ve always loved this song–Apple’s got a great kiss-off voice–but this version was so different, it was great. A rocking version with loud guitar and bass and Scott’s aggressive vocals. Midway through the song, Mike picked up a small circle with lights on it.
I have since come to learn that it is called the REEL–a synthesizer-type instrument that allows fans to interact with the jams. How? Because after showing off the tiny REEL, a huge version came out and was paraded around the audience–we all got a chance to press a lit-up button (although who knows if it actually did anything since everyone was touching it at the same time). It was still fun to see it paraded around.
They ended the set with a song called “Here Today” which he said that he played at Union Transfer a year ago. And since then it’s been mixed and remixed and recorded and now they’re playing it again tonight. It had a great ending and the band jammed it for a pretty long time.
For the encore they came out and played the Phish song “Spock’s Brain,” a weird little number which he said was written by Loretta Lynn’s daughter Crystal Gayle (it wasn’t). This song is a rarity among Phish songs–played live only 8 times–although Mike has been playing it on his solo tours.
They finished the show with a rollicking sing along version of “Let’s Go” another new song that Phish has played and so has Mike. The song starts and ends with a big ol “whoa oh oh” call and response and when the show ended, the whole room was singing that as we walked out.
Like Phish, he apparently plays a very different setlist every night. He didn’t play my favorite song from Overstep (“Yarmouth Road”), but it didn’t matter. The whole show was fun and dance-filed and funky and exhausting. Phish fans don’t know what they missed!
- Say Something
- Jones (Max Creek cover)
- Looking for Clues (Robert Palmer cover)
- Daisy Hill Grove
- Check Your Pepper
- Crazy Sometimes
- Black Tambourine (Beck cover)
- Susskind Hotel
- Sleep to Dream (Fiona Apple cover)
- Here Today
- Spock’s Brain (Phish)
- Let’s Go