Zealots of noodle rock took over the 9:30 club on Wednesday, when Gov't Mule opened a two-night stand.
A quartet formed in 1994 by guitarist Warren Haynes as a side project for his more stable Allman Brothers gig, Gov't Mule has always favored a far heavier sound than other combos similarly tagged "jam bands." But at this genre's shows, the scene is as big a deal as the music, and all the proper trappings were in evidence in the club: tie-dyed garments, an herbal aura and oodles of tapers. At least a dozen microphones on high-rise tripods jutted up from one corner of the room, each hooked up to a laptop computer or some other digital recording device, with a variety of sound-processing gadgetry wired in.
During the opening set, Haynes and his mates delivered enough notes for everybody's hard drive. The workaholic guitarist, who still plays with the Allmans and the Dead when Gov't Mule isn't on the road, put on a slide and hung out at the high end of his guitar's neck during a marathon run-through of "I Think You Know What I Mean," recalling Duane Allman at Fillmore East. An essence of the Allmans was also detectable during Gov't Mule's lengthy take on "Politician," a 1968 Cream tune by Jack Bruce (sample lyric: "I support the left, though I'm leaning to the right"), due to keyboardist Danny Louis's vintage organ piping out Gregg Allmanesque tones. On "Time to Confess," Haynes started fretting Robin Trower licks before leading his band mates into a reggae groove, and keeping them there for about 10 minutes.
Those who were taping seemed to get the biggest buzz from "Slackjaw Jezebel," a Texas boogie tune, and the Black Sabbath-heavy "Mr. Man," both from Gov't Mule's new CD, "Deja Voodoo." Their glee had much to do with the concert versions being much longer than the studio originals.
-- Dave McKenna
Ustad Eltaf Sarahang
Afghan classical music and a presidential campaign in which Afghanistan is an issue might seem to be a logical combination, but the two didn't quite meld Wednesday night at Local 16. Performing at a benefit sponsored by Concerts for Change -- meaning change in the principal resident of the White House -- vocalist Ustad Eltaf Sarahang drew a mixed crowd: young Kerry-Edwards supporters who drank, smoked and chattered during the performance, and Afghan emigres who danced, smoked and paid attention whenever Sarahang sang.
Although Sarahang performed a program of venerable thumris (light classical songs) and ghazals (ballads of divine and human love), the format encouraged informality. The singer, who accompanied himself on harmonium and was joined by a tabla player, took frequent tea and cigarette breaks while a DJ spun ethno-techno: chants not unlike those that Sarahang sang, but accessorized with electronic beats and reggae-derived bass lines.
Sarahang's own music, however, was entirely traditional, and worthy of a more attentive crowd. The New Delhi-based musician's voice had impressive range, both of octaves and timbres, ranging from rumbling, almost growling low notes to high, sustained tones that were impeccably clear. With his voice darting around the tabla's prancing rhythms, Sarahang managed to convey the spiritual joy of communing at a hallowed Sufi site -- and make it seem only slightly incongruous that this joy was being expressed in a U Street bar.
-- Mark Jenkins