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Published: 2002/11/06
by Margot Main

Gov’t Mule/Drive-By Truckers, Fillmore, San Francisco- 10/24

Gov't Mule sold out their show at the Fillmore when they rode into San
Francisco on October 24, 2002. Jeri, a winner of KFOG’s contest to attend
the radio station’s private taping session which aired later that week, was
one of the first arrivals and still glowed from the prize. Some Mule fans
dug their trenches at the front of the stage and held their prime
stage/waitress serviced positions. Others shuffled their paws around the
wood floor and grazed on beer in the chandelier lit pasture until the
opening band kicked up the dirt.

Drive-By Truckers proved to be a tasty shot for early arrivals. They
performed original material that could easily be the soundtrack for the
essence of 70’s southern rock glory. Triple threat guitars and vocals (Mike
Cooley, Patterson Hood and Jason Isbell) along with the rhythm section of
Brad Morgan’s drums and Earl Hicks’ bass effectively utilized their mostly
Alabama heritage muses. They delivered a set as strong as young emboldened
southern souls. The focus of their performance was material from their CD,
Southern Rock Opera (recently reissued on the indy Lost Highway label).
On the surface, the songs are simply about the rise and fall of southern
rock heroes who inspired a generation of American rock loving teenagers.
Dig deeper into the composition and one hears classic conflicts themed in a
rock star story set in Southern culture. Southern Rock Opera is a
masterpiece. In theory, this has the necessary insight, structure and
individual talent to become a classic that gives a voice to the generation
that rock-n-roll forgot about. Conversely, as part of a live performance,
though technically proficient, failed to vocally exploit the depth of
emotion as suggested by the powerfully written lyrics. Also, the three
guitarist’s lack of dramatic use of tone variation and tunings diminished
the role of conflict as a central character. In short, it was tough to tell
where the set list ended and the operetta began. Granted this was the
opening band and Drive-By Truckers accomplished their objective – to prime
the audience for a Mule ass kicking.

Warren Haynes is all man. He is the rock and Matt Abts’ drums are the roll. Danny Lewis’ keys were the sparks flying from the fiery coal. Tonight,
George Porter started off on bass and filled the gruff backbeat with a solid
soul embrace.

"Bad Little Doggie" kicked off the show. Puppy’s tail wagged and the big
dog growled for more. "Rockin Horse,"
though not special, was played with a sturdy beat. It unleashed the
guardian angel who was set free for all to see Warren Haynes unfold his
musical patchwork of masterful integrity.

"Time To Confess" was Warren getting set to undress his soul. "Banks of the
Deep End" bought Rob Barraco to share keys with Danny Lewis. Warren’s
howling mourn was buffed with Porter and Abts thick rhythm. Tears of joy
began "When Doves Cry." Abts held the groove when Lewis and Porter left and
Phil Lesh stepped on board for bass to take a stand alongside Jimmy Herring
who also joined at that moment to lend his hand. Haynes and Herring
caressed the melody and segued into "Beautifully Broken." Quite the charmer
Warren Haynes sang, melting puppy hearts; his guitar work 100% honest man.
The seamless transition back into the Prince song secured Haynes’ genius
status. But then, as if Haynes rock star performance wasn’t
enough, he guided the band back to finish "Beautifully Broken."

Many in the audience stood agog as the maestro conducted Phil Lesh’s "Night
of 1000 Stars." Herring’s blistering solo confirmed yes, "I will stand by
you forever," because "The Real Thing" cut through to the very soul that is
rock-n-roll. Haynes’ solo was so good it almost bought the venue to its
knees. Danny Lewis came back just before the patented Lesh "Liberty" jam
flew away. Lewis and Barraco busted freedom out on keys. "Turn On Your
Lovelight" closed the first set with fans dancing free and breezy. Folks
chewed on their bones during the break. ‘Mo Mule was waiting for them at
the gate.

Zigaboo Modeliste (The Meters) joined the fun on drums. With Porter on
bass Mule kicked in the funk and began the second act with "Sailin Shoes."
The moment flowed right into the next as "Spanish Moon" gave rise to "Cissy
Strut" then set back into "Spanish Moon." Groovers danced it all. Mule
funk finished with "Play Something Sweet;" it dripped with luscious beats.

The tone shifted when Greg Rzab took over on bass. Haynes and Abts made the
transition to Rzab’s hard edge seem so easy. "Larger Than Life" Haynes
stood, undaunted by the incredible differences in styles he had been playing
for almost three hours. Lewis’ keys dropped a notch in the mix to make room
for Haynes guitar. Haynes dug into his heart and played with every ounce of
passion he had to give. Before anyone could catch their breath, the band
kicked to honor a long since fallen Fillmore hero with a mesmerizing "If 6
Was 9". Gov’t Mule made Jimi’s music alive.

Only Warren Haynes could push the songs to be somehow better than the one
just before. He called Jimmy Herring back up to bat at home plate. The
symmetry between the two during "The Devil Likes it Slow" was an intimate
embrace. But this was only a precursor to what lay in wait. Even though
Herring was no longer on stage, Haynes, Abts, Lewis and Rzab kicked in
harder to fill the newly created sound space. They pulled "Suffer" out of
the bag – the best anyone’s ever had. "Empty Pages" was solid for those
whose synapses hadn’t yet been totally blown away. "Blind Man In The Dark"
gave way to Abts body penetrating drum solo.

After a decent clip, the rest of the band reappeared and without missing a
beat they drove a hard line right into "Mule". For those who had been in a
mind bender trance, this was a pleasing slap on the ass to giddyup. And,
just in case that didn’t work, the guys got down and dirty when they segued
into "Who Do You Love". But, they didn’t stop there, oh no. Set to ride
the fans and give them all their money’s worth they doubled back into
"Mule." Gov’t Mule’s famous ass-kicking was almost done.

Though whipped, the audience screamed for more. The band, always happy to
please, came back out and played a puppy pulping "Eminence Front" – people
were jumping off their feet. Everyone would’ve been happy with that.
However, George Porter came back on stage for the second and last encore
song. "Comfortably Numb" refrain flowed into "Soulshine." With two basses
this was an intoxicating scintillation of all good vibrations.

The puppy was ecstatic and walked kind of funny while panting for breath.
The big dog’s tail was raised high as he confidently strutted out the front
door and barked, "good show" to those who passed by.

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