Greener Pastures: To the Spheres and Back with Mike Gordon
Gordon often muses about breaking down the barriers between band and audience, about shooting holes in the buffer zone the way he did that night at The Mossery. He is keenly aware that club dates with his own band allow for a kind of intimacy that is harder to achieve in the context of a band as big as Phish.
This translates into crafting meticulous set lists, soundchecking for more than 2-hours and encouraging his audience to participate in jams by playing sounds on his Kaossilator—a palm-sized dynamic phrase synthesizer that’s plugged into the soundboard and very much up in the mix. Collectively, these little mitzvahs serve to draw his audience close and make them feel cared for—which they most certainly are.
Gordon even sets goals for his band.
“I tend to measure the success of a Phish tour,” he reveals, “by how many of the gigs are worth writing about in my journal. It’s different with this band. This tour, I have some things I want us to focus on.” These include:
Simpler music/ less is more/ addition by subtraction
Transcend all of our influences (especially Phish)
Broaden the range of grooves we have access to onstage
As Gordon scrawls tonight’s set list on a hotel postcard, he airs a more immediate and nagging concern. “Last time, when I went out with this band, it took a few gigs for us to really loosen up and feel free up there. I want to make sure we open our first show with something that gives the band permission to step outside a little bit.”
I suggest that maybe they could open with a jam: an invocation of sorts, to stretch out the hands and head.
“That’s not a bad idea,” he says.
(This does not come to pass.)
Like the visionary behind it, Moss defies concise description.
Musically, the new album is accessible, inviting and hypnotic. It bubbles along politely and though it warps back on itself now and again, it never jars. Gordon’s more psychonautic fans will probably find it more appropriate as a “morning after” selection than “night of” selection. Gordon’s bass is very much at the fore, driving the harmonic movement throughout, but not excluding other sounds. The production is contemporary, balanced and confident.
Lyrically, Moss is less penetrable; less plainspoken. As with much of his past work, Gordon tends to shroud his deeper meanings in metaphor, often cramming more than one into a single song, even a single stanza.
But he interweaves the metaphor of moss—a division of plants whose lesser-known characteristics Mike finds enchanting—throughout. Most people associate moss with stillness or even stagnancy (“a rolling stone gathers no moss”), and that this makes Gordon’s decision to open the album with “Can’t Stand Still” ironic, if not perplexing.
He pauses a moment to consider this. “I never thought of it that way, really.”
It’s hard to know whether he’s being coy, or whether this intriguing contradiction was genuinely a happy accident that had—until now—escaped his detection.
Further efforts to negotiate Gordon’s lyrical mazes terminate in similar cul-de-sacs. As a rule, he reserves the right to withhold comment on the meaning and value of his own poetry because he doesn’t want to disqualify any listener’s subjective interpretation.
Now and again he’ll break his own rule, as he does when probed about “What Things Seem”—a metaphysical sort of torch song laced with awe and suspicion about magical powers.
“Years ago, I drove past a church sign that read, ‘Things Are Not What They Seem,’ and it stuck in my head,” he recounts. “I wanted to explore that idea. We tend to perceive things a certain way—as good or bad—but we’re only aware of a narrow sliver of reality, even in close relationships. The truth is, at any given time, things might be worse than you assume.”
Pausing, he allows a grin.
“But they also might be better.”
The Troubadour is packed to its trademark rafters.
You wouldn’t know it by the band’s recent tour itineraries, but LA loves Phish and the hardcore local fans have come out in full force. It’s a distinctly familial vibe.
At 9:15 p.m., the band breaks its huddle in the cramped and mildewed loft that passes for “backstage” and descends the rickety stairs to a boisterous welcome.
Gordon and Murawski assume positions side by side at the center of the stage, with versatile Brooklyn drummer Todd Isler tucked in behind and between them.
At stage right, the rangy and boyish Tom Cleary—who teaches jazz piano at the University of Vermont by day—settles in behind a pair of keyboards. At stage left, African-influenced percussionist Craig Myers (Rubblebucket) nests himself amid an array of cymbals, skins and strings.
Dame shares a song from her new EP Preventions of Heartbreak.
Golden Bloom stopped by Relix to perform a tune from their latest EP No Day Like Today.
The Chapin Sisters share an tune from their new album A Date With the Everly Brothers.
Minneapolis-based Night Moves share a song from their record, Colored Emotions, live at Relix.
Cloud Cult share a song from their latest album live at Relix.
The Giving Tree Band enjoy a spring day on the Relix rooftop, while performing a classic Grateful Dead tune.
Canadian singer-songwriter Hayden performs a duet with his sister-in-law Lou Canon. The song appears on Us Alone his first record on Broken Social Scene’s Arts & Crafts Productions.
The Milk Carton Kids share the first song from their new album, The Ash & Clay.
Here is the new video from Serbian guitar ace Ana Popovic. “Object Of Obsession” appears on her latest album Can You Stand The Heat.
Ron Sexsmith visits the Relix office to perform a tune from his latest record Forever Endeavor.
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