Saturday night in Asbury Park, the roving circus that is the jam-band scene visited the Stone Pony in the form of a dual headliner show featuring moe. and Gov’t Mule. The two bands had been touring together throughout the summer, and this occasion in Asbury would be their second to last show of this co-billed summer tour. The jam scene brings out a unique mix of people to its shows; That fact does not change no matter which of the major jam acts you go out to see, whether its Phish, Widespread Panic, Umphrey’s Mcgee, or in this case, moe. and Gov’t Mule. The people are friendly fun-seekers who, in my experience, and much more personable than your average concert attendee. They dress in all manor of attire, from the bro polo, sunglasses, and visor, to flowing dresses, to custom-made fan shirts that play on one of their chosen band’s song names. For example, while hanging around the boardwalk before heading in, I witnessed someone wearing a shirt that had an Adidas logo, but said “Akimbo” under the logo – which was in reference to one of moe.’s songs by the same name.
The jam scene is like one big family; throughout the show it is a common occurrence to find people all around you running up to one another and embracing, thrilled to see someone for the first time since Richmond 05, Asbury 07, Jones Beach 10, or any other combination of city/venue name and year. The family and friends come together time and time again to take part in the nearly-religious ritual that is the “show.” A spirit of sharing and togetherness pervades the aura of these shows; it therefore made only too much sense to have two such big draws as Gov’t Mule and moe. to get together and play a couple of shows in Asbury Park.
The previous night’s show has been washed out of the Stone Pony Summer Stage and forced inside to the Paramount Theatre due to torrential downpours. On this night though, the sky was a stunning shade of blue with hardly a cloud in the sky. Switching the order from the night before, moe. was set to open the show, and Mule would close it later that night. Coming on stage around 5:30 to a less-than-capacity crowd (I would guess no more than 300 people were there to greet their arrival), moe. kicked off their set with a rocking rendition of their slide-guitar fueled “Stranger Than Fiction.” For anyone not familiar with how a jam band operates, they take the basic outline of one of their songs and then jam the hell out of it for as long as they see fit before finally returning to the song to finish it, or choosing to take that jam directly into a new song – a “goes into” as it is known in jam circles. For moe. the transition is a way of life. It is rare to hear one song not eventually morph into another, many times without you even realizing what just happened. All jam bands strive to make these transitions happen, but moe. is arguably the most talented outfit at pulling them off. They delve deep into their improvised compositions, getting lost in the untraveled sonic roads and creating unique pieces of music. The listener cannot help but be sucked in by their playing, wondering what will possibly come out of this. Then before you know it, “Downward Facing Dog” has become “Nobody Calls Your Name,” which then becomes “Okayalright,” which is exactly how it happened on Saturday.
The band then tore through another one-two punch, transitioning “Puebla” into country-rocker “32 Things” for one of the most wildly explorative and danceable jaunts of the night. The highlight of the set though was when moe. brought out Warren Haynes for a run through “Shoot First.” Coming out to a thunderous ovation, Haynes ripped through blistering solos and relentless slide guitar attacks. Haynes and moe. guitarists Chuck Garvey and Al Schnier traded licks and gave the crowd a reason to boogie down under the still-shining sun (The second-best moment of moe.’s set? Al playing a 1974 Gibson double-neck guitar on “Buster”). Bringing the night full-circle for me was the band’s choice of encore: “Akimbo.” Suddenly I flashed back to a few hours before when I had been standing on the boardwalk. The Adidas/Akimbo shirt had indeed predicted this song’s arrival. I could not help but smile at the thought; for seasoned jam fans though, coincidences like these are nothing new, and all just a regular part of the fun of going out to a show. I was feeling thoroughly satisfied with what I had just seen, but the fun in Asbury Park was only just beginning.
After about an hour for “set break” (a term normally reserved for the time between a jam band’s first and second sets of the night) that was filled with friends laughing, bowls of marijuana being covertly passed, and even a AA/NA meeting for the Happy Hour Heroes (a group dedicated to moe. fans maintaining sobriety and still going out to shows) Gov’t Mule took the stage. With the sun still not quite set yet, Warren and company kicked off their part of the evening with a nod to recently deceased Levon Helm in the form of a cover of the The Band’s “The Shape I’m In.” Batting in the two-hole was Mule’s classic “Soulshine,” which found Haynes belting out lyrics like “It’s better than sunshine” as the sun fittingly settled behind the clouds. With a now capacity crowd (and people on nearby apartment balconies) hanging on every one of Haynes’ piercing guitar licks and his southern-fried vocals, Mule used the opportunity to blaze through such Mule staples as “Banks of the Deep End” and “Thelonius Beck” before taking on another cover – this time Jimi Hendrix’s “If 6 Was 9.” Continuing the theme of covers, Mule transitioned from “I’m a Ram” into a reggae version of the Beatles’ “Love Me Do,” before going back into “I’m a Ram,” and therefore completing the “sandwich” (more jam lingo).
One of the most interesting songs Mule played was a cover of moe.’s “Opium.” As the riff began to ring out, people looked at one another with confusion, as if to say “Is he really playing the song I think he is?” Sure enough, Haynes began to sing the opening lines “Give me some fire, and a piece of glass,” signifying that he was indeed covering a song from his touring mates. Strangely though, no members of moe. came out to join Mule onstage. The rendition was a bluesier, southern take on the song, and was a real treat for anyone familiar with both bands’ catalogues. After a few more Mule originals, the band began to jam on the Grateful Dead’s “The Other One;” no lyrics were sung, but everyone knew exactly what was being played, and I do mean everyone. As the godfathers of jam music, The Grateful Dead are an inescapable part of the scene, for better or for worse. Hearing a modern band cover one of their songs is to witness an almost religious level of worship, and tonight was no different. The faithful writhed and danced about wildly as Warren used his axe to drive them into a frenzy pied-piper style. At the conclusion of the jam, Warren began to juxtapose lyrics from the Rolling Stones’ “Gimme Shelter” over the jam, blending sounds as only Warren Haynes can.
If the jam fans feel like family amongst one another, so too do the actual musicians who comprise the jam band scene. These men and women who keep alive the flame Jerry Garcia, Bob Weird, and the Dead ignited almost fifty years ago share a kindred spirit in what they do. They play to the same kinds of fans and fanfare everywhere they go, and even though their music may sound different, it all comes from the same spirit. It was very telling, then, to see moe. join Mule onstage as one big family and give one of the most stirring encores I’ve ever had the pleasure of witnessing. In another nod to Helm, “Gov’t moe.” covered “The Weight,” and did so by trading verses amongst Warren, Al, Chuck, and moe. bassist Rob Derhak, who did not come out with an instrument in his hand, but rather a beer. Just when everyone thought the night had come to a close, the super-group gave the crowd another piece of musical candy in the form of the Dead’s “Sugaree.” If “The Other One” was met with jubilation, “Sugaree” was met with a mix of revelation and reverence. One of the Dead’s enduring classics, the crowd was all too happy to comply with Warren as he sang “Shake it, shake it, Sugaree.”
It was a beautiful sight to everyone up on stage and enjoying the hell out of what they were doing, and truly living in the moment. It is something that every fan of jam music seeks to do: Get lost in the moment, the here and now, and let the music take you to another place. As I watched the two bands play with one another and put a fitting end to a night of spectacular musicianship, I was filled with that sense that this was it. This was the feeling everyone who comes to these shows chases. The chance to see and hear something unique. The chance to feel a connection with those around you who you’ve never even met before. There was an undeniably electric feeling of joy in the air when these two classic songs were played; it was almost beyond words. It was that feeling of “family” that had been present from the first note of moe. to the last note of “Sugaree.” It is something that every fan should be able to get out of seeing live music.