Mike Gordon is not your typical man. And when left to his own devices, things can get quite Gordon-y. The Phish bassist’s solo band made a stop in Baldwinsville, just outside Syracuse, at Paper Mill Island. The amphitheater resides on a small parcel nestled between the Erie Canal and the town center, tucked back behind an inn and a canal lock. If you blinked you might miss it. A perfectly weird spot for the perfectly weird Gordon. It was the band’s first outdoor show. As Gordon announced, “it’s nice to be out.” Though in the end, it might have been better to stay in. From the imagination of Mike Gordon, this show featured a whole lot of visual enhancements, most of which were lost in the summer sun.
The stage was almost entirely black. All of the instruments were either black or draped in black. The musicians were dressed in black with slight variation. Gordon wore deep red jeans, and his shirt was more of a dark grey. Once you went down the rabbit hole of noticing these details, you noticed it all seemed to be meticulously coordinated. Drummer John Kimock wore a striped shirt that perfectly matched the colors of Gordon’s jeans and shirt for instance. But why Gordon’s nails were painted white I couldn’t say. Scott Murawski‘s guitar and Gordon’s bass were custom made with LED lights in the neck that reflected through the bodies. Seeing them in action was somewhat reminiscent of the early 90’s Phish backdrops painted by Gordon’s mother. The walls displayed constantly moving graphics while lights lined the floor were flashing and spraying more color across stage. There was a lot to take in visually once the sun went down.
Additionally, there was a large interactive keyboard lining the front of the stage. When the keys lit up, audience members were able to hit the keys and play along with the band. After a very brief appearance in the first set, the keyboard came alive for most of a late-second-set version of “Voices.” (video below) The keys would light up in sections giving different audience members a chance to jam. Aurally, the results were mixed, but in person it was a boatload of fun.
This tour saw the additions of Robert Walter on keys and John Kimock on drums in Gordon’s band. Both members slid right into their roles with nary a hiccup. The band was tight and grooving every step of the way. And every song jammed. With lesser musicians this formula can grow tiresome, but with this outfit, it only got more interesting the further they went. They played a smattering of Gordon originals, a couple of Phish tunes, and a few covers to round it out.
The covers, two in particular, stood out as clear highlights of the night. Their take on the Flaming Lips’ “Are You a Hypnotist” started with excellent playing through the song portion, and dripped slowly into a oozing spacey jam while a Tron-esque bright green grid was projected along the walls. It was a “wow” moment, as the music went places I hadn’t thought possible from this side project. Then, to close the set, the band took on Here We Go Magic’s “How Do I Know.” The sunny and bright song burst out into a rocking jam driven by some relentless work by Walter and Kimock. The covers were so good, perhaps it pointed out a weakness of this band: songwriting. That said, Mike Gordon knows how to put on a thoroughly fun show that is both musically and visually engaging. I’m still smiling.
1: Different World > Another Door, Surface, Here Today, Say Something, Looking For Clues, Spock’s Brain > Different World
2: Jones > Take It As It Comes, Sugar Shack, Normal Phoebe, Are You A Hypnotist, Voices, Face, How Do I Know
E: How Many People Are You