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Gov't Mule, Crystal Ballroom


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Portland, OR- 9/18

Last night Portland, Oregon's classic and historic Crystal Ballroom played host to the reborn Gov't Mule. Warren Haynes lead his brilliant ensemble through a setlist that evoked the fire and fury of the WTC bombings of last week and the anniversary of Jimi Hendrix's death 31 years ago.

Starting acapella as he as done every show I have seen at the Crystal, Warren's explosive voice laid waste to the bouncing masses as he intoned "It takes more than a hammer, more than a hammer and nails. . ." as his slide screamed down the neck of his bronze gibson Les Paul. Chuck Leavell's murky organ playing perfect foil to the supercharged electricity of Haynes' guitar. Having not seen Schools before, I initially mistook him for a hulking roadie as he walked to the stage but as he started stretching his fingers and thumping his SG bass I realized that this was a man capable of cracking one's sternum with his power.

First set highlights included an unbelievable interplay between Schools, Haynes and Abts to climax "Thorazine Shuffle" that left them all shaking their heads and smiling. The grim imagery of the Mule's songbook somehow stuck out even though I had heard the songs before. Songs of revolution and the bleak realities of lost love and broken promises seemed timely and evocative. It is perhaps the only time that I have thought about the content of Mule songs more than the dynamic and scorching instrumental virtuosity of the players. "Rocking Horse" is exactly that type of disturbing song and Warren's solos both slide and picked sent shivers up my spine. This was simply put a goose bumps kind of show. Initially, I kept looking at the right side of the stage thinking that Woody would be there but eventually the excitement of music overcame my nostalgia and I became convinced that the Mule has never been better, period. I ascribe much of the group's current success to Chuck Leavell who soloed tastefully and within the framework of the groups improvisational outlines and was at his best when blending piano and in particular organ with Warren's power. This was particularly evident during my highlight of the first set: "She Said > Tomorrow Never Knows." I cannot imagine anyone covering this song with more commitment and originality than this quartet. I was privileged to see it firsthand. The apocalyptic psychedelia churned throughout the golden confines of the room and then blasted out over Burnside Street.

All of this, however, was a mere prelude to a second set that demolished my expectations for this group. "Bad Little Doggie > Lay Your Burden Down" was an exceptional funk driven masterpiece that left me swaying, head hung low. Powerful, indeed, but nothing that prepared me for what would happen after Warren strapped on a beautiful Gibson Firebird and started into a wah-wah powered slide jam - when he literally screamed the first verse to "Catfish Blues" at the crowd I thought the walls would collapse. My eyes searched for an exit sign in case this old room couldn't handle the power of that voice and guitar. In what was no doubt a tribute to the late, great Hendrix, Warren summoned not only Jimi's spirit but that of a thousand dead blues men, Muddy, Willie Dixon, Howlin Wolf, Robert Johnson, whose spirits lined up like an army behind him as his slide echoed every shattering word he sang. It was great to hear an actual organ with the group instead of Warren trying to duplicate keyboard fills through his leslie setup. Shaking my head I could only anticipate what lie ahead. My spirit was lifted by the timely and beautifully performed "Revolution." It felt so good feel the entire room sing along with the band. The band managed to play "the Other One" and "Soulshine" in a set to remember. The second set closed with an absolutely epic "Mule > 3rd Stone" that left my ears bleeding and my heart pounding.

As the band left the stage amidst smoke and red lights, I realized that the show was so cathartic and greatly helped put the events of 9/11 into perspective for me. Mule came back for an unnecessary but appreciated encore that began with Warren discussing Allen Woody's tragic passing and the positivity of the Deep End recording process. He encouraged everyone to pre-order the CD noting they would be including a bonus live cd with video footage from the studio. I encourage everyone to order it now. The band finished off with "Beautiful World," another apt song in a world gone crazy. I strolled out of the Crystal at about 12:15 am energized and thrilled that Warren and Matt have managed to turn the tragedy of Allen's death into a mandate to take the Mule to another level. I was glad to be there to bear witness and be a part of that trip.

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