Gov't Mule Rocks The Warfield by Craig Levinsky
Claypool and Friends Take a Ride on The Mule by Alan Stern
Photos by Jeff Levi

Gov't Mule Rocks The Warfield
by Craig Levinsky

Gov't Mule's marathon performance at The Warfield Thursday night delivered like Domino's Pizza in the late hours of a heavy weekend night, timely, necessary and hot, baby. The lineup consisted, separately, of Les Claypool, David Schools, Alphonso Johnson and Jack Casady on bass, Rob Barraco on Hammond, with a consistent all-night nucleus of Chuck Leavell on keys, Matt Abts on drums and of course, Warren Haynes serving up the southern-rooted soul injections on guitar and lead vocals. Even Pete Sears was on hand for a couple of appearances on electric piano and squeezebox.

The mood at The Warfield was (Allman-like) brotherly, waking whatever die-hard Allman Brothers fans, rock aficionados and remaining 1960's survivors from the dead. The crowd, fully aware of the musicianship in the house, came prepared to rock. And rock, we did.

First of all, let me start off by making the claim that Les Claypool may positively be the most skillful and generous musician in the entire scene today. He appears to have lifted the foundation of contemporary rock music, placed it atop his shoulders, and announced, "Come with me kids. Everything's gonna be alright." Perhaps making up for those lost, miss-spent years of his youth catering to mosh pits, Les seemingly makes himself available to every worthy performance to blow through the city by the bay. And he always comes through, stomping down his signature thump, and voice, the likes of which I personally will never tire. Defying age, he looks like some punk kid who just rolled out of his friend's garage on a skateboard in, say, East Brunswick, NJ (or Stockton, CA for all you westies). I don't think anyone out there exhibits as much control over their instrument as Claypool - as if it's literally an extension of his body, as though thought and execution are one and the same. When you see his name in a lineup, you automatically know that whatever's going on up on stage, whether it be the Flying Frog Brigade, Critters Buggin, Oysterhead... it's going to have a Redwood Tree sized backbone, with enormous snakelike tentacles protruding forth, wrapping themselves around any musician or listener within its giant grasp and carrying them on whatever musical journey he wills. That's just a given. Any project featuring Claypool is a guarantee.

So the crowd's pumped with fiery anticipation. The lights go down and I'm missing the beginning moments while two security guards debate for ten minutes as to whether or not my pen, or any pen for that matter, should be deemed a potentially violent weapon. So with my 9mm strapped to my calf, I enter the theater just in time for the "Bad Little Doggie." A warm-up. Les takes just a second to feel his way around. Then "How Many More Years?" A ripping blues tune. This is where the stylistic differences between Claypool and everyone else up on-stage becomes evident. Haynes, Abts, and Leavell are generally one-trick ponies. Albeit, they do they're trick extremely well, being traditional rock-blues. But Claypool, with his Zappa-esque virtuosity and stage presence proves that even on the most traditional blues tunes, he can sit back in the pocket like John Paul Jones. Then they played something else, about the damage being done or something and when that was over Warren asked Les into the mic if they should turn up the bass for the next one. "No," was Les' response - and with that he steered them through the most kick-ass version of "Tommy The Cat" this author has ever heard. Thumpalicious, with lightning quick dexterity only Claypool can boast. Not enough can be said about it. Les simply dominated, as though he was dragging around the rest of the quartet like they were little puppies on leashes. But everyone found their spot and Warren eventually got comfortable, locating a forceful style with which to contribute to the old Primus anthem.

Then the band broke in to "Shine On You Crazy Diamond." Nothing of particular note to report on this one. Led Zeppelin's "Since I've Been Loving You," however, was simply a tour de force. As one acquaintance remarked, "Warren Haynes is like Jimmy Page and Robert Plant all in one." Well, almost. But if there is anything that fat little southerner was born to do, it's to howl and shred the blues. Warren plays blues guitar with such a natural feel I often ask myself while watching him, "Can it actually be that easy?" Obviously not. He just makes it look so. His solos were downright inspired and spiritually posessed. Alright, so "Since..." was incredible, jaw-dropping in fact at times. Warren ripped it up and Les laid it down and all was great in Mudville. Made me shed a tear even to think I was born too late to see Zeppelin rock The Garden back in the day but Mule's version sufficed. After "Since..." the band expertly drove through their "Don't Call Me Nigger, Whitey" jam before Les grabbed the reigns to retort with a "Thank You (Fallettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)" jam. It was just a skill-exhibition all around. Their funkamonstrous Sly jam segued heavily into a lengthy rendition of Hendrix's "Third Stone From the Sun." By this time, everyone on stage is tearing it up, with fine solo and support contributions from all. "Third Stone..." ends. The band leaves the stage. So long Les, for now.

The first set was extraordinary. Claypool and Haynes switched off personally stylized tunes with sheer professionalism, backing each other up patiently and proficiently. Abts, a student of the minimalist style of drumming, doesn't really serve up the solo or flash like, say, Joey Baron (or Stewart Copeland). But he's as solid as brick behind the kit and a lot more sound comes from his drums than he appears to be making. Chuck Leavell is a consummate professional. Put him on the keys and he's money in the bank. Dependable like a Subaru. He's no Medeski but he's no Zippy Larue, either. He's graced the presence of Clapton, The Stones, The Allmans and countless others in his day. He demands respect. He won't make you drool but he'll lay down an inspired solo on his Rhodes and electric piano and he's just as good as anyone on rhythm. That's Chuck.

Dave Schools started on bass for the second set, which, to me, is like plugging Claypool's bass into a morphine drip and compensating for the loss by turning up the volume, which is still pretty damn good, mind you. "Blind Man In The Dark" opened things up and left me missing Les. They played a couple of other tunes. Something about a girl and being in love and hurt or something. Schools got warm and seemed to handle the impossible task of following Les by easing back into his own style, much more conducive to playing with Haynes. Finally they climaxed with a terrific "Other One" jam and Schooly D was off. In came Alphonso Johnson.

AJ started his three song set with "What Is Hip?" I think that's the name of that one. If you want to know what hip is, just look at Alphonso Johnson, one of the most reliable, underrated bassists alive today. The man can fit deep in the pocket like your wallet. Also demanding of respect, he's played with Weather Report, Horace Silver, Chet Baker... The list goes on and on. He's a jazzman, and just cause the scene hasn't heard of him till the Jazz Is Dead effort don't mean he hasn't been around. They worked out a soft instrumental ballad, Johnson on a pretty genuine sounding electric upright. Warren gave a Shakespeare-like oration marketing the new CD, featuring a mere 25 bassists. Then they stretched out on a huge "Compared To What?" funk standard made famous by Les McCann, which was the first time we heard from Rob Barraco, who I'm still convinced is just Paul Shaffer in a tie-dye and headband. Leavell was particularly impressive on that one. AJ departs. Pete Sears and Jack Casady of Jefferson Airplane and Hot Tuna fame come out to play keys and bass, respectively. Jack Casady and his bass still looking like a club-wielding dragon slayer despite his age. They stomp through a thundering "Voodoo Child," after Warren announces how special it is to be playing it with Jack since he appeared on the first recorded version of the tune. Then they thunder through a stomping "Key To The Highway." Everyone comfortably at ease with the blues numbers. Jack and Pete take off. Warren leaves the stage for a moment to hunt down Claypool. Claypool returns affectionately to the howls of such old-school Les fans screaming out, "You suck!!!" Les and Shaffer come back on. And we are treated to an intense "Tomorrow Never Knows." With Les and Abts laying down a huge bottom end, and Warren, Barraco and Chuck doing their long, spacey, interwoven licks, I literally felt as though I was floating down a river in 'Nam in a hollowed out canoe with the beats and the dreaminess. "Turn off your mind, relax and float downstream..."

Les takes off for good now. Schooly D comes back out. They do a great "Soulshine," a borrowed tune which seems to have become a crowd a favorite. "Soulshine" quiets down. All band members depart. Warren takes center stage, solo style. Sings a verse from Dylan's "Masters Of War," and then boom, like dropping a bomb, they just crash right into Neil Young's "Rockin' In The Free World." The crowd was electrified, like we all just plugged in, like an electric current was sent through our seats (this is at 1 in the morning, mind you). And, I swear, like nothing else, that crowd could not have been more amped to be rocking in the free world. So timely, politically speaking. The peeps were raging, screaming the one-lined chorus. Belting it. I was there too. It was a true moment. They tore the shit out of it. Everyone took inspired solos. The band went off, came back on to do an encore. The Beatles' "Revolution." Nice. Followed by Tom Waits' "Goin' Out West," which had a tremendous bottom end considering there were about 700 lbs. of bassist up there in Schools and Casady. Barraco as well. A new guest named Peanut, called up by Warren personally, raged this electric synthesized alto-sax-looking thing which sounded more like a trumpet. Everyone took a solo. Then a bow.

Other than that, I can't recall too much more. Some guy passed out on the ground right next to me and some girl, two rows in front of me, deemed it an appropriate environment in which to remove her shirt, which was distracting for about a song or two. Phil Lesh was previously scheduled to appear but didn't. And that's about all I know. We went home. 1:30 a.m. Exhausted...

Claypool and Friends Take a Ride on The Mule
by Alan Stern

When bass legend Allen Woody, longtime friend to Warren Haynes and co-founder (along with Haynes and drumming sensation Matt Abts) of Gov't Mule, died last year, we all asked, "who can replace Woody?" Some forty musicians, according to the soon to be released double album The Deep End. Last Thursday night at San Francisco's Warfield Theater, a few of them took the stage with Warren, Matt, and the ever-panicking David Schools, who has split time with the Allmans' Oteil Burbridge on tour with The Mule.

Haynes invited a local to prime the crowd, Col. Les Claypool, as well as keyboardist Chuck Leavell. After lighting our fuse with Led Zeppelin's "How Many More Times," Claypool explained, in his best Carnival voice, "Warren asked me to come out and play I did." He then proceeded to lay down Woody's thick lead in to "Thorazine Shuffle," a Mule original which, in the end, leaves you wondering where the other drummer is sitting. Matt Abts does not stop; Warren instructs us to "sit right back and watch me now," and Matt separates his mind from his body, "'til the damage is done..."

Warren took full advantage of Claypool's mastery of Pink Floyd's Animals album, as they set off into "Shine On You Crazy Diamond," then hinted at what was to come with "Thank You." We wouldn't think of not letting you be yourself, Warren. And can you say Sa-mokin? The first set closed with Jimi's "Third Stone From the Sun," and we all spent the set break wandering around in circles, unable to believe what was going on there.

Schools took the stage to open the second set with "Blind Man in the Dark," and let us know that we all "gotta lighten up." From here on in, there might as well have been revolving doors set up on the wings of the stage, as the cavalcade of instrumental masters began. The "hipper than hip" Alphonso Johnson (Steve Kimock Band, Jazz Is Dead) joined the band for a couple of tunes, and was that a Pink Floyd song or a classic jazz piece that he played on the double bass? Pete Sears then gave Leavell a break and Rob Barracco Phil & Friends) sat down at a second organ as the boys threw down Les McCann's "Compared to What," which culminated in Sears (piano), Barracco (organ), and Haynes (slide) trading fiery notes that made it unable for any of us to stand still.

Bassist number four, Jack Casady (Hot Tuna), then came out and played one of his own tunes, "Slow Happy Boys." From there, Warren took us on a ride with a slow-cookin' bluesy version of "Voodoo Chile," which he picked up to a rock tempo, then brought it back down to something that reminded me of Stevie Ray Vaughn's "The Sky is Crying" for the "make love to you" verse, then back to the rock, then back to "The Sky is Crying" part, into which Warren incorporated a tribute to the New York skyline, then back to that familiar "Voodoo Chile" lick that blows us all out of the water.

When Claypool returned to the stage, we were treated to more of what Warren clearly loves - The Beatles. Les inserted a huge bass solo into "Tomorrow Never Knows," which Warren brought effortlessly back with a screaming slide guitar. Leavell then brought the room to an emotional standstill with a beautiful, deliberate tinkly piano intro to "Soulshine," one of Warren's gems that is familiar in the Allman Brothers' family. And then...what is this? I know that I know this song. I saw Neil Young play at the Providence Civic Center in February of 1991, shortly after the beginning of the Gulf War. The energy that I felt in that room as he assured us that we could "Keep on Rockin' in the Free World" was surpassed only by hearing tomorrow's legends promise us the same last night.

When Warren began The Beatles' "Revolution" for the encore, how many of you thought for a second that it might also have been "Johnny B. Goode"? Warren reminded us in our time of unity of the importance of light-heartedness when he broke into Spinal Tap's "Big Bottom," substituting the words "talk about bass guitars." No, of course they were not finished. They sent us home with a very Mule-esque version of Tom Waits' "Goin' out West," an appropriate song often covered by Schools' other band, Widespread Panic. Yes, Warren, we DO appreciate you. And there is no doubt that Woody would have appreciated this.

[Published on: 9/26/01]

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