By Andy J. Gordon
Gov’t Mule, the rock powerhouse road warriors, are near the end of their Summer 2018 tour. They stopped at The Wiltern theater in Los Angeles on September 11, 2018, for a night of hard-hitting live music. The packed house of diehard fans was treated to a two-set, nearly three-hour show of songs that spanned the band’s 24-year catalog.
Lead singer, guitar legend and Rock & Roll Hall of Fame member Warren Haynes started the band with drummer Matt Abst and bassist Allen Woody back in 1994, as a side project to the Allman Brothers Band. Woody passed away in August 2000. A rotating cast of bassists and keyboard players filled in until Danny Louis became the permanent keyboardist in 2004. Jorgen Carlsson has been the bassist since 2008 and the current lineup has been together since then.
Now that the possibility of an Allman Brothers reunion is nonexistent with the deaths of Gregg Allman and Butch Trucks, Haynes has been able to focus on Gov’t Mule. The four-piece band’s live shows are super tight while frequently including classic rock and blues covers that emphasize the band’s influences. There is a minimal amount of stage banter – not much more than Haynes’ standard “How you doin’?” He primarily sticks to singing, playing impressively contagious guitar riffs and delivering incendiary solos.
The Wiltern show featured several tracks from their most recent album, Revolution Come, Revolution Go, released in 2017. In the first set, that album’s “Pressure Under Fire,” the title track and “Easy Times” rocked hard and proved that Haynes and the band still write dynamic music. While every Gov’t Mule song is highlighted by an amazing Haynes guitar solo, “Broke Down on the Brazos” and “Scenes from a Troubled Mind,” two tracks from the 2009 By A Thread album, highlighted his wizardry. During “Scenes,” Haynes played a scorching, blues-inspired slide solo on his Gibson Les Paul guitar.
The second set was packed with intense originals and carefully selected covers. The band opened with “Slackjaw Jezebel,” off the 2004 Déjà Voodoo album. Danny Louis came out from behind his keyboards setup to play guitar and created a sweet interplay with Haynes on “Steppin’ Lightly” from By A Thread. The quartet went deep into the blues archives for a cover of “Mother Earth,” a track written and recorded by Memphis Slim in 1951 that Gov’t Mule recorded on their self-titled debut album in 1995.
The band found a brilliant way to pay tribute to a recently departed, Los Angeles based musician, whom they all admired. In the middle of “Beautifully Broken,” Haynes segued into Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ “Breakdown,” as the crowd sang along. After a couple of verses, the song wound its way back to “Beautifully Broken.” The band followed that up with a wild version of “Doing It to Death,” a funky instrumental recorded by The J.B.’s in 1973. Midway through the song, Haynes introduced Roomful of Blues’ Doug Woolverton, who came out and blasted his trumpet, dueling Haynes solo for solo.
The set closed with another cover that the band has been doing live for years. “I’m a Ram” was written and recorded in 1971 by Al Green. Gov’t Mule recorded it on their Mighty High album in 2007. The Mule version has deep reggae rhythms and had the crowd swaying to the beat. Haynes performed another magical slide guitar solo before ending the show.
The crowd expected something special for the encore and was amply rewarded as the band came back out with Jimmy Vivino, music director/guitarist/arranger for The Basic Cable Band on “Conan,” the TBS talk show. With Vivino along for the ride, the band went back to the blues vault for a cover of Al Jackson Jr.’s “Feel Like Breaking Up Somebody’s Home.” Vivino and Haynes traded impressive solos and the band expended every ounce of energy before wrapping up the song and calling it a night.
Gov’t Mule concludes their Summer tour on September 23, 2018, in Louisville, Kentucky. The Fall tour starts on October 18 in Knoxville, Tennessee, and hits several stops across the country before ending in early November. This band puts on an amazing live show. You will hear great original songs, covers of classic rock tunes and blues standards. Look for them at a concert hall in your town soon.