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Published: 2002/03/04
by Kevin Ford

Gov’t Mule, The State Theatre, New Brunswick, NJ- 02/27

A seemingly subdued crowd greeted the reigning monsters of the blues rock
scene, Gov't Mule, upon their visit to New Brunswick, NJ's State Theatre on
Wednesday. While waiting for the last minute stragglers to reach their
seats, Warren Haynes opened the show with a stirring a cappella reading of
"Grinnin' In Your Face". Haynes' voice was in top form, immediately winning
over those who bothered to listen. (Inconsiderate crowd chatter plagued the
entire evening.) With the empty seats filled, bassist Dave Schools led the
band into the crowd favorite "Thorazine Shuffle". Rob Barraco's piano solo
fit well here, though drummer Matt Abts' Afro-Cuban fills seemed incongruous
within the hard rock context of the song. The similarly heavy "Rockin'
Horse" followed, with impressive solos from both Barraco and Haynes. The
band then segued into "Fool's Moon", a gospel tinged rocker under which
Schools and Abts laid a very blue rhythm. The ballad "Beautifully Broken"
followed, showcasing the impeccable harmonies of Haynes and Barraco. Even in
the acoustic vacuum under the balcony, their voices were clear and inspiring
together. "Don't Step On The Grass Sam" had a raw, Leslie West feel to it – almost redundant given the already loud and heavy nature of the set. "The
Banks of the Deep End" gave Haynes another chance to flex his gospel chords,
earnestly declaring his intention to "hold onto a piece of dry land."

Mule switched gears midway through the set and brought Black Crowes
guitarist Audley Freed onstage, to the cheers of the slightly more alert
crowd. The multi-colored light show, reminiscent of the old cocktail party
skits on Laugh In, matched Freed's hippie get-up of bellbottoms and vest
quite well. His playing on "Sco-Mule", though, leaned more toward Stevie
Ray Vaughan. Freed jammed with such ferocity he wound up breaking a string,
giving Haynes a chance to solo while a roadie fetched Freed a new Gibson SG
to finish the song with. It was improvisation at its finest, musically and
otherwise. With both guitars in working order, Haynes and Freed engaged in a
string version of an old tap-dance cutting contest, eliciting an electric
response from the crowd. The set ended with a prison theme of sorts. The
wawa-heavy "Life on the Outside" was followed by Steve Marriott's "30 Days
In The Hole", a harmonic showcase for Haynes, Barraco, and Schools. The
first set didn't lack for musicianship, but was still wanting in variety.

Set two began with a satisfying reading of "Lay Your Burden Down". The
ominous "Blind Man In The Dark" followed, with almost redundantly loud and
feedback-heavy guitar from Haynes. This was balanced out by his vocals, now
showing the night's strain but still haunting. "Bad Little Doggie" was both
raunchy and humorous, with Schools and Haynes laying down some
Zeppelin-esque fills. The theme continued as the band segued into "How Many
More Years," with Haynes singing Howlin' Wolf's lyrics over Led Zeppelin's
1969 arrangement of the song. Mule really started to hit their
improvisational peak on this tune, with Haynes playing wild, Hendrixian
blues riffs over Schools' voodoo mean bass. Haynes then accompanied his own
voice note for note, as he asked repeatedly and painfully, "How Many More
Years?" As the song drew to a close, Barraco, Haynes, Schools, and Abts
descended into a droning feedback jam until Abts was alone on stage. With
the spotlight on him literally and figuratively, Abts filled the allotted
space with a drum solo that was packed with energy but was somewhat
wanting for direction. Only John Bonham could ever do this sort of solo well,
and not on every night either. This was followed by the re-emergence of the full
Mule, with Barraco and Haynes leading a tease of the Allman Brothers' jazz classic
"Les Brers in A Minor". The song provided a musical breath of fresh air and let Barraco
stretch out a little more prominently. Allmans fans unfamiliar with the
Mule's repertoire appreciated this the most, as was evident by their
applause. The cheers got louder when Audley Freed returned, along with
Robert Randolph on pedal steel. "Les Brers" went immediately into a rowdy
version of David Crosby's "Almost Cut My Hair". Randolph seemed a little
lost in the mix at first, which may or may not have been equipment-related.
After Freed played a loud and angry guitar solo, though, Randolph stepped up
to the plate with his own solo, the notes verily dancing along the surface
of his pedal steel. The well named "Sad and Deep As You" sounded almost Pink
Floydian in its fluid explorations. Haynes and Barraco's notes were both
jazzy and psychedelic, masking Haynes increasingly dry throat. Those fans
familiar with Robert Randolph wondered if the notes that followed meant it
was time to march. Instead, the Mule went straight into an inspiring and
enlivening "Turn On Your Lovelight". Haynes' and Schools' call and response
vocals electrified the audience, whipping the front row crowd into a frenzy.
Barraco, too, was caught up in the moment – wildly gesticulating as he
pounded out his spiritual organ solo. Randolph was truly in his element on
this one, trading his own call and response licks with Haynes on slide
guitar. A fitting end to an up-and-down set of music, and the crowd bid
farewell to Randolph, Freed and the Mule with enthusiastic applause. Yet
there was more to come.

Gov't Mule returned after a minute or two, launching
into the metallic "Mule." Dave Schools took command of this one, his
lumbering bass driving the mule train through New Brunswick. Maintaining the
same melody, Haynes sang two verses of Bo Diddley's "Who Do You Love", an
interesting arrangement that worked solely because of Haynes' pipes. They
went back into "Mule" before leaving the stage. Much of the crowd figured
that was it and began to file out. The few who kept screaming for more,
however, were rewarded with yet another encore – this time with Freed back
in the mix. Haynes led the Mule into his searing anthem "Soulshine," once
again displaying his vocal prowess. The band then segued into Neil Young's
"Keep On Rockin' In The Free World", driven with aplomb by the
ground-shaking rhythms of Abts and Schools. Midway through a Warren Haynes
solo, the band stopped on a dime – then teased several chords of Peter
Tosh's "Get Up, Stand Up." Haynes then led the band into "All Along the
Watchtower," apparently taking the grinning and shrugging Schools by
surprise. Haynes and Freed pushed each other to new heights on this one. The
band went back into an even louder and wilder "Free World", finally closing
out the evening's proceedings just shy of midnight. Loud, raw, and full of
fire, the Mule left the State Theatre kicking and stomping every step of the

One goes into a Gov't Mule concert knowing it will be heavier than other
projects the musicians have taken part in. Even bearing this in mind, I'd
have preferred more variety in the tempo and rhythm of the show, as some
songs were hard to distinguish from one another. Nevertheless, few "super-groups"
possess the caliber of musicians that Gov't Mule does. When they are joined by
the likes of Freed and Randolph, great things can and do happen. While not the
show of the century, no audience member that paid attention could have gone away unimpressed.

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