Gov't Mule has progressed from "power trio" par excellence to "Artisans and Alchemists of Funky Rock & Roll Soul Jazz Latin Reggae Gospel Blues" over the past few years and they gave a 'dog and pony show of diversity in motion' at the Texas Club in Baton Rouge, Louisiana (my soul home) to an ecstatic, packed house of fellow believers on Monday, April 23, 2007.
Not only does the Mule deliver the tones, craft, and finesse, but the raw passion and power was absolutely inspiring. They connected with a capacity crowd that spanned the generations and the diversity shown in their originals and the surprising little teaser song quotes might have flown past some, ranging from old soul and funk a la Stevie Wonder's "Higher Ground" or Earth Wind & Fire's "Getaway" or Luther Ingram's "If Loving You Is Wrong" or the delta firmament blues of Robert Johnson's "Come On In My Kitchen" or the primal "Mississippi goes to Chicago" stomp of Elmore James' "Send You Back To Georgia" through the prism of Duane Allman. Or how about the spacey world vibe of George Harrison's Beatle vision "Within You, Without You" on through a whole notebook of teases from the rest of the Beatle canon in the "She Said / Tomorrow Never Knows" segment, but even if those folks that hadn't 'lived the first cycle' of the music didn't recall those names and faces, their responsive smiles couldn't be ignored.
Now, I have to warn you that you're in the presence of a total 'gear-junkie' musician, but I'll spare you the incessant rambling praises of old-school instrument richness and just summarize that if you want that vibe you gotta get the Wurlitzer electric pianos - one for each side of the Hammond B3 organ and Leslie speaker electro-mechanical elephant of a tone machine in the hands of one creative dude like Danny Louis, who I might add is the perfect foil for a guitarist of the high caliber of Warren Haynes and knows what to do to add to the music and still keep the original spirit of the "power trio" close at hand, but with the perfect amount of whistling drawbar manipulation and Hohner clavinet funkification through the row of tone bending 'color boxes' used with imagination and a nod to tradition simultaneously.
The bass guitar was in the loving hands of Andy Hess who also brought a new vibe to the group while locking in with the drums the way that only a true 'song person' does. His tastefully applied bass chops invoked the spirits of Allen Woody, John Paul Jones, Jaco Pastorius (the 'funky chicken' 16th notes and the 'harmonic chime spice' were my personal favorites, being the manic Jaco-phile that I am) and yet he always remained 'appropriate' (don't you hate that word?) and brought a few of his own creations to the roux.
Being originally a drummer, I can't say enough good stuff about Matt Abts. First, the man has phenomenal taste in tuning his drums and choosing the best 'color' for a given scene in this movie. Second, he brought in the classic 'drum hero' moves like Ginger Baker, John Bonham, Buddy Rich, Billy Cobham, and even more, but he ran them through the "Abts Filter" and it came out unique and personal with the amazing fills during the songs that pushed the energy higher and higher and made the crowd twitch like a herd of epileptic sheep. Third, this happened time and again throughout his drum solo, and lemme tell ya, the drum solo is a lost art – nobody seems to be able to keep the groove and still throw in surprises any more, but Matt totally disproved my theory with his alternatingly manic and thoughtful and surprising ideas such as using the hand drums in novel Latin and African inspired ways and then suddenly transitioning to powerhouse rock triplets like Ian Paice in his Deep Purple "Made In Japan" heyday. Mr. Matt definitely knows his way inside and out of every groove in the book. His amazing 'telepathic' drumming then ties us to a certain 'guitaricus-rex' known in 'Mule-ology' as Warren Haynes. What more can I say, other than "Amen, Brother Warren".
The chemistry between Matt and Warren is so automatic all the way back from their early days in Dickey Betts band and it has grown and grown over the years. I watched "The Deepest End" 2003 Gov't Mule & Friends 'Allen Woody Tribute Concert' DVD from the late great Saenger Theatre in New Orleans before the Monday show to stoke the fire, and I thought "I'll just have to give them a break, there's no way they could top a magic night like that", but I was wrong, as they topped it repeatedly on a freakin' Monday Night (of all things to find inspiration from!). I couldn't believe the consistent power and soul of Warren's singing and I thought "My God, his pipes must be made of LEATHER" as he consistently pushed out everything from a deep-seated growl shouting blues rock exclamation to a heart-wrenching subtle soul-infused "Otis Ballad Moments". My bass player Bill Doran went with me to see the show, and we both kept turning over to say "did you hear that (fill in the blank for style) lick" or "listen to that massive tone" or "amazing effect" or "what a cool chord change" or "killer Gospel B3 organ licks/sounds" or "listen to that Wurlitzer piano fill" or "that's the sickest soul lick I've ever heard" or "he's gonna rip the strings clean off the guitar if he keeps stingin' it HARD like that" or "that's the most intense slide I've heard in ages". Bill and I also noticed the clever songwriting craft that Warren has always had and that keeps the songs interesting by changing themes at just the right moment by a slick modulation, rhythm change, or mood shift. Warren's "American Music Encyclopedia" kept opening to different chapters, and he displayed modal jazz, double-stops soul, reggae, a bit of country, flat-out peel yer eyeballs back blazing metal aggression, but most of all, as my pal Burton Gaar encountered back in Nashville many years ago, a deep abiding respect for and a deep well of knowledge of the blues, in all it's many hues.
I didn't get to meet Warren and the guys as I hoped (the passes didn't get there in time… oh well), but it would have been anti-climactic by then because I was just too blissed-out to string together a sentence at that point. Bill and I just looked at each other and some of the folks nearby, and decided our tanks were full and it was time to 'file it in the vault' and check in with "Mule Tracks" on the web to see if we could get a 'time-capsule' of the event.
What a great night… 'rejuvenation' is the word that comes to mind!
-Tom Coerver (www.tomcoerver.com)