Mike Gordon Covers Flaming Lips, Talking Heads And More At Winter Tour Opener In Austin (SHOW REVIEW)

In a recent interview with this very publication, Mike Gordon described the term “jam band” – a term he will be forever linked to from as a member of Phish – as “horrible”. The bassist may have been referring more to implication of the term, which most associate with jolly, frolicking songs that seemingly never end and stay upbeat, as pigeonholing. Nonetheless, it was clear he is determined to present something slightly more dynamic. Gordon recently changed the lineup of his band, bringing in Greyboy Allstars keyboardist Robert Walter and drummer John Kimock, and the result is a more experimental sound dwelling in minor keys.

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As the band took the stage at Emo’s and kicked the first set off with “How Many People Are You?” it was obvious that, between the music and the production, Mike Gordon would be taking a departure from happy-go-lucky jams into a realm of darker, more far out sounds. Kaleidoscopic light patterns danced off blank white screens behind the band as Robert Walter leaned into an organ solo that took the song into 60’s psych rock territory backed by Gordon’s own interstellar bass transmissions. This would set the tone for a show that was sprawling and atmospheric, and a light show that was appropriately minimal (at least as opposed to Phish). The lights – or lack thereof – would come into play throughout the show when Gordon and guitarist Scott Murawski had their instruments light up in different colors, which was a bit gimmicky but fun nonetheless.

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Gordon rambled a little too long about Star Trek before laying into an impressive “Spock’s Brain” that sailed into an explosive jam. Soon after he took a “request” from an 8-year-old rail rider for “Yarmouth Road”, dropping into a heavy, dissonant reggae groove that gave way to an especially jubilant bass solo. “Ether” would also stand out with the kora playing of Craig Myers, but it was the cover selection that made the show the most interesting. In recent tours the band has oddly chosen to cover powerful female acts of whom had success in the 90’s like Fiona Apple and Alanis Morissette, and this time around they would play Garbage’s dreary industrial song “I Would Die For You”, with vocal duties handled by Scott Murawski. This was the darkest moment of the show and also the most interesting in the way the band stretched out the trancy, industrial beats of the song and let them morph into entirely new, mind bending instrumentals. They would ultimately cover two more songs, with a flawless take on the Flaming Lips’ “Are You A Hypnotist?” and a show closing, funk-ridden rendition of the Talking Heads’ “Cities”, also a longtime Phish staple.

Mike Gordon may think the term jam band is “horrible”, but he also knows that at the end of the day that is exactly what he embodies. That being said, on this current tour with his newest additions, he is leaning into a more progressive indie rock sound. Based on his band’s performance at in Austin on Friday, it seems that Gordon is demanding more from his audience and bringing new musical ideas to the table that go beyond his fame as the bassist of Phish. For that reason, it is well worth catching him play a show this tour.

Photos by Arthur VanRooy.

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