Review: Mike Gordon @ Portsmouth Music Hall

When you live in a small town, there’s something incredibly gratifying about having a musician or band come and play there. It’s a date night, a relaxing event, the exact opposite of a 3+ hour drive to a venue while needing to work the next morning. So on Saturday, Mike Gordon made his second visit to the Portsmouth Music Hall, a venue that clearly has a place in his heart, as displayed in the onstage kudos and the praise for the artistry and architecture of the lobby bathrooms.

[via TMS Architects, Portsmouth NH]

My only previous experience with seeing this incarnation of Mike Gordon live was in this very same room two years ago. I left that show impressed with the range and vibrancy of the music. It just felt so decidedly perfect and “Mike.” In seeing them a second time, they could have left the stage after the first song and I would have been thoroughly blown away. The show-opening Horizon Line was a perfect example of the talent found within this group.

After an initial run through the song, the improv that developed quickened with a pace and fury that left my jaw on the floor. While I shudder to think that I can’t make it out of my first comments without making a comparison to Phish, this jam found a space that harkens back to truly great You Enjoy Myself jams. At one point Mike even settled into a groove that some might argue was a direct nod to Phish classic. Sonic vibrations blasting the bodies in the front rows, it was hard to NOT be blown away.

Beyond the first song, the entire night featured an amazing flow and an endless drive to improvise. Showcasing heavy and rich patterning, the set ran through song after song where full jams developed. From the mystical Spiral and Walls of Time, to the country and calypso rhythms of Fire From a Stick, the group changed tempos and direction via fantastic communication, both verbally and musically. The chemistry between guitarist Scott Murawski and Mike was particularly impressive – a playful combination wherein one plays off the other with such ease. Backed by the driving percussion of Todd Isler and Craig Myers and the melody of Tom Cleary on keys, they have grown a tremendous amount in the two years since I last saw them. Quite impressive for an outfit that plays publicly in between significant layoffs and showcased in a fantastic (and newly spelled) Susskind Hotel.

After a set break where literally the entire venue headed to the lobby bar, the quintet returned matching the energy and prowess of their first set with fantastic cover versions of Little Feat’s Skin It Back, Max Creek’s Willow Tree as well as the Mike original Traveled Too Far – it was an intimate and impressive display of prowess. Fans were treated to one last full-on-rock moment as the second set closed with The Who classic Won’t Get Fooled Again. Complete with dual interpretations of the famous Daltrey scream it, like the rest of the show, was decidedly “Mike.”

Mike Gordon continues his weekend tour on December 9th at The Met in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, the 10th at the Calvin Theatre in Northampton, Mass. and the 11th at The Egg in Albany, New York. Please get yourself to an upcoming show if at all possible. This is amazing stuff.

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