Mike Gordon (Phish) Talks Lake Street Dive’s Bad Self Portraits

What do we listen with? Ears. Last October, mine were at a show at New York's Town Hall, where Lake Street Dive did just one song and I thought...

What do we listen with? Ears. Last October, mine were at a show at New York’s Town Hall, where Lake Street Dive did just one song and I thought they were the cat’s meow. This was in the midst of a three-hour-plus show, and they came out and took command of that tired audience, wrapping it readily around their forty fingers. (Thumbs are fingers, right?) And why? Because they only had three instruments: one drum, one guitar, one upright bass, and yet so much overlapping of vocal harmonies, each human jumping in, jumping out, with a zippy, tangy sassiness. And, as with Abba, the women seemed to take the alpha roles, singing zestily and slapping the hell out of that upright bass, juxtaposing against the… Oh, I forget what I was going to say, but I’m sure it was bullshitty. Anyway, that’s where my ears come from with Lake Street Dive.

So the question just before hitting the play button is: “Will it be like the show — nice and spare, though overlappy, but super revved-up with energy, or will it end up over-produced or something?” And, well, there is more slickness on the record than there is in the live show. Maybe less rawness, and yet… oh, there is some rawness! But with a little slickness.

Anyway, they were at the after-party, and I talked to the lead singer, and she was beyond nice: She was nice with a capital N and not a capital ICE, which would better describe others at that after-party, a party that found Joan Baez singing bluegrass songs to the fine tones of a saxophone on the veranda, and at which I managed to do my normal “turning into a fan” thing, embarassing people I am meeting for the first time, and shamelessly talking the ear off of those I already know, like Gillian. (Sorry, Gillian.) And so upon finding out that there are Phish fans in this band, I thought, OK, why not talk to someone who is a fan, and they did just put some serious pedal to the metal in their performance, so I was very intrigued and at ease in that conversation. And so the incredible talent of singing combined with a nice-ness of talking.

And that friggin’ sealed the deal — I called (read: texted) everyone and said, “You must check out this band Lake Street Dive, they are so good, I can’t describe how good.” And now that I’m writing this and listening to the album again (read: for the first time), and thinking about how it compares to the show, I am finding that I will certainly want to crank it again, at home. And I have officially figured out what it needs to match the live performance — a bonus 20 discs to represent the rest of that four-hour show they were in, so that they can stand out from all the rest. It’s true, there were several stand-outs at that show, but there was an extra stand-outy kind of standing-out that went on with Lake Street Dive. So that’s what I would really like: the set-up of a couple hours of good but long music to make me really want it.

This is fake: So I called the singer and she said she would consider and now the band has officially agreed to release Bad Self Portraits with 20 bonus CDs that you have to listen to first, as a warm-up act. Because, really, this is some good stuff and it deserves that treatment.

Ya know what I like? This taking of vintage stylings, like Motown, rockabilly, and swing jazz, and sprucing it up with a modern sensibility. Actually, that sounded like the inner bullshitter starting to talk again. So instead, I’m going to finish up this piece by channeling the inner muse that made this album, via Lake Street Dive, and pass along the inner zen sentiment directly to you via a future-occuring osmosis. So you already got it — or you are getting it. Got it? Just go get it.

p.s.: Some of these songs are going to grow on me and make me want to send them to friends, if I only knew how to send music. Do people still use “bump”? Or did that go out with the ’00s? Anyway, really diggin’ this.

Mike Gordon’s fourth solo album Overstep was released on February 25, 2014, following 2003’s Inside In, 2008’s The Green Sparrow and 2010’sMoss. A founding member ofPhish, he has also performed with numerous other artists and released two albums with Leo Kottke. You can follow him on Twitter here and Phish on Twitter here.