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Published: 2001/10/19
by Dan Alford

Gov’t Mule, Roseland Ballroom, NYC 10-18

During the set break Thursday night at Roseland, the
lights were dimmed and a screen lowered in order to
show the trailer for Mike Gordon's documentary about
the making of Off the Deep End. At some point Mike
said something to the effect of "Is this a film about
Allen Woody, or is it about identity- about what
happens when you play 25 of the best bass players in
the world?" That idea was still echoing in my skull
as Mike took the stage to open the second set.

Oteil Burbridge, as this tour's official bassist, had
played for the entire first set. Having seen Oteil
regularly for over a decade, in any number of
settings, I was absolutely blown away by the ferocity
of his playing. His nimble fingers raced at seemingly
impossible speeds, conducting endless torrents of
thunder. At the end of Down and Out in New York the
trembles were slipping out so fast and furious that I
thought I might lose my footing. And he didn't let
up, continuing to pound through Thorazine Shuffle and
Rockin' Horse. During the latter tune, Matt Abts took
the opportunity to thrill the packed venue with a
fantastic drum solo. Working wood blocks and rim
shots with delicate aggression, he pushed the music to
a new level and landed in a jam with undertones of

Warren's incredible stage presence was showcased
during the following Since I've Been Loving You. His
voice swallowed the room whole. The closing Mule >
What Is Hip > Mule had Oteil and Warren staring face
to face, attacking their instruments, before slipping
into an Oteil-led version of God Bless America,
complete with red, white and blue lights. The bass
man took his only vocal solo of the night, a short one
with full accompaniment. I've always thought that if
you take away his microphone, Oteil is one of the
strongest bass players around, but too often he falls
back on the same old trick. The return to Mule was
intense, tearing the roof of the ballroom.

So when Mike took the stage, I was surprised by the
incredible contrast between his style and Oteil's.
Cactus played a much slower, steadier line as they
opened with On the Banks of the Deep End > Time to
Confess, both from the new albums.

The first tune had a dreary tone, but Warren was
playing sweet- more akin to his work with Phil than
the heavier Mule fare offered in the first set. The
group slid into Time to Confess with ease, exposing
some nice designs near the chorus. On the Way Down
headed into more familiar territory and Rob Barraco
took the stage, staying for the duration of the set.
Mike was grooving on the mellow vibe- it was great to
see that curly mop bopping about once again.

King Crimson's Tony Levin took over the hot seat next,
sitting in for three tunes, each offering something
with a classic rock flavor. His playing was dramatic,
as he held back patiently- driving home short bass
lines only at the most opportune moments. His style
was particularly effective on the ballad World of
Confusion. Warren's vocals took center stage again,
periodically enhanced by bursts of potent bass that
gradually raised the song to its climax.

Next up Stefan Lessard, of DMB, made a surprise
appearance. Having only listened to Dave Matthews on
the radio or MTV, I was excited by the fluidity of his
playing. Heavy round bulges melted into each other,
creating a liquid progression just right for jamming.
Beautifully Broken was the only song I really wanted
to hear, and I was treated to a fine one. Solos from
Rob and saxophonist Tim Reese were followed by a
blistering tirade from Warren. The band never quite
stopped playing after the song, noodling about before
heading into a fantastic instrumental Lively Up
Yourself. The improvised segments were enormous, each
outgrowing its predecessor, but they dropped back to
the song so delicately. At some point Warren leaned
up and said, "You rock slow, you rock slow." A
highlight of the night, it had loose jamming nature,
eliciting big solos and big smiles for the band. Matt
and Chuck both made especially strong showings at the
end. Again, they never quite stopped, wandering into
Cortez the Killer instead.

I assumed it was the closer, but out from the wings
came a short gremlin, dressed in black and carrying a
big bass. Jack Casady, one of baddest men alive, hits
a bass line that seems to draw its force from
somewhere a hundred feet below the earth's surface.
He stayed fairly calm for Slow Happy Days, a tune that
could just as easily be a Tuna number. Then Warren
spoke of part of Jack's legacy before heading into a
deep, red Voodoo Chile. As he sang, his guitar
matched every word, while Jack lurked in the shadows
and banged on the walls. This was the most
experimental tune of the evening, the band members
challenging themselves. By Back to Georgia, Jack was
in full swing, stalking the stage, and pouncing on the
deepest lines. Oteil rejoined the band for Rockin' in
the Free World, with the first few lines of Watchtower
sandwiched in the middle. The second Neil Young tune
of the night, it brought the show full circle. I
decided to go to the show at the last second, and
couldn't be happier. What a variety of sounds and
styles! It was fascinating to watch Warren, Matt,
Chuck and Rob bend themselves around each bass player,
approaching each one in a new way.

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