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Monday, March 31

Review: Mike Gordon Band - The Fillmore - San Francisco, CA - March 18th, 2014

The Fillmore is a name synonymous with live music.  To this fact there happens to be a venue baring such a name in multiple cities across the country but to one and all The Fillmore will always be in San Francisco and just as it shares it's familiar name with other venues, it also conjures up the thought of great live concerts. This in itself needless to say hearkens back to classic bands of the sixties and seventies, none which comes to mind faster than the Grateful Dead.  So all this being the case, the separation between Phish and more specifically it's members, such as Mike Gordon, the scene in which was formed around them and the music of the Dead; well, when you throw it all together you"ll get one juicy recipe for a rockin' show in a classic venue that the walls themselves draw jams out of the chords that are strummed upon that historic stage.  
Mike's band is a notable who's who of masters that have been chiseling their musical chops together like workout partners in a gym training for a marathon and it's safe to say that over the years, especially since 2008 they have only become better together.  They've learned where to share the space and what space is meant to be respected and specifically the sound between the space to carry with them.  This growth is evident in their chemistry more noticeably on this tour than those of the past.  Just like Mike's latest album, Overstep. This music was perfectly executed; refined, sturdy.  Even addictive.  
Overstep, produced by renowned workman Paul Q. Kolderie (Radiohead, Uncle Tupelo, Pixies) took what Mike and Scott Murawski have been working on for the last decade and brought out the best in each of their talents. I believe under the pressure of Gordon himself reaching to heights never quite hit before and yet centering in a place of peace, to use a cliche': with the album they've finally found their sound.  The same was true with this show.  
Opening with their most signature of new songs, “Say Something”, Mike and Scott have found comfortable places among their peers as leaders in a band that during this song truly rocks.  As is the same for a Phish or Max Creek show, is true during a solo Mike Gordon show as the opener was jammed to the outer reaches of it's rock in roll core and back to a balanced center multiple times hovering over the beautiful symmetry that is formed by the down beats on the drums, rhythmically held down by the very talented Todd Isler.  
The second song of the show harkens back to the days right before Phish reunited and Mike's Green Sparrow record, with “Andlemen's Yard”.  A song once described by Gordon to be about his neighbors yard when he was a child growing up, it was a hit among the record back in 2008 and it has only become more refined and a lot more loose.  By this I mean it came across as extremely palatable yet all the while it surprised not a soul in the room when all the lights went down and resonating from the stage was the blinding illumination of Mike and Scott's guitars, quirky enough to be Mike's doing, entertaining enough to keep the song bridged to a new level, and as stated before; a new high.
The show continued in such fashion with acclaimed keyboardist and instrumentalist Tom Cleary who kept the funk and electro live and well throughout weaving intricate keyboard rifts and pounding out the keys in true bouncing fashion from start to finish.  A knot so to speak on the end of a frayed rope.  Craig Myers added a percussive edge when the lead singing would switch from Mike's falsetto to Scott's more centered soprano.   Playing songs from Max Creek's repertoire as well as covering the Talking Head's with a Gordon take or rather Scott take on the Phish famed song “Cities” the show created a space for the capacity crowd to indulge if not bathe in the tremendous talent of a home grown band of great performers making some of their best, most intricate music and making it look as easy and comfortable as ever.  New songs that have debuted this tour like “Pretty Boy Floyd” helped wrap up the larger than life night that included many highs and not so many lows.
The rhythm section rightfully was framed by the guitar and keys, and with a bass led band one could expect nothing but this, with songs named “Ether”, and “Either”  With “Are you an hypnotist?” in the middle makes for a setlist that looks like something from a Dr. Seuss book, yet the musical journey that trampled across multitudes of genres and set a'fire the crowd of dancing fans one could only be more pleased if the night hadn't an end in sight.  To top things off fans were treated to a free, and very rare, now-a-days, Fillmore poster from the show, and if that wasn't enough you could wait around grab yourself a signed copy of your favorite Mike Gordon swag from the merch booth and the man himself was their in wait, that is if you hadn't to be awake too early the next morning.
For a success story, and a musician who I have always felt is seeking artistic perfection I can't help but feel like he's there.  The good news is his band was ready for such a leap and his latest record has the material to fuel it.  The better news is this high-note is one that Mike and his band of magical musicians can ride from the REAL Fillmore, jam across the country, and keep the fire lit and bright long into the year and hopefully years to come.
Words: Sammy Martin
Photos: Carla Kilgore
 ©Grateful Music LLC