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Published: 2012/01/18
by Sam Robertson

Gov’t Mule, Beacon Theatre, NYC – 12/31

Photo by Dino Perrucci

Gov’t Mule’s New Year’s Eve celebrations at the Beacon Theatre are always legendary affairs, as each year the band performs special sets full of exciting covers that last through the first hours of the New Year. The band rang in 2012 in that familiar fashion, with a three set marathon of a show that last a full five hours, wrapping up around 2:30 in the morning.

They wasted no time getting started, diving right into heavy rocker “Railroad Boy” and following it with bluesy jams on “Mule” and “Thorazine Shuffle” that found Haynes stealing the show with some scorching shredding. “About To Rage” was a standout of the first set, with Warren howling soulful vocals and delivering a stinging guitar solo. They closed the set by nodding to their improvisational heroes, seguing an instrumental take on the Grateful Dead’s St. Stephen into Mahavishnu Orchestra’s “Eternity’s Breath” and finally into “Trane,” their own tribute to John Coltrane.

Though the band’s first set showcased their own powerhouse rock, the second set found the band taking on Joe Cocker’s Mad Dogs & Englishmen. As 2011 found Warren Haynes reconnecting with his love of soul music while Gov’t Mule was on hiatus, paying tribute to one of the great all time soul singers was a perfect theme. Cocker’s infamous Mad Dogs & Englishmen tour was a rock and roll circus with a huge lineup of musicians. Recreating the loose feel of that tour, Mule was joined by friends the Chronic Horns and a trio of backup singers – Alecia Chakour of the Warren Haynes Band and the wives of Mule keyboardist Danny Louis and bassist Jorgen Carlsson.

With the horns leading the way, the band kicked things off with a bouncy jam before slamming into The Rolling Stones “Honky Tonk Woman.” The horns and backup vocalists infused these songs with an extra punch, and Gov’t Mule keyboardist Danny Louis, who toured with Joe Cocker early in his career, skillfully covered piano and organ parts originally performed by Leon Russell and Chris Stainton. It was Louis who led the band into “Auld Lang Syne” in the middle of a soulful performance of “Bird On A Wire,” as Warren howled about “trying to be free.” Louis also welcomed in 2012 with the familiar riff of Traffic’s “Feelin’ Alright” and the band delivered a fantastic, lively version as balloons bounced around the Beacon crowd.

As the band was only a few songs into Mad Dogs And Englishmen when the clock struck midnight, the show was just getting started. Warren thrilled the Beacon crowd with passionate rants on “Let’s Go Get Stoned” and led the crowd into an “occupy” chant. Between “Let’s Go Get Stoned” and the medley of “Drown In My Own Tears > When Something’s Wrong With My Baby,” Warren showed that like Cocker, he is the rare rock vocalist who can do justice to the most tender soul classics.

As good as Warren’s singing was, the night’s most impressive vocal performance came from Danny Louis’ wife Machan on the set-closing “Delta Lady.” After an intensely energetic performance of the song, all of the musicians except Danny and Machan left the stage. As Louis snuck back into the riff of “Delta Lady,” Machan wailed along and exhorted the crowd to cheer all of the other musicians back onstage. One by one they appeared and picked up their instruments, and dove full tilt into a raucous jam and a couple more runs through the song’s chorus.

Though the Mad Dogs And Englishmen set lasted nearly two hours, Mule returned for a third set. Taking the stage with their friend jazz guitarist Oz Noy, they jammed their way through a rousing version of “Sco-Mule” with plenty of guitar fireworks. To close the night, Haynes invited up a couple of his friends from the Warren Haynes Band as Nigel Hall joined in for the heavy blues of “I Believe It To My Soul” and bassist Rod Johnson, along with Hall and Chakour, joined in for an especially soulful version of “Soulshine” that found Haynes trading verses with Chakour. After playing a show like that, the band’s soothing, soulful encore of Bob Dylan’s “I Shall Be Released” – with all their friends joining in – was the perfect way to end the night and welcome in a new year.

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