Acoustic guitar virtuoso Leo Kottke and former Phish bassist Mike Gordon are somewhat of an odd couple. Kottke is better known for his prodigious instrumentals, and Gordon is inherently reminiscent of weed and 46-minute jams, but together they produced surprisingly traditional folk Sunday night at the Michigan Theater. The duo, who met at the Ann Arbor Folk Festival a few years ago, showed that sometimes a group can be less than the sum of its parts and still have a good time anyway.
Kottke and Gordon mostly stuck to material from their two collaborative efforts, which were enjoyable, if not a little disappointing. The best moments of the show actually occurred when the two each did a solo piece. Gordon sang an un-named composition and accompanied himself on bass, showing off not only his chops, but his surprisingly sonorous voice. Even more impressive was Kottke’s instrumental version of a Bert Kaempfert tune. It was that taste of the talent that’s made Kottke a guitar icon that he is that made the rest of the show a little hard to swallow.
While certainly pleasing to the college crowd in attendance, closing this show with two Phish songs criminally underused Kottke’s skills. “Yamar” and “Twist” put Kottke in the backseat, and let Gordon’s trademark syncopation drive the groove. Relegating Kottke to an accompanist after hearing him cut loose on previous tunes is akin to putting a four-cylinder engine in a Corvette and then driving it off the side of a cliff.
In the end though Kottke, and Gordon delivered what they promised – a laid-back set of roots music. Kottke’s self-proclaimed “geese farts on a foggy day” vocals weren’t the strongest, but the harmonies between the two were always right on and Gordon’s distinctive bass stylings aptly supported Kottke’s dynamic finger-picking. Still, as the stoned kids staggered out, there was a palpable sense of what could’ve been.