Gov’t Mule | Live at the Beacon Theatre | (Streaming only)
4 1/2 out of 5 stars
With all the unpleasantness that 2020 has delivered, the lack of live music is pretty far down a messed up list; one headed by tens of thousands dead and more sickened in a pandemic that also imposed economic hardships on those who could afford it least.
The pandemic also took rugged touring bands like Gov’t Mule off the road for likely the longest stretch in the outfit’s quarter century long history. That also means no New Year’s Eve 2020 event for the quartet, something of a tradition on their annual schedule. One of Mule’s early live albums was recorded on New Year’s Eve 1998 and even though they had just released another in an ongoing series of concert recordings in 2019, each show is different enough so there is little duplication.
This exhausting but never boring four hour streaming only extravaganza presents Mule originals in the first set. That runs about an hour and features 15 minutes of “Kind of Bird,” arguably the band’s jazziest moment. From there it’s off to the races. The second set starts with a cover of Steely Dan’s “Daddy Don’t Live in That New York City No More” then zigs and zags for the next three hours, finding Mule and their guests rolling through a wide assortment of classics and under the radar gems from other artists, something Mule has become known for, perhaps more than their own material.
Since the new album they were promoting was 2017’s Revolution Come, Revolution Go, the “revolution” theme reappears often in the song choices. Besides their own tune, we get typically tough and soulful takes on Bob Marley’s “Revolution,” The Clash’s “Revolution Rock,” “Revolution Blues” from Neil Young’s pen, T. Rex’s “Children of the Revolution,” Dr. John’s “Revolution” and even a perfectly credible run through of Gil Scott-Heron’s proto-poetry/rap “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised.” Oddly, they never got around to The Beatles. Regardless, the extreme diversity of artists represented just in the “revolution” concept is indicative of the wildly dissimilar and varied influences that combine with Gov’t Mule’s gutsy Southern tinged rock to make them far more than the sum of their parts.
Singer/songwriter Jackie Greene joins to take over vocals on a few tracks, most notably a riveting “The Times They Are A-Changin’.” He’s a welcome addition since frontman Warren Hayne’s flinty growl can get tiresome over the long haul, which is exactly what this performance is. Horns and backing singers fill out the sound even more on a few selections, specifically a smoking Temptations’ “Ball of Confusion (That’s What the World Is Today),” one of the many unexpected highlights of this marathon gig. The show unofficially ends with Greene singing David Bowie’s “Changes,” a straightforward reading that adds horns but is otherwise pretty tame.
But wait, there’s more. The hour long “encore” kicks off with an Allman Brothers Band tribute starting with a lovely “Melissa.” That segues into over 15 improvisational minutes of “Mountain Jam” before turning back to “Melissa,” ending with a powerful crescendo. Neil Young’s “Rockin’ in the Free World” reprises the “revolution” motif and flows into nine rocking, instrumental minutes of Hendrix’s “Machine Gun” featuring guest second guitarist Jimmy Vivino, further connecting the musicians with their 60s influences.
Kudos to Gov’t Mule for making this lengthy, unvarnished, but thoroughly engrossing show available to all streaming services. They won’t be live on New Year’s Eve 2020 to update it, but if you push play at about 10 PM, it’s a great substitute for spending a rollicking, often dazzling evening with the brilliant and never predictable Gov’t Mule.