After reporting on Phish drummer Jon Fishman’s side project Touchpants when the comedy band came through Austin last year, we decided equitable coverage was fair and headed out to Emo’s Friday evening for bassist Mike Gordon’s tour opening show. While Touchpants is a relatively new endeavor, Mike Gordon’s solo project has been around since 2008 and has a small but devoted fan base. While his own material is compelling, cover songs from Garbage, Flaming Lips and Talking Heads got big audience responses Friday evening as did a stellar light show and something called The Reel (more on that later) over two sets.
Gordon added a few wrinkles this tour by inviting Greyboy All-Stars keyboardist Robert Walter along and adding John Kimock behind the drum kit. The result is a more adventurous sound than past iterations of the group. As Gordon hinted at in multiple pre-tour interviews, his band is exploring a wide range of styles from improvisational, experimental work to more traditional song structures. Both worked well for the group as evidenced by the meandering Spock’s Brain to more traditional arrangements like his cover of I Would Die For You (Garbage). In past tours Gordon has covered a number of female-led band’s material. The Garbage cover was not unprecedented.
Something else fans don’t see every day was a contraption (see slideshow) called The Reel which looked like an LED embedded electronic donut. The approximately 4 feet in diameter wheel was passed around the crowd, held over head while audience members touched the various lighted panels producing strange sounds effectively making the audience at sixth member of the band. The device meandered its way around the crowd during the first set and again in the second with a reminder from Gordon that fans “just need to TOUCH The Reel to make sounds” rather than banging on it as some overzealous folks did earlier.
Flaming Lips’ Are You a Hypnotist? was a perfectly executed mid-setlist cover that sounded more psychedelic than the original version. An impressive feat given Wayne Coyne’s band has served as a bridge from psych-rock to the current neo-psych wave. The performance closer, Cities is a Talking Heads number Phish are known for including in their setlists. Fans of both acts had the opportunity to compare the covers (we’ve seen both). Frankly, guitarist Scott Murawski handled vocals better than Trey Anastasio on the song. Having Craig Meyers on congas (and other percussion instruments) gave the tune an authentic “Heads” feel. The band absolutely nailed the performance.
The Mike Gordon tour continues on a Southwest / West Coast jaunt that has the band visiting cities the bass player does not often perform in either as a member of Phish or his own project. He is making stops in Tucson (tomorrow), San Francisco and Park City before winding up in Denver on February 6.