Any time you see Gov’t Mule at one of the shows leading up to New Year’s Eve at The Beacon Theatre, you know they’ll hold a little something back: they have to. This reviewer learned this more than a couple of times over the last decade. But on Saturday night, the Mule put that trend to rest. Over the last year, Warren Haynes has gone back to playing more Allman Brothers songs. Friday night the Mule played in Philadelphia with The Allman-Betts band opening. By all accounts, they put on a strong show and brought Duane Betts out for the “Whipping Post” encore. But the show at Waterbury’s The Palace Theater on December 28th, a wonderful old theater that housed two famous Dead shows in 1972 and a Jerry Garcia band show in 1977, there was no opening band. In fact, you could walk right across from the street from the Courtyard Mariott to the show and follow bassist Jorgen Carlsson right up to the stage door. It really felt like the Pied Piper, especially when waiting at the crosswalk for the light to change. Haynes, Matt Abts, and Danny Louis were already at the theater, but with the band and the majority of its fans staying at the hotel, it really felt like “Mule-con.”
Between no opening band and the “for the faithful” vibe, this show really felt like it would be one for the fans and it was. There were really no “newer” songs. Opening with “Hammer and Nails,” it was evident that this was full-throttle Mule. Each song was sung just a little stronger, each jam was a little hotter, and every song went on just a little longer. The fact that “Mule” was the second song in was more evidence that they weren’t playing around. There was no song in the middle of it and there didn’t need one. Haynes it peak after peak with his solos and when “Game Face” was up next it was clear that there would be some more incredible guitar runs.
“Mountain Jam” usually appears in the middle of this one and fortunately this night had one. It was simply magnificent and it was even sweeter by the knowledge that Live Nation has already teased “The Brothers 50” this year in New York. Even if Warren Haynes was somehow not involved in this mystery project, it is nights like this that keep the Allmans’ legacy alive.
“Trane” was another great instrumental launching pad and led into possibly the best “St. Stephen Jam” this reviewer has ever heard. They always feel that way at the time, but this was positively searing. “Beautifully Broken” allowed the crowd to gather itself before a monster “Time To Confess.”
The second set opened with “Dreams.” If you wanted to sum up this show, that would be the headline. Haynes played two solos while the rest of the band provided the perfect foundation. Words won’t even do it justice so it’s best to watch one of the YouTube videos already circulating. “I’m A Ram” was the perfect reggae respite and the middle allowed Danny Louis to do some nice work on the trombone. “No Need To Suffer” included a few Yes jams and “Kind Of Bird” had a nice “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed” bit.
Danny Draher’s family was in the row in front of me so I knew he would come out for some blues to end the show. On “Breaking Up Somebody’s Home,” Haynes stepped back to let him do his thing. It seemed like he went pretty quickly to the Hendrixesque playing with his teeth move and then called for backup.
“Gonna Send You Back To Georgia featured bassist Paul III and forced the question of whether Jorgen had already gone back to the lobby. Nonetheless, the rest of the band, with Draher, left the audience with the call and response rave-up that the Mule has been known for. If you are in the area, I’d get to the Beacon quickly.