By Caleb Calhoun
Rock ‘n roll, good beer and dancing is a formula that has been working as long as there have been bass players, and Gov’t Mule itself is aging every bit as gracefully as Haynes.
Warren Haynes, well, he’s a demigod around these parts. A spokesman for the modern Southern gentleman, a face for our local Habitat for Humanity chapter, and a man who still appreciates seeing his music move some bottoms for three or four hours at a time.
Tonight at Highland Brewing Company, my bottom was one of the ones that was moving. Gov’t Mule wasted no time, hitting their first notes at 7 p.m. sharp, bringing their dirty Southern blend of jazz and rock and legacy from the opening notes of what turned out to be a heavy first set. After nearly 45 minutes of some of their best rock and roll, they brought on longtime collaborator and crowd favorite, saxophonist Ron Holloway (Dizzy Gillespie, Susan Tedeschi, Derek Trucks, Little Feat etc) for an inspired and groovy version of The Devil Likes it Slow. The crowd was arching forward, filled with electricity as they pushed into Fool’s Moon, the last song of the first set, with the sun still in the sky, before retiring to return 30 minutes and 10 degrees Fahrenheit from right now.
The break is what everyone needs. Very few of us expected this to be an on-time show (not that we couldn’t have done the math on the city’s hard-stop noise ordinance laws) and as incredible as the first set was, it was hard not to get lost in the shuffle.
Highland bears the weight of some of that. Something as simple as not having designated areas for chairs and blankets has led to the outer edges of the venue resembling I-26 at rush hour. The general admission dancers have been relegated to the back of the venue, the stage crowded by couples stretched out on 10 x 12 tarps and barking at anyone whose dancing toe happened to strike their staked out space.
But the set break is the great equalizer. Stingy fans still have to pee, and with no one there to watch their blankets their footprints get smaller and smaller. By the time Mule returns with a funky, jammy second set to match the perfect mountain evening temps, much of that has been done away with and the at-large fans have reclaimed the 36 square inches they were given with their price of admission.
Mule comes out smoking with an eerie version of Stone Cold Rage before taking it all down a few notches into a Thorazine > Kind of Bird that has the entire audience tingling and shaking it with everything they have. Since asses are in view, I can’t help but notice a late 40’s woman with strawberry blonde braids shaking it next to an attractive gay man in bright green stretch pants.
Even as I’m letting myself enjoy that view, I realize that it represents so much more than simply a gay man and a beautiful dancer side by side. Gov’t Mule is something else, a throwback on the cutting edge. Nostalgia without all of the racism and sexism and patriarchy. Were Warren Haynes standing beside me right now, I have no doubt he would have appreciation for both dancers, no doubt that he and the rest of Mule are playing not to both sides of the crowd, but to the one crowd they have assembled. A crowd full of black leather and denim, but carrying plenty of tie-dye as well. A crowd whose members know how to ride a Harley and still tick a ballot box down the line on the left side.
They finish off the second set with Thorns, and an inspired I’m A Ram before taking the shortest encore break I’ve ever seen for a show this size. Haynes understands the local laws at play, and wants to get in as much music as he can.
Even as they bring out local hero Mike Barnes, and reintroduce Holloway for a family-style buffet version of Soulshine, the rain which has been holding so perfectly finally begins to fall. First in droplets, then in rain drops, and then in sheets, as they move from Soulshine into Feel Like BUSH the surging crowd is leaning in.
Haynes, as always, has us in the palm of his hand, and he is playing the card we pulled out of the deck earlier, but never actually showed him. I’m feeling lonely in the back of the audience, but comforted by the fact that my musical orgasm is not happening in the confines of an 8 x 12 room with dirty laundry on the floor and empty beer cans on the night stand.
No, tonight, on the 3rd day of July, I’m standing hand-in-hand with an audience that represents everything from hair metal junkies to natty-ice swilling Southern rock fans and everything in between. This is rock ‘n roll, this is jam, this is shaking your ass and not caring who’s watching.
This is Gov’t Mule.