Words by: Jake Krolick | Images by: Jake Krolick & Allison Murphy
Gov't Mule :: 10.31.09 :: Tower Theater :: Philadelphia, PA
Chaos from the previous evening had yet to be stuffed back into the hole that it crawled out from. You could gauge the craziness of this year's Halloween in several ways. One way was hop into the back seat of a cab early the next morning and find it filled with the putrid stink of an evening of over-indulgence and what appeared to be the remains of some spooky rice dish regurgitated in the vilest of manners. The cabby apologized in a heavy Indian accent saying, "Crazy night in the city man." It's the kind of evening you would imagine Mick Jagger and Keith Richards shared more than once in their heydays. I'm sure that the band members from Gov't Mule had also danced with that kind of devil before, but you don't hear about Danny Louis snorting his dad's ashes cut with a line of coke. Sure, Warren Haynes is a stud on the guitar, but the ladies aren't exactly tossing their panties at him like they did with Jagger. However, what Gov't Mule lacked in quintessential Rolling Stones rock star unruliness they compensated for in their musicianship. It just made sense that Gov't Mule covered the Rolling Stones when you listen to how deeply both bands are rooted in American blues and R&B. No, it was not quite the death defying genre leap heard at previous Halloweens, but their performance was well executed and Matt Abts take on "Shattered" was more fun than a barrel of monkeys!
| Gov't Mule :: 10.31 :: Philadelphia by Krolick|
The setlist onstage gave away the trick before the treat. Someone had created it and then changed their minds. Instead of waiting to cover the Rolling Stones during the second set at the Tower Theater, they jumped right in and played the second set first. We were treated to 12 first time played Rolling Stones covers spanning from the classic 1971 album Sticky Fingers to 1978's Some Girls, and all that was around and in between. Lending Gov't Mule a hand was guitarist/vocalist Jackie Greene and saxophonist Steve Elson. The set they unveiled proved that all of the musicians onstage were capable of handling multiple duties.
| Greene :: 10.31 by Murphy|
Haynes and Greene tackled the intricate Keith Richards and Ronnie Wood manner of weaving rhythm and lead guitar, while both clearly expressed their own stylistic flourishes. Greene took Keith Richards' playing style and smoothed out the edges, while Haynes' slide work was more a cross between Brian Jones and Ronnie Wood. Mule's frontman was no Mick Jagger, and opener "Under My Thumb" lacked the song's classic kick as the show took flight. Boundless pompous rock attitude and stage swagger did not suddenly emerge from the relatively subdued Haynes, whose first set was strongly played but found him staying out of the limelight while he let two of his bandmates strut their stuff. The haphazard beginnings fell away by the fourth song when Danny Louis traded spots with Greene for "Can't You Hear Me Knockin'." Louis played a raw, gutsy guitar that was cranked full blast as he shimmied back and forth between Haynes and bassist Jorgen Carlsson. His Richards-like leg bends, power chords, and plethora of rock & roll faces were just the catalyst needed to get the Tower shaking.
Greene was good for a backing vocal on "Angie," as Haynes wrapped his patient tones around the chorus in his unique way of singing every word like each of us were a lone audience member and he was talking directly to us. Greene earned his keep on a majestic version of "Ventilator Blues" as he traded guitar licks with Haynes before switching gears to work the harmonica. The action shifted quickly as Louis traded trumpet blows with Greene's harp and Elson's sax. Louis' hands never left the keys as they did a dirty dance that really knocked our boots around. By all accounts, it's doubtful The Rolling Stones themselves sounded this good when they played the Tower in 2002.
By the middle of the first set all bets were off as Matt Abts ran out from behind his kit to play the role of Jagger on "Shattered." Carlsson rotated into Abts' spot on drums while Louis slapped the bass. Abts' imitation of Mick Jagger was so fucking awesome that if you just caught one song all evening it should have been "Shattered." Just seeing Abts do Jagger's chicken strut back and forth across the stage in his tight white pants and black kneepads was priceless. Sure, his singing wasn't perfect, but when he yanked a banana out of his crotch and sang, "Look at me, I'm in tatters," we lost our shit. It was comedic and rocking all at the same time, and it showcased some seldom seen musical abilities within Abts, Carlsson, and Louis.
| Abts & Greene :: 10.31 by Murphy|
Gov't Mule had teased "Play With Fire" the night before and they set aside their reggae take to keep the set steeped in the Stones' classic rock sound. Greene's added harmonies and Louis' bravado on keys matched the hard-hitting bass pokes that Carlsson was tossing out. The Carlsson-era Mule has all the crudeness and excitement of the Allen Woody days without sounding like a step in reverse. The balcony was swaying and bouncing hard as Haynes steered us into "Paint it Black." Drinks sitting on the edge of the balcony were actually sloshing in their cups. Haynes finished The Rolling Stones anthem with a simple shout to the audience, "This is what we call Mule-o-ween." If only Abts had stepped back out for "Bitch" then that old outspoken lady of a song would have spread her legs wide and our costumed crowd would have charged right in. No matter, the second Haynes and Louis got their hands on "Brown Sugar" all was good as they faked an ending and gave us another round of house light flashes, arm waves, and sing-a-long ("I say yeah, yeah, yeah, WOOO!) to finish the set.
The cheers started to dissipate as we wandered through a sea of red and white Phillies garb. Those who chose to put the game aside and live in the moment of the concert were the lucky ones. Gov't Mule's new album, By A Thread (released October 26 on Evil Teen Records), was fresh on the record shelves as Haynes and crew dug through six tracks, including an extremely inspired "Monday Mourning Meltdown." This new bit of Gov't Mule peculiarity featured everything from Louis' jazzy key work to Haynes' thickly textured, head-throbbing guitar. He extended a peaking jam in around the fifth minute of the song that made me wonder where his wild, howling Gibson guitar had been earlier in the evening. His left hand bent the strings as his right played out some acrobatic fly swats that set the jam on fire. It was the first real face-scrunch I had seen from his lion-like mug all night.
The extended intro to "Blind Man in the Dark" had a bit of a Dr. John "Walk on Guilded Splinters" echo, complete with Louis' eerie, Thriller-like sound effects. This was the longest, most experimental jam of the evening, and even though its predecessors would be more talked about, it featured some of the best playing buried within its well-constructed walls. Abts switched the grip on his drumsticks and started a snazzy little shuffle on his cymbals as Louis and Elson worked out a stellar bit of bebop that ached to be a new fangled Peanuts theme song. The backset trio ripped the center of the song clear out and jazzed up the jam proper.
| Warren Haynes :: 10.31 :: Philadelphia by Krolick|
"Going Out West" could have been spotted from miles away with its familiar, flamboyant sounding low end intro. Haynes' Peter Gunn tease was just more candy in the bag as he pummeled costumed fans with the Spy Hunter theme song. The crowd that had been perched out in the hallways watching the game now raced back in for the colossal encore as a cover of T. Rex's classic "Bang A Gong" launched us back into raucous Halloween fun. It wasn't a Rolling Stones cover, but the Chuck Berry inspired ditty fit well inside that realm of inspiration that drove The Rolling Stones. The transition back into "Going Out West" rumbled as Gov't Mule sent us out with a huge finale to another memorable Mule-o-ween filled with love and hope and sex and dreams.
Gov't Mule :: 10.31.09 :: Tower Theater :: Philadelphia, PA
Set I: (full set with Jackie Greene) Under My Thumb*, Monkey Man*, Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo*$, Can't You Hear Me, Knockin'*$, Angie*, Ventilator Blues*$, Shattered*$ (with Matt on lead vocal, Danny on bass & Jorgen on drums), Wild Horses, Slave*$, Gimme Shelter*$, Play With Fire, Paint It Black*, Bitch*$, Brown Sugar*$
Set II: Steppin' Lightly, Broke Down On The Brazos, Railroad Boy > Monday Mourning Meltdown > Forevermore, Frozen Fear > Brighter Days > Blind Man In The Dark$
Encore: (Encore with Jackie Greene) Goin' Out West$ (with Peter Gunn tease) > Bang A Gong (Get It On)$ > Goin' Out West$
* 1st Time Played
$ with Steve Elson
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