School is in session.

The New School of Gov't Mule that is, teaching disciples the principles of tight blues ensconced rock. I will be the first to admit that I was skeptical about the notion of replacing the late great bass extraordinaire Allen Woody with David Schools of Widespread Panic. Why I was still concerned after having already seen them jam last December down in Asheville N.C. at the Annual Warren Haynes Christmas Jam is beyond me but my fears were laid to rest once and for all with this dynamic performance.

The May 8th date played in Pittsburgh marked the third consecutive Gov't Mule show in the steel city with a different lineup. These three shows reflect the evolution of the band from a power trio to a drums/guitar duet and finally to a thunderous 4 piece band. The addition of keyboard legend Chuck Leavell (Allman Brothers Band, Rolling Stones) has a profound impact on the sound and energy of the music, more so even than the change in bass players.

The show began with a jolt as the band ripped through "Bad Little Doggie" and "Lay Your Burden Down," two songs featured on their last studio release Life Before Insanity. After a perfunctory welcoming to the crowd, Warren Haynes switched from his Les Paul to a Firebird and blazed through "Blind Man In The Dark," complete with the usual vocal distortion through a harmonica microphone. The next tune, "Far Away," was one of the evening's highlights as Chuck Leavell’s soft touch on the keys made notes seemingly jump off the ivories and then run up and down my spine. All of this occured as Warren wowed folks by soloing with just one hand as he manipulated the fret board. Following this was a tribute to the Beatles as the band weaved "She Said" right into mystical eastern sounds of "Tomorrow Never Knows."

On the old jazz tune "Compared To What?" Leavell’s fingers once again danced over the ivories while reminding us that this isn’t the same band. The first set closed with "Thorazine Shuffle," a song featuring one of Woody’s finest bass lines torn up here by Schools, further endearing him to fans.

After a 20 minute set break the band came back out and laid down "Goin’ Out West," a song which has been played over the years by both Widespread Panic and Gov't Mule and is a perfect space for Warren to let loose with his searing blues vocals, melting straight into a raucous "Rocking Horse" which he slides his way through. "Gambler’s Roll," the second Allman Brothers Band song of the night came next as a relic reminding all where this band got it’s start and where Warren will be this summer.

Now, for those of you haven’t seen the band but have seen Warren with either the Allmans or Phil Lesh and Friends, I recommend going and if nothing else just watching Matt Abts play the drums. Heavily influenced by both John Bonham and Billy Cobham, Abts moves so fluidly through his drum solo that the colorful tattoos on his arms look like flapping bird wings. Not to disparage any other drummers but he is the rare drummer who I would actually pay to see by himself. After his solo the rest of the band re-emerged for a show closing Mule which is always a platform to jump in’n’out of other song which tonight were the Tower of Power cover "What Is Hip?" and the Allman’s "Les Brers In A Minor."

The encore seemed to start almost as soon as the second set ended. The first song was "Painted Silver Light," another song for Warren to stretch those gravely vocal chords on tormented lyrics like “In the screaming silence, I try to lose myself, but there is no hiding place.” Proceeding was a tight "Fallen Down" which jammed into The Grateful Dead’s "The Other One" providing Schools with room to run all over Phil Lesh’s bass lines before going back into "Fallen Down" to close the night. In the end the show was bittersweet for Mule fans in that it quelled their longing and skepticism but reminded them of a fallen brother.

Mir Ali
JamBase Midwest Correspondent
Go See Live Music!

[Published on: 5/11/01]

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