In recent years, Phish bassist Mike Gordon has been the band member most open to analyzing the merits of various jams. While the band has maintained a strict “No Analyze rule” since reforming in 2009 which keeps them from critiquing each others’ playing during and after shows, Mike certainly has plenty to say about Phish’s performances when he’s speaking to fans and media.
In late October, Mike Gordon hopped on SiriusXM Phish Radio to discuss his favorite moments from the Phish 2019 summer tour and explain exactly why each jam stuck out to him.
As Gordon explained while kicking off his Phish Summer Tour 2019 Faves segment,
What I do is, I listen back after a tour and I use my notes that I’ve written in my journal about some tracks or sets or, occasionally, whole shows that I really liked, and I see if it’s still translating when I’m driving in the car and enjoying listening back—or not enjoying—and then I pare down my list. And then, when I put all of the winners into a playlist, I listen again to the whole playlist and then usually cut that in half because some things are more inspiring than others. They’re having to compete with each other. It’s a very competitive and mathematical process, but it’s based on what’s moving me inside … Kind of taking in Phish … as a fan where I can not be the bass player and singer at the time, I can just be the person driving down the road. So that’s what I’ve done, and this is what I ended up with.
Check out the list of Mike’s 2019 Summer Faves below along with Mike’s comments on the picks as told to the SiriusXM Phish Radio audience:
1) “Runaway Jim” – 6/21/19 – PNC Music Pavilion – Charlotte, NC
Mike Gordon: “I think I agree with the fans who like that ‘Runaway Jim’ from Charlotte. … For me, it’s a really good example of Phish just relaxing, after all the years not having anything to prove. Not even soloing or, you know, embellishing too much at the beginning of a jam. Just letting it percolate and sit there… I do hear some stuff in the bass where I’m trying to be a little ‘compositional,’ for the lack of a better word. But it’s all … in the interest of percolating on a chord or a pattern. It’s like we’re trying all the stuff that we do. Trey [Anastasio] is using his pedal that makes it sound to me like there’s a marimba in the background, or his Leslie pedal, or his pedal that makes it sound like a bass when he’s playing the guitar and we’re melding into each others’ sounds. And Page [McConnell] is using some new synths, and I’m using some new effects pedals, and etc. But we’re not doing it to try everything and we’re not doing it to sort of show off. We’re doing it because the percolating has led us to doing it. … I think this ‘Runaway Jim’ is a really good example of that, and by the end it’s so different from where the jam started.”
2) “Sand” – 6/21/19 – PNC Music Pavilion – Charlotte, NC
Mike Gordon: “I also have ‘Sand’ from the same show. Again, I’m using some effects pedals, I’m using the envelope filter which is that kind of like ‘wah-wah’ sound that I don’t usually use in ‘Sand’. I just kind of stumbled onto it—I think I am, anyway. But it’s an even better example than ‘Runaway Jim’ of just percolating, just sitting there on a groove. And that’s my favorite thing about Phish these days … the ability just to sit there and let it happen.”
3) “2001” – 6/23/19 – Merriweather Post Pavilion – Columbia, MD
Mike Gordon: “On the second night of Merriweather, there was a ‘2001’. After all the times that we’ve played it, when I heard it back, the funk felt more real [laughs]. I hate to be unmodest in that way, but there is something that felt deeper about the way that we were grooving that song. Can you call it a song if there’s no singing? [laughs]”
4) “Mercury” – 7/5/19 – Fenway Park – Boston, MA
Mike Gordon: “I really liked playing at Fenway a lot. I think when we played in 2009, the acoustics were a little bit difficult. Not this time. This time, it felt perfect from the stage. The way the bass was resonating and the feeling at Fenway was great. … The first night, in particular, felt amazing. … ‘Mercury’ is… I know the fans tend to like that song. Well, me, too. I like how all the different sections that Trey put together flow so nicely from one to the next, even though there’s different time signatures and chords and such. But in the jam, there’s something that happens in the middle and toward the end where we go to a major key. And it almost sounds sort of cliche, but … it transcends the notes of what would be cliche by making it about the flow.
“You know, I’d seen George Porter [Jr.] at Cervantes’ and got to sit in, but I was loving yet again what he does just to put the ‘umph’ on a pedestal and the flow for bass playing. And I feel like that I’m sorta doing that. And people might not realize how big of an influence Brian Eno is or was on Trey and [Jon Fishman], in particular. But the way that the sounds are coming in that are sound effects and textures floating… I think. I don’t know if it’s that one where I actually play the drill at the end…and it comes in tune. Like, I don’t know if it’s gonna be in tune. I should actually [laughs] memorize what note that drill is at full speed. Maybe it depends on how much the battery is charged…”
5) “I Always Wanted It This Way” – 7/10/19 – Mohegan Sun – Uncasville, CT
Mike Gordon: “In Connecticut, we played Page’s song, ‘I Always Wanted It This Way’, and it was a pretty special experience because of this: … Page had created some of the loops, looping synth and keyboard sounds for that over a ten year period with Jared Slomoff helping, and we used that in creating the album and we played, you know, new instruments to that. So live, we’ve always accepted that it’s hard to play to a click or a loop or a pattern because, you know, it’s hard for any band because we tend to drift and that’s natural and good. So we’ve accepted that that looping synth sound that Page created will go out of rhythm with us and that that’s fine, no problem. But by some beautiful accident, that night, ‘it,’ the sound of Page’s synth pattern coming from whichever keyboard was much louder than usual for everyone. And it was just great, because what it meant is we could stay on the rhythm of that loop… and do new stuff to it on the fly, in the moment. And it was a really powerful experience.”
6) “Everything’s Right” – 7/12/19 – Alpine Valley Music Theatre – Elkhorn, WI
Mike Gordon: “This is gonna be a little technical thing I’m gonna share with you… I have a particular liking I have been noticing for songs that have the hi-hat playing the sixteenth note. Like, I think ‘Kill Devil Falls’ would be one of them, I always liked that one [laughs]. And ‘Everything’s Right’ is another one like that. There’s something that just floats with a groove like that, it’s something easy. I’m not saying it’s not other elements of the songwriting as well and then the band embracing what Trey has written, ’cause it’s other factors, too. Just interesting that I’m gravitating toward some of those grooves.”
7) “The Final Hurrah”, “Funky Bitch”, “Ghost”, “Down With Disease” – 8/31/19 – DICK’s Sporting Goods Park – Commerce City, CO
Mike Gordon: “Just that second night [at DICK’s]… Ah, I was in a good mood. I was in a really good mood [laughs]. But I actually have four selections just from night two. So we have ‘The Final Hurrah’—I’m just kinda likin’ the groove, the Kasvot stuff was so fun to make, it came together in such an organic way, and here we are just having fun with it.”
“And ‘Funky Bitch’… I’m the bass player, so I think about grooves. And I don’t think about what I know, I think about what I don’t know. And what for many years I didn’t know is how quite to syncopate and play that bass line that Son Seals‘ bass player played. But somehow we nailed it this time. The whole thing just flows right along, and I feel like it makes it so I can sing it more easily because the music is all together and it just felt good.”
“And Story of the ‘Ghost’, I really like that jam. We got on sort of a chord that relates to the home chord in a different way than usual, different interval away. … I like when the band isn’t just pretty but gets into ‘scary’ and this sort of ‘churning’ sound. And if I hear myself playing one note a lot, it means I’m not caring too much about, like, trying to play a cool lick that bass players will like. I’m opening the door to a deep, spiritual experience by saying, ‘I’m willing to play one note, if that’s what it takes.’ I’m not above that. … It means that something deep is probably being beckoned.”
“This is the last track that I selected, it’s ‘Down With Disease’ from that same second night of DICK’s. … I’m really liking, again, hearing the band just percolating without trying too hard and at the same time playing stuff that sounds compositional, which means varying and embellishing. How can this happen? I’m pleased when I hear it happening that a band and musicians are both letting something be without trying and also allowing it to go to new places at the same time. Non-varying meets varying. … Somehow I ended up with a mixture of effects pedals that I don’t usually use. I had the Flanger on. I always have the Flanger on for ‘Down With Disease’ thanks to Peter Paul, one of the guitar players in my high school band, because it’s still his Flanger. I’ll give it back someday, I promise! But then, the envelope filter … along with the Flanger made for a different sort of sonic palette to sort of ride on. And then, it’s … the low stuff, where I’m playing below what a four-string bass could play. And we all are just churning out this different-sounding jam that I enjoyed both going down and then hearing it back later.”
All of Mike’s Phish 2019 Summer Tour Faves are available to stream and download via LivePhish.
To hear more exclusive interview content from members of Phish or to catch an encore broadcast of Mike’s 2019 Summer Tour Faves, subscribe to SiriusXM Phish Radio.
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[Originally published 10/23/19]