Gov't Mule at the Beacon Theatre on New Year's Eve
New York, NY
December 30-31, 2011
Though Gov't Mule had played hardly any gigs since January 1, 2011, it nevertheless presented a hearty welcome to 2012 with a two-night Beacon theatre run that marked the tenth anniversary of the its New York City tradition.
No question, Gov't Mule took its time after casually taking the stage December 30. "Devil Likes It Slow," goes one of the band's vintage tunes, and so did the band this night as it worked its way through an instrumental jam that eventually turned into Funkadelic's "Maggot Brain." Anyone who thought the quartet was going to charge into action instead found a decidedly different tone set for the weekend: Mule was determined to prove it had been able to preserve the dynamics of its internal chemistry.
On Bob Marley's "Lively Up Yourself," guitarist Warren Haynes' tradeoffs between delicate picking of the melody with a bone-crushing riff on the refrain reaffirmed that point in no uncertain terms. The spontaneous interludes that occurred during the longstanding original "Gameface," however, were strictly ordinary.
By the time "Kind of Bird" ended the first set on a sprightly note, the musicians had flexed their muscles individually and collectively, so The Mule, upon returning to the stage, strode confidently into Pink Floyd's "Fearless" and straight into a comparatively brief take on Led Zeppelin's "Since I've Been Loving You." That was only the first big surprise of the weekend though, as Haynes introduced guests, guitarist Jimmy Vivino and harmonica man Hook Herrera, just prior to an extended and emotive rendition of John Lennon's "Working Class Hero." Following an absolutely blistering take on "32/20 Blues," the entrance of Los Lobos guitarist David Hidalgo only ratcheted up the intensity further. In recognition of the recent passing of guitarist Hubert Sumlin, Mule and Friends lit up the house with "Smokestack Lightning" and a brief run-through of "John the Revelator" to boot.
Never a band to shrink from pushing itself, Gov't Mule, with Hidalgo in tow, returned to the stage for a two-tune encore consisting of Cream's "Politician" and, even more impressive, a cover of Traffic's "Dear Mr. Fantasy" co-led on vocals by Haynes and Hidalgo; the pair also engaged in some guitar conversation that would compare favorably to that of its author Steve Winwood when playing with kindred spirit Eric Clapton (in Blind Faith, as well as in more recent years).
Having warmed up the audience and musicians, Gov't Mule hit the ground running for the first set of three on New Year's Eve, offering music of startling, virtually uninterrupted power. From the opening slide strains of "Railroad Boy" through "Mule" and "Thorazine Shuffle," "Brighter Days," then on to the appropriately placed "About to Rage," Haynes & co. demonstrated conclusively that, whatever its plans for the band this coming year, after taking most of 2011 off, the instrumental camaraderie remains strong. At this point, bassist Jorgen Carlsson's explosive bass runs were a common occurrence in the well-mixed house sound: the newest member of Mule (now two-plus years into his tenure), the man has restored an abandon to the group's musicianship reminiscent of its initial days as a trio with the late Allen Woody.
Little surprise, then, that the band finished the early segment of the evening with a flourish by segueing from Grateful Dead's "St. Stephen" to Mahavishnu Orchestra's "Eternity's Breath" and directly into Mule's own "Trane." The latter, complete with a pronounced tease of The Beatles' "Norwegian Wood" effectively set the stage for the middle set, a complete presentation of the original Joe Cocker Mad Dogs & Englishmen (A&M, 1970) album. Though the theming of the Gov't Mule NYE nights is now customary, they've rarely picked one so appropriate to the occasion.
The rousing horn-led intro was just the opening foray into the infectious high spirits so ideal for the final night of a year. With the entrance of female singers and the first presentation of R&B-styled material "Blue Medley: "I'll Drown in My Own Tears"/"When Something Is Wrong with My Baby"/"I've Been Loving You Too Long" was squarely aimed at the rootsy style Warren Haynes had spent the better part of the year exploring with his solo album, Man in Motion (Stax, 2011) and his own band.