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Published: 2003/05/12
by Bart Gaston

Gov’t Mule, Saenger Theater, New Orleans- 5/3

"No one will ever believe us!" – The guy with dreads who echoed this comment to the masses as we headed out of the Saenger at 5am hit the nail on the head except for one fact. Thank god the Mule had the foresight to get this baby recorded because for lack of a good recording and DVD that will be released, I'm not sure any of us could ever do this show justice. Saturday, May 3rd was a music history lesson and I'm damn glad I was a part of it.

Heading down to NOLA on Saturday, our crew was still one Mule ticket short of making the big show at the Saenger. We didn’t have any intentions of going and didn’t preorder tickets but the closer it got, we knew we had to head to the Crescent City to see what was going down. I’m by no means a Mule fanatic but do enjoy them. Their sound had definitely been growing on me and there is no one can deny Warren Haynes ability to play his instrument. And what music fan in his right mind would not want to see what would unfold with all the promised special guests on Saturday night? After sitting through the afternoon sets of WSP and the Funky Meters at the Jazz Fest, we splashed some water on our sunburned faces and headed back to Canal Street to shop for one extra. When our cab rolled by the Saenger on the way to the hotel, there were already hoards of folks streaming through traffic with their finger raised in the air. A sinking feeling seemed to set in on the group, who was going to be left out in the cold? Tickets were a tough find on this night but we held the faith…things always seem to work out in New Orleans and tonight was no different.

We walked up to the venue at 143 North Rampart Street around 10ish and a line had formed around the building already. People were definitely amped up for this show. This was my first visit inside the legendary venue. It reminds one of the Fox Theater in Atlanta with not quite the upkeep. The old building was beautiful and elegant but you could tell it had been through many shows. Our crew settled into our row of seats midway up the balcony right behind about ten seats, which had evidently been left for members of the NY Times. There was plenty of room upstairs, most fans had headed downstairs to be in the midst of their guitar god, Haynes, but the place was full, no doubt. The Mule draws a diverse crowd of people and everyone seemed to be represented on this night, the old, the young and those in between.

The music itself was tight from the get-go. It would be ridiculous to try and attempt to review each song of this lengthy show but let me give you some highlights from my perspective. The night almost seemed to have a Last Waltz flavor to it with the special guests that flooded the stage. Never have I seen so many people at a show shake their head in amazement after each guest exited stage left, unbelievable.

I wanted to make a point here about the band’s sound- Yes-Yes-Yes. It was loud yet crystal clear which was a plus as I thought the Meters and Widespread sets at Jazz Fest had a muddled feel to them. With cameras rolling on the floor and cameramen scurrying around the stage, the lights dimmed and it was on!

It was evident after the first couple of guests had made their way to the stage that each guests would get a song, two at the most and then move on to the next performer. I think this format may have had something to with keeping the whole night fresh for so many people. It was one surprise after another and there never seemed to be a letdown even as the show crept to the wee-wee hours. When Warren turned to the crowd midway through the first set and said, "this is one of the greatest musical nights of my life," I could not help but agree with the man. Warren thanked the bass players, some of who had traveled…some from all over the country," to be with us on this historic night. Warren comes across on stage as a gentleman who respects his music as well as others.

The epic night included the Dirty Dozen and Karl Denson funkin’ it down in typical New Orleans party style and then you had the power that Metallica bassist Jason Newsted, brought to the stage and the finesse of Bela Fleck’s Wooten and Rob Wasserman. It was not only a who’s who’ musically but it was also a chance to see some players I had never such as those from Los Lobos. Everyone seemed to be having fun, which definitely translated over well to the audience. At the beginning of set two, Mike Gordon entered the stage and was more animated in his actions on stage than when he grooves with Phish. Seeing Will Lee skip back and forth during a monster jam was an event in itself. Each bass player brought a different presence to the stage and a new energy.

At one point during the second set of the evening’s show, Haynes stopped to reflect on his buddy and sidekick that he obviously misses a great deal, Allen Woody. Haynes said to the crowd that he thought Woody must be looking down upon all of us right now with a big smile on his face.’ Another intimate moment came in the second encore when Haynes emerged alone on stage with guitar in hand and did his rendition of the Eagles Wasted Time.’ I felt like I was sitting in my living room listening to this man play his guitar for me. Not a sound could be heard during moments of this classic and it was done with an elegance that only Haynes could have mustered in this night of musical power that had been blistering from the stage.

Finally to close the night during the third encore, the bass trio of Dave Schools, George Porter and Les Claypool during what Haynes described as the "Thorazine Scuttlefuck." After about a ten-minute pause between encores, the trio busted out Thorazine Shuffle and you had a funny feeling that Haynes had envisioned this bass accompaniment when writing the song with Woody during the band’s inception.

And with that, we eased out onto Canal Street and witnessed the film crew interviewing some red-eyed fans just in time to hear it proclaimed, "No one will ever believe us!"

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