[Mike Gordon, 8/29/08 Boulder, CO: NOTES]

[Author's Note: For any who are interested, I've posted the notes, unedited, that I took as I listened to Boulder 2008 and from which I wrote the Voice review. These detail, at length, my reaction song-by-song, blow-by-blow--not purely for myself, though, because there's certainly a suggestion of the piece I was trying to write and especially the audience I was writing for. Phish enthusiasts might be used to reading reviews in this format at phish.net. You'll notice my sanctimonious use of brackets around the title, indicating that this is not a real post. What the hell, though.]

Mike Gordon - bass, vocals
Scott Murawski - guitar, vocals
Todd Isler - drums
Tom Cleary - keyboards, vocals
Craig Myers - percussion, n'goni, vocals

8/29/08 Boulder, CO


*Andelmans' Yard. Funky, polyrhythmic groove right from the outset that belies(?) bright, poppy melody. Murawski plays with fingerpicking-like style. Mike provides wonderful, active counterpoint/response to Murawski, Cleary. The playing and solos are effervescent and largely tight (only occasionally swampy). The chemistry in this band is immediately apparent--a skillful jam band playing cohesively and listening to one another. The singing is (as typical for jam bands) somewhat weaker, but certainly not to the point of distraction. Chromatic, Phish-like conclusion.

Rhymes. A rocker, even a gentle headbanger. Plays cleverly (as the title suggests) with simple rhyming couplets, some of them (cite first lines) from children's songs. More typical blues-derived fare, executed with propulsive energy. Hot licks from Murawski, Cleary on organ, and Mike's typically excellent, bouncy bass playing. >

*Sound. Similar chord progression to Uncle John's Band, incidentally. Vocals are still shaky, and the lyrics may not be to the taste of those not accustomed to hippie-fare. Sounds almost calypso-like, or like Cajun-funk, at points. Traces ancestry to Once in a Lifetime and Ya Mar. Resumes bluesy, darker edge for >

Rhymes. Really cool keyboard playing over riffing in coda. >

*Another Door. DOUBLE SANDWICH! Awesome from the outset, with complex, intricate playing. Another bright number, the Phishiest sounding so far. CRAZY groovy jam after the lyrics portion. Nasally synth-bass (Mike's really heating it up!) underneath Murawski's hot leads. Definite highlight of show so far. Phish could funk it up like this only on their best of days. Modulates (smoothly!) upward for >

No One Receiving. (Brian Eno cover.) Who's singing? Not bad! Cleary really affirms his considerable merit as a keyboardist. Typically awesome jamming with an ambient texture more than suitable for a Brian Eno song. (Same two-chord B-A pattern as Fire on the Mountain, incidentally.) >

(*)Another Door. Pops back into this song (in a completely different key and tempo) in one FLASH moment. Unbelievably smooth transition. It's like they just walked through Another Door. Singing is definitely smoother by this point. Drum roll into the end of an UNBELIEVABLE sequence (about 35 min. long). Mike, being the silly man he is, croons "thank YOOOOOUUUU" into the mic before introducing the band and crew.

Weekly Time. Another funky beginning, with Mike just gurgling up the synth-bass tone, contrasted by Cleary's barroom, country-like playing on piano and country-style vocal harmonies. Reminds me more than a little bit of a Rolling Stones song like Dead Flowers or Let It Bleed, or else a less placid They Love Each Other. Somewhat exceeds the dimensions the song needs, or maybe it's just one of the more typical-sounding songs of the set. >

River Niger. The modal quality evokes English folk, albeit gently funked-up. Cleary's keyboard runs dominate introduction. Murawski plays with some gentle, effective feedback. All instrumental, a beautiful collage of that shimmery, folk-style playing combined with the rhythms of African-dervied funk. Mike largely understated as Cleary takes more sweet runs, this time on organ. >

La La La. A third bright number with that calypso/Cajun feel. Gets considerably darker as the song progresses into minor, slipping into Talking Heads-style groove, during which Mike trots out the synth-bass sound again. Back into major for second vocals. After these, Cleary actually plays the synth-harpsichord. Interesting touch, if a little... hokie? It's inventive, and that's the point. Back on traditional electric piano sounds, with everyone grooving around him, could be mid-70s Herbie Hancock. The song ends in exploratory dissonances, dark, but calling it suspenseful would reduce it to comedy. >

*Traveled Too Far. This feeling definitely carries through here. Craig Myers lays down slow, tribal sounding beat. Another groove that clearly documents a Talking Heads influence in its slow-burning polyrhythms, but their pursuit is looser, jazzier. The n'goni, if that's what it's called, adds some deep undertones to the rhythm section. Bizarre Meet the Flinstones quote/tease! Mike and Murawski (I believe) start vocal jamming it out. Definitely not a melodic number, the first, perhaps, to reject melody. Hits upon different keys, moods, tempos. Murawski might also be quoting Maria, but it could have been accidental. More sudden shift to F minor, Help on the Way feel. Lyrics! Melody! This is the song proper! It took eight minutes of seemingly unrelated grooves to get here. The music is more typically rock, the singing isn't grant, and it's not necessarily a better place to be. Silly lyrics, again perhaps not to the non-Phishhead's taste. Jam out has Murawski sounding very much like Trey, even teasing Antelope! >

Emotional Railroad. More standard pop-rock feel, like latter-day Stones, almost? Cleary's spiraling keyboard solo sounds like a cross between Herbie Hancock and Brent Mydland--and it's excellent! It's amazing what you can do over a pretty pedestrian song. His playing edges out Murawski's which is still wildly excellent and technically crisp--I wonder how often Mike could get Trey to play like that. Mike continues to rip up the basslines, but what else is new? >

I'm Deranged. (David Bowie cover, apparently co-written with Eno.) Darker, funkier, almost electronica-like feel. Sounds like a Bowie song, except with Mike singing. Cleary's picked out a synth-vibe that may or may not be cheesy, but it fits the whole David Bowie dance-tempo thing. >

(*)Traveled Too Far. Back to F minor section. Cleary is the most impressive member of this band. He just is. Love his sound on plain old acoustic piano. Incidentally, this is hardly a concern of today's live recordings, but the sound quality is excellent. Reprise vocals, and Cleary plays Riders on the Storm-like descending pattern over Mike's "thanks for coming out tonight!" Major sequence of the show comes to an end (65 min.).


On A Bad Day. Simple, country-rock feel, straightforward, heartfelt lyrics. All that. >

*Dig Further Down. Another rocker, this one even purer. Murawski's vocals, with their nasty growl, are more typically rock-sounding than Mike's. Cleary tears up another solo, this one getting him to sound like Rick Wakeman! The hardest song of the whole show. This is Murawski's territory, if not mine as much, and he tears into a guitar-god solo with enthusiasm.

* indicates track from The Green Sparrow (5 tracks--half the album!)
(*) - courtesy accidental (ha ha)

No tracks from previous solo album (Inside In), collaborations with Leo Kottke, or Phish.

Mike Gordon, 8/29/08 Boulder, CO

[Author's Note: This review will be published in Friday's edition of the Wooster Voice.]

Mike Gordon
Boulder 2008

2008 has proven the best year for fans of Phish since the jam band's 2004 breakup. Court-ordered rehabilitation now behind him, guitarist Trey Anastasio has been writing and performing with renewed vigor. In a letter posted on the band's website, pianist Page McConnell confirmed rumors that the four plan on getting together by the end of the year and exploring their options—even the possibility of a reunion.

But mostly, 2008 has been Mike Gordon's year. The Phish bassist released his second solo album, The Green Sparrow, on August 5th to considerable acclaim and toured throughout the summer with what a new live album reveals to be a top-notch supporting band.

Boulder 2008 comprises this band's two-hour set, uncut, from August 29th at the Fox Theatre in Boulder, Colorado. Gordon is joined by guitarist and long-time collaborator Scott Murawski of fellow jam band Max Creek, as well as by Tom Cleary on keyboards, Todd Isler on drums, and Craig Myers on percussion.

The band's potent chemistry is apparent from the first notes of the show's opener, “Andelman's Yard,” one of five cuts from The Green Sparrow. Here they lay down a funky, polyrhythmic groove that belies the song's bright, poppy melody—it is this juxtaposition, but especially the deep, sometimes jittery funk, that sets the tone for the evening.

The playing is uniformly excellent. This is a band that, like Phish at its best, performs as a tight, cohesive unit—musicians who can listen to each other—which isn't to say that they don't shine individually. Cleary's keyboard playing steals the show for me. It's rich, clear, and precise, and draws on a spectrum of influences from Herbie Hancock to legendary session musician Nikki Hopkins, from Rick Wakeman of Yes to the Grateful Dead's Brent Mydland. One can even forgive him for using an overabundance of synthesizer voices, down to a synth-harpsichord on “La La La.” Murawski is a fine guitarist, though he favors a bluesier edge that occasionally feels lost within the funk.

The singing isn't nearly as strong—shaky, with a few moments of redemption (as on a cover of Brian Eno's “No One Receiving”). Similarly, the originals, however fun and well-crafted, are hardly gems of songwriting (the lyrics, in particular, may put off those unaccustomed to hippie-fare). On the whole, given the predominance of jamming, neither complaint is a huge strike against the performance.

After the standalone opener, the set unfolds in two long, seamless sequences of music. In the first comes the highlight of the entire show, “Another Door,” also off The Green Sparrow. After Gordon positively tears through a nasally, synth-bass groove, the band modulates smoothly into the cool, ambient “No One Receiving” before returning to “Another Door” in a single, flash moment as if they'd never left it. It is truly a breathtaking musical accomplishment.

Similarly, the extended “Traveled Too Far” is the capstone of the second, sixty-five minute sequence. Craig Myers's percussion provides a slow-burning, African-derived undercurrent that recalls the Talking Heads circa Remain in Light, but this band's pursuit is looser and jazzier. They flirt with and reject different themes, moods, tempos—quoting everything from Leonard Bernstein's “Maria” to Phish's own “Run Like an Antelope”—before snapping into the song proper after eight full minutes.

A cover of David Bowie's “I'm Deranged,” which attempts a danceable, electronica-like vibe, is the only song of the set that falls flat. To the musicians' credit, it sounds like mid-90s Bowie, which is also precisely why it feels out of place.

Boulder 2008 is by and large an excellent show, one which is both adroit and adventurous, accessible and imaginative. For fans of improvisational music, whether rock or funk or jazz, it is highly recommended. Boulder 2008 is available for download, or may be pre-ordered on CD, at livephish.com.