By Andy J. Gordon
Gov’t Mule (www.mule.net) concluded their 2010 tour of the west coast with an inspiring show at the Music Box (www.themusicbox.la,) a beautifully renovated theater in Hollywood, CA. Coming off a long country-wide tour, the band seemed energized and excited to be performing for the Los Angeles area audience. The band’s knowledgeable fan base seems to span generations, because the group at the Music box ranged from members of Gen Y to some grizzled Baby Boomers.
While I have seen the band live a few times at festivals, it has not been a completely satisfying experience. Limited by a short set, the Mule cannot truly explore their jamming tendencies. I was really looking forward to their show at the Music Box – without an opening act, or any time constraints, I expected an expansive exploration of the band’s playlist. At the Music Box, they certainly delivered, producing excellent versions of their old and new songs, while also covering some classics. Gov’t Mule has always paid homage to the classic rockers and bluesmen they admire. It is evident in their songwriting, and comes alive at their shows. Covers have been an integral part of their live performances for years, and they recently played a complete version of the Who’s album “Who’s Next” during a Halloween show in Las Vegas.
At the Music Box show, I was amazed by Warren Haynes’ guitar wizardry. He has a unique ability to swing between slow, soulful interludes, and rapid fire, head blasting solos, often within the same song. The effect on the audience is palpable – the crowd gets stirred into a near frenzy during the ever increasing beat, and just when everyone seems to be going off the edge of a sonic precipice, the band slows things down. The other band members enhanced the effect with a solid cohesion that created a huge wall of sound. Matt Abts on drums and Jurgen Carlsson on bass drove the hall-shaking rhythm section. Danny Louis offered masterful keyboard playing, some steady rhythm guitar work, and an occasional funky trumpet.
The show opened with two songs off their 2009 album “By A Thread” – the new classics “Steppin’ Lightly” and “Broke Down on the Brazos.” Next up was “Game Face,” from 1998s “Dose” album, which featured a tease of the Allman Brothers Band’s “Mountain Jam.” Haynes was in his typically stellar guitar-slinging form throughout. Later in the first set, the band thrilled the crowd with the unmistakable organ riff of the Beatles “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” during “Monkey Hill” from their first album. The set closed with “Beautifully Broken” and the Al Green classic “I’m a Ram” that gets a reggae tinged arrangement.
After a short break, the band opened the second set with “Railroad Boy,” a 100-year old folk song that the band rearranged on their “By a Thread” album. Haynes played his 12 string guitar and the rich, full sound it makes, along with a wicked slide solo really had the audience hooked. They slowed things down with the ballad “Forevermore,” also from the 2009 album. Later in the set, Haynes left the stage during “King’s Highway,” giving Carlsson a turn in the spotlight – his thundering bass line filled the room, and eventually he and Louis left the stage, leaving Abts alone with his drum kit. He offered a brief, but excellent solo, and after a few minutes, the guys came back out, launching into a soulful “Lay Your Burden Down.” During “Blind Man in the Dark” Louis played a trippy organ riff that played beautifully against Haynes’ distorted guitar. The song also featured a brief Haynes tease of the Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby.” By A Thread’s “Any Open Window” closed the show.
For the encore, the band brought out long-time friends, guitarist Peter Thorn (Chris Cornell/Alicia Keys/Courtney Love) and keyboardist Jeff Young (Steely Dan/Jackson Brown/Warren Haynes Band.) Haynes, Thorn, and Young each took solos during an inspired version of the Robert Johnson classic “Come On Into My Kitchen.” They smoothly transitioned into a rousing show closer “Ventilator Blues,” by the Rolling Stones. Gov’t Mule continues to impress with their unique ability to sound fresh while paying tribute to the rock and blues legends they clearly love and respect. The show at the Music Box was one that will be remembered fondly. It reinforced my belief in music’s ability to unite, inspire, and thrill people. These guys clearly love to play, and their fans love to hear them.
Photos courtesy of Joe Raniere