Gov't Mule gets down to business in Providence
By NICK TAVARES
STATIC and FEEDBACK Editor
Being a blues-rock band in 2006 is no easy trick. Falling into the pitfalls of convenience is too tempting for most, turning many bands into a second-class retread of Cream or Blue Cheer.
But if Warren Haynes, Gov't Mule's heart, soul and grit, is anything, he's not lazy. The true hardest-working man in show business, Haynes probably spends about 300 days on the road every year, touring with his Mule, the Allman Brothers Band, solo gigs, and making appearances with Phil Lesh, the sometimes reconstituted the Dead, and whoever else might need a gruff-voiced singer with lead guitar chops to match.
The Mule, despite having Haynes as their rock, sound nothing like the Allmans. Haynes' sweet slide interplay and rising harmonies are scarcely found in the Mule's repertoire, replaced with a biting, overdriven tone that recalls the best of Hendrix and Clapton in his Cream phase, but with a hint of the harder stuff — I'm talking Black Sabbath here — thrown in for good measure. It's a complete 180 from his other work, but its with Gov't Mule where Haynes truly shines.
And, at Lupo's in Providence, the driving rhythms and tough-but-intricate interplay that sets the band apart from so many others were on display for the Mule faithful.
Kicking off with "Brand New Angel," the set built up momentum steadily until "Rocking Horse." From there, the energy never dipped again. There was a definite sense of fun and edge during "Don't Step on the Grass Sam," complete with a roadie coming out with lyrics on posterboards for the crowd. Even on slower numbers like "Beautifully Broken," the intense vibes never lessened, with drummer Matt Abts and bass guitarist Andy Hess keeping the rhythm rock solid.
While we're on it, Matt Abts may easily be the most underrated drummer in rock today. Drum solos are, usually without fail, boring. Some might call them pretentious or tedious, but they can usually all fall back on the same page — boring. Abts' drum solo in the second set was nothing short of thrilling. His pounding of the double-bass pedal coupled with his alternating between stick styles and, finally, his bare hands kept the sound from just falling into "a guy hits his tom-toms quickly." There was a sense of rhythm and composition along with spontaneity that made the whole effort outstanding.
Coming out of the drum solo were a trifecta that encapsulated the band perfectly. "Bad Man Walking," "Bad Little Doggie" and "Blind Man in the Dark" have long been some of the best blooze-rock songs written in the past few years, and to hear all three slamming against each other really wowed everyone in sight. Even the most dedicated Mule fans, who have likely heard all three countless times, were reveling in the moment.
As one diehard told me, "this is the best way to see the Mule. Middle of the week, general admission crowd, it doesn’t get better than this."
It's likely very true. In this sense, there’s no pretense to be had. This show was not a trendy spot on a Saturday night, the band doesn’t really have a TV following, and, most importantly, the four guys on stage weren’t just there to collect a check. This was a rock show in one of its purest forms, with a road-tested band firing off blistering riffs and leads underscored by a thunderous rhythm section and a more-than-eager audience.
So really, it's hard to come up with many better ways to spend a Tuesday night. Even if it does mean a rough Wednesday morning, the regret will be overshadowed by the shake, rattle and roll that Gov't Mule provides on a nightly basis.
Email Nick Tavares at firstname.lastname@example.org