17 April 2007

Nedstalgia: 5 Years Ago

(image pilfered from www.tuckerhead.com)

[previously on Nedstalgia: Widespread Panic, The Duo, Phish, Robert Randolph]

I've got a couple of April look-backs for you, but won't go too in depth- mostly an excuse to give you some music to download. These installments are largely for my own amusement, a chance to remember stuff before it gets too squashed down. It's also a chance to dig through old music or, even better, old reviews -- it's good to know that I've been this spastic and verbose for a while now. So, with a little self-indulgence, I give to you 5 years ago tonight: Gov't Mule... maybe the best I've ever seen 'em.

The setlist:
Set I: Pygmy Twylyte > Blind Man In The Dark, Bad Little Doggie, Lay Your Burden Down, Thorazine Shuffle, Taste Like Wine, Life Before Insanity > World Of Confusion, Banks Of The Deep End*$, Soulshine*$

Set II: No Quarter*+, Fool's Moon*, Rockin' Horse%, Mule > Third Stone From the Sun% > Mule%, Beautifully Broken^, 30 Days In the Hole=, Can't You See*~, Sweet Leaf+~ > War Pigs~
E: Lovelight#

* w/ Audley Freed on guitar
$ w/ Andy Hess on bass
% w/ Marc Quinones on percussion
^ w/ Stefan Lessard on bass
= w/ Jason Newsted on bass,
~ w/ Kid Rock on vocals, No Danny
# w/ Robert Randolph on pedal steel, Alvin Youngblood Hart on guitar,
Marc on percussion

[Kid Rock sings one verse of War Pigs and then leaves the stage (First
power trio since Allen Woody died), First time played: No Quarter and
Sweet Leaf]

Here's the show to download in mp3 format:
Disc 1
Disc 2
Disc 3

Stream the show via Nugs.net:
Set I
Set II

And finally, the length review I wrote at the time, unedited (originally posted to NYC-Freaks list on 4/19/2002):

Here is a sentence that should send chills down the spine of any rock and roll fiend: "Gov't Mule to play NYC." What is it about possibly the baddest and loudest playing in the town that is possibly the baddest and loudest?? It might not have been pretty, but the Mule came to the big city last night and pushed us around like the subway crowd at 5pm on a Friday.

First thing that the city always brings out, especially for Warren Haynes, is the special guests. I'm not sure that Gov't Mule has played NYC in the past 3 years and not had multiple guests on stage during the night. Let's get this shit off right away: Jason Newsted, muthaf'n Kid Rock, Marc Quinones, Stefan Lessard, Audley Freed... rock is dead, you say?? Long live rock!

The show began with Dave Schools and Danny Louis joining the Gov't Mule core of Haynes and Matt Abts. The Mule standards rolled right off through the first set: Blind Man In the Dark (preceded by the haunting Zappa cover Pygmy Twylyte to get the mood just dark enough), Bad Little Doggie, Lay Your Burden Down, Thorazine Shuffle... etc. These songs have begun to bleed together over time as they seem to just play these right off the top every time I see them. Dave Schools has really come into his own as a Mule bassist over the last year. He has shown the talent and the wherewithal to fill the role as it should be without sacrificing his own style or resorting to mimicry. I didn't feel this was the case just this February when I saw them, but something about his playing last night struck me as right on. I felt like it WAS Dave Schools playing and it still WAS Gov't Mule.

Well, standard Mule is still some ear-callousing rock and roll, and it didn't take long for the steam to start oozing out of the walls. The sound was terrific through the first stretch, the volume was set to "if it's too loud, you're too old" (and for the record, I'm too old... earplugs in for the second set) and the band was sounding terrific. With Danny Louis in the mix and Schools "feeling it" the Mule seemed to return to their old form. For a few tours there, they were getting a little kinder and gentler but last night brought them back to red-blooded, steel-toed, leather cat-o-nines devilry.

Danny Louis is so much more into the Mule "sound" than Rob Barraco ever could be. Not a knock on Rob, but let's face it, he's just too -- how should I say this? -- "happy" to be playing in the Mule. Trade in your tie-dye for black, head to toe and maybe we'll talk. Louis gnawed his teeth into every bone and scrap he was tossed throughout the night, filling the sound out with great work on the electric piano especially. Perhaps a bit to be desired on the organ, but overall a solid performance on the keys and the best I've seen since the band has essentially become a quartet.

So, the band really started to feel like it had it going on, the audience was primed and just gobbling up every single note Warren played, every plummeting run down the kit from Matt, every pop of the bass strings from Dave -- to put it bluntly, we were ROCKING OUT!! It was because of this that the Tastes Like Wine that followed felt, for the first time, a bit out of place. There seemed to be no impetus for a breather, the momentum was to seek and destroy any semblance of silence in the theater. But perhaps owing to convention, the pace slowed awkwardly and coupled with the sound faltering a bit (several shots of static piped over the P.A. during Tastes Like Wine) the show suffered and stumbled a bit.

The show had many moments like this where the band would reach take-no-prisoners levels and then pull back, perhaps a too "mature" for their own good. The set ended with Audley Freed of the Black Crowes coming out as well as Andy Hess who, I understand, will take Schools' place as bassist from here on out. Banks of the Deep End was great, but I think a lot in the audience were hoping in the back of their minds that Mike Gordon would grace us with his handiwork down there in the low end. Soulshine, the Warren Haynes anthem, closed the set with some screaming guitar between Audley and Warren. Audley seems overjoyed to bask his guitar work in the sun-god Helios that is Haynes' axe. These guys complement each other wonderfully, in exactly the opposite way that Jimmy Herring complements Warren. Jimmy makes Warren's playing more beautiful and Audley makes it much, much dirtier. Soulshine didn't go as far as it could have or has in the past, but it still had the rafters shaking and the audience roaring going into a very short break.

Warning: second set may be hazardous to your eardrums and general sense of sanity. No Quarter. Sound like a song you'd like to see Gov't Mule cover?? You have no idea. This may have been the sickest thing I've seen the Mule do ever, in any configuration. Freed, Haynes, Abts, Schools, Louis... these guys must have been dipping into something special during set break because they came back not only on the same page, but on the same line, perhaps even the same word. There was a Widespread Panic-like tightness coupled with a volume knob and intensity knob turned to "11" that spelled trouble for all in attendance. Any more words will do no justice to this one. The set would get pretty silly, but it will always come back to this opening number. To say they nailed it is an understatement. I was seriously thinking that perhaps it was the encore because I didn't know how they were going to top it. With all respect to Jimmy Page and Robert Plant... thank you Gov't Mule, you did it, you blew my mind.

Fool's Moon and Rocking Horse were both sort of letdowns after that opener. It could just be the relativity of it all, but the former just seemed like a bad song to my ears and the latter did not live up to previous versions of this song, particularly the one I saw the Allmans play just last month. Mule (the song) brought things back up to par again. Instead of losing itself in stop-short exchanges to create increasingly weirder sandwiches, this version kept within itself. The jam neatly evaporated into the oft-heard Third Stone From The Sun as well as teases on Norwegian Wood without becoming mired in road-less-traveled excursions. Thus, it was a bit shorter than recent versions, but packaged tighter and was just what was needed to drive the rock and roll stake back into our ears. I think it goes without saying that Warren was just shredding throughout, doesn't it? Does anyone do it better? (yes, that was rhetorical).

And once you thought we were clear for the home stretch, a change of personnel ruined the mood once more as the show continued it's up, up, up, down, down, down roller-coaster ride. Beautifully Broken brought out the Dave Matthews Band's Stefan Lessard as it did for their gig last October at the Roseland. That night a multitude of bassists each got a few numbers to massage the infinite nuances of Warren Haynes' repertoire. Lessard's "miniset" was a highlight including Beautifully Broken as well as some terrific covers (Lively Up Yourself and Cortez the Killer were arguable the best tunes played at that show) The flow from bassist to bassist was nothing but smooth and remarkable considering the array of styles on display. Last night showed what a difference a couple dozen city blocks can make. Squeezing Lessard in between the heavy Mule and the even heavier shit that was yet to come was just asking for trouble. Beautifully Broken is my favorite tune off the recent Mule album, but sometimes cramming too many guests out there can come back to haunt you. Warren is the master of special guests, no doubt about it, but perhaps his eagerness got the best of him at the Beacon... if only for a moment.

Now we get to the fun part... did I mention that Kid Rock came out and lived up to his name on a Wednesday night?? I mean, we all knew that Metallica's Jason Newsted was gonna come out and play, he was on the bill, but Kid Rock? Rock is dead, you say?? Long live rock!

Marshall Tucker Band's "Can't You See" was the first tune and they just frickin' hit the ground running with that one. Vocals from Mr Rock were impeccable and his showmanship just pushed the crowd energy up one more notch. It's not often that the crowd at a Mule show is pumping its fists, banging its collective head and screaming to God almighty in the name of rock and roll, but Lord help me, they were worked to a frenzy on the Upper West Side. Audley Freed was there and it just hasn't been that loud, that intense and that fucking rocking for me in a long, long time. They followed that up with a Sweet Leaf (a Mule premiere) that picked it up one more notch, if you can believe it. Kid Rock broke it down midway through and semi-improv-ed an impressive rap that I believe was a cross between some of his own material and on-the-spot word-smithing. When he squealed "Kid Rock rocking with tha Government Mule!" I nearly lost my marbles. The middle breakdown secetion of this one was brutally good...

Lest I forget the most impressive part of the night -- Jason Newsted taking his turn to bat as the bassist for the entity known as Gov't Mule. We've had our turn with Burbridge and Schools and a few others scattered in between, but as far as I know, we haven't had any heavy metal thrashers like Jason Newsted at the helm. Ladies and gentlemen, it's time. He looks the part, his body moves the part and his bass plays the part. Newsted ripped it up like nobody's business. The shit hit the fan when they started playing War Pigs. Kid Rock hung around for the first verse and then took off, ensuring he didn't overstay his welcome. This left the band in old-school, power trio format -- Jason, Warren and Matt. There's a reason they call it the "power" trio -- so few people, so MUCH noise. The space in between what they were playing took on its own soundscape sometimes resembling a devil's horn section. Sonic assault. Newsted has shown he can fill the role on some cover tunes... I'm excited to hear how he treats the Mule repertoire like Thorazine and Blind Man, and hopefully he'll get a chance over the next couple gigs..

The encore brought out Robert Randolph and Alvin Youngblood Hart for a Lovelight that left much to be desired. There was really no way they could top the nastiness of the second set, there were still swirls of smoke from the charred remains of our souls filling the Beacon and no one wanted to turn on their lovelights, believe me. The playing was so awkward during the encore, I don't even know where to begin, so I'll just leave it at that and we can all forget it ever happened. I can only imagine how the show might have sounded if they had brought out these guests and played Lovelight to end the first set leaving the encore open for something else with Newsted (how about a Newsted vs. Schools ultimate death match?). I'm sure Warren will come up with something new and nutty for the next time they come to NYC -- hopefully we'll be ready for him!

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