Fresh off of the European leg of their 2022 tour in support
of their current album Heavy Load Blues, the ‘Gov’t Mule’ touring
machine pulled into ‘Beak and Skiff Apple Orchards’, Lafayette, NY. Nestled on a
green hillside just south of Syracuse in orchard country, the venue offered the
perfect remedy for a steamy 90 degree central New York summer day. ‘Gov’t Mule’,
the twenty plus year road tested quartet comprised of legendary guitarist,
Grammy winner and founding member Warren Haynes, drummer Matt Abts, multi-instrumentalist
Danny Louis and bassist Jorgen Carlsson; served up a boiling musical gruel
comprised of a multitude of diverse musical spices and hearty chunks of
electric blues to the hungry crowd.
At 7:15 Mule took the stage to Warren Haynes solo vocal
introduction of Son House’s ‘Grinnin’ in Your Face’ that acted as a blue
prelude to Matt Abts drum introduction to the catalog standard ‘Mule’. A classic
double opener that long time fans understood meant the group had come to play.
Haynes donned a slide for this opening salvo which was immediately cracked open
and sizzled like an egg on black asphalt. Danny Louis’s additions of spongy keyboards were a stellar contrast to Haynes’ laser focused slide excursions.
‘Wake Up Dead’ from the aforementioned Heavy Load Blues, kept
the tempo high and the jamming ripe as the bluesy stomp spotlighted Danny Louis’
slippery Hammond organ excursions. His Leslie speaker rotated at high
revolutions behind his impressive keyboard array. With nary a pause, the group,
with Louis now lending rhythm guitar pickpocketed the opening to Junior
Parker’s ‘Snatch it Back and Hold It’. The crowd surged in to a funky head
bobbing groove as Haynes peeled off a series of brassy licks. Carlsson, who was
fully amped strapped the bottom end down as the group illustrated their mastery
of the classic Chicago blues. Sandwiched between two halves of ‘Snatch It’ was
a unique Mule flavored jam called ‘Hold It Back’, essentially a heavy improv in
E that pulled away from the song proper before returning to the reprise for a
Continuing what would be a deft blend of covers and
originals in the set, ‘Beautifully Broken’ from Mule’s 2001 LP The Deep End
Volume 1, slowed things down for the sun-drenched crowd but contained the
most intense jamming thus far. Under violet light Haynes peeled off a plethora of
virtuosic solos, each more intense than the previous culminating in the expeditious
scrubbing of his strings that brought the band to a full climax and the crowd
to collaborative applause.
For those who have followed ‘Gov’t Mule’ from the beginning
the reading of ‘Rockin Horse’ from the band’s 1995 debut, when they were still
a power trio was a welcome addition to the set. Haynes donned a Gibson SG for
the performance while Abts pounded musical nails to wood through the verses.
Crashing waves of sustained improv splayed waves of undulating sound over the
crowd. Endless crescendos of guitar and keyboard were stretched to their
respective limits. Matt Abts bass drum triplets replicated heart palpitations
deep inside the cavern of my chest as the group took the songs internal makeup
to its absolute limits.
It’s moments like the aforementioned that separate Gov’t
Mule from other bands of their ilk. This isn’t a run of the mill ‘jam band’.
There is nothing cute about Gov’t Mule’s playing. Mule finds the pulse of a song and
explores every nook and cranny organically and with patience. Their musical
summits are discovered through naturally occurring group exploration not
contrived peaks. There is no ‘show’ just musicians disseminating their craft
with no illusions or card tricks.
Leaving the smoldering heap of rubble that was the ‘Rockin
Horse’ behinf, the band slipped into the fitting commentary of ‘Revolution Come, Revolution
Go’. Toward the song’s conclusion Haynes’s let go with a blue drone of feedback
that levitated above the churning rhythm section then traveled over the green
hills, inched over the surrounding lakes and back to the crowd’s ears. Stunning.
The opening set concluded with the two-fer of ‘Aint No Love
In the Heart of the City’ another deep blues from the current album offering
and the closing reggae tinged ‘Time to
Confess’. ‘Confess’ surpassed ten minutes and balanced on Matt Abts and
Carlsson’s unique bricklayers take on the ‘one drop’ groove. As dusk fell on the stage the
jamming intensified before detonating in a wash of Danny Louis coloring and Haynes
continuing discovery of melodic ideas.
Following a set break ‘Mule’ returned to the stage as the
grounds cooled and a light rain spritzed the crowd. In contrast to the intensity
of the first portion of the show, ‘Mule’, masters of moods opened the
concluding set with music to match the vibe. A trio of classic ‘Gov’t Mule’
songs from their early catalog sated the longtime fans. ‘No Need to Suffer’ from
2000’s Life Before Insanity started things off and gave Jorgen Carlsson
an opportunity to shine as he provided a melodic lead bass part originally
played by dearly departed founding member Allen Woody.
Haynes and Carlsson initiated a razor dance of intertwining lines
that increased in intensity each round through the chord changes. Louis shifted
the arrangement over Abts solid rock rhythm adding a unique disorientation to
the already psychedelically tinged attack. ‘Painted Silver Light’, one of
Haynes most enduring melodies from 1995’s band debt followed in a crisp
perfection and segued into ‘Thelonious Beck’ an instrumental jam vehicle from the
group’s Dose record. Haynes started things off with a slide guitar introduction
wrenching up the anticipation before unleashing the songs syncopated opening. Carlsson
pulsed prolifically on bass as the band slammed through the song’s angular
blues changes with Haynes once again offering a discography of rock and roll
licks ranging from Chuck Berry to Jerry Garcia. Light touch, sustained feedback
and a color wheel of tonal expressions only touch upon Haynes magic mastery of
The concert had reached
a misty summit and began the high speed down hill to musical satisfaction
with an expansive cover reading of ‘Creedence Clearwater Revival’s’, ‘Effigy’.
Haynes husky vocals stirred up in a pot of whisky and sawdust, were smoothed
for the culturally and time appropriate cover. As the group began to leave the
framework of the song a choogling country boogie began to coagulate. Notes of
the Grateful Dead’s ‘Cumberland Blues’ passed by the window of the speeding
musical train. The crowd danced out their approval as Haynes began to quote
Johnny Cash’s ‘Folsom Prison Blues’. A smile was discernable on Warren’s face
as the crowd caught on to the melody and the band ignited. A highlight of the
second set, band and crowd alike joined in celebratory glory.
The crowd was now
pliable to the ‘Mule’s’ every want and they took it to the bank with a dubby
sweet version of Al Green’s ‘I’m A Ram’ and a huge and thumping of Tom Wait’s ‘Goin
Out West’ to close things out. ‘Goin Out West’ featured Warren playing with a
multitude of quivering tones and edgy riffing before leaving the work to the
crowd to chant the lyric, ‘Goin out West where they appreciate me’. Louis
picked up his trombone and accompanied the crowd as he led the procession off
of the stage to the rhythmic crowd accompaniment.
The only way to
conclude such a special evening of music was with the obvious choice of ‘Soulshine’.
Originally released on the ‘Allman Brothers Band’ 1994 album, Back
Where It All Begins, the song has
become ‘Gov’t Mule’s’ and Warren Haynes emotional tincture and defining song.
Like the best tunes, it stirs up a multitude of emotions and acts as a musical
moment to remember, reflect and elicit hopefulness.
‘Gov’t Mule’ is
still one of the best kept secrets in rock and roll even after almost three
decades. The group encompasses all of the most unique elements of their
influences and when on stage becomes something more substantial than their four
pieces. Haynes is a masterful songwriter, interpreter and guitar player of the
purest standard. One time a band in flux, ‘Gov’t Mule’ has melded themselves
into a group of superior musicians that have acquired their second sight
through hard work, constant touring and a continuous reach for the note.