It's hardly a surprise that Gov't Mule performed Led Zeppelin's Houses of the Holy (Atlantic, 1973) in its entirety in sequence on Halloween, 2007. The legendary British band is one of the most profound influences on The Mule, in both their original compositions"Streamlined Woman" and others on High & Mighty (ATO, 2006)and covers"When the Levee Breaks" and "Living Loving Maid (She's Just A Woman)," as well as "No Quarter" from Houses.
A tribute to Gov't Mule's collective professionalism, instrumental expertise and honest love of music, Holy Haunted House might be a bonafide tour de force except that the group sounds a little too careful a little too often here. Granted, that may not be all that surprising under the circumstances of a one-off show, but Mule nevertheless nails "The Ocean," and rightly so: it sounds like a riff of its very own. Meanwhile, "The Song Remains the Same," "Dancing Days" and "Over the Hills and Far Away" fit neatly within the quartet's riff-rock oeuvre. "D'Yer M'ker" is of a piece with guitarist Warren Haynes and co.'s Jamaican fascination, but they can't imbue "The Crunge," a misconceived and altogether lightweight tribute to James Brown, with any substance.
Elsewhere traversing Zeppelin's fifth album, Warren Haynes' guttural vocals infuse that soporific ballad "The Rain Song" with gravity and soul. Nearly as much as his playing on the tunes themselves, the drum solo by the other charter member of Mule, Matt Abts, suggests he would've been a suitable replacement for the late Zeppelin drummer John Bonham at the rock icon's reunion last year.
Augmented for the second set by guitarist Audrey Freedformerly a Black Crowe and regular guest of Gov't Mulethe quartet finishes this second eighty minutes of the night with the blues. An interpolation of Robert Johnson's "Come in My Kitchen" and "32/30 Blues" may or may not be commentary on accusations of Zeppelin rip-offs, but they definitely contain the kind of sly ingenuity to be expected from Gov't Mule.
Mule's opening set on 10-31-2007 carried an unusual potency and its own internal logic. The dub- influenced arrangement of "Play with Fire" is a logical segue from the Rolling Stones song into the original "Time to Confess," which has a built-in reggae rhythm. Keyboardist Danny Louis' electric piano solo on "Million Miles From Yesterday" brightens the sound as much as that instrument, in combination with organ, lightens the dusky atmosphere of "Rockin' Horse."
Gov't Mule navigates the instrumental twists and turns of "Birth of the Mule" with a finesse that also fosters a seamless transition from "Larger Than Life" into "Fallen Down." "The Other One Jam," based upon the Grateful Dead's long-standing improvisational vehicle, is equally deft. So often and appropriately a show closer, "Blind Man in the Dark" allows bassist Andy Hess to engage in a furious solo. It's a frenetic close to what is only the first hour-plus of a special occasion at the O'Shaughnessy Theatre in St. Paul, Minnesota.
Personnel: Warren Haynes: vocals, guitar; Matt Abts: drums; Danny Louis: keyboards, vocals and other goodies; Andy
Hess: bass; Audley Freed: guitar (CD2).