The Allmans and The Mule: Brothers of the Road
“ These two nights of galvanizing performances are a testament to the strength and subtlety of music that stands on its own terms. ”
Given the fundamental connections between The Allman Brothers Band and Gov't Mule, it was nothing less than inevitable that the two bands tour together someday. Mule was born from the ranks of ABB in the 90's when Warren Haynes and Allen Woody, at that time guitarist and bassist respectively, in the seminal Southern band, joined forces with Matt Abts (with whom they had played as part of Dickey Betts' Pattern Disruptive band a few years prior.
Much has changed since those days for both groups. Gov't Mule suffered the tragic blow of Woody's passing away early in this decade at just about the same time Betts was ejected from The Brothers. Haynes and Abst induced a rebirth of their group as a quartet - adding keyboardist Danny Louis and bassist Andy Hess - during The Deep End project.
Simultaneously, but less formally, The Allmans reconstituted themselves as well. The addition of bassist Oteil Burbridge and guitar master Derek Trucks on the cusp the new millennium began the regenerative process, the final stage of which was to reclaim Haynes into their ranks in 2001. As lynchpin for the group in the studio and on the road, this former sideman for country outlaw David Allen Coe has improved remarkably as a songwriter,singer, guitarist, producer and on-stage leader.
Remarkably, Haynes has filled the same roles, at the same high level, as head of Gov't Mule. To see him perform for both groups on successive nights was to witness a remarkably prolific musician near the top of his game, surrounded by players of comparable caliber, performing with much the same intensity, passion and purpose.
In 2003 the Allman Brothers Band hit what is arguably the highest creative apex of their career. The current lineup's chemistry crystallized in the studio to complete Hittin' The Note, their first such project in nine years, while the group's live performances were consistently full of fire and finesse.
Incorporating cover material in the repertoire only heightened the element of surprise seeing ABB during that period, but much of those interpretations have disappeared over the last two years as the group had re-focused on its core material. What's both revelatory and astounding about The Brothers circa 2006 is how they manage to continue to find nuance in familiar material and open up their own standards for rediscovery, for themselves as much as their audience.
"The Weight was one of two covers played the last weekend of August, appearing late in the set at Tweeter Center Mansfield Massachusetts. Much of its bouncy New Orleans jazz feel came from Mule keyboardist Danny Louis' piano playing, and The Band would be delighted with the arrangement ABB gave it, perhaps no more so than Warren Haynes who smiled infectiously as he danced a little jig around the stage.
This number preceded a duet he performed with Derek Trucks to begin the night's encore. A gut wrenching version of "Preachin' Blues that never lost the wry sense of humor at the core of the material, was but a decoy before Burbridge unleashed the colossal bass intro to "Whipping Post, (perhaps the first time all evening his instrument was clearly audible). The Allman Brothers then proceeded to play a spectacular, near- violent version of this song from their very first album released in 1969.
The keynote of the performance was Derek Trucks' solo. The baby-faced nephew of drummer Butch has virtually no equal among modern electric guitarists, and he built his solo here as he does so many of his spotlights, with the studied concentration of an Indian sitar master. For all his methodical approach though, and with his customary stoicism, Trucks can, and usually does, unleash a virtual firestorm of emotion before he's done and his segment on this tune was no exception. The two-part encore was indicative of the unpredictable undercurrent at work on August 26th. Tweeter Massachusetts' audiences are a rabid lot, ready to shower ABB with roof-raising acclamation before they're even done much to deserve it on any given evening (based no doubt on the long history of The Brothers' appearances at the venue year after year). This night, as if to meet head on the challenge of the crowd's thunderous enthusiasm, The Brothers played a hard-rocking set of their most familiar material. In so doing, the band ultimately exceeded those high expectations through a depth of feeling of their own that matched their listeners'.