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Published: 2003/10/29
by Brian Ferdman

The Deepest End – Gov’t Mule

ATO Records 0015

It was the biggest event in a festival of big events. Gov't Mule's massive
six-hour May 3, 2003 Jazzfest concert at New Orleans' Saenger Theatre
featured 13 different bass players and a bevy of guest horns, guitars, and
keyboards. Some of these guests were planned, while others just happened to
be in town for Jazzfest and eagerly hopped onstage for inspired
collaborations. When exhausted fans finally exited the building to the
strains of the approaching sunrise, many were declaring the event to be the
jamband world's answer to The Last Waltz. In truth, this Gov't Mule
concert was very comparable in grandeur to The Band's epic 1976 finale, and
even though Martin Scorsese was not in attendance, a production crew was on
hand to document every note played.

Comprised of two CDs and one DVD totaling six hours and four minutes in
length, The Deepest End is one helluva deal. Thankfully, audio
producer Warren Haynes and mixing engineer Michael Barbiero have done a
masterful job of capturing the music in high fidelity sound. In addition,
Michael Drumm's video direction utilizes several camera angles and some
priceless close-ups to reveal the sheer exhaustion that Haynes and drummer
Matt Abts are battling through after six hours of Herculean playing.

While the backbone of Gov't Mule, Haynes and Abts, both shine in this
concert, the supporting cast really takes center stage. Never before have
keyboardist Danny Louis's contributions been so apparent and effective.
Whether he's throwing in tasty licks on the Hammond B-3, providing smooth
backup vocals, or funking it up alongside Bernie Worrell, Louis's presence
is a vital piece of the composition at hand.

Moreover, the non-bass playing special guests easily steal the spotlight,
and Gov't Mule is more than willing to give these contributors their moment
in the sun. Guests of Gov't Mule are not coming onstage to take a token
16-bar carrot of a solo, but rather these musicians are entering the arena
determined to make a powerful impact. For instance, Bela Fleck's ethereal
banjo adds a tremendous amount of texture and haunting pathos to what must
surely be the definitive versions of "Lay of the Sunflower" and "Patchwork
Quilt." Throughout the evening, Karl Denson seems to nonchalantly appear
onstage at random moments to up the ante with mesmerizing solos. Each time
he appears, Denson seems to completely change the vibe of a song, giving the
rocker Blindman In The Dark" a sultry edge and taking Robert Johnson's
"32-20 Blues" down a mysterious avenue with a jazzy flute solo. Speaking of
"32-20 Blues," slide guitarist Sonny Landreth absolutely shreds this
shuffling Delta funk number to pieces, summoning fire and brimstone in a
long and ferocious duel with Haynes.

As far as the rotating bassists go, it's somewhat surprising that they don't
make more of an impact. Perhaps that is because they are merely doing their
job and doing it well. Instead of trying to show off, each bass player
slips smoothly into the Gov't Mule sound, and Haynes, Abts, and Louis also
deserve serious credit for maintaining a consistent sound while
incorporating the influences of the bassist du jour.

Nevertheless, certain bassists in this concert have signature sounds that
are always recognizable. To say that Les Claypool stands out would be an
understatement. From the moment he takes the stage to begin the first
encore, the entire theatre is injected with Claypool's unique brand of
oddball humor. No one else on Earth could ever play bass and sing on a song
entitled "Greasy Granny's Gopher Gravy (Parts 1 & 2)," and he does so with
aplomb. In fact, he even engages a willing Haynes in a little spontaneous
interplay on "Dueling Banjos." Another tremendous spontaneous bass moment
in the show occurs in the midst of a sprawling 16 minute "Chameleon."
Headhunters bassist and songwriter Paul Jackson, Jr. was in town, so the
tune was essentially thrown together onstage with the help of the Dirty
Dozen Brass Band and keyboardist Worrell. Midway through the song, the
musicians leave the composition and start riffing while Jackson thunders
away on funky guttural bass notes. Eventually, everyone drops out of the
mix until Jackson and sousaphonist Julius McKee are left to engage in a
tight battle. It's sousaphone versus bass, past versus present, and McKee
and Jackson happily duke it out in a groundbreaking moment.

The post-Allen Woody era of Gov't Mule has seen the band make a slight
departure from its earlier days as a champion of testosterone rock. Of
course, that doesn't mean they've abandoned their roots, as evidenced by
roaring performances of "Sweet Leaf" and "War Pigs," assisted by bassist
Jason Newsted. However, Gov't Mule has really broken new ground with its
willingness to tackle diverse genres and enlist unique instrumentalists in
their quest. Years ago, no one would have imagined the Dirty Dozen Brass
Band combining with Gov't Mule to transform the traditional blues chart
"John The Revelator" into a snaking New Orleans-style march, but the song is
easily one of the most successful explorations on this album. It's a
perfect example of this band's experimental nature, and the wide-ranging
musical scope of The Deepest End is living proof that when given the
tools to experiment, there are no boundaries for Gov't Mule.

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