Beyond his role as guitar player extraordinaire, soulful vocalist, and genius interpreter of more material than anyone – Warren Haynes is a musical curator. Think about it, he was entrusted to “keep the vibe alive” for both the Allman Brothers Band and The Grateful Dead offshoots The Other Ones, Phil & Friends & The Dead. Yeah, he’s that good. This summer’s Gov’t Mule Dark Side Of The Mule shows might seem like an odd choice given the fact that the Mule has always tried to keep putting out their own exceptional originals. But on Friday the 13th in Holmdel at PNC Banks Arts Center, it became obvious how and why this was all put together. Never bet against Warren.
First up was The Magpie Salute, a band who has to similarly reconcile the legacy of the Black Crowes, all the music that influenced them, and their attempt to put out fresh stuff. So how do they answer the bell? With an eight-song set of zero Black Crowes songs. Actually, they played a cover off the instrumental “Laia Pt 2″ by the German “krautrock” band Agitation Free. How do I know this? I had to look it up and can tell that almost everyone in attendance thought it was an instrumental “Dreams” by the Allman Brothers Band. If you knew what it was, you had me stumped. I was the guy in the MARC F’N FORD shirt on the floor and once yes you can buy it on his site as well. With so much written in this space by this reviewer about Ford, Robinson and the magic of what they have been doing, I’ll simply say they sounded great. And we can pretend it WAS “Dreams,” can’t we?
The Avett Brothers might not seem like a natural fit to co-headline the show, especially one with so much Pink Floyd in it. However, their Americana-style set worked well. In fact, with 15 songs, it was almost as long as the Mule’s. That’s impressive, especially since they don’t exactly jam. They even gave a nod to all the Deadheads in attendance by playing “Mama Tried” AND doing a drum solo.
Unlike the Orpheum Theater 2008 and Hunter Mountain 2015 versions, this “Dark Side Of The Mule” has been issued as a series of shows. The tour opener at Jones Beach got “Mule” and “Revolution Come, Revolution Go.” On this night, the audience got full-throttle versions of “Thorazine Shuffle” and “Banks Of The Deep End.”
Having attended the midnight set at Mountain Jam, this reviewer can attest to a different feeling this go round. There wasn’t the sense that this might never happen again. But like the Hunter version, saxophonist Ron Holloway kicked in on all the right parts. His solo on “Money” was fantastic. Backup singers Sophia Ramos, Mini Taylor, and Machan Taylor hit all the right notes. Taylor is actually the wife of keyboardist Danny Louis and sang with Floyd on their 1987-1988 Delicate Sound Of Thunder tour. This also explains why her “Great Gig In The Sky” sounded as good as the original—it basically was.
There was the arena rock spectacle of the “Meddle” material. Both Avetts came out to join in on “Time” and the “Breathe Reprise.” Magpie Salute lead singer John Hogg and the aforementioned Marc Fucking Ford came out for “The Nile Song,” off of the More album. Drummer Matt Abts even sported a pink blazer. “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” (yes they played all the parts) closed and “Wish You Were Here,” complete with an audience singalong, served as the encore. It seemed unthinkable that “Comfortably Numb,” played at both Thursday and Saturday’s shows, was omitted. But it ended up being a metaphor for the show. It didn’t simply meet expectations. Warren and the boys asked the audience to trust them and they didn’t let the crowd down.