Gov’t Mule, Hampton Casino Ballroom, Hampton, NH- 4/21
A double-bill of Gov't Mule with the Assembly of Dust opening promised an outstanding night of music from two very different sounding bands. Could there be a collaboration of some kind? Warren adding some electric guitar to the AOD's folk-rock sound? Reid joining Mule for an acoustic number? Nate Wilson dueling on keyboards with Danny Louis? So many possibilities from this lineup, but alas, no collaborations were hatched that night. Instead, it was a rock solid display of musicianship from two outstanding acts.
Arriving late to the Casino Ballroom in Hampton, I only caught the final two songs of the Assembly of Dust's opening set. Hearing those two songs made me wish I had pulled myself together a bit quicker after work and gotten up to Hampton in time for the full AOD set. As I walked from the parking lot to the venue I could faintly hear AOD running through Man With a Plan,' and I increased my pace to get in as quickly as possible. Moving through the line and security, and getting my over-21 bracelet from an excited security guard, I reached the floor just as AOD was starting into Tavern Walker' off their debut album. Reid and the rest of the band were really into a groove as they easily moved through Tavern Walker.' Nate Wilson has truly become a centerpiece of this band, becoming one of the main contributors to both the rhythmic and lead sides of the band, using his extensive skill on the piano to lay down sweet solos and great grooves. The final song of AOD's set, the old Strangefolk classic Roads,' truly highlighted Nate's ability as he took off on a lengthy piano solo built over the signature riff of the song, before reaching a blistering crescendo that brought AOD's set to a powerful end. As they left the stage, I just stood there shaking my head in awe and cursing my inability to be on time for anything.
A short while after AOD left the stage and Gov't Mule's crew had finished setting up the stage, the houselights dimmed and a roar of applause broke through the venue as Warren, Matt, Andy, and Danny took their positions on the stage. Warren came out smiling, and looked like he was ready to have a great night, as he strapped on his guitar. Wasting no time, the Mule immediately broke into Blind Man in the Dark,' from the album Dose. Every time I have seen Mule perform this song, it's been as a huge jam vehicle near the middle or end of a set, and usually done with a prelude of Frank Zappa's Pygmy Twylyte.' The opening version proved to be a much shorter version than normal, but one that set the tone for the entire night with its intensity. As Blind Man' wound down, the band was smiling, looking relaxed, and looking ready to maintain that intensity for the rest of the night. As Andy began picking a familiar bass line, Warren stepped to the mic, and in usual fashion asked the crowd if they were ready to do the Thorazine Shuffle.' A roaring applause answered the question and Warren just stood back and grinned, taking in the crowd's energy. With Matt banging on the cowbell and Warren and Danny dropping loose chords over the thumping bass line, the night had truly begun. While Thorazine Shuffle' is one of the best Mule songs to groove to, it's also an amazing song to watch the band's interplay with each other, as Andy's bass groove holds the song together while Warren, Danny, and Matt all take extended forays on their respective instruments.
Temporary Saint' was up next, an older tune from Mule's self-titled debut album. Centered around a driving riff with just a touch of funk thrown into the verses, the Mule roared through the song climaxing with some intricate soloing from Warren. Next up was Patchwork Quilt,' a beautiful song written by Warren in tribute to Jerry Garcia. Having been recorded on Phil & Friend's studio album, and played live by Phil, Mule, Warren (acoustic) and the Dead, it's quiet impressive to watch Warren reinvent this song no matter what lineup he's playing with. Mule's version of this song was certainly a bit edgier musically than that which surfaces with Phil's band. The lead guitar intro had more of a bite to it as Warren broke out his slide and injected a bit of that Southern vibe into the song. As the song neared its conclusion, the crowd was still grooving, but there was a hint of somberness over the crowd as Warren and Danny brought the song to a point of peacefulness with the lyrics Bright lights, Dark Star.'
A fairly straight-forward reading of Banks of the Deep End' elicited a great response from the crowd before leading into the highlight of the first set. With Matt laying down a steady drumbeat, Andy started picking the bass line to Game Face.'. With Warren playing tight chords and fills underneath the rhythm section, the band played the song with all the subtleness of a sledgehammer, with Warren belting out the chorus in between throwing in leads and fills. As the song headed towards its jam section, Warren's quick and quiet slide work hinted at what was soon to come. As the opening licks of the Allman Brothers' Mountain Jam' filled the hall, the crowd responded to the familiar tune, grooving to the Mule's take on this Allmans' classic. Warren's slide work defined this tune as he weaved solos around the main riff, building the jam towards its eventual climax. Underneath his slide work, Danny's keyboards were really shining as they complimented Warren's lead work perfectly and helped build the jam to a complete frenzy. With the audience grooving harder than it had all night, they brought Mountain Jam' to a frenzied ending before finishing off Game Face.' The rest of the first set included two songs off of Deja Voodoo the wandering Little Toy Brain’ and the funk-based Perfect Shelter.’ One highlight of Perfect Shelter’ was certainly Danny’s intro clavinet solo, which just oozed funk from all edges. With a wah-drenched guitar tone, Warren led the band through the song, mixing a healthy dose of funk with Southern rock. Wandering Child’ off of the Life Before Insanity album sent the crowd into set break, anxiously awaiting the second set while basking in the afterglow of Mule's fury.
After a fairly short set break, the houselights went down, and as the crowd returned to the floor, Warren and co. took the stage for the second set, one that after the intensity of the first set, was full of promise. Opening with a cover of ZZ Top's Just Got Paid,' second set kicked into full swing with the shuffling groove and Warren's fiery slide work. Fallen Down' was up next, and opened with a mellow electric piano groove by Danny, followed by Warren playing the fragmented chords as he sang one of my favorite Mule tunes. The chorus brought the song full circle as it erupted into a rocking groove punctuated by Matt's dead-on drumming and Andy's rock-solid bass playing. As they weaved into its jam segment, Warren and Danny combined wah-drenched guitars and organ to slowly build towards a familiar melody. Matt's drumming picked up a renewed urgency and Warren's playing shifted the band towards the monstrous opening chords to the Other One.' While not playing the whole song, the jam based on this Grateful Dead classic was outstanding and worked the crowd into a true frenzy as the band gained speed and intensity. Coming to a tumultuous climax, the jam ended with a brief reprise of the main chords from Fallen Down.' They then launched into a version of Bad Man Walking,' maintaining the intensity of the Other One' jam while adding a bit of funk as seen earlier in the night. Following this came the highlight of the second set Trouble Everyday > Drums > Worried Down with the Blues.' This blues-oriented duo of songs, with Matt's drum solo in the middle, demonstrated the sheer power that the Mule possesses. Trouble Everyday' shook the house down through Warren's effortless guitar work. Matt's drum solo was as phenomenal as always, as he moved effortlessly amongst the array of drums and cymbals, swapping between using sticks and his hands. He laid down a multitude of drum grooves, all which built to raging climaxes. As his drum solo ended, Warren and crew climbed back on stage, each showing admiration for the talent that Matt had just displayed.
Wasting little time, they quickly eased into the slow, smoldering blues of Worried Down With the Blues.' This song, from The Deep End Vol. 1, showcased Warren’s vocal abilities and frenetic guitar soloing. Starting with a mellow, bluesy lick, it leads into a buildup where Warren’s southern growl really shined. Danny’s talent on the organ was also brought to the forefront in this song, as he effortlessly flew over the keys in a buildup to Warren taking the spotlight with his slide work. This song really contrasted two sides of Mule through the quiet, slow blues elements and the fiery jam that exploded from those elements. As they brought this to a close, Matt started playing an upbeat rhythm. Quickly Andy started laying down a bass groove over it that was instantly recognizable as leading into Slackjaw Jezebel,’ a straight-up rocker from their latest album. The set closed on a high note as the Mule tore through a cover of Humble Pie’s ’30 Days in the Hole,’ which had the entire crowd singing along to the chorus. Departing the stage briefly, Warren and crew quickly returned and tore through a powerful version of New World Blues’ off of Deja Voodoo. Again, showing Warren's guitar prowess, this song went through a series of peaks and valleys before building to a roaring climax driven by all four members of the Mule.
Walking out into the cold night afterwards, I shook my head in awe of yet another Mule show. Every time I've had the fortune of seeing this band, I have never been disappointed. And since they've formally become a four-piece rather than a duo with a variety of guests, they have truly created a rock-solid foundation on which to continue to grow as a band. With Warren's amazing guitar playing and songwriting building, the Mule should be kickin' for a long, long time.