Gov't. Mule at Gothic Theater in Denver
February 12-13, 2010
OK, I know what you're thinking: "Oh for cryin' out loud, Anderson went to see Gov't. Mule again!" Actually, it's worse than that; I went to see Gov't. Mule, twice! Friday night the Mule played the (relatively) intimate Gothic and Saturday night they played the somewhat more spacious Fillmore with the North Mississippi Allstars opening. The Mule keeps me coming back through a combination of a seemingly endless repertoire, a style that ranges well beyond their heavy rock roots into reggae, jazz, funk, down and dirty blues and gut wrenching ballads. Then there's the musicianship: impeccable.
Here's the deal with the repertoire: they played two shows in Denver, each one 2½ hours long, then played another show in Aspen the next night and didn't repeat a single song. That's why it's easy to see the Mule two nights in a row; they played two completely different shows.
Friday night's concert was at the Gothic Theater, a converted movie house that holds around 1,000 people. This band is getting too big for a venue that small as evidenced by the fact they sold out that show as well as the one Saturday night at the Fillmore which accommodates 3,700 people. I suspect the Gothic show was designed to let the hard core fans get a little closer and more personal with the band than is possible at a larger venue. Band leader, lead guitarist, vocalist and chief song writer Warren Haynes commented on the sold out Fillmore toward the end of Saturday's show when he said that the band had been playing Colorado since 1995 (the year their first album was released) and about 200 people turned out at that time. He seemed like a proud father surveying his expanding progeny.
I took full advantage of the smaller venue Friday night and worked my way to the very front of the stage and ended up 10 feet from Haynes for the entire evening. I was in the midst of the real fans, the fist pumpers. These guys knew all the lyrics. I thought I was pretty well versed in the Mule's songs, but this crew knew every word of even the most obscure Mule tunes. Gov't. Mule shows attract a disproportionate number of males, but there were a few women in the front ranks. Mainly they nodded their heads and a few performed vaguely erotic hand gestures throughout the evening.
However, the most fun of standing right in front of Haynes was keeping on eye on his guitars and his technique. He probably used 6 to 8 different guitars throughout the evening including two different 12 strings. He's obviously very particular about getting just the right guitar sound for each song; and that sound changes for nearly every tune. One of the more interesting techniques of the evening came on "Scenes From a Troubled Mind." Like many Mule tunes, this one has a distinctive guitar figure that works its way in and around the vocal. For this song, Haynes slipped a slide on his ring finger and played most of the intricate lick with his index and middle fingers on the fret board, but then threw in a little slide in the middle, then went back to the fingers on the neck.
Besides Gov't. Mule, Haynes is a member of the Allman Brothers Band and plays with the remaining members of the Grateful Dead when they tour as The Dead. Between all these projects and his propensity to cover Classic Rock songs with all three of those outfits, Haynes has turned into Jerry Garcia, Duane Allman and Robert Plant all rolled into one. As usual, the Friday night cover tunes were a kick. The band started with The Who's "I'm Free" from Tommy, then went into Hendrix's "The Wind Cries Mary;" the former a great tune for power chords and the latter an equally great tune, but more suited to one note (at a time) solos.
The first set of the evening wrapped up with Al Green's "I'm a Ram." That one is a good example of the variety of musical styles the Mule often crams into one song. The song starts with a heavy rock lick then shifts to a lilting reggae riff. Guess which one they use for the solos. Another song from that set offered a similar contrast. "New World Blues" starts quiet and contains a delicate ascending triplet figure that nearly mimics John Abercrombie's "Timeless" which was a release from 1975 on the ethereal ECM label. That gives way to a tasty blues-rock lick. Another song in Friday night's first set showed yet another side of the Mule. Songwriting credits for "Kind of Bird" are attributed to Warren Haynes and Dickie Betts. Those two wrote that song in the early '90s when they were both members of the Allman Brothers. This one has an extended jazz jam in the middle with a walking bass line and real bebop feel.