Gov’t Mule: Raleigh Ampitheater, Raleigh, NC 7/26/10

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When Gov’t Mule took the stage for their first show at Raleigh’s new downtown amphitheatre on July 16, the audience’s Friday night fun came to a wet, electrical end after only 4 songs. Returning to the venue for the make-up show on July 26, I wondered if the atmosphere of a muggy Monday could match the energy and anticipation that existed, albeit briefly, during the band’s first attempt.

Things certainly started in a unique and promising manner. The band took the stage and leader Warren Haynes immediately nodded to the rainout. "Where were we?" he asked, and the crowd responded with laughter and cheers as the band completed the aborted version of "Steppin’ Lightly" from ten days earlier. The show’s early song selection included gritty numbers that foreshadowed the evening’s bluesy focus, such as "Broke Down on the Brazos," with its pulsating bass groove, the breakneck fusion of "Thelonious Beck," and a cover of Ray Charles’ "I Believe To My Soul," which served as a showcase for Hayne’s lion-like vocals. The first set rolled along in ideal fashion, with an emotional "Banks of the Deep End" giving way to the jazzy workout of "Trane."

One of the oldest Mule songs, "Trane" almost always serves as a point of departure for serious instrumental exploration, and this version did just that. It’s no wonder the band only dusts this tune off every month or so, because it’s a special event that frequently comprises the meat of any set while birthing huge jam segments. Nearly 20 minutes after the first notes of "Trane" left the stage the band had taken the audience on a wild, non-stop ride into the sunset with "Eternity’s Breath" – a frequent companion to "Trane" – and a litany of teases and jams. The Grateful Dead’s "St. Stephen" got an indulgent workout, and "Third Stone from the Sun" teases weaved around "Norwegian Wood" quotes.

Next up was "Slackjaw Jezebel," which showcased the keyboard work of Danny Louis. He and Haynes engaged in an eloquent conversation of solos that brought the first set to a rousing close. The atmosphere at set break was thick with anticipation after such a ferocious beginning, but the Mule is notorious for following a brazen first set with an uneven second set. This seemed the case yet again as the set started slow and stayed that way for a while.

The "About to Rage" set opener – with touches of Black Sabbath’s "Electric Funeral" thrown in – was appropriate, if a bit languid and dark for a set opener. It’s not as if Haynes didn’t line up some relatively rare tunes ("How Many More Years" and "About to Rage") and plenty of crowd-pleasing teases, but there was a lack of flow, compounded by a drum solo, that kept the second set from truly taking off. An enjoyable, succinct version of "Any Open Window" established a decent momentum after "About to Rage" finished up, but the sequence that followed sucked some of the life from the show. "Inside Outside Woman Blues" and "How Many More Years," while full of great listening, weren’t energetic enough to keep me engaged, and the songs seemed to run together as one interminable guitar solo.

"How Many More Years" ended with an awkward drop into Matt Abts’ drum solo, which spanned an arduous ten minutes before the band returned with the dreary "Forevermore." This whole segment of the show wasn’t very engaging, but the subsequent "I’ll Be the One" proved spectacular and redemptive. "I’ll be the One" featured an indulgent improvisation that wound into a jam on The Allman Brothers’ "Blue Sky" before moving into full-on lyrical interpolations of "You Can’t Always Get What You Want" and "I’ll Take You There." There were no more down moments to be had, as the band’s staple of staples – "Mule" – closed out the second set in grand fashion and featured yet another massive cover tune in Led Zeppelin’s "Whole Lotta Love."

The standalone "Railroad Boy" encore was a quizzical choice, and it also seemed a bit rushed as the band slammed right into the 10:30 weeknight curfew. But, overall, Haynes and company did their very best to make up for the misery of the rained-out show from ten days earlier, offering one of the widest selections of Mule tracks Raleigh has ever seen. As long as the Mule is still kicking, it’s a safe bet that they’ll return to Raleigh’s newest venue every year, rain or shine.

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