I had heard the name Gov’t Mule and of its leader, guitarist Warren Haynes, bandied about in jam-band circles, but didn’t know their music. At one point, I downloaded a bootleg a portion of their 2007 Halloween show where they covered Led Zeppelin’s Houses of the Holy in its entirety. They sounded very good, but I knew there had to be more to them than a Zeppelin tribute band, so when the opportunity to see them presented itself I dove right in.
Of course what helped seal the deal was opener Back Door Slam, my favorite discovery at Bonnaroo 2008. As Eugene and I walked in, BDS was already on stage before a good-size audience, but we were still able to work our way to a spot on the floor as they played the Robert Cray tune they are named after. Next, they offered up Arlo Guthrie’s “Coming Into Los Angeles.” Davy Knowles’ guitar rang out clean and clear, but he really shined on the slow, smoldering blues “What in the World” by Willie Dixon. Bandmates Ross Doyle (drums) and Adam Jones (bass) kept the rhythm tight and focused. Eugene leaned over as the song ended and said he hadn’t seen or heard a guy play like that since Stevie Ray Vaughn. They closed their set by bringing out Gov’t Mule’s keyboard player Danny Louis for “Tell Me What the Fuss is All About.” A nice gesture between guys who have been touring together, but it was anti-climatic as fans wanted more Knowles magic.
Gov’t Mule came out to a jam-packed house and grooved along nicely. Their music was more blues-based than jam band, but they still took occasional musical excursions within their songs. However, rather than really exploring, they appeared to have a purpose and definite direction in their sonic travels. During the first set, the bass was heavy in the mix and although the music sounded good, the bass levels dominated, causing the songs to sound like Haynes played rhythm guitar except for when he soloed. Knowles came out to close the first set with a cover of David Crosby’s “Almost Cut My Hair.” He and Haynes traded solos, which pushed Haynes to raise his game.
During the second set, the sound mix was corrected and Haynes’ guitar stood out more. Although that wasn’t clear until after their second-set opener, a cover of Pink Floyd’s bass-driven “One of These Days.” Matt Abts’ fired off an impressive drum solo. When the rest of the band returned, the next few songs were too mellow for my mood. Thankfully, “Thorazine Shuffle,” which closed the second set, picked up the pace nicely and even got some people in the seats up and bopping around. During the encore Hook Herrera joined them on harmonica for two songs, including Little Milton’s “That's What Love Will Make You Do” which had an Allman Brothers sound to it.
Even without knowing their music, I enjoyed my first Gov’t Mule show and recommend them for people who enjoy a mix of blues, southern rock, and jam bands. They have got me interested in seeking out their albums, and considering seeing them again. Back Door Slam has me hooked. Do yourself a favor and see them when they come to your town
Brand New Angel
Lola Leave Your Light On
Larger Than Life
Time To Confess
Almost Cut My Hair (1)
One Of These Days
Bad Little Doggie
Left Coast Groovies
World Of Difference
That's What Love Will Make You Do (2)
Setlist Notes: (1) with Davy Knowles; * First Time Played ; (2) with Hook Hererra
Back Door Slam:
Outside Woman Blues
Tear Down the Walls
Back Door Slam
Coming into Los Angeles
Long Road Home
What in the World
Tell Me What the Fuzz is All About (3)
Setlist Notes: (3) with Danny Louis