Gov’t Mule Live In New York City
A Night I’ll Never Forget
By Todd Stevens
(House photos by Carl Scheffel/MSG Photos)
My New Years Eve will be a memorable one. It’s a night I’ll never forget. This night was so very special because I got to see Gov’t Mule perform live at The Beacon Theatre in New York City. Gov’t Mule has been playing New Years Eve shows for years and I was so lucky to be at this one. Gov’t Mule is a rock and roll super group that was formed in 1994 by Allman Brothers’ guitarist/vocalist Warren Haynes, bassist Allen Woody, and Dickey Betts drummer Matt Abts. This experimental rock trio started off as a side project when the Allman’s were taking a break and exploded into a musical phenomenon.
Warren Haynes, 56, is the lead guitarist and vocalist of Gov’t Mule has an incredible musical career. He has played guitar in legendary groups like the Allman Brothers Band, Gov’t Mule, The Grateful Dead, Dickey Betts Band, David Allen Coe, Phil Lesh, Dave Matthews Band, and solo in The Warren Haynes Band. He wrote “Two Of A Kind, Workin’ On A Full House” which became a hit for Garth Brooks and co-wrote the hit “Soulshine” with Gregg Allman of the Allman Brothers. Over the years, he has written so many great songs and albums, and has collaborated with a plethora of gifted musicians.
Gov’t Mule drummer and cofounder, Matt Abts played with The Dickey Betts Band, Chuck Leavall and Blue Floyd. He has a new group called Planet of the Abts which tours when Gov’t Mule is on break. He was a Grammy nominated drummer in 2003. Allen Woody was the original bassist and cofounder of Gov’t Mule from 1994 till his untimely death in 2000. He was a member of The Allman Brothers Band until 1997 when Gov’t Mule became a full time act. He was formerly a member of Montage and The Criss Penridge Alliance. The band performed as a trio until Woody’s death and have used bassists Andy Hess (Black Crowes), John Entwistle (The Who), Mike Gordon (Phish), Oteil Burbridge (Allman Brothers), Les Claypool (Primus), Dave Schools (Wide Spread Panic), George Porter Jr. (The Meters) on various projects.
In 2008, Jorgen Carlsson of Sweden joined the group as a bassist, multi instrumentalist, producer/mixer, and composer. He is also a founding member of Planet of the Abts. Danny Louis joined around 2001 as a keyboardist and also plays guitar, trumpet and trombone. He was a founding member of The Cars, played keys for Greg Allman Band, Cheap Trick and a ton of great bands. Together the quartet plays a smorgasbord of hard rock, classic rock, blues, jazz, funk, reggae, and soul. Gov’t Mule is an all-star group, a melting pot of insane talent.
Gov’t Mule has been together for 23 years and have released 21 albums. Their newest album Tel Star Sessions is a collection of unreleased demos of Mule’s earliest studio work in 1994 with founders Warren Haynes, Allen Woody, and Matt Abts. Their 2016 tour has been awesome.
A few people have asked me where Gov’t Mule got its name and I honestly couldn’t tell them. So I looked it up and learned that Warren Haynes, Allen Woody and Jaimoe (Allman Brothers’ percussionist) were at a Memphis music festival and watched James Brown dancing on stage with his wife who had a big ass. Jaimoe pointed at her ass and said ‘government mule’ referring to the size of it.
“Woody just laughed, and thought it was the funniest thing he’d ever heard,” Haynes says. “It’s like some sort of Mississippi colloquialism and totally Jaimoe. It just cracked us all up, and we decided to name our band that. Not that that’s the only reason. You know, the name meant a lot of things, but that’s where it came from. Usually we call the band ‘the Mule’ among ourselves.” – Warren Haynes
On the night of December 31st, 2016, Gov’t Mule has entered my top 5 concerts of all time. It was a music to my ears. I was totally blown away by their performance. This will be a night I will always remember. Gov’t Mule has had a New Years Eve tradition of jamming at The Beacon Theatre in New York City since the mid 1990s. I talked to some die-hard fans inside the theatre and they told me that this is a show that they never miss. And why wouldn’t they? Gov’t Mule is one of the most talented bands on the road playing at The Beacon Theatre! The Manhattan performing arts venue is a rock and roll palace and national landmark; it’s a stage where The Allman Brothers have played 238 shows including their 40th Anniversary and last performance ever. Only the best music groups like Rolling Stones, Van Morrison, BB King, Bob Dylan, Steely Dan, Santana, Black Crowes, and The Tedeschi Trucks Band have played here on several occasions. This year Mule plays a two night NYE set with very talented special guests and play tribute to the musicians we have lost in 2016.
Mule’s started off the night just right with Warren Haynes taking the stage alone singing his song “New Years Eve.” It came off his 2015 solo album Ashes and Dust. His song is about new beginnings, old friends and old times. Soon enough, the band came onto the stage ready to put on a stellar show. The whole first set was all Gov’t Mule originals with an explosive version of “Larger Than Life” from the Dose album along with “Thorazine Shuffle.” I think Fortissimo, an Italian word meaning ‘very loud’ best describes this experience. I could hear Warren and the boys tearing it up just fine up on the balcony. “Funny Little Tragedy” from the Shout! album was awesome. It had a few lyrics from “Message in a Bottle” from the Police thrown in there and smoothly bounced back into the “Thorazine Shuffle” Reprise. You can hear Jorgen Carlsson’s heavy bass lines and the rattling of Abts cowbell. “Child of The Earth” of the 2006 High and Mighty album is a bit lighter than the others. It’s a great example to show the range and beauty of Warren Haynes vocals and his master guitar work. “Brighter Days” also from High and Mighty seems like it has a Jimmy Page guitar influence, a “In My Time of Dying” feel but quite different. “Which Way Do We Run” from The Deep End Vol. 2 features Danny Louis expert organ skills. Warren was fixing to blow your mind with his powerful vibrato.
Gov’t Mule brought in jazz guitarist Oz Noy as a special guest to perform on “Birth of The Mule” and “Sco-Mule.” He has been a longtime collaborator with Mule and a great fit for these 2 songs. “Birth of The Mule” from the Dose album kicks off with Noy’s jazzy guitar solo with fantastic drum fills by Matt Abts. Teases from Mark Scofield’s “Hottentot” were brilliantly blended in. “Sco-Mule” is a tune from Gov’t Mules collaboration with jazz guitarist Mark Scofield back in 1999. They had an album also called Sco-Mule. This version with Oz Noy was a bluesy jam with teases of Deep Purples’ “Smoke on the Water.” This is pure rock and roll excellence.
The first set was absolutely remarkable. It’s a great live set list covering Mule’s 22-year career. The band took an intermission and let everyone hit the restrooms and the bar. There was a great mix of people at this show. It was a hip crowd, there were young people, old people, hippies, music lovers, lots of tie-dye and everyone seemed to be having a great time. There were pretty hippy chicks dancing all night long. The gentleman sitting next to me was about my dad’s age and says he’s been coming to Mule’s New Years Eve shows for years. He wouldn’t miss it for the world. That’s one of the great things about this band; they have the most dedicated and loyal fans. The Beacon security was more laid back than most venues I’ve been to lately. Half way into the 1st set I smelled the pleasant aroma of ganja throughout the theatre and no one was being hassled. Closer to midnight, it was getting kinda foggy in there but the bright lights from the stage were cutting right through it.
When Gov’t Mule came back on for the 2nd set, they were ready to roll. They played a nostalgic tribute to our musical heroes who have passed away in 2016. Mule kicked off with “Maggot Brain” with hints of “Auld Lang Syne,” a Funkadelic cover with Chronic Horns and Allman Brothers’ percussionist Marc Quinones. They wanted to pay tribute the their good friend The Wizard of Woo, Bernie Worrell. He was the keyboardist and cofounder of funk groups Parliament and Funkadelic. He played organ with Mule on A Little Help from My Friends, a live NYE album in Atlanta back in 1998. Moments before midnight, Warren Haynes started the countdown and brought in the New Year with tons of confetti and balloons falling from the celling. Everyone went nuts! It was great.
After midnight…. the crowd kinda settled down for a few minutes. Then Mule went deeper into the vaults and played 2 more Parliament/Funkadelic covers; “Flashlight” and “Red Hot Mama” in honor of Bernie Worrell. Everyone went crazy again and started dancing. What a fun crowd! The Chronic Horns were exceptionally funky and super awesome. Jasmine Muhammad and the Sweet 16 Singers joined in with their powerful yet beautiful vocals that compliment Warren’s majestic voice so well.
Marc Quinones, The Chronic Horns, and Jasmine Muhammed and The Sweet 16 Singers played the majority of the 2nd set. There are such an excellent addition to have with Gov’t Mule to bring in the New Year. Mule and friends can really throw a party! I continue to smell the sweet nectar of marijuana up in the balcony and the funk carries on. Next they change gears and pay tribute to one of my music idols Leon Russell. Leon, a famous piano player, vocalist, songwriter, and rock pioneer passed away in November at 74. I was lucky enough to see him last February in Rhode Island. He was fantastic and its so sad to see him go. Mule played a dynamic version of “Tightrope” and a Haynes’ sang a very soulful “Delta Lady” with his lovely background singers.
Glenn Frye, co-founder of the Eagles was honored next with “Take it Easy” and “Already Gone.” Glenn Frye, 67, singer, songwriter, guitarist, and actor passed away last February and was a great upset to the whole classic rock community. Of course, “Take it Easy” was on the light side for Mule but contained all the great guitar riffs that this country rock song has to offer with an outstanding lead vocal by one of The Sweet 16 Singers. “Already Gone” was a much more intense rock performance. It was fast and loud and in your face. This is why I love Gov’t Mule! Their original songs are unique and fascinating, but their cover songs are totally out of this world.
Jasmine Muhammad nailed the 2007 soul hit “100 Days, 100 Nights” with her phenomenal vocals. Her jaw dropping performance was by far her best song of the night. The band was playing tribute to Sharon Jones of Sharon Jones and The Dap Kings. Sharon was a female vocalist that passed away in November from pancreatic cancer ate age 60. In the 2014 Grammys, The Dap Kings’ Give the People What They Want was nominated for Best R&B Album of the Year. Mule also performed Sharon Jones’ soulful and brassy version of the Allman Brothers Band’s hit “Midnight Rider.” It’s always nice to have former Allman Brothers: Warren Haynes and Marc Quinones together on stage replaying the classic rock song once again.
Warren Haynes takes on the powerful, heart felt, lead vocal on the 1970 hit “Lucky Man” by Emerson, Lake and Palmer. Danny Louis showed off his ace keyboard skills on “Lucky Man” in honor of the late Keith Emerson. The harmony and emotional tone the band conjured up was on this one was heartwarming and inspirational. In 2016, we lost 2 amazing musicians Keith Emerson and Greg Lake from the progressive rock super group ELP. You might remember their hits “Lucky Man,” “Karn Evil 9,” “From the Beginning,” and “I Believe In Father Christmas.” Keith Emerson, 71, who has been considered the ‘Hendrix of the Keyboards’, committed suicide with a gunshot to the head last March. He suffered from depression; he was tormented with worry that he wasn’t good enough. Greg Lake,69, the guitarist and the voice of ELP had a long battle with cancer and passed away on December 7. It’s sad to see them go.
“Hallelujah” was a tribute to the late Leonard Cohen. Warren’s vocals are angelic on this classic emotional hit. You couldn’t hear a pin drop in that theatre as he belted out his passionate solo. This was one of my favorite performances throughout the entire night. Leonard Cohen, 82, a master songwriter, novelist, and poet died in November. He was such a fascinating character that sang with a gruff yet graceful voice. His 1984 masterpiece “Hallelujah” took him 2 years to write and has been performed by over 200 artists. His interesting and unique lyrics are intriguing and leave you wanting more. Warren sings another Cohen cover, a soulful “Bird On The Wire” with the Chronic Horns. Warren’s robust vocals compete with his master guitarmanship. The Sweet 16 Singers background vocals compliments Warren’s voice beautifully.
“The Angel Band” is a traditional song gracefully sung by the Sweet 16 Singers. It smoothly blended into a rockin’ country classic “Mama Tried” by Merle Haggard. Merle was most famous for being an ex-convict turned country legend. He watched Johnny Cash perform as a prisoner at San Quinton and it changed his life forever. Years after his rehabilitation, he was pardoned by Governor Ronald Reagan for his criminal past. Haggard was well known for his pioneer outlaw country hits “Mama Tried,” “Okie from Muskogee,” “Working Man Blues,” “I’ll Just Stay Here and “Drink.” He recently recorded his last album with Willie Nelson called Django and Jimmie. His duet “It’s All Going to Pot” with Willie Nelson is a new timeless cannabis classic. You can find their music video on YouTube. On April 6, He passed away from complications with pneumonia in his home in California. It was on his 76th birthday.
Gov’t Mule performed a super groovy “Shining Star” and “Getaway” as a colossal tribute to Maurice White, the founder of Earth Wind and Fire. Marc Quinones, the Sweet 16 Singers, and the Chronic Horns collaborated on the two funky hits as the audience goes into another dancing frenzy. I’m glad that there was a good chunk of funk to get us through the night. Everyone was having so much fun. Maurice White, 74, was the EWF bandleader, singer, songwriter and record producer. He died from Parkinson’s disease in February. An expert on disco, funk and soul, he produced classic hits like “Shining Star,” “Getaway,” “Let’s Groove,” “Boogie Wonderland,” and “September.”
Mule next played tribute to keyboardist Eddie Harsch of the Black Crowes. They played “Descending” off the Black Crowes Amorica album. Danny Louis plays a joyful keyboard solo in remembrance of their old friend. Eddie Harsch, 59, passed away in November. He played keyboard for the Black Crowes from 1991 to 2006 and was involved in the majority of their hits. He was also a co-founder of Magpie Salute, a new band consisting of Rich Robinson, Marc Ford and other ex -Crowes members.
Mule invites Jimmy Vivino onto the stage for an electrifying version of Mott the Hoople’s “All the Young Dudes.” Warren Haynes and Jimmy Vivino shred guitars together in the glam anthem to pay tribute to the Thin White Duke, David Bowie. In 1972, Mott The Hoople was on the verge of breaking up after having lack of commercial success. David Bowie was a fan of theirs and offered them his hit “Suffragette City” to get them back on their feet. They actually turned it down. (What! Are they insane?) Bowie then wrote the “All the Young Dudes” for them, which became a hit in 1973. (I guess it worked out!) David Bowie, 69, died last January from an 18-month battle with liver cancer. His lifelong music career was majestic, having hits like “Space Oddity,” “Changes,” “Ziggy Stardust,” “Starman,” “The Man Who Sold the World,” “Rebel Rebel,” “Suffragette City,” “Fame,” “Modern Love,” “Jean Genie,” “Golden Years,” “Heroes,” “Young American,” “All the Young Dudes,” “Under Pressure,” and “Fashion.” Just to name a few. Bowie was a rock pioneer that gave the phrase; sex, drugs, and rock and roll great meaning. He will be greatly missed.
“Rebel Rebel” was the second Bowie cover of the night coming off his 1974 Diamond Dogs album. This raunchy rendition with Jimmy Vivino and Warren Haynes on guitar had the crowd going nuts. Together these guys are truly invincible. You might remember Jimmy as the musical director from the late night show with Conan O’Brien. Jimmy Vivino and The Basic Cable Band has been the house band since 2010. He’s had a successful solo career, plays in the Fab Faux (a Beatles tribute group) and has played with many other groups throughout his career. His vocals and guitar work are incredible, a very good reason for Mule to invite him over for their New Years Eve encore in NYC. Jimmy had to play another show in NYC that night, and arrived just after midnight to do a set with the ultimate super group Gov’t Mule.
Mule next performs a mind-blowing Prince tribute trilogy with groovy renditions of “Kiss,” “Let’s Go Crazy,” and “Purple Rain.” It was amazing. Warren and the gang have a great respect for Prince and rock out in his honor. Prince Rogers Nelson, 57, died last April from what is believed to be from a fentanyl overdose, an opioid painkiller. His controversial death last year was a major upset to the entire music community. He was a multi- instrumentalist; he played 27 instruments on his first album when he was 20 years old. His amazing guitar playing has made him a panjandrum for all musicians. “Little Red Corvette,” “When Doves Cry,” “Kiss,” “1999,” “Purple Rain,” and “Lets Go Crazy” are just a few of his many hits. “Manic Monday,” “Stand Back,” “Nothing Compares 2 You,” “Jungle Love,” and “I Feel For You” are some awesome hits that he wrote for other artists during his successful music career. The Artist Formerly Known As Prince will be greatly missed and will be remembered as a music legend.
Around 2 am, Marcus King, Jimmy Vivino, Marc Quinones, Chronic Horns, and the Sweet 16 Singers joined together with Gov’t Mule for the encore. They jammed to soulful “Purple Rain” and an electrifying reprise of “All the Young Dudes” to end the night. Marcus King, Jimmy Vivino and Warren Haynes are glorious as they shred their guitars together on this glam rock jewel. Marcus King joined in on the encore and was great to have on stage with this all-star band. Marcus King, a guitarist, singer and songwriter is 20 years old and the bandleader of the Marcus King Band. His talents have impressed guitar guru Warren Haynes enough to produce his albums and put them on his label. King is on the top of the Billboard Blues Albums Charts for his albums Soul Insight (No. 8) and The Marcus King Band (No. 2) on Evil Teen Records.
Gov’t Mule rocked their audience of very grateful fans at The Beacon on New Years Eve once again. Mule’s all-star band delivers a spectrum of sound for everyone’s ears to absorb. I could tell because everyone was happy and smiling around me. I was totally blown away by Gov’t Mule and the whole concert experience. I got to see Warren Haynes and Gov’t Mule play a legendary show at the historic Beacon Theatre in New York City on New Years Eve!! I can’t think of anything better. At least right now I can’t. I was so impressed with their song choices on the set list. They gave honor and a great dedication to so many great musicians that have passed in 2016. I also was introduced to many great guest stars, and deep tracks that I was unfamiliar with. I didn’t know “Maggot Brain” by Funkadelic or “100 Days, 100 Nights” by Sharon Jones and The Dap Kings. Gov’t Mule has the aptitude to entertain and educate music lovers. They go deep into the vaults, pull out great material, and make it their own. They have honored Allen Woody (Gov’t Mule, Allman Brothers), Bernie Worrell (Funkadelic, Parliament), Leon Russell, Glenn Frey (Eagles), Sharon Jones (Dap Kings), Keith Emerson and Greg Lake (Emerson, Lake, and Palmer), Leonard Cohen, Merle Haggard, Maurice White (Earth, Wind, and Fire), Eddie Harsch (Black Crowes), David Bowie and Prince with this beautiful tribute. They created an improvisational melting pot of rock, blues, soul, jazz, progressive, funk, experimental, disco, Motown, reggae, R&B, glam, country, traditional, and pop music. I’m grateful that I got to experience a New Years Eve with Gov’t Mule. Everyone performed to the height of there abilities, and I was surrounded by very friendly and happy fans. It was truly a great atmosphere to be in. Thank you Gov’t Mule. This will definitely be a night I’ll never forget.