Gov’t Mule/Disco Biscuits| 02.06 | Texas

Words by: Sarah Hagerman | Images by: Manny Moss

Gov't Mule/The Disco Biscuits :: 02.06.09 :: Stubb's BBQ :: Austin, TX

Barber :: 02.06.09 :: Austin
It seemed like an odd co-bill. The Southern rock muscle of Gov't Mule meeting the psychedelic-electronic pioneering of The Disco Biscuits for a three-show arm wrestle through the heart of Texas. Although at Stubb's BBQ and doubtless the whole run, it seemed like the majority of the audience was there to get down with the Mule, the fact that Bisco hasn't played Texas since fall of 2002 certainly brought out a good helping of folks eager to see their return to these parts. Heck, Mule themselves haven't been here since ACL in 2005, so their appearance, at least judging by recent years, was a special opportunity as well. It did make one wonder why the bands did not play their own two-set shows (especially with such seemingly disparate fan bases). But regardless, this proved to be a boisterous evening of music, and a darn lively way to open up Stubb's outdoors for the season.

Although I personally came more for The Disco Biscuits, who were one of the bands that lit up my college daze in the Northeast, I had a fine time getting down with Mule as well. I dug being able to lose myself in a trancefusion swoon and then step out and waltz with a Southern rock beast, and I think many others felt the same. The balmy air, coupled with the meaty sets from both bands gave the whole show a festival atmosphere, with debauchery and dirty dancing a-plenty, and friends popping up to buy you drinks in every corner of the audience. The 2009 Austin outdoor season has begun, so get your ass to the party!

"We're The Disco Biscuits and we haven't played Austin in a long time," Marc Brownstein growled in his unmistakable gruff voice, after saying they were, "totally honored" to open up Stubbs. Kicking off the set with trancey-pants "Uber Glue," it boiled down and slid nicely into "Spacebirdmatingcall." Jon "Barber" Gutwillig's distinctive guitar work has always been one of my favorite aspects of this band, and we got plenty of soaring displays throughout the set. When he hits a groove, building in a frenzied peak, those strings have some serious wings. Bisco's music has a puzzle-like sensibility, structures coming into focus in a roguish frame, with a grinning devil lurking in their darkest details. Tonight the band seemed to be in a virtually seamless dialogue. While Barber hovered and swooped, Brownstein creeped and crunched, Aron Magner teased out strange sci-fi fuzz on his keys, and Allen Aucoin's drumming threw bold punctuation through those welcome run-on sentences. It's always a pleasure to follow Gutwillig's trail of ellipses, and during "Spacebird" his notes fluttered over the top of Aucoin's pulsation before descending into a buzzing chomp.

The waves roiled, gathering electric tension that shattered open as Barber's guitar hit the ceiling, the skattery keyboards dropped the ground out below us and the whole thing somersaulted onwards during "42 > Gangster." I felt hypnotized. The trajectory was like watching a heartbeat run line pulse across a monitor as strange specimens scrambled through the underbrush full of cicada chirps and fiber optic hisses. The segue into a twenty-minute plus "I-Man" was a snapping Venus flytrap, with Aucoin's drums throwing out combative sideswipes left and right. "I-Man" was a little slippery and a good kind of icky. In the midst of the slither and skitter-skatter, there were some people snapping happy group pix in the stage lights, a creepy dude who tried to put his arm around my buddy (she quickly slipped away) and a gal who rushed by me in a bachelorette party get-up. The good, bad and the surreal, all meeting on the dance floor.

With all due respect, I wasn't really feeling "Tamarin Alley." The bass rattled the beer in my plastic cup, causing it to buckle slightly in my hand in time with the music, but Brownstein's rapping just seemed a tad sluggish and the music felt over the top in the extremities of its squeal and squall. It veered into almost metal territory, which I certainly wouldn't have complaints with on principle, except it lacked Bisco's usual sense of texture. It's a newer song, and its live evolution is par for the course, but I have to admit I was glad when they sidled into "M.E.M.P.H.I.S." The jam-out writhed like the sleazy pimp lurking in the corner of a seedy bar, deliberating his options through a glass darkly and then punching a hole through the fake wood wall. Notes and arms flailed, before ending back on "42." This was a sharply executed set that the Mule fans I spoke to got down with, and the crowd reaction will hopefully convince the band to play down in these parts more often. Tonight, I spied several happy examples that expressed that hope better than any words.

Mule :: 02.06.09 :: Austin
Walking back up the hill towards one of the bars, I noticed the venue had filled out considerably, with folks ready to get stubborn. Fresh from the recording studio in bucolic Spicewood, Texas, where they've been working on their latest album and spending some time with Willie Nelson (writer's note: check out the blog here), Mule played a solid, sinewy set that brought some friends onstage to join in the fun. During the opening jam, Warren Haynes broke into a huge guitar wail, and then we were pushed face down in the mud for "Thorazine Shuffle." Haynes soaked our brains in dense dopamine for a bit before running for the hills. There was a funky tone peppered throughout, at times sneaking up behind you, grabbing your ass and then rushing right in front of you like a fool. It charged forward in all its butt-shaking glory during a nasty cover of The Band's "The Shape I'm In." Danny Louis busted out a trumpet, and Jorgen Carlsson's whomping bassline booted the music into '70s Blaxploitation soundtrack territory. The Band is up there with The Beatles, The Dead or Talking Heads in terms of encapsulating a common language, the kind that inspires you to swing your arm around your neighbor's shoulders and belt out the lyrics together. Haynes and Co. stirred the stew for a while at the end of the sing-along, the trumpet foaming over the greasy guitar, gradually pouring out to a trickle.

Matt Abts' drum charge signaled the Deep Purple soaked "Mule," and Haynes gave a loudly cheered shout-out of support to poor, beleaguered Michael Phelps ("You go on and bust me - like you did to Michael Phelps - for what I got in my mason jar"). A persistently dancey rhythm section held it down, while Haynes took turns sliding and shredding, breaking into shards of sunshine. The outro hopped on the soul train again, with lots of "Jungle Boogie" teases from Haynes and Louis, baiting it out of each other before breaking into the tune together, inspiring rhythmic hand waves in the crowd that brought me back to high school marching band. This tinder flared up into Bo Diddley's "Who Do You Love?" with Haynes' earnest vocal roar stoking another sing-along before bringing the segue back home and asking, rather aptly in the current climate, "Where's my mule? Where's my forty acres?" Limbs were waggling as Stubb's was caught in an intractable love buzz.

Warren Haynes :: 02.06.09 :: Austin
I had seen John Popper standing by the side of the stage earlier. After Abts showed his guns on "Drums," David Grissom (not David Grisman, as I overheard some confused kids ask) and Popper joined the Mule for "32/20 Blues," with Grissom sparking up his strings with Haynes, locked in a chasing tag. The band dialed it down to a drumbeat with Popper's harmonica coming on strong and high in juicy bursts before mutating into talking blues with a muddy drawl. Although I have to confess, Blues Traveler is never a band I spin much outside of the shows I've seen, I always enjoy the essential cheeriness that Popper's signature wail brings.

The rest of the set rolled on with brawn, through a "Gimme Shelter" slather during an "Other One Jam" and a loud, screaming "Blind Man in the Dark" that hit with some heaviness, the crowd responding in kind with a shout. Canadian turned Texas local blues-rocker Gordie Johnson joined the band for the "I'm a Ram" encore, his appearance bringing up past reflections, as Haynes explained that Johnson used to join Gov't Mule onstage for this song when his band Big Sugar would tour with the Mule back in the Allen Woody days. "It brings back a lot of memories," Haynes said.

The encore rambled for a stretch into a bouncy chunky reggae beat that was unmistakably Toots and the Maytals's "54-46 Was My Number." It was a buoyant way to send us out into the streets in a post-Stubbs stumble, no doubt moved by a Dionysian spirit. On a night where shedding layers and banging knees on the gravel were part of the ride, what more revelry do you want? Mule and Bisco, y'all come and see us whenever you can.

Disco Biscuits Setlist:
Uber Glue, Spacebirdmatingcall(1)> 42> Gangster> I-Man, Tamarin Alley, M.E.M.P.H.I.S.> 42


Gov't Mule Setlist:
Austin Power Jam > Thorazine Shuffle, Feel Like Breaking Up Somebody's Home, The Shape I'm In, Mule > Jungle Boogie/Get Away jam > Who Do You Love jam > Mule, Banks Of The Deep End, Brighter Days > Like Flies> Drums, 32-20 Blues (1)> Fallen Down > The Other One jam, Blind Man In The Dark
Encore: I'm A Ram w/ 54-46 Was My Number tease(2)

(1) with John Popper and David Grissom
(2) with Gordie Johnson

Continue reading for more pics from this evening..

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