Review and Picture Credits: Karan Dutta
It’s been nearly a decade since I last saw Gov’t Mule in concert with the band delivering an epic performance at Austin City Limits in Zilker Park, Austin, Texas back in 2005. So when I heard that the band were in London in May 2016, suffice it to say that giddy excitement was a far cry short of the emotion that filled my mind in the days leading up to the gig. Since they were playing at the O2 Forum in Kentish Town, I got to the venue an hour or so before the show to catch up with some of the fans that crowded the Bull and Gate pub down the road. A merry mix of old timers and young blues and jam band fans crowded together, limbering up on pints of larger on a warm May evening with travelling tour veterans, some of whom had seen the Mule over 25 times in concert, filling the areas surrounding the Forum.
The quartet, established by Warren Haynes and the late Allen Woody back in 1994, were playing their original instrument line-up consisting of Warren on guitars and vocals, Danny Lewis on keys and guitars, Matt Abbot manning the drums and Jorgen Carlsson setting grooves with his bass. In support of their 2013 release, Shout!, the band opened with a crying auto-way solo that established the riff for Wold Boss. Haynes’ staccato guitars through the opening verses would have been crisp and tight but for the technical catastrophe with his amp which meant that much of his mastery remained lost in the wall of sound the stack was throwing out. Nonetheless, when you’ve toured as much as this lot have, equipment malfunctions are par for the course and the band adapted their delivery with Lewis taking the improvisational lead while the roadies mended the rogue amp. Swiftly into Blind Man in the Dark, it didn’t take long for Haynes’ versatility to shine through with teasing solos that danced as if skipping through a field on a sunny summer day. Sweet tones and long bends that built the tension in the audience, with hairs beginning to stand on end were just to be the tip of the iceberg of what followed.
The crowd, though seemingly small for the gig, were starting to settle into a relaxed state of mind as the groove for Rocking Horse, led by Carlsson’s and overlaid by sparsely distributed verse chords, simulated an orbital feeling of being in a planetarium under the stars. As the groove built to a crescendo, Haynes’ unleashed his guitar on the audience with masterful dexterity, attacking the frets with a frenzy of blues licks and seamlessly transitioning over to Lewis on the keys before the both of them locked horns in an all-out jam session. Something that has been characteristic of the band’s style since their early albums, the free flowing nature of their sound, composition and delivery remains intact as evidenced by Stoop So Low. The squealing wah of the guitars over the bumping bass riff and hollow organ sound of the keys sparked images of a bluesy Grateful Dead making Gov’t Mule one of the few remaining jam bands that still have the ability to put out quality music.
Before the end of their first set, the band played an old favourite – Thorazine Shuffle. If ever there was a track that draws the listener in with its minimal verse comprising a simple bassline and snare rim shots interspersed with the muted high hat strikes, this is it. The might of the Les Paul rang through the amplifiers as the interlude built to a chorus delivered by a powerful Haynes’ voice that engulfed the room. As Haynes’ solo kicked off with a fat couple of blues notes that he allowed to ring out over the minimal verse groove, there came a surprise shout out to Santana’s Oye Como Va, drawing laughter in parts of the audience and yet again demonstrating their ability as a band to listen, integrate and deliver as if it were as simple as breathing. A perfect end to the opening set for the evening as the band dispersed for a 20 minute interval with most people heading for the bar.
Round two started with another of their tracks from the albums off their early 2000’s albums, Banks of the Deep End. A slow blues composition, the keys and guitars swapped solos through the track with Danny backing up on vocals through the choruses. Their subsequent jump into Time to Confess, with its reggae feel of bouncing keys, upstroke strums and Abbot’s use of the one drop beat were the perfect pick me up for audience and really got the crowd bobbing up and down as if at a Wailers concert. Warren, never failing to keep the listener guessing, introduced his sweet pentatonic solo with a series of gentle swells, sliding into the solo and taking the rest of the band on a journey to a frantic medley of keys, fuzz infused bass and harmonic guitar tones. Cheers all around as the tension dropped with a return to the opening reggae groove. The Mule also put on a great rendition of Mahavishnu Orchestra’s Eternity’s Breath with bits of their version sounding just like the Dead before breaking into a solid southern blues structure with galloping drums and an almost bluesgrassy solo from Haynes’, the tension at the end being almost too much for the mind to comprehend.
As their encore opened with Fallen Down, groovy and minimal in its introduction, Warren’s commanding voice, with its matured timbre akin to a good Islay whiskey, captivating the audience as he delivered a masterclass in blues singing. Saving the best for the last, the Mule closed their set with a collaborative jam session playing Ann Peebles hit, I Feel Like Breaking Up Somebody’s Home, alongside ex-Whitesnake guitarist Bernie Marsden and Joe McGlohon on the sax. A fitting end to a great night of music with a three way call and response jam between Joe, Bernie and Haynes’ that saw both guitarists connecting in a trance like state as they soloed their souls out and left nothing behind.
Hope to catch such talented musicians the next time they’re in the neighbourhood and would recommend the same to anyone who hasn’t already had the pleasure of experiencing the awesomeness that is Gov’t Mule.
- World Boss
- Blind Man in the Dark
- Steppin’ Lightly
- Rocking Horse
- Stoop So Low
- Larger Than Life
- Thorazine Shuffle
- Banks of the Deep End
- Time to Confess
- Eternity’s Breath (Mahavishnu Orchestra cover)
- Stage Fright (The Band cover)
- No Need to Suffer
- Dreams (The Allman Brothers Band cover)
- Slackjaw Jezebel
- Fallen Down
- I Feel Like Breaking Up Somebody’s Home
- (Ann Peebles cover) (with Bernie Marsden) (also with Joe McGlohon on sax)
Warren Haynes, – Guitars and vocals,
Danny Lewis, – Keys, guitars and backing vocals,
Jorgen Carlsson, – Bass,