April 19, 2002: Gov’t Mule (with Alvin Youngblood Hart) at the Riviera Theatre, Chicago, IL.
Traffic was slow, but Brofan still got us to the Riv in plenty of time to see Alvin Youngblood Hart’s set. Alvin is an interesting performer: he played a fairly brief solo electric set that mixed elements of the classic blues- the Chicago, electric post-blues variety- with his a very original flair. He’s keeping a tradition alive, but he’s no copycat. When he was done, he grabbed two of his guitars (he used a different one for almost every song) and left. And with surprisingly little flair — I don’t think the lights even went back down — Gov’t Mule came out.
Andy Hess was on the bass, and Warren, wearing his purple explorer, stepped to the mic for an a capella “Grinnin’ in Your Face.” It was a very stark contrast to the beginning of my other Mule show (09.29.01). But then Warren grabbed his guitar as if to surprise it, and yanked out the intro to Bad Little Doggie.
We were in familiar territory now, but this was still a band with a different sound. The mix was very heavy on the bass and drums. Matt’s snares rang out like shots, and Andy’s bass notes really thumped. My previous encounter with the band was with the Chuck/Oteil version. That band seemed very fleet of foot, and it burst out of the gate running. Last night’s band felt like it kicked, and hard.
Bad Little Doggie went into Lay Your Burden Down without stopping, and this is where things started to get stange. The song was WIDE open, and featured Warren quoting “Don’t Call Me Nigger, Whitey” on a wah-wahed guitar. Far Away was even more open and strange: Danny Louis took a clavinet solo that can only be described as “surreal.” Because of his effects, it was sometimes very hard to tell his sound apart from that of Warren’s guitar (with the wah). Warren, for his part, tried everything possible to coax weird sound from his guitar: he played right-hand slide, he played left-hand slide while pulling the strings behind the slide, and he even rubbed his guitar against the mic stand.
The song ended, Warren picked up his Les Paul (which he’d play for the rest of the night) and Matt’s full-throttle drumming brought us back to reality. A high-octane Rockin’ Horse lept out, though still with enough room for a solo from Danny. This definitely ratcheted things up a notch; as it has at so many ABB shows. The song didn’t end, but descended into more drumming — out of which came Mule. This, too, rocked with a vengeance, and had an extended jam in the middle that showcased Danny and Warren.
Danny probably has more experience with Warren than either of the previous Mule keyboardists (he was in the WHB before there even was a Mule), and they seemed very comfortable together.
After this song, the band switched gears again, slipping into the reggae-rock of Time to Confess from the upcoming Deep End, Volume 2 CD (the album track will feature George Porter and Art Neville; Warren said the CD would be released “in a couple of months.”) This song has a really sweet groove, I’m really looking forward to hearing the CD version.
Warren then happily introduced Audley Freed, the first of an extensive series of special guests. Audley, who looks like the music world’s answer to Kramer of Seinfeld, played a guitar that looked a bit like a tobacco-colored version of Warren’s Explorer. Warren hit some ringing, Neil-Young-style chords, and the band went into Banks of the Deep End. With the second guitar added (and most of Mike Gordon’s vocal harmonies subtracted), the song had a substantially different feel from the album track. Sco-Mule, which definitely benefited from the added guitar (Audley had switched to a red SG), trippled by Danny’s keys, the song took on a lot more power than the one I saw in September, which featured only Warren. This rendition sounded like a Giant climbing a spiral staircase. Warren was digging it, which means only one thing can happen- he snapped a string. 😉
These two songs really showed a lot of Warren’s ABB (probably mostly Dickey Betts) influence: lines that are normally played by only one guitarist made perfect sense with two. They didn’t sound exactly like ABB songs, but harmonies that skillful and intricate suggest only one thing to most fans, and that was it.
After Sco-Mule, Danny took a key solo that we knew had to lead to Soulshine. Of course, the crowd still roared when the song itself became recognizable. Warren flashed us the peace sign during Audley’s solo, and the two Asheville guitarists showcased some great interplay (especially in their harmonies toward the song’s conclusion). Haynes thanked us as the band took its break.
The second set (which initially featured the same line-up that ended Set One) started with the roar of Temporary Saint>Fool’s Moon. Warren and Audley were perfect on the second song, which hit a climax when Warren and Audley began a rapid series of hammer-ons and pull-offs. Then Warren began to shred as Audley hit a rapid-fire series of triplets. Another cool moment during this song: Warren took a VERY quick slide break, and the only way he could get the slide off his hand in time was to have Brian Farmer (his identical twin roadie) make the assist- and actually take it off Warren’s finger! “Thank you! Welcome back for Round Two!” Warren exclaimed.
A rare Mule version of Worried Down with the Blues followed. It rocked, and Danny’s organ contributed a lot to the mood of the song (this has always been one of Warren’s more atmospheric numbers, in my opinion).
Then things shifted again as Alvin Youngblood Hart came out and Audley put on an acoustic that looked absolutely tiny on his lanky frame. With the band’s lineup now swelled to 6 people, they started into the Rolling Stones hit Wild Horses. Warren took the first and third verse and the high harmonies in the chorus; Alvin the second verse and the low part. They sounded very good together.
In perhaps the most abrupt left turn of the evening, Alvin left again (to much praise from Warren), along with Audley and Andy, and Jason Newsted came out. Considering he neither sang a note nor talked to audience, he had a huge stage presence. He slapped Warren five and then hugged him, and made his way around the stage Matt began tapping his cymbals as Jason lept from the front of the stage to the back, and finally strode RIGHT next to Matt (bass slung almost to his knee) and began to pound out the intro to Thorazine Shuffle. This was a very menacing version of the song, thanks mostly to Jason’s playing — he really got locked in with Matt right away. He’s not as improvisational as some of the Mule’s other bassists, but he hits a groove FIERCELY. Matt took this one home with an extended drum solo as everyone else exited the stage.
Warren, of course, came back as he finished, egging the crowd on to cheer Matt (just as he had during the song itself). Then the Mule busted out their first-ever live version of Deep Purple’s Maybe I’m a Leo. This one really sounded like a lion; it was heavy but very agile, with just a slightly faster tempo and more pop than the Deep End reading. Jason spent much of the song right next to Danny’s rig (he rarely faced the audience) as they headbanged together. It almost made sense when someone in the crowd shouted for “Enter Sandman.”
Finally, Danny made his own exit, and the Mule (stripped down to a power trio) cranked out Black Sabbath’s ode to weed, Sweet Leaf. The place was really on fire by this point (and it suddenly made sense that all three guys on stage were dressed in black). But it was the version of War Pigs that immediately followed (with no break) that really destroyed the joint. Warren’s playing was insane, he was dropping atomic Tony Iommi riffs with a raw abandon that made it easy to forget that he’d been playing Wild Horses less than half an hour ago. (Likewise, the crowd sang along to War Pigs just as easily as they had to the aforementioned song). A little bit of moshing actually broke out, and I swear the tempterature of the room jumped five degrees. The intensity was breath-taking.
The band left the stage after this song, but we knew they weren’t done. And sure enough, with Audley and Danny back in the fold, for Humble Pie’s 30 Days in the Hole. Everybody rocked out to this one, which made a perfect conclusion to the hard-rock portion of the evening, and left everybody as satisfied as could be with the show.
Our socks had been thoroughly rocked off. It was like we’d seen several different shows: a Mule show (though most of it featured Audley Freed, who really added a lot), there was a very experimental progressive rock show, and there was a heavy-metal set from Thorazine Shuffle onward, fueled by the combative, combustive mixture of Jason’s bass and Matt’s double-bass drumming.
Brofan, Sang and I went around the block and said hello to all the players and congratulated them on a job well-done. They were all good guys (and Jason Newsted in particular was much nicer than you’d expect from someone who spent more than a decade with Metallica. 😉 Muletallica? MetalliMule? He was an excellent fit with the band. I’m glad I caught this incarnation of the band. Whatever they’re like when they come around next time, I can’t wait to see it (hopefully in Indy in two months). Peace. –Marley