Personnel: Gordie Johnson, Warren Haynes (vocals, guitar); Jenny Hill (saxophone); Pam Fleming (trumpet); Buford O'Sullivan (trombone); Danny Louis (keyboards); Matt Abts (drums, percussion); Sean Pelton (percussion); Machan Taylor, Elaine Caswell (background vocals).
Audio Mixer: Gordie Johnson.
Recording information: The Beacon Theatre, New York City (12/31/2006).
Photographer: Dino Perucci.
The Gov't Mule live archival series, which began in 2014 with Dark Side of the Mule and continued with Sco-Mule, continues with this document from the band's 2006 New Year's Eve Beacon Theater show. This is the "standard version" (among several) of Dub Side of the Mule from the middle of a three-set evening. It's the reggae set with the legendary Toots Hibbert fronting the band on all but the last track. He is in excellent voice throughout, living up to his reputation as one of the greatest reggae singers of all time. For this evening, Gov't Mule comprised original members Warren Haynes on guitars and vocals and Matt Abts on drums, with Danny Louis on keyboards, Andy Hess on bass, and percussionist Sean Pelton. They are augmented by additional guitarist Gordie Johnson, a three-piece horn section, and Machan Taylor and Elaine Caswell on backing vocals. The mighty heavy Mule playing reggae isn't as odd as it might initially seem; rhythmically, they are one of the tightest bands in the business, and groove is in everything they do. There are a ton of surprises here. Some hard blues riffing transforms into rocksteady dreadwise party music as Hibbert -- with Johnson on co-lead vocalist -- lays out a hard-skanking read of Al Green's "I'm a Ram." Next up is "54-46 Was My Number," the first in a series of Toots & the Maytals classics that also include great performances of "Pressure Drop," "True Love Is Hard to Find," and "Reggae Got Soul." Also included is one of the earliest, grittiest performances of their joint reading of Otis Redding's "Hard to Handle," as well as a lover's rock take on the Southern soulman's "I've Got Dreams to Remember." Hibbert was deeply influenced by Redding and expresses himself not only with requisite skill, but wrenching emotion. The band and chorus frame him with just enough weight to let him soar. The biggest surprise is a triumphant, near-ska version of Radiohead's "Let Down" that slides in a horn riff from Men at Work's "Who Can It Be Now." (While that might read like it's dreadful, the chart is clever.) A spirited take on the Malone/Scott R&B nugget "Turn on Your Lovelight" is a smoker, while a reggae version of Haynes' "Soulshine," which blows away virtually every other version previously issued (even though it's without Hibbert), closes it out. As fans might suspect, this is not one of the Mule's standard guitar-blasting sets. There are many fine Haynes' solos and there are a few longer jam tracks, but over half this date consists of tunes between three and six minutes in length. This is part of Dub Side of the Mule's considerable charm: it stands out from many other Gov't Mule live recordings because it reflects the sound of a singular rock band reveling in their collaboration with a reggae legend. ~ Thom Jurek