Mike Gordon Cooks up New Hits, Old Rarities at Webster Hall Gig
Fresh off the release of his latest solo album, Overstep, Mike Gordon played a sold-out show at New York’s Webster Hall last weekend – the second stop of his tour. Though the vibrations of dance parties going on in the venue’s other rooms were tangible throughout both of Gordon’s sets, the Phish bassist and his four bandmates led the biggest, delightfully weirdest party of the night.
Gordon and Co. started the evening with the funky Overstep track “Tiny Little World.” This song concludes with a line that can be interpreted as a metaphor for the live experience: “Every chef knows it’s the sauce that makes the dish.” If “the dish” was the show, Chef Gordon garnished it with sauce aplenty (and wasted no time doing so). Midway through song number two – the reggae tune “Yarmouth Road” – Gordon’s bass and collaborator Scott Murawski’s guitar suddenly lit up in glowing shades of neon blue and green. The changing color pattern on the lit-up instruments seemed to respond to the musicians’ playing. This was a sure way to please a fan base that loves cool light-related experiences, whether they’re watching Phish’s mesmerizing light shows or throwing glow sticks in the air at each song’s climax. The sporadic instrument-glowing continued to occur at random moments throughout the night.
“Surface,” featuring Murawski on lead vocals, turned into the first long jam of the night. The Max Creek bandleader plays a prominent role in the Overstep iteration of Mike Gordon’s catalogue: he co-wrote all of the songs on the album, plays on all of them, and sings lead on three. In fact, Gordon recently said in a Reddit “Ask Me Anything” thread that the name of the band playing this tour is not “Mike Gordon Band” as it has been in the past. He didn’t provide an alternative, but said: “Still looking for a name, and Scott and I will have one in 4.2 years.”
The band departed from Overstep material midway through the first set. Things got psychedelic after “Radar Blip” from Gordon’s 2008 album The Green Sparrow. “Loon” was a slow, spacey endeavor between Gordon and Murawski in the same vein as Pink Floyd’s “Echoes.” Then a sound clip of tweeting birds filled the room and, unrelatedly, the full band returned for a perfectly trippy debut cover of The Flaming Lips’ “Are You a Hypnotist??” Set one ended with “Another Door,” in which Gordon led his bandmates in bouts of synchronized jumping-in-place.
Citing strolls through the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art among his sources of inspiration, Gordon says that visual art deeply influenced the creation of Overstep. It’s clear that this influence isn’t only important to the album – it’s also a crucial part of the tour. In addition to the glowing guitars and harmonious group dance moves, the band performed in front of three large screens with moving patterns projected onto them. But the most unique aspect of the show surpassed the visual realm and crossed into performance art: a long, keyboard-like instrument was placed along the edge of the stage within reach of the audience. The keyboard occasionally lit up while the band was playing, and when it did, it could be played by anyone who touched it – the sound amplified into the mix. This led to an audience jam session with Gordon’s band, one of which lasted more than three minutes.
If that wasn’t enough “sauce,” the second set brought even more surprises. It began with another cover debut: Woody Guthrie’s “Pretty Boy Floyd.” The unsuspecting crowd then had its collective mind blown when the band launched into “Spock’s Brain,” a Phish rarity that hasn’t been played since 2003. (Bust-outs like these are the moments Phish fans love most.) Yet another exciting choice came a few songs later: “555,” which debuted this past fall at Phish’s Wingsuit performance on Halloween and has only been played once since then. Murawski and Gordon co-wrote “555,” but its presence on Gordon’s solo tour wasn’t completely expected since the song is assumed to be part of Phish’s unreleased new album.
Another pair of Overstep songs closed out the second set. “Face” – one of the most danceable songs on the setlist – continued the buzz of energy created by the “Spock” surprise. Gordon and his bandmates did yoga-like movements in unison during “Long Black Line,” extending their arms in large circles and returning to namaste pose over and over again. An encore of “Voices” extended the dance party for a few more blissful moments.
Everything about the show was typical Mike Gordon: unexpected, detailed, complex. The only uncharacteristic piece of the performance was that it ended before 10:30, likely due to a venue curfew. If anything is strange to jam band fans, it’s leaving a show at a time when the second set is usually just getting underway. “Now what do we do?” was a common refrain heard as the crowd funneled out. After two sets, Gordon had everyone ready to keep going.
Mike Gordon Webster Hall 3/1/14 Set List
Tiny Little World, Yarmouth Road, Caught Up, Surface, Radar Blip, Loon, Are You a Hypnotist??, Another Door
Pretty Boy Floyd, Spock’s Brain, Morphing Again, Mrs. Peel, Face, 555, Long Black Line