Gov’t Mule: Beacon Theatre, New York, NY 12/31/09

Gov’t Mule extended their New Year’s tradition to eight years December 30 and 31, 2009, returning to the Beacon Theatre in New York after a year’s sabbatical at the Angel Orensanz and Hammerstein Ballroom in 2008 while the Broadway venue was being refurbished.

Warren Haynes has rarely greeted a crowd so warmly as he did the packed house on the first of the "Two Nights of Peace and Mule" and deservedly so. The quartet’s chemistry now fully reconfigured over a year after bassist Jorgen Carlsson’s enlistment, the band is nailing new material from the recently released studio album By A Thread following an autumn’s worth of touring behind it. The Mule’s at the perfect point of familiarity with songs like "Broke down on the Brazos" and "Stepping Lightly," which in turn nurtures a fresh perspective on standards from their repertoire like "No Need to Suffer " and "Thorazine Shuffle."

The latter appeared after Los Lobos’ David Hidalgo left the stage having sung Traffic’s "Dear Mr Fantasy" (through a somewhat faulty mic) and before he and Haynes unleashed a veritable torrent of blues-rock guitar during the first encore of the night. More than a few Muleheads missed its successor, Joni Mitchell’s "Woodstock," but Gov’t Mule treated another room full of rabid fans to one powerful set of originals–with Led Zeppelin’s "Whole Lotta Love" sandwiched within "Mule"– the next night, before offering their own versions of tunes performed at the famous 1969 music festival.

Augmented with a three-piece horn section plus Allman Brothers percussionist Marc Quinones,  the foursome demonstrate as much versatility as ambition in presenting selections from Joe Cocker, The Band, Sly and The Family Stones and Janis Joplin. Leonine songstress Dana Fuchs’ earthy, uninhibited performance on the latter roused the crowd, but no more so than Mule’s take on Grateful Dead’s "Dark Star" to open a third set that ended in cacophony over two hours after 2010 began: a medley from The Who’s Tommy concluded with a Marshall speaker toppling from its perch just before Warren brandished a white Stratocaster to lead his band through a variation (not an attempted replication!) of Hendrix’  "The Star Spangled Banner" and the late guitar icon’s "Purple Haze." Happy New Year indeed. Happy new Mule as well.

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