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Published: 2004/04/25
by Matthew Price

Gov’t Mule, Warfield Theater, San Francisco- 4/16

It seemed fitting that Gov't Mule would celebrate their 1000th show in the city by the bay. Many of their most memorable shows took place here before a devoted fan base, so it was a bit puzzling that The Warfield' theater balcony remained half-empty. This night also marked the first appearance of the new Mule line-up in San Francisco. Gov't Mule is now a four-piece band that includes new (permanent) bass player Andy Hess. Dispelling the rumor that The Dead' would open the show, Matt Abts took the stage alone and hand signaled 1-0-0-0' before beginning to play. Then, individually, the rest of the band came out and picked up the song.

The 90-minute Mule set that followed was both a nod to the past and a wink at the future the nod being the return to a permanent band fearlessly pushing the limits of each other and the song. The Deep End albums and tours were great, but they were great players playing along. Before the death of bassist Allen Woody closed the first chapter of the band, all three members were telepathic and could turn on a dime. They had exhausted the limits of a trio and were looking at branching out musically. So, the wink to the future’ in this performance seemed to be not only the differing chemistry among the members, but the interplay of a four-piece dynamic. Reaffirming the band’s mission statement for anyone who doubted it, every note counted and everyone was playing for keeps with their hearts on their sleeves.

After a lengthy intermission to reset the stage, no one was shocked to see Warren joined onstage by Phil, Bill, and Mickey of The Dead’. It was amusing to see Bob Weir watching the first song from the side of the stage. While it was just one song, he seemed visibly uncomfortable sitting it out. When Bob did come out, Phil was grinning from ear to ear as the ragged, but right’ trademark Dead sound rang out. Songs like "Sugaree" and "Turn on Your Lovelight" were unusually potent with Warren in the mix. His powerhouse playing had Bob staring at his effects board. On a few songs, Bob looked like a guy with a pop-gun pinned down in a missile attack. Forced to raise his game, Bob responded with some of his best playing in recent memory to close the set.

Needless to say, the third set began with emotions running high. It was all Gov’t Mule and the set buoyed the energy of a crowd that was fading as the clock reached toward 1:00 AM. Although they did not play "Goin’ Out West", it was clear that they were appreciated. The final curtain call had the band appear arm-in-arm centerstage in custom black "Got Mule?" t-shirts each member with a different number on the back of his shirt: Warren (1), Matt (0), Andy (0), and Danny (0). All bowed and turned their backs to the crowd. Matt faked an Angus Young pants-drop, and the dead-legged crowd limped out of the venue satisfied.

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