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Published: 2004/01/06
by James Newton

Gov’t Mule, 9:30 Club Washington, DC- 12/27

With the end of "Deep End" period of Gov't Mule's existence, marked by the marathon "Deepest End" concert at last year's JazzFest (and subsequent CD/DVD release), the band has embarked on its "Rebirth of the Mule" tour, with Andy Hess and Danny Lewis permanently joining the band and ending the revolving door of superstars on bass and keys that has marked the recent history of Warren Haynes and Matt Abts' existence as Gov't Mule.

Having paid tribute to the late Allen Woody over the last two years, small but poignant changes show that Haynes and Abts are fully committed to the band's future and have again begun to do things that make the most sense for the band as a band as they no longer have to worry about what fits best for the that night's musical lineup. For example, the group's previous logo, a circle with three horse heads in its interior, has been replaced by a square with four heads. Musically, as the second night of Gov't Mule's New Year's Run showed, having settled on a permanent lineup is allowing the band to extend jams and segue from song to song in an even stronger fashion than before, as well as helping the band to rediscover and re-appreciate music from its catalog.

An eager full house awaited the start of a rare two-night stand for a band at the 9:30 Club, and Mule did not disappoint with a powerful "Game Face">"Wandering Child" opener. This was followed by Mule's always compelling tribute to the Beatles, "She Said, She Said">"Tomorrow Never Knows" jam. This combination, in a nutshell, shows why Haynes is one of the most sought after performers today, as few can match his combination of vocal prowess and guitar virtuosity. With grittiness and soulfulness far beyond the song's original setting, Haynes' vocals soared during "She Said," once again bringing the more than three-decade-old song to an impassioned rebirth. In the subsequent jam, Haynes led the band to a forceful peak, all the while keeping one foot set in the song's original psychedelic feeling and the other in the power blues that is Gov't Mule. The arrangements of these songs also showed that one Mule's strengths – to take another band's song, remain true to the original but also make it something all its own – is not lost in this new lineup.

Moving next into "Tastes Like Wine," Lewis' keys maintained some of the psychedelic mood of the previous song with a spacey' backdrop not often associated with Mule and somewhat reminiscent in feeling to Ray Manzarek on "Riders on the Storm." Having made his first pronounced contribution of the night, Lewis remained prominent for most of the rest of the set, which included a number of Mule staples such as "Temporary Saint," the "Lively up yourself" jam, "I Shall Return", and "Pygmy Twylyte." Lewis' ability to adapt himself to the divergent musical styles of each song gave both Haynes and Abts greater room to work their own particular magic, leading to the set culminating in a commanding version of "Blind Man in the Dark."

The second set began with Mule again paying tribute to one of its progenitors, Robert Johnson, as Haynes slid into and throghout "If I had Possession of the Judgment Day." Abts and Hess were next into the spotlight as they led throughout "Mr. Big"> "Trane">drums and bass>"Trane">"Banks of the Deep End." This was the first time of the night where Hess came to the fore. Broadly speaking, the style of most bassists can be placed into one of three general categories: melodic, percussive, or technical. Hess, however, having played regularly with stylistically diverse talents such as John Scofield and the Black Crowes, has strong elements of all three, and is therefore a perfect supporting member, able to adapt himself to whatever style is needed, a skill he showed throughout the night. After three of Mule's more recent songs, the second set ended with "Larger then Life">"Mule">"Who do you Love?">"Mule" and Haynes once again shredded through one powerful slide solo after another, bringing the music and the still almost full house to a frenzied crescendo. As if sensing the need to come down, Mule encored with a subdued "Raven Black Night." On this song, as it did throughout the night, Mule showed its music sensibility as, for example, Abts noticeably laid back from his usual forceful play to meet the mood of the music. Undoubtedly, as Gov't Mule goes through its latest, and hopefully last, reinvention, this night showed that it will continue to grow as a band. Both Haynes and Abts have grown as players over the last two years and now they now has the chance to appreciate the talents in its set lineup. Moreover, this stability will in turn allow them to re-appreciate and reinterpret its prior material, as well as develop their own sound for the future. Clearly, the continuing "Rebirth of the Mule" will be a show to catch in 2004.

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