As odd a couple as any on the road, bassist Mike Gordon of Phish and guitarist Leo Kottke have each lived multiple lifetimes as musicians and people that could fill multiple volumes in a biography in their own right(s). This week, the two old friends hit the road for a quick nine-show run up the mid-Atlantic and New England, and Thursday’s show at the historic Sixth & I synagogue in the heart of downtown DC marked the second performance of the run.
The 90-minute set was as casual as a songwriter’s night “in-the-round” that one might find at an Irish pub or at a Nashville songwriter’s hub, with this night made all the more welcoming by the ornate surroundings in the sacred setting.
The duo ambled on stage and welcomed the packed house with an opening performance of the breezy instrumental “William Powell” just after 8 p.m. and filled the vast space with acoustic sounds, many stories, anecdotes about individual songs and their recording or formation.
Despite being an active participant on stage, Gordon appeared every bit as much of a fan of Kottke as any in the room, patiently listening to the 79-year-old guitarist’s humorous tales while tuning between songs. As the two kicked into a groove, Gordon provided his chunky and acoustically hollow bass grounding, while neatly ambling around Kottke’s distinctive and dexterous fingerpicked phrases.
The subdued, masked crowd was mostly seated throughout, and with no alcohol sales, there was little noise or movement from fans seeking another drink or a bathroom run, giving the atmosphere a quiet focus one might only see in an actual religious service.
Highlights from the set included the virtuosic Kottke’s take on “Corrina, Corrina,” the duo’s oft-covered “From Pizza Towers to Defeat,” the false encore “Disco” (see below) and Gordon providing some deft lead vocals on a cover of the George Jones-popularized “She Thinks I Still Care”.
While it was over in a flash, the evening was a rare occasion to see the two pals share a stage together and those making it for any of the remaining nights are in for a friendly, free-wheeling and welcoming hang with two of the best to ever do it.