Sunday, October 12, 2003

Phish bassist gives noisy, eclectic show

Theater Review

By Chris Varias
Enquirer contributor

It's not uncommon for Phish to punctuate a live set with drummer Jon Fishman playing a vacuum cleaner. That sort of irreverence marks the band's approach to making music and somehow contributes to Phish holding the title of king of the jam bands.

Phish bassist Mike Gordon apparently isn't a practitioner of household-appliance rock himself, but he's not above tap-dancing his way into the realm of goofiness. Gordon is in the midst of his first-ever solo tour, which stopped at Bogart's Saturday night.

Gordon's two-hour-plus set was Phish-like in many regards, namely the super-extended jams and the reggae, funk and bluegrass starting points those jams utilized. But Gordon built upon Phish's relatively simple instrumentation of guitar, bass, drums, (vacuum), and keyboards. Gordon's back-up group, seven men and woman strong, featured a steel guitarist, a flautist, a trombonist and, presumably for percussion augmentation, a tap dancer, and each and every player and dancer contributed to a hodgepodge noise that worked as a compelling sound.

"This is our first week of being a band," Gordon said to the crowd, but it didn't sound like it. The ensemble handled with ease songs from Gordon's new solo album "Inside In" and such familiar tunes as a version of Phish's "Round Room." The shorter material was delivered tightly, and the improvisational jams left an impression that the soloists knew each other's tendencies.

Among the stars of the band were Julee Avallone, a crowd favorite who took the Rahsaan Roland Kirk technique of singing notes into the flute and expanded the sound with effects pedals.

Gordon Stone shined on both steel and banjo and also contributed his instrumental bluegrass-styled composition "Sunday Driver."

The tap dancer was Jeannie Hill. The clicking could only be heard when the rest of the band was playing at its softest, but that didn't discourage Hill from remaining in perpetual motion for the whole evening, thus making her contribution to the performance more comedic than anything else.

The show drew a large crowd, but it wasn't a sellout. Perhaps bad press had a small effect on the gate. Gordon has been the recent subject of bizarre news reports. In August he was arrested and charged with child endangerment in relation to photographing a nine-year-old girl. A judge dismissed the charges last month.

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Phish bassist gives noisy, eclectic show

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