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Readers Choice:The Top Ten Govt Mule Shows of 2006

Our recent call for reader participation yielded a number of articles and pitches including the following piece that looks back at the year in Gov’t Mule. Please feel free to send along a top 10 or even a top 5 list of your favorite “band/venue/studio recording/whatever moves you” that we can run in the weeks to come. Send them to jambands@jambands.com

2006 was a great year for Gov’t Mule. In January and February the band recorded their second CD as a foursome, High and Mighty, and released it in late August to positive reviews from a wide variety of music critics and fans. The group hit the road in April and eventually played 107 shows throughout the U.S. and in Europe, including the Christmas Jam and three nights of sold out New Years shows at New York City’s Beacon Theatre.

The top ten Gov’t Mule shows that follow are "must have" recordings for every Gov’t Mule fan. In October 2004, Gov’t Mule began to sell Mule Tracks – near soundboard copies of every live Gov’t Mule performance. My recommendations incorporates reviewing set lists, feedback from fan internet boards, talking to other fans, listening to approximately 70 percent of the year’s shows, and attending 33 performances in 2006.

Gov’t Mule’s primary strength is their ability to create dynamic live representations of their recorded material and to allow songs to grow and change through time. While set list development could use a sharper regional eye, overall the 2006 set lists were well paced, with slower-tempo songs flowing organically from natural transitions in the set list.

The following shows are discussed in order of their occurrence through the year with a synopsis of what makes the show worth having in your collection.

1) April 23, 2006 – The Blue Note – Columbia, Missouri

The set opens with “John the Revelator,” a longstanding and interesting cover in Gov’t Mule’s repertoire from their second CD, Dose. This traditional spiritual highlights the clear, resonant sound of Warren Haynes’ voice as the opening verse is sung a cappella. Slowly the song builds in intensity with Matt Abts’ soft cymbals and Andy Hess’ sure base line, finally exploding into a powerful jazz ensemble when Danny Louis’ trumpet is added to the mix.

The Warren Haynes/Gov’t Mule originals that make this show a top ten Mule show include the infrequently played “Tastes Like Wine,” “Slow Happy Boys” (a multi-layered tribute to the late Allen Woody) and “Sco-Mule,” a brilliant jazz infused rock instrumental that received a Grammy nomination in 2003. The covers of note include, “Spanish Moon” written by Little Feat’s Lowell George, a Led Zeppelin-inspired take on Howlin’ Wolf’s “How Many More Years,” the Stones’ “Wild Horses” and a moving rendition of Allen Toussaint’s “From a Whisper to a Scream” as the encore.

2) July 12, 2006 The Palladium Club – Warsaw, Poland

This show must have been one of the band’s highlights of the year. The Palladium Club is a 2200 person venue located in a city that embodies the history of the democracy movement in Poland, from the anti-Nazi movement of the late 1920’s to the Warsaw Uprising in 1944 and the Solidarity Movement beginning in the late 70’s. The show was sold out a few weeks after it was announced; surprising everybody at the vast number of fans the band has in Eastern Europe. One man, after apologizing for not speaking English well, wrote on the band’s Mule Tracks’ review page, “I’ve waited ten years for this show. Beautiful. Thank you.”

The show included a good balance of new songs and an array of Mule classics including “Birth of the Mule,” “Painted Silver Light,” “Thorazine Shuffle” and “Bad Little Doggie.” The audience response was wildly enthusiastic. After Matt’s energetic drum solo, they played an impromptu Warsaw Jamski developed expressly for the Warsaw crowd. The extended encore, encouraged by cheers of "Don’t Go" by the crowd, brought a take on Chuck Berry’s classic, “Let It Rock” within the crux of another spontaneous jam called “Going to Warsaw Blues.” This lead to a slide-filled, soulful “Champagne and Reefer” (Muddy Waters) and “32/20 blues,” a Robert Johnson original, proving again that Gov’t Mule is a blues-based rock band at its core.

3) October 11, 2006 – Cocoanut Grove – Santa Cruz, CA

It was tricky to choose among the 15 richly textured west coast shows the band did on the High and Mighty Tour because most of them should be in every fan’s collection. Two shows in California and a show in Washington State stick out as among the finest.

Santa Cruz wasn’t originally on my top ten list. After listening to it, however, I knew it had to be highlighted. The first set opens with a few moderately paced songs, but once you get into the jam in “Rocking Horse,” you know the Mule never plays it the same way twice. Another Mule original, “I Think You Know What I Mean” provides the framework for Led Zeppelin’s take on the old blues tune “When the Levee Breaks.” This comes with a spoken introduction by Haynes about Hollywood, politicians, and that which feels authentic but is merely smoke and mirrors. While researching this article, I learned the original version was written by Kansas Joe McCoy and Memphis Minnie as a reaction to the turmoil caused by the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927. It isn’t by accident the song reappeared in the Mule’s repertoire after Hurricane Katrina.

After a rousing version of “Mr. High and Mighty,” the title track from the new CD, Warren tears the second set up with a blistering, sensual version of Jimi Hendrix’s take on “Catfish Blues,” a tune popularized in more modern times by Muddy Waters. This was followed by an infrequently played Mule original, “Left Coast Groovies.” This Frank Zappa inspired song was written by the original threesome for their debut CD, Gov’t Mule, and was one of the first songs that turned me onto the Mule. It has this overall let’s-have-some-fun feel with surprising lyrics and this drum, guitar, bass phrase that Mule’s impeccable timing does perfect justice to. The show ends with a slow sad take on the Beatles’ “You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away.”

4) October 14, 2006 – Warfield Theatre – San Francisco, CA

The Warfield show is one of the top Gov’t Mule shows of the year. The entire first set was high energy from the beginning to the end, peeking with Led Zeppelin’s “Living Loving Maid” and a powerful take on Memphis Slim’s “Mother Earth.” There’s also a superlative jazzy instrumental rendition of “Tomorrow Never Knows” that seems more a tribute to Warren’s favorite band than an accurate retelling of Lennon’s original.

The second set starts with “Monkey Hill,” an original written by Warren and Allen Woody. “Monkey Hill” has to be one of the more menacingly effective songs in the Mule stall. In 2003 they started to pair “Monkey Hill” with the full version of “I Want You (She’s So Heavy),” another Beatles tune, though they haven’t played it often in 2006. I am moved by the juxtaposition because both songs are essentially about addiction, with the first musically hard and angry while the second is melodically beautiful and passionate. Yet, the highlight of the second set, and what sets this show apart from all other shows this year was the songs out of drums. Warren comes back on the stage with one of only three custom Gibson 12 stings in existence and proceeds to play “Gold Dust Woman,” the Stevie Nicks song. It was arranged in a minimalist way with Danny on backing vocals while Matt and Andy highlighted Warren’s guitar work. As the songs builds in intensity it moved seamlessly into Warren’s “Raven Black Night,” a haunting tune that speaks of possibilities, perhaps missed. The show closed out with a bass charged “That’s What Love Will Make You Do” a song associated with both Little Milton and Jerry Garcia, two of Warren’s musical heroes.

5) October 10, 2006 – The Big Easy – Spokane, WA

Another high energy first set commences with “Mr. Man” and “Perfect Shelter” from Deja Voodoo, and one of two of the best hard rock songs on the new CD, “Brand New Angel.” Next up comes a blazing “Red House,” another deep Hendrix cover. Nobody today channels Hendrix quite the way that Warren Haynes does. Haynes is a master of Hendrix’s work and he can take the guitar to places that time would not allow Jimi to go. Yet, the raw energy doesn’t stop and “Streamline Woman,” the second great hard rock song from the new CD continues to blast the audience to dance. Steppenwolf’s “Don’t Step On the Grass Sam” continues the ride complete with Farmer’s audience participation cue cards, driving right into a full version of Mountain’s “Mississippi Queen.”

The second set highlight is another sandwich of two cover songs that have been brought around the country to resounding cheers; Chris Cornell’s Temple of the Dog song “Hunger Strike” which melds perfectly with Traffic’s “Dear Mr. Fantasy” back into “Hunger Strike.” Although the best Mule version of this occurred at Red Rocks (9-2-06), this version, and what makes this show unique, is that Myles Kennedy of Creed fame and a Spokane native, sings and plays guitar on it. This seems to buoy the band and crowd to extraordinary heights and the energy of the remainder of the show stayed in the stratosphere. “Drivin’ Rain” and “Blind Man in the Dark,” one of Mule’s theme songs, moves the show to its completion, well almost.

The delightful Donavon Frankenreiter whose band opened for the Mule through the entire tour and Eric Brigmond, Donovan’s keyboardist joined in the encore of Mule’s jazzy take on Bob Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower.” Although everyone had left the stage and the house music was playing the audience refused to exit. They continued their hootin’ and hollerin’ until the band came out yet again. Warren laughs and says, "You people are crazy. You just don’t want to go home, do ya?" as Danny plays a sweet intro into “Soulshine,” the song Spokane had been waiting for all night.

6) November 3, 2006 – The Tabernacle – Atlanta, GA

This show was a guitar workshop from the beginning to the end. Warren played the entire show with a tremendous amount of emotion and risk taking and if you are a person who studies the electric guitar, this show should be on your must have list as a tutorial. It almost doesn’t matter that Andy played “No Need to Suffer” with brilliant intensity and Matt played one of his finest drum solos of the year.

The second set highlights Warren playing a Gibson SG on two songs from High and Mighty, “Brighter Days” and “Like Flies.” Opening with a middle eastern sounding slide introduction, “Brighter Days” works its way into a rock song that takes a few unusual musical twists. “Like Flies” is a guitar/bass-oriented song that slithers and snakes around in the muck with Andy playing a Gibson EB-O. Both the bass line and the drum work in the song are subtle compliments to Warren’s in-your-face lyrics. After drums, Danny hits the organ for a funky version of Zeppelin’s sexy “Trampled Under Foot,” again bringing the audience to their feet. The set opens with an uplifting Mule original “Lay Your Burden Down,” which moves exquisitely into an astounding rendition of Howlin’ Wolf’s “Smoke Stack Lightening.”

7) November 19, 2006 – House of Blues Cleveland, OH

What moved this show into my top ten are the renditions of “Nothing Again” and “Endless Parade,” both penned by Warren for High and Mighty. At first, the song “Nothing Again” didn’t stand out as one of my favorites, however, through time I have found it to be a meaningful country-rock ballad in the vein of some of the material he’s written for the Allman Brothers Band. Taken with “Endless Parade,” you understand the struggles independent artists face when they don’t want to play the game the way the large labels have written it. The ending guitar solo in this version was played with a ferocity that will rip your heart out if you let it. Another original that makes this show worth getting is “Flip Wilson” which had formerly been called instrumental #2. It seems this song had finally come to fruition after being played with and written while the band was on the road.

Covers of note include, Al Green’s “Take Me To the River” done with a Talking Heads feel and Andy’s buoyant bass-line. Then “Mule plays Zappa” with “Pygmy Twylyte” into an abbreviated yet substantial “Trouble Everyday.” The set closes out with a sweet rendition of Dave Mason’s “Sad and Deep As You.”

8) November 29, 2006 – The Palladium – Worcester, MA

Although this show is rather succinct, there were a number of highlights that place it in the top ten. The version of Mule’s “Lola Leave Your Light On” was particularly powerful. Taking the tempo down a little, the band moved into one of its more heartfelt new songs, “A Million Miles from Yesterday.” This new single from Gov’t Mule often has a few female back up singers, but Danny does an awesome job backing this version. The set closes with a provocative bass driven cover of Humble Pie’s “Thirty Days in The Hole.”

“Unring the Bell” opens the second set with Warren taking some vocal risks on this meaningful political song from the new CD. It includes a “Get Up Stand Up” tease as well as some interesting keyboard and electronic forays and some sweet timing shifts by Matt and Andy. It seems Hendrix and the music business was on Warren’s mind this night and the second set ripped with a hot version of “If 6 Was 9” that moved perfectly into an exciting drum solo. The climax of an already high-paced set however, was a more accurate version of the Band’s song “The Shape I’m In.” When the Band recorded their hit, they quickened the pace to belie the intent of the lyrics. Gov’t Mule’s version creates a rapprochement of sorts and matches the music to the meaning of the song. This is followed by an expert rendition of the Traffic hit, “Low Spark of High Heeled Boys,” another song that speaks of disenchantment with the music business. The set closes with a thrilling, tease injected version of Mule, another original by a band just under the radar of the commercial music scene.

*9) December 15 and 16, 2006 – The 18th Annual Warren Haynes Christmas Jam and the Pre-Jam Asheville Civic Center – Asheville, NC*

Every year Gov’t Mule fans from all over the world descend on Asheville, North Carolina, Warren’s home town, to support the Annual Warren Haynes Christmas Jam that raises funds for Habitat for Humanity. Not content to give Asheville just one day of jamming, many of the artists also make their way to a more intimate Pre-Jam held at the Orange Peel that benefits the local public radio station. Both the Pre-Jam and Christmas Jam have made my top ten list and while it may be a little unfair to compare the Jam shows with regular Gov’t Mule shows, it is precisely because Mule’s musicians can successfully integrate new players into the mix without skipping a beat.

The Jams guests included some of the top players in contemporary rock, jazz and blues. Dave Matthews was joined by Gov’t Mule for a phenomenal version of Neil Young’s “Cortez the Killer.” Branford Marsalis, joined Dave and the Mule for a soaring rendition of “All Along the Watchtower,” “Soulshine” and “Leaving Trunk,” which was sung by Taj Mahal. At the Pre-Jam, Branford sat in on a stupendous “Devil Likes it Slow,” another jazz infused Gov’t Mule instrumental. Also at the Pre-Jam I "discovered" this terrific keyboard player, Henry Butler, who joined in with the Mule on “I Shall Be Released” and who plays with the newly-formed super-group the New Orleans Social Club. Dave Schools from Widespread Panic on bass, Brendan Bayliss from Umphrey’s McGee on guitar and Randall Bramlett on saxophone joined Gov’t Mule on “Sco-Mule” and “Mule,” after which the fabulous Marty Stuart and Taylor Hicks (yes Taylor Hicks of American Idol fame) joined in on a terrific cover of the Grateful Dead’s “Sugaree.” Almost everyone joined in on another phenomenal take on “I Shall Be Released,” which was a fitting tribute to Allen Woody, whose spirit is always with us at the Christmas Jam.

10) December 31, 2006 – Beacon Theatre – NY, NY

Every year Mule fans get treated to a five hour, three set extravaganza of music. This year was no exception. The first set was "regular" Mule with many songs that wooed us through the year and an exceptional organ driven version of “Whiter Shade of Pale,” the Procol Harum song. The second set opened with the "Dub Side of the Mule." The stage was filled with palm trees like a Jamaican island, and red, green and yellow balloons and leis made of fake marijuana leaves came out for the midnight countdown. Mule starts with a reggaefied Rolling Stones’ “Play with Fire,” “Unring the Bell” and Al Green’s “I’m A Ram.” Toots Hibbert of Toots and the Maytals took the MC role and brought us the beat through to the other side of the New Year. During his set, the highlights included: “54-46 Was My Number,” “Pressure Drop,” “True Love Is Hard To Find” and the jamband classic, “Turn on Your Love Light” which was the first song of the new year. Warren and the Mule also played throughout and they were joined by a three piece horn section, a percussionist, back up singers and Gordie Johnson, the producer of High and Mighty, on guitar and backing vocals.

The third set was replete with guests including Gregg Allman and Friends who did a great version of Bob Dylan’s “Just Like a Woman.” The Mule joined in on “Feels So Bad” and “Dreams.” That gave way to Warren and the Mule taking control of the stage again for a few originals and a pumped up version of Bob Seger’s “Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man,” Elmore James’ “It Hurts Me Too” and Tom Waits’ “Goin’ Out West.” For me, and perhaps for others, the highlight of the night was when Warren sang a powerful tribute to James Brown with “It’s a Man’s Man’s World.”

Honorable Mentions (for the hard-core mule fans who must have more):

April 20, 2006 – Disco Rodeo – Raleigh, NC – The show was enlivened by an appearance by long-time Mule friend Dave Schools and JoJo Herman from Widespread Panic. Warren had a special message for Dave, thanking him for helping Gov’t Mule stay together after Allen’s death. The show included the originals, “Wine and Blood” and “Thelonius Beck” as well as a potent cover of Willie Dixon’s “I Can’t Quit You” and a soulful version of the Animals classic, “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood.”

April 19, 2006 – Innsbrook Pavilion – Glen-Allen, VA – The second set opens with Warren singing the Eagles classic “Wasted Time,” first a cappella then solo on an electric guitar. Highlights later in the set include saxophonist Ron Holloway on Mule’s “Devil Likes it Slow” and Tracy Chapman’s “For My Lover.”

May 2, 2006 The Starland Ballroom – Sayerville, NJ – Two covers make this show one to catch: The Beatles’ “I’ve Just Seen A Face” and a searing, hard rock rendition of Robert Johnson’s “Crossroad Blues” with Jimmy Vivino, Bernie Worell, Felix Cabrera and James Wormworth.

November 5, 2006 – The Tampa Theatre Tampa, FL – With a sizzling “Brand New Angel” seamlessly pounding into a cover of Jimi Hendrix’s “Machine Gun,” there is no doubt why this show gets honorable mention.

November 24, 2006 – Tower Theatre – Philadelphia, PA The second set opens with a surprising Beatles cover, “Helter Skelter,” with Danny playing a beautiful white SG on it. After drums, Warren sang a tender rendition of Hendrix's deceptively simple love song, “Little Wing.”

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