Live at Tower Theater
Upper Darby, PA • Jan. 2-3, 2015
By Barry Brandow
Well, it’s not New York City, its Philadelphia, PA (Upper Darby if you are using a GPS). No, it’s not the historic Beacon Theater, it’s the legendary Tower Theater. And No, it’s not New Year’s Eve, it’s January 2nd and 3rd. If you ask THIS Philadelphian and all here in attendance, the vibe and atmosphere are close enough. Just like in the past few years, we feel a special connection with the band, Gov’t Mule that they would choose this city…….our city…..as a part of their New Year’s run. From my past experience seeing Mule in NYC, and at the Tower Theater a few days apart, the band will also treat these next two shows with the same energy and enthusiasm. Unlike in previous years, these two shows are being performed after NYE as opposed to prior years when they took place before as kind of a ‘warm up’ to the spectacular shows at the Beacon Theater. I know just like in sports, Philadelphia feels they always have to compete and outdo NY – I’m sure that this will be no different – it never is. It’s my guess that both band and crowd will be at an energetic peak all night long.
As the house lights went down and Mule took the stage, you can feel the relaxed aura of the band. They all took their usual places, Warren Haynes on guitar, Jorgan Carlsson on Bass, Matt Abts on Drums and Danny Lewis on keyboard. Warren donned his guitar as he scanned the front row along the stage. He smiled, waived and spoke to the crowd….’I guess we know where all the crazy people are tonight!’ Yep, we’re here and we’re ready!
Like the opening kick-off of a NFL playoff game, the show began. Right out of the gate, the tempo was set, ‘Larger Than Life’ was the right call. One guitar riff at a time, I think my thoughts were “pretty bad ass” and we were in for a big night. Warren, who ‘casually’ does his thing was very expressive and animated often gesturing to the crowd while he played and sang. I always love when the musicians are having fun and show it. It was already evident Warren and the boys were having fun. ‘Mule > Wandering Child > Birth of a Mule’, confirmed my first thought that this was going to be the start of a special night. Always a crowd favorite, and a song that had been shelved for a little while, the boys delivered a BALLS OUT version of ‘Don’t Step on the Grass Sam’. With support of ‘cue cards’ on the stage, the already frenzied crowd sang along. Then toning it down a little, the band played a sweet, melodic version of ‘Little Toy Brain’, before kicking into overdrive and rocking out to ‘Funny Little Tragedy’. It’s always fun to see multi-talented keyboard player, Danny Louis, switch it up for a little guitar action. In Mule style, ‘Tragedy’ morphed into the Police’s ‘Message in a Bottle’ before morphing back into ‘Funny Little Tragedy’. To close out the first set, Mule invited long-time friend, Ronnie Holloway, who sat in with the opening band, Cabinet, onto the stage to help fill the sound on Little Feat’s mega hit, ‘Spanish Moon’. His chemistry with Mule was more than evident and it was clear that Mr. Holloway was one of the premier saxophone players in the business. As ‘Spanish Moon’ was coming to an end, both Ronnie and Danny Lewis (on trombone) traded riffs and Warren grabbed the megaphone he had used earlier for ‘Don’t Step on the Grass Sam’. The three of them playfully faded off stage. It wasn’t NYE, but it was clear that the theme for tonight was KICK ASS ROCK N ROLL.
Set 2 started with a spacey little jam as the band and crowd took their places. Then Mule settled into a beautiful version of ‘Done Got Wise’ during which Warren traded melodies using two guitars. One strapped as usual and the other stationary on a stand. ‘Trane’ which followed is always a favorite. With a slight ‘Norwegian Wood’ tease, followed by a ‘Saint Stephen’ tease it transformed into a full blown out jam which lasted several minutes. Like most of the night, the crowd went insane. With the feel of a smoky, swanky cabaret, they next went into the Doors tune, ‘People Are Strange’ with Danny Lewis on horn. Afterwards Warren made a point to remind us where the “Crazy people are tonight”. ‘Going Out West’ closed the show with Ronnie Holloway making his presence again along with Cabinet fiddler, Todd Kopec. With a few minutes rest before the encore, Mule took the stage along with Mr. Holloway. As they played the first few familiar chords, I realized that they were playing the Bee Gees hit, ‘To Love Somebody’ which I had just recently heard performed beautifully by New Orleans band, The Revivalists and sung by David Shaw. Mule’s version did not disappoint and gave me chills. Then, if that wasn’t enough, the boys played the much loved and signature song, ‘Soulshine’ mixed with Van Morrison’s, ‘Tupelo Honey’. One thought that came to mind as I reviewed the show in my head was “maybe the NYE show at the Beacon were a warm-up for Philly”. That’s what I want to believe
Video by: Johnny A
After pulling out all the stops on Night One, Night Two was going to have tough shoes to fill. So for most, including myself, expectations were quite high. Taking the stage at 9:30 pm, the guys noodled and doodled as the crowd settled in. I always enjoy the reggae groove of the song ‘I’m a Ram’, which started the set. By mid-song, the mild groove transformed into a blistering power song full of riffs and jams. ‘Rocking Horse’, which followed was always one of my favorites to see performed by the newly retired Allman Brothers. Then the slower temp song, ‘Which Way Do We Run’ gave the crowd a chance to recharge its batteries and just enjoy the beautiful tune – for me that was good. Having stayed after the show the first night for a ‘meet and greet’ with the band, getting home around 3:00 a.m. and waking up at 6 a.m. for work. The lack of rest kind of took its’ toll. So – it was nice to just chill and groove. With my battery recharged, Warren commented about the next song saying he was inspired to write it during his visit to the Liberty Bell. If the Liberty Bell inspired him to write a song as great as ‘Mr Man’, I think more musicians should visit the city’s most famous landmark. That song just always kicks ass. I always enjoy the slight teases in a song during the jams and I noticed a bit of Deep Purple’s, ‘Highway Star’, and Led Zeppelin’s, ‘Rock N Roll’. ‘Steppin Lightly’ which followed, is always a crowd pleaser. After which the song ‘Falling Down’ bounced into the Grateful Dead’s, ‘The Other One’ jam which invited sax player, Bill Evans, who opened the show onto the stage. Whatever the crowd had left in their gas tanks was enough to ignite most of the people there into a frenzy, myself included. Since the little dual headline tour that Mule did with moe. a few summers back, they adopted and refined the song, ‘Opium’ and added it to their vast portfolio of music. With Bill Evans still on sax, it was one of the highlights of the first set. To close the set Mule played their most popular song, ‘Thorazine Shuffle’ and as always, left the crowd pumped, primed and anxious for more. Fortunately, there was a whole other set to follow.
To open the second set, Mule eased into the classic, ‘Forever More’ before kicking into gear with a Joe Cocker’s version of ‘She Came In Through The Bathroom Window’. Joined on stage by the Better Half singers, Michan Taylor and Mini Carlsson, and also Danny Lewis on horns. It took me back to NYE a few years ago when Mule paid homage to the incredible live album Mad Dogs and Englishmen. Songs ‘Child of Earth’ and ‘Life Flies’ followed before drummer, Matt Abts enlightened the crowd with a rolling solo. The Joe Bonamassa song, ‘If Heartaches Were Nickels’, co-written by Warren Haynes made an inspiring segue into another Allman Brothers Song, ‘Dreams’ with Bill Evans making another appearance, the full house was ecstatic to be serenaded by one of every ABB fans favorite songs. An especially amazing version indeed! A little ‘Pygmy Twylight’, was the perfect song to morph into the Bill Withers hit, ‘Aint No Sunshine’. Then rolling into Mules, ‘Blind Man in the Dark’ to end the set. The crowd was roaring. When the band returned to the stage for the encore, it was only Warren and Matt, Warren on acoustic guitar and Matt stick-less behind his drum kit. After achieving the desired tuning, Mr. Haynes serenaded the crowd again with an emotional version of George Harrisons’, ‘Give me Love, Give me Peace on Earth’ that again, gave me chills. The bittersweet finale to close out the two night party was the song ‘Million Miles from Yesterday’. Joined again by the Better Half singers, they made it very hard to say good-bye. Encouraging though, was the comment made by Warren before he left the stage, saying “If you keep coming, we’ll keep doing this”. Oh, we’ll keep coming – you can bet the Liberty Bell and the House of Haynes on it!!!
In closing, I would like to thank LiveMusicDaily.com for allowing me the opportunity to express my thoughts and emotions about the shows in print. I hope I did the music, the band and the crowd their due justice.
Video by: Johnny A