Gov’t Mule concerts are always rife with surprises so why think the tenth anniversary of New Year’s celebrations at New York’s Beacon Theatre would be any different? Well, for one thing because the quartet had made only few select appearances in 2011–ABB’s Wanee festival and their own Mountain/Christmas Jams–as titular leader Warren Haynes spent the better part of his time touring with his own band in support of his Stax solo album Man in Motion.
By the time the two-concert five set December run was done, however, anyone in attendance had witnessed vintage Mule in the form of charged versions of long-standing entries in their repertoire combined with a variety of covers equally laden with emotion. Funkadelic’s “Maggot Brain” served as an opening salvo of fireworks that continued with brave explorations of Mule faves (from Halloween shows past) Pink Floyd ("Fearless”) and Led Zeppelin (“Since I’ve Been Loving You”). This before an entire second set on New Year’s eve itself, where a well-rehearsed presentation of Joe Cocker’s Mad Dogs & Englishmen, in its entirety, might well have served as the only homage to roots Haynes might’ve needed in his recognition of his r&b/soul influences.
The opening set of December 31st was a non-stop exhibition of Gov’t Mule’s collective strength as an ensemble with a firm grasp of dynamics: even as “About to Rage” keynoted this hour-plus, the delicacy the unit displayed on the Grateful Dead’s “St. Stephen” hearkened back to the light touch Mule exhibited throughout the weekend. Such a refined approach, of course, when Haynes wasn’t leading the charge with bone-crushing riffs like that of “Slack Jaw Jezebel” or “Brand New Angel;” meanwhile bassist Jorgen Carlsson constantly fired runs amidst the improvisational din to spur on the guitarist, as well as bandmates Danny Louis on keyboards (and occasional electric guitar and trombone) and charter member Matt Abts on drums.
The latter offered a ragged but nonetheless heartfelt tribute to Bob Dylan when he sang tradeoffs with Haynes on “Girl From the North Country.” But that song of the Bard’s couldn’t compare to the stirring closer of “I Shall Be Released” in the wee hours of Sunday morning January 1st. Nor the well-wrought extended take on John Lennon’s “Working Class Hero” from the previous night, with guests in tow including Los Lobos guitarist David Hidalgo, Conan’s bandleader/fretboardist Jimmy Vivino and old Mule friend Hook Herrera on harmonica.
Haynes made more than one topical reference in the latter stages of Mule & co’s presentation of Mad Dogs & Englishmen (complete with three-piece horn section and female vocalist, all kudos go to Louis for capturing without copying the signature piano style of Leon Russell). But his veiled statements of concern didn’t douse the genuinely celebratory atmosphere in the Beacon theatre, the likes of which may have transcended any other NYE party on the planet (with all due apologies to the Phish
community and the fans of after show parties that occurred throughout the week around New York).
Gov’t Mule left the stage on New Year’s Day 2011 with their future in general in question, not just their holiday returns to the gorgeous Broadway venue. If the tenth observation of New Year’s proved anything (besides, perhaps, their continued remembrance of the late Allen Woody), it is that this band, in whatever form it takes, can continue to connect with each other and their fanbase (not just the hard-core recognized as in attendance at 2am.
Muleidelic Jam >
Maggot Brain >
Little Toy Brain
Lively Up Yourself
Brand New Angel
Kind Of Bird
Alice Jam >
One Of These Days >
Since I’ve Been Loving You with Paul Ill, without Jorgen Carlsson
Blind Man In The Dark
32/20 Blues with Hook Herrera, Jimmy Vivino & Nigel Hall
Working Class Hero with Hook Herrera & Jimmy Vivino
Smokestack Lightning > with Hook Herrera, Jimmy Vivino & David Hidalgo
John The Revelator with Hook Herrera, Jimmy Vivino & David Hidalgo
Politician > with Jimmy Vivino & David Hidalgo
Dear Mr. Fantasy > with Jimmy Vivino & David Hidalgo
For What It’s Worth Reprise with Jimmy Vivino & David Hidalgo
Railroad Boy >
Brighter Days >
Lay Your Burden Down
About To Rage
King’s Highway >
St. Stephen Jam >
Eternity’s Breath >
Trane with Norwegian Wood Tease
Set 2 Mad Mules & Englishmen with The Assets (Machan Taylor, Mini Carlsson & Alicia Shakur) & Chronic Horns (Buford O’Sullivan, Pam Fleming & Jenny Hill)
Honky Tonk Women
Sticks & Stones
Cry Me A River
Bird On A Wire
New Years Countdown
Let’s Go Get Stoned
Blue Medley: I’ll Drown in My Own Tears/When Something Is Wrong with My Baby/I’ve Been Loving You Too Long
Girl From The North Country
Give Peace A Chance
She Came In Through The Bathroom Window
Sco-Mule with Oz Noy
I Believe To My Soul with Nigel Hall
Soulshine with Nigel Hall, Alicia Shakur & Ron Johnson, without Jorgen Carlsson
I Shall Be Released with The Assets, Nigel Hall, Ron Johnson & Oz Noy