Gov't. Mule at Gothic Theater in Denver
The second set started with not one, but two songs from Pink Floyd's Meddle album from 1971. This is typical of the Mule. Rather than picking a Floyd tune (or two) from one of their popular albums like Dark Side of the Moon or The Wall, they picked songs from a more obscure album, but still one that is known to serious students of Classic Rock. (The same can be said for the choice of "I'm Free" rather than something like "Pinball Wizard" or "Acid Queen" from Tommy.) After the two Floyd songs, the band pulled out "Lively Up Yourself" which, as everyone knows, is not just the best Bob Marley tune ever, it's the best Bob Marley tune by several light years. Genius.
Gov't. Mule recently released an album of all new songs recorded in the studio, By a Thread. The new disc adds 11 new songs to the tracks on their 7 or so prior studio albums. Friday night they only played two new ones including "Inside Outside Woman Blues #3," one of the nastier blues tunes to be penned in the 21st Century. However, on Saturday night, the Mule dug deep into the new material playing 5 of them. The first set started with the first two songs from the new disc, although in reverse order, "Steppin' Lightly" and "Broke Down on the Brazos." The first is another of what is turning out to be a lengthy body of work by Haynes about really bad romances. "How could I be so misled/She drove me outta my head... One of these days I'm gonna get better/Do whatever it takes to get over her." "Broke Down on the Brazos" features ZZ Top guitarist Billy Gibbons on the studio version, so that gives you an idea of the degree of heaviness this one dishes out.
They followed those two songs with "No Need to Suffer" from Life Before Insanity from 2000. That one is notable for its 5/4 time signature and the guitar jam in the middle in that time puts a new twist on the basic blues-rock breakdown. Next up was the first cover of the night, Joni Mitchell's "Woodstock" done up much more like Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young's version than Joni's. Another Mule original, "Thorazine Shuffle" was next. That one sounds like it could be straight out of the Savoy Brown or early Jethro Tull songbook with an infectious, deep blues-rock lick that can stay with you for days after the show. Saturday night's first set concluded with a couple blues classics, "Feel Like Breakin' Up Somebody's Home" and Robert Johnson's "32/20 Blues." The Mule was joined on the first of those by Luther Dickinson, guitarist for the opening North Mississippi Allstars. Then on "32/20 Blues" Luther's brother Cody, drummer for NMAS came on stage to play washboard. The brothers came back later in the evening for the second encore tune, Tom Waits' "Get Behind the Mule" (which followed Nirvana's "All Apologies") That time Cody strapped on a guitar rather than the washboard.
Saturday night's second set featured several more tunes from the latest album as well as a cover that reached yet another genre, Tower of Power's funk classic "What is Hip." The Mule does a great version of this song (despite the lack of a horn section), but it reveals a bit of a weakness in the percussion area. Matt Abts is a great rock and roll drummer, but falls a bit short with the funk. Outside of the specifically arranged sections of the song, he continued to whack the snare on the third beat like any old rock song. By contrast, a funk drummer, like say Russell Batiste of PBS and the Funky Meters or Stanton Mooreof Galactic, would be throwing in syncopated snare shots on a regular basis. Nevertheless, the funk prevailed.
The newest member of the Mule is bassist Jorgen Carlsson having replaced Andy Hess about a year and a half ago. Carlsson brings an extremely muscular sound to the band and lays down the massive bottom end necessary for the weightier tunes in the band's book. Danny Louis was originally hired for keyboards, particularly the Hammond B-3 whose sound is so necessary for the classic blues-rock sound. He also occasionally plays trumpet and, for these gigs strapped on a guitar for numerous songs for some rhythm backing to Haynes' leads.