Monday, December 12, 2011

Mike Gordon Band at the Calvin 12/10/11 (Northampton, MA)

One of the major perks of kicking around Northampton for the majority of the year is all the stellar musicians who come to play.  To my delight, Mike Gordon came to town this weekend as part of his band's five-date 2011 fall tour.

The band began the first set with Dig Further Down, a tune off the 2008 album The Green Sparrow.  Scott Murawski broke a guitar string as the song began, which led to an impromptu jam session after the first chorus while he quickly worked to replace it.
I managed to snag a spot on the rail for the night, and recognized the difference in standing five hundred feet away from the musicians and five.  I quickly realized how much fun the band was having while they were delivering an incredible show.  I got to see the eye contact they shared, the motions Mike made them to solo, and the silly faces they made at each other.  It was definitely an experience different from standing on the lawn at a Phish show. 

Of course, Mike wouldn't put his name on anything that didn't contain at least one absurdist moment.  At the beginning of Meat, he tapped his iPhone a few times and big pink letters slowly moved across the screen.  Discreetly, he propped it up against one of his amps until an entire sentence had flashed by: This song is backwards.  He read it, nodded, and began.  It seemed semi-ritualistic, like it was something that needed to be done before the song began to establish an ambiance.
And with that, the slow, funked out tune began.  During the jam that proceeded after the first few verses, each member of the band took a little time to show off.  The real magic happened during a face-off between Scott and Mike.  With each line, the pair built off of each other's ideas to create a sound and theme that was spontaneous and satisfactory.  The song wound down shortly afterward with a percussion solo.  
Andleman's Yard, another track off the Green Sparrow, provided a moment of clarity and confusion to me.  Mike and Murawski locked into different grooves with distinct time signatures, in effect creating a sound that was both hypnotic and engaging.  I attempted to study the music that flowed around me in an effort to capture the element of the sound that that I found so intriguing. 
Green laser beams erupted from a tiny black sphere that Mike carefully placed on the amplifier behind him before the beginning of Barika, an upbeat and instrumental song that sounded like a trip to the islands.  Craig Myers, the percussionist, played the fundamental melody with a Kamel N'goni, a traditional harp instrument from Mali.  The other members of the band enhanced what he was playing by emphasizing certain beats and soloing over the base of sound he provided.  It was totally unpredictable, fun, and one of the best songs of the night.

More fun and shades of Page McConnell emerged when The Band's arrangement Don't Do It began.  The keyboardist, Tom Cleary took vocals and led the band through a rockin' rendition of the classic tune.
I grinned with delight when I heard the opening notes of the Beltless Buckler, a track from Mike's 2003 album, Inside In (one of my favorite albums ever).  It was a treat to hear the band bring new life into the studio version that I had coded into my memory so well.  During the last chorus, certain beats slammed through the floor and into the soles of my boots.  

Soulfood Man, another Inside In tune, ended the ninety-minute set.  I saw Mike motion and smile to Tom Cleary, the keyboardist, and initiate a musical exchange in which they were able to take the energy and intensity of the music up, and played off that for the rest of the song.

Couch Lady began the second set.  It seemed like the bass and guitar took the lead at once, while both of their lines complimented and grounded each other.  The element of uniqueness that is incorporated into the music is what has me hooked.  The guitarist is not the star of these songs - unlikely combinations of instruments, time signatures, and modes keeps them going.  And I love it.

Jones, a funky Max Creek song, was led by Scott Murawski and flowed through Down to the Nightclub and into a highly-energized rendition of Can't Stand Still.  Spontaneous jumping by various members of the band emphasized the theme of the song - quite literally. 

I tweeted earlier this week about how I think my middle school Aerosmith phase has come out of remission, and have subsequently spent my time rocking out (and wishing I were Alicia Silverstone).  Mike did his best Steven Tyler impression during Jones by belting a line from the chorus of Last Child a few times during the jam.  It felt spontaneous, inspired, and semi-freaky.
A cool-down session began with What Things Seem, my favorite track off of Moss, the band's latest solo album.  Mike's ambiental reckonings and steady bassline contrasted nicely with the psychadelic shredding via Murawski.  A deconstructive jam happened somewhat abruptly in the middle of the song, beginning with a sweet sliiide up the neck of the bass.  After a few poignant moments of exploration had been reached, Mike laid on a restorative lick and launched back into the verse.  
Another Door ended the set on an improvisational note.  Mike picked up a tamborine, shook it around for a second, and handed it to an unsuspecting Scott.  Mike grinned at him and nodded, as if it were encouragement to go with it.  Eventually, he locked into a steady and colorful beat while Mike played around with a small electronic box that he had been playing around with all night.  It seemed like it responded to touch, so he would jab at it in weird rhythmic patterns, which would somehow end up in the mix of sound projected to the audience.  Cool magic technology.
When the band came back onstage for a highly-demanded encore, Mike asked the audience: "Do you guys want to hear a jazzy tune or to continue the funk?" After getting an overwhelming demand for more funk, they launched into C+C Music Factory's Things That Make You Go Hmmm...  The retro beats had everybody gettin' jiggy with it as Craig rapped the verses and Mike sang the choruses.
The band laid their instruments down after four unabashed hours of musical development and took well-deserved bows.  As they were leaving the stage, members of the crowd called out to Mike that they would see him at Madison Square Garden in a few weeks and couldn't wait.  Neither can I. 

1 comment:

  1. Excellent review of a most excellent show. I love it when Mike "shows us the slide" and I also love it when I can feel his bass in my boots. You pose a great question, "Does technology=magic?" Rock on Elizabeth! Good luck with the B.A.