Gov't Mule's got a way to go with their now-annual runs at the Beacon in New York before they rival The Allman Brothers Band's eighteen-year history at the Broadway theatre. But given the reciprocal enthusiasm displayed at this year's "Winter of Love" festivities over three nights at the end of December‚ Warren Haynes & Co. have equaled the devotional aspect of the Southern band's loyalty to the venue‚ not to mention the mutual appreciation society forged with their audience.
Late in the set and early in the morning on New Year's Day‚ the leader of the Mule expressed his gratitude once again to the crowd for their reception of the quartet‚ finishing with the thought‚ "…I have to keep saying it and I hope you don't get tired of hearing it…" It's the very fact of the loyalty between the band and its audience in the cozy confines of this venerable venue that made for the memorable moments in this‚ the fifth such end of the year run at the Beacon for the Mule.
Opening night‚ the 28th‚ was just about as potent as Gov't Mule gets. Though the mix of hard rock and blues committed no spectacular surprise to history‚ the unity displayed by the group‚ fueled by the passion of the leader‚ was in direct proportion to the clamorous reception given the band by their audience that night. In music‚ as in many of the most important things in life‚ it's the little things‚ and for Mule to proffer Howlin' Wolf's "How Many More Years" in the Zeppelin arrangement sent a surge through the crowd‚ many of whom may or may not have noticed Haynes sang the author's original lyrics (Page & Co. altered them for songwriting credit on their first album).
Such niceties weren't quite so evident throughout the next night‚ when experimentation went slightly awry‚ and overstatement‚ usually the antithesis to any work of Haynes‚ offset the high points. The latter peaks included a powerful segue from "Rockin' Horse" into "Thorazine Shuffle" and a sly reading of Hendrix's "If 6 was 9‚" a harbinger of things to come Monday evening. The horn section that seemed an afterthought on set two's opener "Soulshine"-with a mirrored ball lit up on each refrain!?!?-sounded at home and at ease when adorning Little Feat's "Spanish Moon." The appearance of George Porter on bass and Brian Stolze on pithy guitar there and on "Hey Pocky Way" was a true celebration‚ perhaps rendering redundant the aftershow affair (to honor the Meters' bassist's 60th birthday).
These accoutrements were in contrast to the trumpet solo that threatened to derail the momentum of "The Other One" jam Warren had launched moments before. Drummer Matt Abts didn't quite catch the propulsive rhythm behind The Who's "I Can See for Miles" at the end of set one. Guitarist Josh Clark and keyboardist/vocalist Trevor Garrod from opener Tea Leaf Green‚ sat in on "My Generation" and were no more distinctive than what they offered on Velvet Underground's "Waiting for My Man." (This in contrast to Keller Williams spirited contributions the previous night on Van Morrison's "He Ain't Give You None" and especially on the protest march "For What It's Worth.")
But covers‚ and scintillating ones at that‚ were the word of the night New Year's Eve. After another hard-hitting‚ albeit truncated‚ opening set of latter day Mule-"Brand New Angel‚" "Mr. High & Mighty‚ "About to Rage‚" "Banks of the Deep End"-the quartet embarked upon a tour de force of music from the "Summer of Love‚" 1967. Introduced by a faux radio announcer (as well as an Ed Sullivan impersonator for comic relief)‚ the initial choices were nothing Haynes hasn't done before (w/Phil Lesh among others): Traffic's "Dear Mr. Fantasy‚" Cream's "Sunshine of Your Love‚" and The Beatles' "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds."
A double dose of Hendrix-"Little Wing‚" and "Spanish Castle Magic"-was no surprise either‚ nor was the Grateful Dead's "Morning Dew." But the streamlined clarity of the latter signaled a shift into a higher gear in which a clutch of tunes outside the psychedelic (sic) realm served the double purpose of exceeding audience expectations and expanding their understanding of the times.
It's not often Stevie Wonder's hit "I Was Made to Love Her" gets mentioned in the same breath as references to Haight-Ashbury‚ nor does Otis Redding‚ though his appearance at 1967's Monterey Pop rivaled Hendrix for intensity. The earthy funk of James Brown was as significant for its appearance in the late Sixties as the blues guitar of Albert King‚ simultaneously keeping with the times and transcending them. Their inclusion in "The Winter of Love" set list added credibility to the concept and the band executing it.
The bedrock riff of Jim Morrison & Co.'s "When the Music's Over" fits right in the Mule wheelhouse. Haynes' guitar in tandem with Danny Louis' keyboards lit up the progression‚ while his caterwauling vocals made the lyrics of the late rock icon‚ so often (and rightly) ridiculed‚ sound contemporary rather than dated. In contrast‚ "Light My Fire" did not sound of a piece with Gov't Mule's discography by any stretch-the performance was rushed with little appropriate emphasis; it was the single evidence of pure nostalgia to be heard and seen this night that was‚ in the best sense of a holiday borne of honest reflection and healthy anticipation‚ the place to be in the city of Manhattan (all due apologies to Times Square‚ Lenny Kravitz‚ Miley Cyrus and Carrie Underwood).
While screening a black and white video of MLK at the Washington anti-Vietnam rally‚ combined with the fairly stylish lightshow‚ plus photos and graphics of album covers‚ certainly wouldn't rival the sophisticated production of a Roger Waters extravaganza or a Rush concert‚ it was nevertheless an earnest effort on the part of Gov't Mule to offer something extra to the audience to measure up to the occasion. It's easy to chalk up the minor glitches to this one-time affair. This is a band usually content to simply hang their logo behind them on stage.
Picking right up from Otis Redding a half hour before‚ Warren Haynes & Co. displayed the improvisational patience that plays such a significant part of their stage approach.
If it's true that‚ upon the close of set two‚ the rash of departures left only the hard-core Muleheads‚ it was appropriate the atmosphere in the Beacon by 1:30 AM was that of after-hours in a jazz club where the musicians play for themselves‚ confident their audience is ready‚ willing and able to follow them wherever they go-which in this case was the abstract likes of a nod to Coltrane‚ in which saxophonist Steve Elson (David Bowie) played the understated integral role he had through much of set two. Then it was on to an exercise in dub‚ the likes of which explained how the latest Mule recording‚ Mighty High‚ works so well: the studio production replicates a live jam in the reggae style.
Then there was the bone-crunching homage to herb in "Don't Step on the Grass‚ Sam‚" with roadie Brian Farmer parading across the stage brandishing the lyrics in the refrain on posterboard (not to mention rare props to bassist non-pareil Andy Hess prior to his solo). The tortured melancholy in the performance of Dave Mason's "Sad and Deep as You‚" was something less than a gentle send-off to the crowd‚ who had at that point witnessed and participated in nearly four hours of multi-media intensity‚ including balloons and confetti for the midnight countdown. But wasn't it Shakespeare who said: "Parting is such sweet sorrow"? No more pithy a statement than Warren's "See you this year" when he finally took his leave from the Beacon stage on 1/1/08.