Gov't Mule & Jackie Greene: Live at the Lake
Waterfront Park, Burlington VT
August 13, 2010
The bulk of Gov't Mule's August 13 performance at the Burlington Vermont Maritime Festival was, in its predominantly heavy, hard rock thrust, a perfect foil for the light breezy summer atmosphere at Waterfront Park on the shores of Lake Champlain.
By the time the quartet took the stage after dark, the crowd had swelled considerably from the minimal audience present for opener Jackie Greene. The young Californian demonstrated his versatility by singing and playing lead guitar, though the Beatles medley "Tomorrow Never Knows"/"Taxman") at mid-set may have overshadowed the strength of his own material.
Offering selections from Giving Up the Ghost (429 Records, 2008) and Till The Light Comes (429 Records, 2010), his last two studio albums (plus the acoustic guitar and harmonica "Gone Wanderin'" to remind of his folk roots), Greene's shy understated style isn't ideal for an opening act. But decoying the crowd with a Bo Diddley beat that morphed into a sly take on the Grateful Deed's "Scarlet Begonias," Greene and his band brought their forty-five minutes to a rousing finish and whetted the collective appetite for his own appearance at Higher Ground this coming fall.
Gov't Mule leader Warren Haynes reminisced late in his band's show about the history the group shares with the music community of Burlington. But the communion with The Mule on the shores of Lake Champlain was adoring as most of their audiences are and deservedly so. They needed no exhortation as offered in the opening number "Get Behind the Mule," so each chorus got a hearty response, much more recognition about the self-reference in the Tom Waits tune that was afforded the Frank Zappa/Mothers of Invention cover, "Trouble Every Day," that turned up later in the set.
Surrounding that outside material were loud originals that echoed into a second set that began in a more subdued, folksy vein. Two culls from the year-old Gov't Mule studio release By A Thread (ATO, 2009), "Gordon James" and "Railroad Boy," followed the title song, which found keyboardist Danny Louis strapping on an electric guitar to buttress the mammoth pulse Haynes triggered with his own instrument; most of the rest of the two regular sets, Louis unleashed surging waves of Hammond organ that slithered between Jorgen Carlsson's bass as it locked with the thud of Matt Abts' drum work on the Zeppelinesque likes of "Lola Leave Your Light On." and especially "Mr. High and Mighty"
Which isn't to say the first hour-plus was without its dynamics. A soulful rendering of "Patchwork Quilt" made an effective match for "Banks of the Deep End" in sound and spirit: the former homage to Jerry Garcia found equal emotional catharsis in the latter tribute to original Mule bassist, the late Allen Woody. The segue found its reflection in the final half hour of set two: "Bad Little Doggie" lifted both the band and the crowd after a drum solo, Howlin' Wolf's "How Many More Years" received due recognition as the roots of Led Zeppelin's interpretation, while "Blind Man in the Dark" was no less effective as set closer even given the predictability of the choice.
The splendid separation of the audio mix throughout the night overshadowed the simple but effective lighting for that tune in particular, while the diversity of the double encore allowed Gov't Mule one of their favorite indulgences: welcoming a guest to share the stage. Jackie Greene acquitted himself more than adequately singing and playing the blues of Elmore James' "It Hurts Me Too" and, not surprisingly, sounded as comfortable as Haynes on the Jerry Garcia/Robert Hunter standard "Sugaree." (both men have played such material regularly over the years with members of the Dead themselves).
It's no surprise field staff of the Maritime Festival felt compelled to hustle people off the grounds when the music stopped for good this beautiful summer night. It was as tempting to replay the action from the stage as reflect upon the view of the water, mountains and sky at sundown earlier in the evening.