The perfect outdoor concert is one where the stars both literally and figuratively align. The Gov't Mule peformance at the Ives Concert Park on Sunday June 3 was one of those nights. The weather was perfect; warm and slightly overcast, the crowd was enthusiastic and respectful, and the band was as usual, in perfect form. For the third time in the last five years, the Mule took to the Ives' intimate stage and delivered another unique set of originals and cover songs that kept the crowd and seemingly the band, on the edge of its seat.
The beauty of a Gov't Mule concert is the unexpectedness of both the setlist and the guest list, and Sunday's show was no exception. The highlights were many, with the band taking the stage before dusk. Easing into things with Hammer and Nails, the Mule proceeded to hit a groove just before dark, and drove the crowd into a frenzy with a blistering version of Streamline Woman, slipping directly into Howlin' Wolf's How Many More Years, done only the way Gov't Mule can.
Sco Mule, beginning just before dark and ending just after the sun went down, brought in the first guest of the night, jazz saxophonist Bill Evans. Evans stepped up to the front line and teamed up with Danny Louis in a combination of horns that highlighted the band's full range, showing anyone that didn't already know that Gov't Mule is more than your every day rock band. Evans, Louis and guitarist Warren Haynes traded solos throughout a 16 minute jazz driven jam session that brought the first set to a close.
Evans was by no means done, coming back almost immediately to join the band for most of the second set, including The Band's The Shape I'm In, and the unquestioned highlight of the second set that brought out the biggest applause of the night, a brilliant version of Traffic's Low Spark of High Heeled Boys. Clocking in at a quarter of an hour and featuring more impressive interplay between Evans and the Mule, Low Spark was highlighted by Louis effortlessly doing triple duty on the trumpet, trombone and keyboards, and proving that no guest, no song and no style is too far outside the bounds.
Never one to hog the stage from their opening act, Warren invited Nicki Bluhm (who reminds me a lot of my fellow Vermonter Grace Potter) and members of her band, The Gramblers (and of course, Bill Evans) up to the stage to join in on a beautiful version of Ray Charles and Dinah Washington's Drown in My Own Tears, with the Gramblers huddling around the mic reminiscent of a barber shop quartet to deliver the song's title verse line.
Once again showing off his musical knowledge, Warren educated the audience on the history of Charles Ives, the groundbreaking composer for whom the park is named, before embarking on what seems to be becoming a tradition with the Mule when they visit the Ives, a Charles Ives Experiment. Consisting of straight up experimentation in the honor of the park's namesake and living effortlessly on the edge of musical chaos, Mule and Bill Evans began the encore with a Traffic classic that the band has been covering since the 90's Sad and Deep As You. Where things got really interesting was watching Mule roadie extraordinaire Brian Farmer covertly suit up bassist Dave Anderson off to the side of the stage. Anderson then seamlessly took stepped in as Jorgen Carlsson slipped out the back door (all while the whole group eased into Afro Blue) and promptly stole the show. Anderson delivered a show-stopping bass solo, highlighting the 16 minute encore and leaving the whole park, band and fans alike, breathless and satisfied, like only the Mule can.
The Bootlegger's Bottom Line: As long as the Ives keeps bringing the Mule back, I'll keep making the 4.5 hour drive to Danbury to hear the next experiment in the Park.
Set 1: Hammer & Nails, Banks Of The Deep End, Time To Confess, Million Miles From Yesterday, Unring The Bell, Streamline Woman, How Many More Years, Endless Parade,
Sco-Mule (with Bill Evans)
Set 2: Scared To Live, The Shape I'm In (with Bill Evans), Low Spark Of High Heeled Boys (with Bill Evans), I'll Drown In My Own Tears (with Bill Evans, Nicki Bluhm, Tim Bluhm, Steve Adams & Dave Mulligan), Broke Down On The Brazos, Tributary Jam, Lola Leave Your Light On
Encore: Charles Ives Experiment #2 - 'Sad & Deep As You' & 'Afro-Blue' )with Bill Evans & Dave Anderson)
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