The crowd at Gov’t Mule was a perfect reflection of the band. It was an older, seasoned and an eclectic group, at least when it comes to the world of jam bands.
Gov’t Mule is a southern jam band with a wildly mixed sound. Album to album, track to track, minute to minute, you can hear varying influences. Hard rock, jazz, soul, blues, funk, even a little reggae, they encompass the entire gamut of jam.
So again, when it came to the crowd, there was a lot of Grateful Dead tie-dye, flannel, classic rock band T’s, the epic plain T/cargo short/New Balance shoes outfit, and swear to God, even some overalls. On this evening, the historic Wiltern Theatre was graced by a shining double rainbow of jam fans.
All of this makes sense considering Mule’s leader, Warren Haynes’ background, most notoriously as a member of the Allman Brothers Band, along with his work supporting and touring with the surfing members of the Grateful Dead. No matter the background, the fans were here to see Mule.
After 23 years, 10 studio albums, and over 2,000 performances, it’s easy to expect a polished yet predictable show. This is never the case with Gov’t Mule. Yes, they are polished, but guests and covers keep every show fresh, and the band, energized. Tonight was no exception.
The band started appropriately with an opening riff and solo by Haynes, going into “Railroad Boy” with a classic heavy Southern sound. The crowd seemed to be easing into it, with people in the pit swaying subtly, and the seated crowd nodding their heads along. It felt like the audience was signaling to Gov’t Mule that tonight, they were going to have to earn it.
Things turned funky when the band broke into a classic rendition of “Thorazine Shuffle” with Jorgen Carlsson laying down a smooth bass line and Matt Abts breaking out the woodblocks for a 70’s jazz percussion sound. The crowd reacted immediately with applause, prompting Haynes to acknowledge the crowd for the first time with a simple, “how ya’ll doing?” After some intense keyboard organ by Danny Louis, the band transitioned into the soulful “Beautifully Broken” which thoroughly entranced the crowd.
First guitar change of the night for Haynes came as Gov’t Mule went into “Traveling Tune” breaking out the country chops. Another guitar change and the crowd got its first dose of politics in the evening with “Revolution Come, Revolution Go” Haynes prides himself on being as party neutral as possible with his political messages, but one couldn’t help but notice that the only time he took his hands off of his guitar, the entire night, was when he proclaimed, wagging his finger, “new master riding in on a white horse, all the new kings with them feet of clay, lying to the people ‘bout some new deal, chump change happens every day.”
As if the first set couldn’t be any more eclectic, the heavily reggae influenced “Unring the Bell” was up next, with green and yellow lights reinforcing the Rasta vibes. Everyone was immediately taken to church with “Endless Parade,” Haynes preaching to everyone with his lyrics and guitar licks, the psychedelic art in the background seemingly like stained glass with the lights hitting it.
Toward end the first set, the guests were brought out, including “Late Night with Conan O’Brien” band member Jimmy Vivino on guitar duty, Bruce Hornsby and the Range’s John Molo on drums, Scott Paige on sax and Jeff Young from Steely Dan fame, playing the keys and singing. They closed out with “Won 4 Walter Jam” and “Don’t Take Me Alive” – a Steely Dan cover.
After a brief intermission, Gov’t Mule came back all guns blazing, with an intense cover of Funkadelic’s “Maggot Brain” inviting Eric McFadden to assist Haynes on guitar. McFadden left after a healthy applause, and the band went into “Stone Cold Rage,” the lead single from their newest album.
After yet another guitar change for Haynes, things slow down with a cover of blues legend Blind Willie Johnson’s “Dark was the Night, Cold was the Ground.” A sixth guitar change and things got a bit jazzier with the original instrumental “Trane,” which included a tease for the Beatles’ “Norwegian Wood.” The instrumental jam sesh continued on with “Eternity’s Breath” and “St. Stephen Jam.” This is what the crowd came for; the previously mostly-seated audience was now on its feet and the jam fest ended with a massive standing ovation.
After what seemed like ages, we were reminded of Haynes’ voice as he introduced young guitar prodigy, Duane Betts, son of the legendary Dickey Betts. There was huge applause from the crowd as soon as the first chord was struck, starting off “Blue Sky.” Most critics agree that Gov’t Mule has never had a bonafide hit, but seeing the crowd’s reaction, it was easy to beg to differ. Betts stayed with the band and the crowd stayed on their feet as Gov’t Mule closed the set with The Allman Brothers’ “Whipping Post.” It was an incredible one-two punch to close it out, as the diverging sounds and messages struck major chords with the crowd.
Gov’t Mule came out within a minute for an encore, again with Duane Betts and this time, invited Jimmy Vivino to rejoin the band on guitar. No one had sat down for the last hour, again, a testament to how seasoned this crowd was to the Mule. They knew when to save their energy and when to expend.
Mule closed it out with an Allman sandwich, starting with “Melissa,” transitioning into “Mountain Jam” and ending again with the conclusion to “Melissa”
It’s impossible to know how many more shows Gov’t Mule can possibly play in the coming years, but with the amount of talent and genuine love for the music that they possess, it’s not unreasonable to envision thousands more. One thing’s for sure though: the fans will be there, and likely some new ones as well.
Revolution Come, Revolution Go
Unring the Bell
Won 4 Walter Jam
Don’t Take Me Alive
Stone Cold Rage
Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground
St. Stephen Jam