For three decades, the Fox Theatre has been the site of some of the greatest musical performances ever and at a capacity of 625 people, anyone who has been lucky enough to score tickets to this intimate venue on those special nights has had their mind blown. Historically, The Fox has served as a welcoming stage for many up-and-coming artists and is often heralded by bands who have made it as one of the jumping off points in their careers that played predecessor to stardom and selling out venues with capacities in the tens of thousands. With incredible sound, unobstructed sight lines, a rainbow of colored lights, and a staff that just won’t quit, smiling effortlessly as they serve patrons, it is no wonder that Rolling Stone magazine once named this local’s locale as the “fourth best venue in the country”. If all these dynamics were not enough to tantalize the eye and ear of music appreciators everywhere, every once in a while, The Fox offers up a little something extra and somehow wrangles one of those famed artists who could never play a place so small again back into its rectangular room for one night that takes the how factor to the exponential end.
This past Saturday was one such night.
On August 9th, 1994, Gov’t Mule played its first show at The Fox and its seventh show ever and just a month into its inception, the group was already sending ripples through the southern jam community. Fronted by Warren Haynes of Allman Brothers notoriety at the time and backed by bass giant Allen Woody and thunderf#*k drummer Matt Abts, the group’s sound, drive, and unrelenting ideal almost leveled the place. Alas, an experience such as this puts some in fear, but for this harmonic hall, it was the beginning of a beautiful friendship. Receiving such a warm welcome, Warren, Woody and Abts would continue to play the tiny barroom and returned for notable and remarkable gigs in 1997, 1998, 1999, 2003, and then one last night in February of 2005. Since that time, fans have been asking, if not begging, for the group to bring their best back and finally after 17 years, the band finally obliged.
As part of the venue’s 30th anniversary celebration, Gov’t Mule returned September 17th to a sold-out house and gave the fans what they had been asking for: two sets and almost three hours of music that took the room through time and space to the early days of the equine madness. As if this aspect was not enough for the most serious of Mule fans, the crowd got treated to a setlist composed almost completely of favorites that predated the year 2000 as well as a number of rarities and some that hadn’t been performed in years.
The band entered the stage at half past seven to a raucous crowd, wide-eyed and ecstatic, pinching each other as the dream began. Haynes stepped to the mic and started the evening with an unaccompanied, acapella verse of Son House’s “Grinnin’ in Your Face”, an obvious nod to the joy Haynes must have seen from his vantage point. Without a pause, the band started up its anthem “Mule” and the room lost its marbles. The pull of the field beast got everyone moving and the group wasted no time getting into the jam. Setting the structure, Danny Louis laid out a funky organ lick and everyone followed. Haynes threw in an early “Eleanor Rigby” tease and Jorgen Carlsson rolled out flowing low notes behind dark sunglasses and a cheshire grin. Matt Abts, at almost seventy years young, showed that time was still on his side, and he was commanding every moment coming his way.
The slow strut of “Temporary Saint'' was next, and the narrator pedaled his position, explaining his conundrum and asking for soul salvation. Haynes’ solo was filled with angst and pull, Louis’ hammond action filled the room, and Abts and Carlsson held it all together. At it tension filled apex, the group shifted from the gutter to the ethereal light of “Dolphineus”, the first played since 2019. With a distinctly middle eastern setup, the instrumental eventually gave way to the melancholy of “Painted Silver Light”, a tale of life between beauty and the madness of love. The construct itself twists and turns much the same as the verse, shifting musically between calm and the abrasive all the while Haynes’ belting out the lyrics as if it were a song written yesterday, filled with fresh conviction and controversy.
“Trane” came out of the discourse of “Painted Silver Light’s” end and began with a jazz groove and a bass initiation that showed that this Mule ain’t no one trick pony. A few measures in, Haynes took over and just started shredding it up as Danny left the keys and donned a second guitar, instigating a call and response that eventually transitioned into the power of Link Rayman’s “Rumble”. Carlsson continued to walk that bass all over the place as Abts tipped that high hat to everyone in the room, beaming from behind the kit like a kid in a candy store, doing what he loves most.
“Rocking Horse” kicked off with a short but sweet tom solo from Abts and received the appropriate accolades from the audience. This rocker kept the place rolling and for anyone who can’t get enough of that Leslie sound, this was ten minutes of pure visceral bliss. Getting deep in the grit, even Haynes had his eyes closed, face twisted, and was getting off on what he was serving us all. Although this was played for the first time in 2022, it was undeniably on target, fresh, and tight, displaying no signs of being shelved for any period of time.
Without a breath or break, the fans were getting what they asked for as at this point, the band had been playing without pause for more than forty-five minutes when they continued the endless run with a thick “Monkey Hill”. At its close, this would be the first time the band would stop, catch their breath and exchange raised eyebrows and toasted glasses with each other. Haynes also stepped to the mic and belted out, “Thank You!”, reciprocating the enthusiasm the crowd has been gushing with since note one.
Maybe sensing the infused joy and feeling that each of us carried at this point, Haynes produced the coda of “Grinnin’ in Your Face” that had started the show, seemingly in a way to honor the wake of climatic emotion all the beaming souls had just been showered with. Singing alone, the vocal talent of this bluesman is undeniable and it is clear that his existence is intertwined with the aural muse.
Pulling from an unending evident well of energy, the group ventured on, twisting out another blues tickler in Memphis Slims’ “Mother Earth”. Like the blue-green goddess, this one was filled with the volcanic passion of creation itself, measure after crescendoing measure while also swinging the spectrum to delicate sensibilities. With a quiet organ breakdown that eventually led to many reverent moments of the spiritual, we all got taken to the church of mother nature and at fourteen minutes, we all drank deeply from her gospel.
To close out the first half of the evening, Grand Funk Railroad’s “Sins of a Good Man’s Brother” was the tune of choice. This one has been a rarity in the Mule setlists, performed only a handful of times since 2002. With its Hendrix-esque “Foxy Lady” feel, this one reached the heights in its meteoric rise but gave it all it had in four minutes before sending the crowd off to break.
Between sets, it became very apparent that The Fox was FULL! It took several minutes for concertgoers to dissipate enough to the bathroom, bars, and even outside to create enough elbow room to breathe and connect with acquaintances noticed from afar in the tight quarters. Nary a straight face was viewed, and all were talking about the spectacle witnessed. Many speculated what the rest of the evening would hold and soon all would be revealed.
Set two opened with “Raven Black Night” and received a huge applause as the avian rarity hadn’t been played since April 27, 2018, and only five times since 2016. This dark rifted bird floated on the wispy fills of its four purveyors and as it climbed through evening starlight, the crowd swayed and hung on every word, every note.
Mule staple “Larger Than Life” followed and had the audience once again throwing fists to the air as Jorgen and Warren drove the hard edge of it all, Warren fanning his guitar and the flames of this incendiary machine while Jorgen ran up and down the long neck of the low end. Danny swelled with the Leslie and the B3, while Matt chopped it up. On a dime, the band stopped, dropped, and rolled into Hendrix’s “If 6 Were 9” as per the usual, but there was nothing standard about this version and had the band and the audience grimacing at the gritty goodness. The Hendrix cover was played to perfection and was as if Haynes was channeling the heavenly legend himself for the good people and the only thing missing was someone, anyone, throwing a guitar to the ground and setting it on fire. The larger-than-life aural delicacy clocked in at nearly sixteen minutes and when that sandwich was done, every belly was full.
Riding the larger-than-life energy, Haynes and Company kept the mashups coming and put on their “Game Face”. The first half kept the sweat pouring and faces glowing, Warren’s jaw hanging open as he delivered blow after blow of what the Mule is all about. The tune eventually slowed, and Danny let the music breathe with some warm keys. Warren laid a watery effect over the top, and as the middle calmed, the brothers eventually hit the “Mountain Jam” filling, sending a shockwave of delight throughout the floor. Although this combination is a standard in the Mule setlists, it certainly was something special seeing it played knowing that the foot of the majestic Rocky Mountains were just outside the venue’s front door. The band eventually picked up steam again and Danny ran down the road with a honkytonk stomp as the other three chased him.
Giving everyone a chance to recover, Warren slipped into the calming ballad “Towering Fool”. Keeping with the theme of giving it up to the lucky few inside, this version would be the first time this rarity would be pulled out by the band since 2014. Its soul was not worn and shown like a vibrant memory, full of color and vision, and gave everyone pause at its short but sweet life, another moment in this evening well lived.
“No Need to Suffer” continued the melancholy virtue, Warren delivering heartfelt lyrics over the wide structure and playing on the space with reverb and echo. In the middle of this, Jorgen hypnotized the audience and sparked the slow burn that would drive the ending vertex, bringing the whole to climax that can only be described as pure, ear-gasmic bliss.
Abts transitioned into a jazzy shuffle, and everyone followed suit, segueing nicely into “Birth of the Mule”. This one took on many forms, from high octane rocker to plasmatic soundscape, but no matter what state of matter it was in, it was masterful and tight. Another great bass solo had the crowd hollering for more. Abts gave over to his best Max Roach, hammering out his organized chaos and grinning from ear to ear. At the tune’s close, the band even threw in a tease of “Les Brers in A Minor”.
Before moving into the set closer “Blind Man in the Dark”, the band laid out multiple measures of Frank Zappa’s “Pygmy Twylyte”, the fluid foursome delivering this end piece with more than enough fuel in the tank to make this finale on point and memorable. Haynes put to good work his talk box for this punchy number and even after multiple hours and balls to the wall playing, the quartet delivered every note as though it was their first: full, loud, and f#$king proud! After thanking the crowd repeatedly, Haynes appropriately stated, “It’s like Deja Vu all over again. Thank you so much. This has been a beautiful night.”
Leaving the stage for only a moment, the fab four returned to their respective positions and hung their hat on the evening with the bittersweet piece “Tastes Like Wine”. Although some might have expected another over-the-top selection to send everyone out into the night, this spectral composition was quiet and reflective and showed the talent of the band to play with as much excellence in the spaces between as they do fill every moment in many others in their canon.
In the end, between the setlist piled up with early tunes and their ridiculous execution, brimming with absolute electricity, fervor, and perfection, the audience got more than they had bargained for and had the opportunity to live the waking dream that may not ever happen again. God bless you Warren, Matt, Danny, Jorgen! What you made on Saturday is the stuff of legend and was the type of show that will leave us all talking about where we were in September of 2022 and fuel the chase inside us music lovers to catch those notes that keep us coming back for more. Justice would not be served if we did not also thank The Fox Theatre for taking chances, keeping the doors open, and being a place where the line between reality and illusion are often blurred, where dreams manifest themselves, and where the unexpected is the expectation.