Gov’t Mule closed out their twentieth anniversary fall tour at the State Theatre in Ithaca on November 15, pulling out all of the stops and in the words of Warren Haynes regarding the last show of the tour, making sure, ‘Anything Goes!’ Indeed this fact was true as the Mule blasted out a career spanning set that featured multiple and extended instrumental interludes and definitive renditions of multiple Mule jam vehicles.
The band hit the stage at 8:20 with latecomers still stumbling their way to their seats as the group developed a spacey swell. Haynes used some deft manipulations of feedback immediately before dropping coin into slot with the twisted groove of ‘Bad Man Walkin’. The hallmark of this introductory set is not only the expected holographic Haynes guitar explorations, but the dirty sock funk laid down by the sturdy rhythm section. ‘Inside Outside Woman Blues’ continues this trend with the first ‘big’ jam of the evening, culminating in a knotted guitar/bass battle between bassist Carlsson and Haynes. Keyboardist Danny Louis is also a major proponent of the grooves being developed on the evening lending spongy Rhodes asides and Moogy colorizations.
A jam then constructed with hammer and nails resulted in the shady chugging introduction of ‘Broke Down on the Brazos’ from Mule’s 2009 LP, By A Thread. Haynes deconstructed the outro jam in a blue flurry of quotes, smoothly revealing obscured melodies with every quote. ‘Brazos’ fell perfectly into a sprawling ‘Tributary Jam’ allowing Louis to explore his sonic stamp collection while exchanging licks across stage with Haynes.
‘Whisper in Your Soul’ followed and was dedicated to Grace Potter by Haynes. The shimmering track is the appropriate cool down period for the set even though it splashes into watery wah-wah’s guitars by its conclusion. Haynes and Mule standard, ‘Banks of the Deep End’, made a welcome appearance keeping the damper down and did not stray from the theme of cultivating funky blues rhythms that had been developed over the evening.
Following a restful duo of tracks, Haynes donned the slide for the first time the evening during the show highlight, ‘Devil Likes It Slow’, surpassing 13 minutes. A plethora of thematic snapshots are examined while Carlsson forgoes the steps and heads straight for the stars with his bass virtuosity. The composition becomes elastic when Louis steps forward for a Herbie Hancock impression while Haynes lays back with jazzy interjections. Musical summits are reached and then left behind for greater things. Inspiring musicianship is the hallmark for the Mule and this particular jam leaves no doubt.
‘Thorazine Shuffle’ then closes the powerful set while also sandwiching the punchy smirk of 2013’s ‘Funny Little Tragedy’. This is a runaway train of a jam that careens around corners before peaking and leaving the excited crowd anticipating the second set. It’s hard to believe the band could follow the previous jamming on ‘Devil’ with anything, but again they come up in spades by topping themselves yet again.
The tight quarters and cramped bathrooms of the historic State Theatre were no match for the camaraderie enjoyed over the break due to the Mule’s superior and joyful playing. After such a well jammed out first set, the second set was sure to be brimming with musical surprises. As to not blow the roof off of the place after the incendiary close of the first set, the Mule eased it in with the slick guitar buoyancy and undulating bass of ‘Done Got Wise’ followed by the refreshing Reggae drift of ‘Scared To Live’, both found on 2013’s Shout!.
Properly warmed up and ready to kick, the band jumped into a funktified reading of the Betts/Haynes composition ‘Kind of Bird’, a song built for musical madness and a song performed by Mule since their inception. Here it is given a moody long distance reading with a full on ‘In Memory of Elizabeth Reed’ jam as well as a quote from the Turtles, ‘Happy Together’. ‘King of Bird’ spotlights stellar playing, seamless segues and stratospheric playing by the entire band. The venue gathers a late night haze, the temperature rose in the balcony and the Mule turned the assembled crowd to putty. Bird calls glided over rolling thunder, before coagulating into a massive scrubbing froth of swelling musical foam. Multifaceted and dynamic jams are lead by Haynes but given momentum by Louis and Carlsson who came in for a slamming landing at the only natural resting place, the expansive mine field of a Matt Abts drum solo. Woah.
‘I Think You Know What I Mean’ slinked through the bar room door, the influence of its distinctive drum beat reflected in the version of Led Zeppelin’s ‘When the Levee Breaks’ that it envelops. Haynes slipped the slide on his finger again for this song suite, bringing much of the collected crowd to its feet. The natural progression between songs is hand in glove as Haynes weaves the band between compositional boxcars. Two more song pairs combine to culminate the evening in a way that only the Mule can. The kinetic cowbell driven ‘Bad Little Doggie’ is a crowd favorite and defiantly breaks its lead to act as a prelude to the evenings second Zeppelin reference, a floor stomping ‘How Many More Years’. Played with the Zeppelin arrangement but dictated in the classic Howlin’ Wolf fashion. Rising and falling like the seasonal waves on Cayuga Lake the song disintegrates into a crowd clapping conglomerate before reprising intensely.
The band returns to ecstatic applause for their encore and responded in kind by playing a pair of Mule standards road tested, recognizable and as comfortable as dependable winter gloves. Undeniable proof of who is still one of the finest live bands in the land. ‘Mule’ and ‘Soulshine’ close the evening paired fittingly in what is a celebration of a great band, touched by tragedy, luck, respect, talent, change, stability and undeniable abilities. Lets raise our glasses to another twenty for Gov’t Mule, Warren, Matt and Allen’s original vision, unchanged and still kickin.