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Live Reviews

Gov't Mule at the Beacon Theatre on New Year's Eve

By Published: January 14, 2012
Gov't Mule
Beacon Theatre
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
Pink Floyd
Pink Floyd
b.1964
band/orchestra
'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
John Lennon
John Lennon
1940 - 1980
composer/conductor
's "Working Class Hero." Following an absolutely blistering take on "32/20 Blues," the entrance of Los Lobos
Los Lobos
Los Lobos

band/orchestra
guitarist David Hidalgo only ratcheted up the intensity further. In recognition of the recent passing of guitarist Hubert Sumlin
Hubert Sumlin
Hubert Sumlin
1931 - 2011
guitar, electric
, 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
Steve Winwood
Steve Winwood
b.1948
keyboard
when playing with kindred spirit Eric Clapton
Eric Clapton
Eric Clapton
b.1945
guitar
(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
The Beatles
The Beatles

band/orchestra
' "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.

This clutch of soul songs came only after a somewhat rushed offering of Rolling Stones' "Honky Tonk Women," as the ensemble made sure they were timed to bring Leonard Cohen's "Bird on a Wire" to a conclusion just in time for it to morph seamlessly into "Auld Lang Syne." After this formal welcome to the New Year, complete with toasts all around and the loosing of balloons from the Beacon ceiling. it was a romp from then on, for both the band and its audience: "Feelin' Alright" tapped into the celebratory 2012 spirit, before "She Came in Through the Bathroom Window," and even more raucously, "Delta Lady," completed the tribute, but not the party atmosphere.

A third set began just moments later with guest guitarist Oz Noy
Oz Noy
Oz Noy

guitar
taking as much time on "Sco-Mule" as Haynes himself (whose guitar on the Cocker medley found him simultaneously sharp and fluid). As if to reinforce his point, not to mention his devotion to influences, Haynes' singing took precedence on "I Believe to My Soul," before the inevitable (?) "Soulshine" proved why the tune works best on intermittent inclusion: with the hardcore Muleheads singing along, the tune tapped the emotion of the moment, rather than trying clumsily to create it.

Nevertheless, sincerely and somewhat breathlessly introduced by Haynes (at this point the man of the hour(s) and titular master of ceremonies), Bob Dylan's "I Shall be Released" sounded even more stirring, and not just as the capper to two solid nights of instrumental expertise and deep bonding between artist and community (how jovial did Haynes' repeated references to this city sound?) With its timing on early Sunday morning on the first day of a brand new year, the spiritual quotient in the Beacon theatre not only approached, but firmly entered a genuinely spiritual realm. Needless to say, that sensation was even more sublime in the unseasonably warm evening as (hopefully) an omen of even greater things to come in 2012.


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