Gov’t Mule/New Earth Mud, Gibson Showcase Plaza, Memphis, TN- 10/30
In late July, a huge windstorm came through Memphis, causing over 300,000 people to lose power, some for weeks. During the storm, the Gibson Guitar Factory and the Gibson Lounge were devastated—a huge hole was ripped in the side of the building. The construction to fix the building took several months. On October 30, not too long after the re-opening of the Gibson, Hurricane Mule came through and tore the place right back down.
Chris Robinson's band, New Earth Mud, opened up the show. This was my first experience with this post-Black Crowes project, and I was impressed. Their set opened up with a hard rocking song, "Mother of Stone," before taking a tamer tone with Chris on acoustic guitar for a couple of tunes. New Earth Mud's lead guitarist Paul Stacey, a British import, definitely has chopshe truly shined on every solo he played. They played a powerful set, which included a great cover of the Flying Burrito Brothers' "Lazy Days," before giving way to the main event.
This Gov't Mule tour has been dubbed "Rebirth of the Mule," and after seeing them live for the first time since new bassist Andy Hess has been inserted into the line-up for good, my gut feeling is that this band won't have any growing pains. The first set opened up with the instrumental "Thelonius Beck," and "Rocking Horse" followed, bringing the first extended jam of the night. A song played in two of Warren Haynes's bands, the Allman Brothers and Gov't Mule, "Rocking Horse" gives the lead guitarist ample space to show off his talent with a Les Paul. "Don't Step on the Grass, Sam," a song with a clear political connotation, followed and Warren's guitar guru, Brian Farmer, egged the crowd on, holding up cue cards during the chorus so that even the most casual fan could sing along. The Mule paid tribute to fallen companion Allen Woody with "Banks of the Deep End," and after "Larger Than Life," did the same for Jerry Garcia with "Patchwork Quilt," a poignant song Haynes wrote with long-time Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter. After meshing a little Prince with his own tune on "When Doves Cry > Beautifully Broken > When Doves Cry > Beautifully Broken," as has been customary on the whole tour, Haynes brought Robinson, Stacey, and George Lack from New Earth Mud on stage Tonight it was a couple of blues numbers, fittingly enough as the Gibson Plaza is a block away from blues mecca Beale Street, the place where legend BB King himself got started. After "Woke Up this Morning" and "Shake Your Money Maker," the band took their set break.
The second set was all Andy Hess. I'm not sure what went on backstage during the set break, but after a somewhat somber first set, they really caught fire in the second. "John the Revelator" opened and without Allen Woody on mandolin, Mule keyboardist Danny Louis showed his versatility with a trumpet solo. Louis got loud cheers from the audience with his brass work, and perhaps we'll begin to see more of it from him on shows down the road. After a few more songs, "I Think You Know What I Mean" and an undulating "Slow Happy Boys," the set took off. Gov't Mule has been covering Tower of Power's "What is Hip?" for some timeit even showed up on their Deep End, Volume Two CD with Tower’s bassist Rocco Prestia. The version tonight did it the most justice I’ve heard. Not knowing too much about Andy Hess, I have to admit that he would not have been my first choice to take the reigns replacing Allen Woody. After hearing him on "What is Hip," I’m sold. His rumbling bass licks were exactly what I would expect from whomever Warren and drummer Matt Abts tapped to replace everything that Gov’t Mule was built on. The song thundered along before giving way to a drum solo from Abts, who pounded away with authority. The drum solo bordered on excess, but just as he began to loose the crowd the rest of the band emerged on stage and segued into "Birth of the Mule." "Bad Little Doggie" picked the crowd back up, and with Warren’s tight solos, roped the crowd back in. "Pygmy Twylyte > Blind Man In The Dark" rocked the second set to a close, and the band left the stage.
At this point another guitar and amplifier were brought out, and after the band re-emerged, they welcomed Alvin Youngblood Hart onto the stage. As with Chris Robinson and crew, they played a few blues numbers, "It Hurts Me Too" and "32-20 Blues." Hart lent his guitar work and vocals to both, with Warren primarily playing slide. Both songs featured guitar duels between the two guitarists, with Haynes and Hart alternating solos.
For all of Haynes' tight guitar work, on this night the real star was Hess on bass. Perhaps it's because I've come to expect a certain standard of excellence from Warren, and he never disappoints. More likely, though, it's because I was so impressed with Hess. I'm not sure who Mule narrowed it down to when making their final cuts, but I'm speculating that George Porter and Greg Rzab were in the mix up until the very end. I've seen them play with both of those guys, but after last night, I know that they picked the right guy. The scary thing is that Hess has been their guy for about three weeks—I can't wait to see them after a tour or two of playing together when they're really locked in as a band.