Gov't Mule at The Beacon: New Year's 2009, NYC
New York, New York
December 30 and 31, 2009
Gov't Mule may have never sounded more powerful than they did at The Beacon Theatre, December 30th and 31st. Having jelled as a foursome during a year of touring with bassist Jorgen Carlsson plus recording their eighth studio album By A Thread (Eveil Teen, 2009) guitarist/songwriter/vocalist Warren Haynes and company exhibited a versatility to match their ambition during their eighth annual New Year's run.
The opening night's three hours plus, in two sets, featured largely new material and special guests who added the element of surprise that customarily earmarks Gov't Mules's concerts. This past fall's roadwork allowed the band to imbue songs such as "Broke Down on the Brazos" "Steppin'" Lightly," and "Frozen Fear" with just the right proportions of novelty and familiarity. That in turn furthered a fresh perspective on Mule staples such as "No Need to Suffer" and "Thorazine Shuffle."
The latter allowed Carlsson one opportunity of a series to express his persona through his aggressive intro, hot on the heels of Los Lobos' guitarist David Hidalgo's guest appearance. The latter and Haynes generated virtual waves of fluent blues-rock guitar on Traffic's "Dear Mr. Fantasy," and during the first encore, Elmore James' "Look Over Yonder Wall," the two guitarists reached even greater intensity, thus overshadowing even the lightning interaction that developed across the stage earlier in the evening when saxophonist Bill Evans and guitarist Jon Herrington guested on "Sco-Mule."
New Year's eve brought another potent set of Mule originals before the first break brought tied-dyed scaffolding to be erected while photos of 1969's landmark Woodstock festival were projected on the stage backdrop. Another two sets of music lasting til approximately 2:15 A.M. found Gov't Mule aided and abetted by a three-piece horn section, Allman Brothers percussionist Marc Quinones and leonine vocalist Dana Fuchs, whose uninhibited performance of Janis Joplin material electrified the audienceespecially during"Ball and Chain" and "Piece of My Heart"then elevated the uproarious intensity of a Sly and the Family Stone medley comprising "Dance To The Music," "Music Lover" and "I Want To Take You Higher."
Not surprisingly, Gov't Mule was most at home on material grounded in their blues-rock roots, so they rendered Ten Years After's "Good Morning Little School Girl" and Santana's "Jingo" and "Soul Sacrifice" with suitable panache. Drummer Matt Abts shone on the latter, even as Danny Louis demonstrated his utilitarian skills on vocals, keyboards and guitar (even taking the lead on Arlo Guthrie's "Coming into Los Angeles").
On Joe Cocker's "Delta Lady," the large ensemble sounded somewhat tentative, but a similar arrangement of The Band's "Don't Do It" came off flawlessly. An impromptu rendering of Crosby, Stills and Nash's "Helpless Hoping" (rehearsed backstage shortly before the performance) sounded ragged but charmingly so, as the five singers harmonized when it counted. Haynes was so tickled this came together, he couldn't resist the temptation to repeat the vocal denouement of the tune by himself moments later!
Loud acclamation greeted Grateful Dead's "Dark Star" to begin a much more loosely improvisational third set that reached a dramatic crescendo with a two-part medley From The Who's Tommywhere Haynes jabbed his axe into one of his huge Marshall speakers to topple it, a la Pete Townshendbefore departing the stage amid a roar of feedback. Brandishing a white Stratocaster upon his return to the stage, the leader of Gov't Mule paid homage to one of his heroes by commandeering the band through a firestorm of Jimi Hendrix, consisting of "The Star Spangled Banner" and "Purple Haze, " within which he injected a gentle tease of "I Don't Live Today." The audience barely seemed to recognize it (similarly sly as that of Deep Purple's "Highway Star," but neverthless in marked contrast to the roar that greeted Led Zeppelin's "Whole Lotta Love" when it appeared midway through "Mule" roughly two hours prior).
"Two Nights of Peace and Mule" was something of a sequel to the theme of the 2007 run "Winter of Love," where Gov't Mule spent the heart of the night in stylish rendering of 1967 classics ranging from The Beatles to Stevie Wonder to Albert King. In 2010 they didn't personalize any song so indelibly as The Doors' "When the Music's Over," but rather chose to honor a paradigm shift in rock culture. The change constituted a gesture of respect to tradition the likes of which this band has made its stock in trade, at the very same time as they work to reinvent that tradition, a decade into the new millennium.