Tuned In To Music

Reflections from a lifetime

Review: Gov’t Mule, The Deepest End

Warren Haynes (guitar) and Allen Woody (bass) met while playing in The Allman Brothers Band.  In 1994 they joined with drummer Matt Abts to form Gov’t Mule playing an amalgam of psychedelic, southern, blues rock.  Think Cream(ed) Allman Bros.  Like Cream, all three deepest endmembers of the band were superior musicians; unlike Cream they were not riven by competition, insecurity and ego with the result that Gov’t Mule continued to produce first rate music.  They soon became known for their incendiary live shows and recordings.  Then, in August 2006 Woody was found to have passed away in a hotel room in New York. 

How can you replace a bass player like Woody who was so good and so in tune with Haynes and Abst?  The answer is you can’t and the band chose to both make this clear and honor their friend by embarking on a series of recordings with a parade of many of the best bassists in the business. First came two studio albums, The Deep End Vol. 1 and The Deep End Vol. 2.  Then on May 3rd 2003 during the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival (Jazz Fest) they did a concert at the Saenger Theatre in New Orleans with 13 bass players and assorted other guests. 

 The bass players were Jack Cassidy (Jefferson Airplane, Hot Tuna), Les Claypool (Primus), Roger Glover (Deep Purple), Mike Gordon (Phish), Paul Jackson (The Headhunters and others), Conrad Lozano (Los Lobos), Will Lee (played with many, many people), Jason Newsted (Metallica, Black Sabbath), George Porter Jr. (The Meters), Greg Rzab (Black Crowes), Dave Schools (Widespread Panis), Rob Wasserman (David Grisman, Ratdog and many others) and Victor Wooten (Bela Fleck & the Flecktones).  Other guests incuded Karl Denson, Dirty Dozen Brass Band Horns, Bela Fleck, David Hidalgo, Sonny Landreth, Ivan Neville, Fred Wesley and Bernie Worrell.  By this time Gov’t Mule also included keyboard player Danny Louis who had joined the band. 

Holy Shit!

“The Deepest End” is a 2 CD +1 DVD record of that concert and it is extraordinary.  They started playing at about 10:10 p.m., took a short intermission, and ended sometime after 3:50 a.m. the next morning.  And they kicked ass all night.  Some tracks appear only on 1 of the 2 CDs, some are only on the DVD and some are on both CD and DVD.  The DVD includes both Dolby stereo and 5.1 surround mixes.  Both DVD mixes sound good with my preference being the surround mix which is enveloping and full without being obtrusive.  Directly comparing the tracks that appear on both CD and DVD, the CD presentation is preferable with cleaner more articulated high frequencies and stronger, sharper, punchier lows. 

The liner notes and the behind-the-scenes video extra make it clear that the gig was something of a miracle.  People got little or no rehearsal time, they played songs in front of the audience they had never played before, scheduled players didn’t show up, people got there early or late depending on how their other gigs at the festival went and on and on.  And yet it all worked out brilliantly.  Haynes, who I think is one of the best guitar players to come along in the last 20 years, is on fire – for 6 hours, he’s on fire.  And Abts and Louis are right there with him all night. 

There are so many highlights here, and some lows, that it would be silly to talk about them all so one of each will do.  At the high end, George Porter Jr is god.  He plays so smoothly, so effortlessly and so sensitively with the other musicians who are on stage that he is a wonder.  And he rocks (or funks as the tune demands).  On the other end there are Jason Newsted’s two tracks on the DVD.  Newsted was playing with Black Sabbath at the time and they did a couple of Black Sabbath tunes with him (Sweet Leaf and War Pigs) at the end of the gig and before the encores.  First, the tunes are pretty simple which may work when everyone is tired but are something of a letdown after the previous hours of high-level music.  Second, Newsted appears to be doing his Black Sabbath stage act – when we sing this line you move to the front of the stage and make the scary face and then when the guitar solos you stand in front of him like this, thrust your groin at him and lean back like you’re in ecstacy. Cool!  After 5 hours of top flight musicians playing their hearts out without a lot of stagy bullshit he looks utterly ridiculous.  And not in a good way.

 “The Deepest End” is a great live recording and a brilliant memorial to Woody Allen.  If you like this type of music it’s a must-have.

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05/29/2007 - Posted by | CD reviews, DVD reviews, music

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