Wednesday night was a historic evening for Gov’t Mule. The quartet played their 2,000th show since forming in 1994 and unveiled a handful of songs from Revolution Come…Revolution Go, the new Gov’t Mule album due June 9. Mule made the most of their two-plus hour set at Central Park’s SummerStage by welcoming a handful of guests at different points throughout the performance. Despite 2,000 shows under their belts, it seems Gov’t Mule is far from finished as one of the best rock bands going.
SummerStage was relatively full but not uncomfortably so and the gem of the venue has teamed with Brooklyn’s Smorgasburg to offer up new and tasty/refreshing food and beverage options. The Chris Robinson Brotherhood kicked off the action on an unusually hot May night in the middle of Central Park. Robinson’s band was a good fit to open for Mule as both groups share influences, yet have completely different sounds. Chris and his mates focus more on the groove than the more hard-hitting blues-rock Gov’t Mule. One of the highlights of The CRB’s set was “Behold The Seer,” the first single from the band’s forthcoming record. “Shore Power” also shined thanks in part to the sizzling guitar work of Neal Casal.
Gov’t Mule took the stage at exactly 7:30 p.m. as SummerStage has a hard 10 p.m. curfew and the band wanted to use every minute they could. It was clear Warren Haynes & Co. were not only excited to play their new material, but were also happy to dig into the classics after a few days spent performing songs for Revolution Come…Revolution Go in-studio sessions. The quartet tore through “World Boss,” “Brand New Angel” and “About To Rage” yet it was “Rocking Horse” where the power of the quartet was on display. Haynes made every note he played count throughout the tune and he engaged in impressive interplay with keyboardist Danny Louis.
Towards the middle of the set Gov’t Mule focused on new material with help from some friends. Up first was “Stone Cold Rage” which features the traditional Mule blues-rock bluster and could easily have fit on any of the band’s past LPs. “Sarah, Surrender” goes a different direction and contains a Steely Dan-esque vibe. The core band was joined by percussionist Bobby Allende and vocalists Jasmine Muhammad and Lauren Dawson for the live debut of “Sarah, Surrender.” Haynes continues to grow as a songwriter and the first ever “Traveling Tune,” played with the help of Allende, stands among his best compositions.
Improvisationally, the high point of the night came within “Game Face” when the foursome zigged and zagged from the tune into jams on The Beatles’ “Norweigian Wood,” Weather Report’s “Birdland” and “Mountain Jam” by The Allman Brothers Band (via Donovan). Warren Haynes has stated Gov’t Mule will spend the next year on the road. Considering how tight the quartet was on Wednesday night, it’s hard to imagine how cohesive they’ll be one year from now. Another standout moment of the evening was a ripping rendition of blues standard “Key To The Highway” featuring impressive contributions from Casal and actor/harmonica wiz Bruce Willis. Bruce wasn’t invited up because of his stature as a film star, he’s got plenty of instrumental skills.
Gov’t Mule ended the set with two more scorchers. Up first was a cover of Billy Cobham’s “Stratus” featuring Allende on percussion and Steve Elson on sax. Elson has shared the stage with Mule a number of times in the past and he went toe-to-toe on an engaging duel with Haynes to bring the song to a climax. The foursome, Allende and Elson then brought the 17-song, marathon set to a conclusion with a strong version of “Mule.” Gov’t Mule had one more treat in store for the encore as they served up the live debut of Revolution Come … Revolution Go’s “Dreams & Songs.” Muhammad and Dawson were aboard to add backing vocals for one of the more beautiful songs in the Mule repertoire. Congratulations to Gov’t Mule on 2,000 shows and here’s hoping there’s at least 2,000 more to come.
Videos (Captured by Sean Roche)
CRB Set: New Cannonball Rag, Tomorrow Blues, Ain’t It Hard But Fair, Behold The Seer, Blue Star Woman, California Hymn, Narcissus Soaking Wet, Shore Power
Gov’t Mule Set: World Boss, Brand New Angel, About To Rage, Rocking Horse, Birth Of The Mule, Whisper In Your Soul > Stone Cold Rage (with Bobby Allende), Sarah Surrender (with Bobby Allende, Jasmine Muhammad & Lauren Dawson First Time Played), Traveling Tune (with Bobby Allende First Time Played), Forsaken Savior, Game Face (with Norwegian Wood, Birdland & Mountain Jam teases), Banks Of The Deep End, Time To Confess (with Shakedown Street & Band On The Run teases), Key To The Highway (with Bruce Willis & Neal Casal), Revolution Come … Revolution Go, Stratus (with Bobby Allende & Steve Elson), Mule (with Bobby Allende & Steve Elson)
Encore: Dreams & Songs with Jasmine Muhammad & Lauren Dawson (First Time Played)