The city of Plattsburgh, New York has an Icelandic glow on the shores of Lake Champlain. The Strand Center for the Arts in town hosted Leo Kottke & Mike Gordon’s tour closing show on Sunday December 19. Just across the Lake is Mike Gordon’s Gamehendge in the city of Burlington. It seemed as if it was his first time performing in Plattsburgh since Phish’s infamous Clifford Ball festival that drew 60,000 to Clinton County in 1996. However, Gordon was making the trip to Plattsburgh well before 1996.
SUNY Plattsburgh alumnus and saxophonist Dave Grippo was voyaging from Burlington to Plattsburgh in the early 90s. Like Nectar’s across the lake, Plattsburgh has The Monopole around the corner from the Strand since the 1800’s. Owner of The Monopole, Cory Rosoff, remembers Mike playing in random band formations with Dave Grippo in Plattsburgh over the years. “I used to actually have his bands come in and play Homecoming Weekend being that he was alumni. He just played sax on a lot of their (Phish) albums.”
The quiet majesty of the Strand Center allowed for great stories in between songs. Samuel Johnson kept the audio levels just right inside the old 1924 vaudeville room. Leo Kottke spoke on the origins of his 20 year relationship with Mike Gordon to the Plattsburgh crowd. He reflected about their first jam session at Trey’s barn in Burlington across the lake. It wasn’t until the last riff of the day that a groove was caught between the two and a blaze from one tiny spark was lit. Gordon reflected on how he sent Leo a tape of him adding bass to one of his tracks.
After three months with no reply, Kottke responded to Gordon that a lot of people send him what he did over the years and that it usually comes off “cheesy.” However there was something different about this tape and it helped lead them to that first jam session in Burlington.
Pete Seeger once referred to Leo Kottke as the greatest 12 string guitar player in the world. The duo covered Pete Seegers “Living in the Country”, that made its notoriety live at New York City’s Bitter End club album. Freight train, freight train goin’ so fast, Please don’t tell them which train I’m on, So they won’t know which route I’ve gone. Leo and Mike played material from all three of their studio albums.
Leo gave the historical origins of their record Sixty Six Steps which naturally is named after the Queens Staircase in the Bahamas that is 66 steps high. Mike stepped out front solo again for Hank Williams “Old Habits.” He also offered a tour debut on its last night by collaborating with Leo on his original “I am Random,” of which the studio version features Jon Fishman on drums.
The duo continued the tour’s tradition by playing through the encore so that we could all exit The Strand Center for the Arts at the same time. They landed on “From the Cradle to the Grave” from their most recent album Noon, singing, “Running for my life at every moment never have time to catch my breath, sometime I wish this crazy race were over, the thought of living scares me half to death. Everyday is the same… same old ways never change and were going to the cradle from the grave.”