Gov’t Mule with John Scofield – Capitol Theatre, Port Chester, NY 3/13/15 & 3/14/15 (SHOW REVIEWS)

It’s a measure of their respective willingness to experiment that the shows Gov’t Mule perform with John Scofield can take on such totally distinct character. The initial night in Port Chester, New York might be seen as the great guitarist sitting in with The Mule, as the latter offered their inimitable blend of vintage originals, vivid new material and a startling range of covers. In marked contrast, the second show at the Capitol Theatre, before a sold-out audience (like the previous evening, webcast to the no less devoted couch tourists) was a unified alliance of a quintet in full bore through blues and jazz rock fusion, the likes of which the hybrid had perhaps never seen in its heyday

These appearances outside of the Big Apple weren’t designed to substitute for the now obsolete Allman Brothers runs at the Beacon Theatre, but Warren Haynes’ early tease of “Mountain Jam” within “Gameface” (alongside Weather Report’s “Birdland” and The Beatles “Norwegian Wood”)presaged later improvisational segments that clearly referenced those spring marathons, including themes of “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed” and “Whipping Post.” In a similarly self-aware gesture at the far end of the two-set show, a logical transition into a jam on the Grateful Dead’s “The Other One” – anticipated the Phil Lesh & Friends shows the next week – but more importantly reminded of the mutual history between Haynes and Scofield in keeping alive the exploratory spirit of the Dead.

The fiery force of the guitarists’ interplay there matched the churning drive of drummer Matt Abts and bassist Jorgen Carlsson, a marked contrast to the bouncy funk the duo helped generate on “Tell Me Something Good” and “Hottentot” when Scofield took the stage roughly a half-hour into the show. Although he wasn’t so animated this night as the next, the guitarist/composer’s good-humor as he plays effectively complements the shadowy moods of The Mule, and, as a result, the atmosphere in this ever-so-comfortable venue became all the more permeated with the attendees’ patience and curiosity. No doubt many took careful note of the way Haynes adopted a more melodic tone than is customary during those which Scofield was next to him utilizing his trademark staccato finesse.

The complementary pairing of their guitars in harmony enabled the five to soar during the Dickey Betts/Haynes composition “Kind of Bird.” The abandon that echoed throughout “Rockin’ Horse” hearkened yet again to ABB era before Gov’t Mule, reasserted their own collective persona by interpolating Tom Petty’s “Breakdown” within “Beautifully Broken. ”

This crowd-rousing singalong, just prior to what’s becoming a regular set closer in the form of “Thorazine Shuffle,” effectively set the stage for the final number of the night, a spooky cover of the Doors’ “Riders on the Storm.” Not only did this ornate arrangement give Mule’s Danny Louis a chance to highlight his keyboard work (via electric piano and synthesizer) with a prominence the house mix didn’t always allow, but also reaffirmed the open-minded approach John Scofield brings to his work in general and this project in particular; the articulate logic of his playing here belied the appropriately angular unpredictability he displayed approximately twenty-four hours later.

A comparatively muted beginning to the 3/14 show included heartfelt bows to Jerry Garcia in the form of “Patchwork Quilt” and “Loser,” neither of which could accurately foreshadow the ever so earthy likes of “When the Night Time Is the Right Time ” from which followed an almost indiscernible progression of intensity. Gov’t Mule share a deft grasp of dynamics with John Scofield, a virtue demonstrated in the varied forms of a furious gallop through of Billy Cobham’s “Stratus,” shortly after the five recalled Scofield’s Au Go Go project with Medeski Martin & Wood by tossing the theme of “Hottentot” into the midst of the insistence that is “Devil Likes It Slow.”

Back on their own, Mule elevated their often saccharine “Soulshine” through Haynes’ emotive inter-weaving of Van Morrison’s devotional “Tupelo Honey,” one more notable instance in which the quartet reasserted the mood on their own terms without giving short shrift to Scofield’s presence. Following a brief, gentle crescendo that quieted the crowd’s raucous call for their return to the stage, Sco-Mule leaped into a fiery take on Jeff Beck’s “Freeway Jam,” closing this versatile performance with the logi-cal extension of the momentum they’d generated over the course of the prior two hours plus.

The aforementioned encore, from the landmark Blow By Blow album of the famed British guitar hero’s, thus stood as a final statement, as if one was necessary, of the uncanny chemistry between Gov’t Mule and John Scofield. These final two performances of their winter tour, each before engaged and largely intelligent crowds, were exhibitions of imagination and humility that, taken as a whole, offered a con-clusion to their latest collaboration as emphatic as it was joyful.

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