Gov't Mule Paramount Theater Rutland, Vermont August 15, 2014
The cozy confines of the stage at Rutland's Paramount Theater barely held Gov't Mule's equipment set up this mid-August Friday night and, similarly, the beautifully restored venue's walls and ceiling barely contained the thunderous sound of the quartet. Luxuriating in its movement through a two-set, three-hour performance (perhaps to a fault), the quartet nevertheless finished with a fast flourish, in doing so confirming this late summer show had been conceived as a single entity unto itself.
Unusually animated throughout the evening with calls to the audience, gestures to implore sing-alongs, and even a little dance toward evening's end, Warren Haynes was clearly enjoying himself, but never more so perhaps than when he played on vintage material like "No Need to Suffer" or more recent additions to the repertoire such as "Child of the Earth." He was consistently focused and economical, parlaying melody with an edge simple but passionate, particularly when using the Gibson Sunburst instrument, to which he applied a slide only late in the show (and even then with terse restraint and not one iota of shtick).
The titular leader of Gov't Mule and one of its founders along with drummer Matt Abts, he had reason to be cheerful. Now five years into this interval of the group's history with bassist Jorgen Carlsson in tow, the band is as tight as it's ever been, as Carlsson is now comfortably ensconced in his position in the rhythm section. Equally capable of digging as deep into a groove as necessary, yet swooping and diving repeatedly, Carlsson did it all without losing the resounding rumble of low notes that echoed throughout the Paramount in a splendid mix of house sound.
After the audience filled the seats in short order around show time, the quartet hit the ground running, "Bad Little Doggie" leading directly into "Blind Man in the Dark." If many of the selections were familiarso much so that this show would make a good candidate for a 'Classic Mule' live releasejuxtapositions of new tunes such as "Captured" played off against warhorses like the immediately preceding "No Need to Suffer" worked effectively. Hopefully "No Reward" and "Funny Little Tragedy," also from Shout (Blue Note, 2013), will receive comparably extended exploration in the future.
On this third stop of the current leg of the "Twenty Years Strong" tour, the pacing left something to be desired"I'm A Ram" and "Have Mercy on the Criminal" might've been excisedbut the topicality of the latter as well as "About to Rage" compensated to some degree. Then, of course, there were the teases and surprises that freshen Gov't Mule appearances: a lightning reference to Jeff Beck's arrangement of "She's A Woman" didn't make the official set list (though an equally fast quote of "2001" did), while an abbreviated run at the Rolling Stones' "Paint It Black" was as roundly acclaimed as a similar pass at the Police's "Message in a Bottle." Surprisingly, the Mule's hard charge through the Grateful Dead's "The Other One" didn't elicit the acclamation it might've: there were more than a few in the audience there who were Paramount season ticketholders, but perhaps novice Muleheadsever-so-slightly in their tie-dye.
Which might explain why Haynes addressed the audience as he did when Carlsson began the circular rumble of "Thorazine Shuffle" and why, when keyboardist Danny Louis deked the crowd (and perhaps even Abts) with his intro to "Soulshine," the anthem didn't appear until after a climactic run-through of "Mule." Bereft of the interpolation of Van Morrison's "I've Been Working," the loose and personal take of the aforementioned neo-spiritual wasn't muffled by singalongs: gleefully rowdy as were many in the audience, enough were so tentative in finding their footing to dance and hoot, that Gov't Mule themselves remained the center of attention.
But the loud clamor for an encore was as genuine as it was uninhibited. And rightly so. "Twenty Years and Kicking" the t-shirts read at the merch table in the lobby, an understatement appropriate to Gov't Mule's authoritative and celebratory opening of the Paramount Theater's 2014-15 season, echoes of which wafted through its open doors above the wet streets of downtown Rutland as the clock high above read close to midnight.