A howl sounds through the McCarren Pool in Brooklyn, which looks like the movie set to The Warriors but has enough amplification for Giants Stadium. Wolfmother’s lead singer Andrew Stockdale comes off as the long-lost stepson of Ozzy circa 1972. He’s leading an outfit that sounds like a Led Zeppelin/Blue Oyster Cult/Sabbath cover band, and the crowd seems to dig it. Or maybe Wolfmother’s obvious legacy simply escapes them. These guys from down under seem to have all the right moves and spent innumerable hours in front of their bedroom mirrors, pantomiming all the ‘right’ moves. Wolfmother eats its young.
Alas, my animal of choice is a different breed entirely: Gov’t Mule, and when Warren Haynes walks out on stage he looks almost over-dressed for the occasion: instead of his typical black short-sleeved shirt, he wears a black long-sleeved button-down shirt. The first set kicks off with the bombastic "Bad Little Doggie" and is filled with Jimmy Page riffs, while drummer Matt Abts pounds his brand new Pearl set, furiously pumping out double-pedal fills jam after jam. One of the best tracks from the new album, "Brand New Angel" sounds almost like Led Zep’s "Celebration Day" but is injected with enough North Carolina twang to set it apart. Not-so-brand-new keyboarder Danny Louis channels a sweetly ripping organ solo through an effect pedal that makes it sound as if there is a second guitarist on stage.
Actually, some of the best action unfolds in between songs when roadie/doppelgänger Brian Farmer plays guitar caddie to Warren, echoing Mike "Fluff" Cowan’s work for Tiger Woods. Farmer is a virtual Ferris wheel of guitars, and somehow Haynes ends up with a new guitar for almost every song while never missing a note.
The new songs are hard-hitting yet warm and organic – very Led Zep circa "Houses of the Holy," with lots of quarter notes, shuffles and obvious choruses and verses. Hands pump fiercely in the air, all in unison, as Abts comes crashing down on his cymbals, again and again. Bassist Andy Hess stalks the stage like a crouching tiger as the grooves spews from his bass amp like a cloud of blue smoke, which adds to the one already draped over tonight’s audience.
"Don’t Step On the Grass Sam," a Steppenwolf cover, ends the first set, but the last thing you’d find around here is someone ‘stepping’ on the grass. The crowd eats up the closer. I look at Warren Haynes and can’t think of a more crowd-pleasing lead man in the world of rock: an everyman to his fans, highly approachable, non-airbrushed. A middle-aged air guitar hero. And we’re his disciples, soaking up every note that he squeezes out of his amps.
"Lola Leave Your Light On" from Deja Voodoo kicks off the second set. It’s Side A of Physical Graffiti all over again. And just when you think you had your neo-Zep dose of the afternoon, an extended version of "Unring the Bell," a reaggae-tinged protest song and one of the standouts on High & Mighty, beckons out the PA system. I wonder when was the last time Warren listened to "D’yer Maker," but Warren always has his own original spin on these reliable riffs. Take the lead single "Mr. High & Mighty," his call to arms, with lyrics that clearly point to the Red States. Ironically, Gov’t Mule had performed "Mr. High & Mighty" two days earlier on Fox News Mornings.
Once again, Warren is a walking songbook and his sets unfold like a good novel, veering from Mule originals like ‘Gameface’ into to the classic Allman’s ‘Mountain Jam’; there’s a taste of Creedence, ‘Effigy’ and Johnny Cash’s ‘Folsom Prison Blues’ & The Police’s ‘Message In A Bottle’ teases all within a 2nd set medley sandwich, hold the cheese. The final encore is "So Weak, So Story," a soulful ballad from the new album with emotionally charged lyrics:
"So weak so strong/Nothing’s forever in her universe/Bringing comfort, bringing pain/So weak so strong."
These lines tell the story of the man who sings them. Over the years, Warren has evolved from a serious sideman to a mature bandleader who has endured the loss of band mates, shuffling of Jamband franchises like the Allmans & ‘The Dead’ to finally come out of his own Deep End into the rebirth of the Mule.
Bad Little Doggie, Brand New Angel, Streamline Woman, About To Rage, Larger Than Life, Brighter Days, Rocking Horse, Don’t Step On The Grass Sam, Thorazine Shuffle
Lola Leave Your Light On, Mother Earth, Mr. High & Mighty, Gameface->Mountain Jam-> Gameface, Effigy-> Drums >Unring The Bell Blind Man In The Dark
So Weak, So Strong