Friday 13th May 2016. Friday the 13th may be unlucky for some, but it certainly wasn’t for me as I got to see the American blues rock band Gov’t Mule live in concert for the first time. I’ve mentioned before, when discussing the latest solo release from the band’s main man Warren Haynes that it was a track called “Bad Little Doggie” that got me into Gov’t Mule, some sixteen years ago, and I’ve enjoyed every record that they have released since then so when a small UK tour (just three shows) was announced which included a gig at the O2 Academy in Bristol I just had to go!
Meeting up with my mate in the queue outside, just before the doors opened, I have to confess that I was pleasantly surprised by the number of folk that had turned out for the band, as I had assumed that their profile was relatively under the radar here in England.
Having found a decent position on a slightly raised section of the main standing area we chatted whilst waiting for the band to come on. Just after 7:30pm the house lights went down, the cheer of the crowd went up and the band appeared on stage, backed with an illuminated sign declaring “Gov’t Mule – Kicking Ass For 20 Years”.
Kicking off with a cover of blue legend Robert Johnson’s “32/20 Blues” the quality was immediately apparent. Aided no end by an excellent sound mix guitarist / vocalist Haynes lead his band through a two and a half hour set that genuinely seemed to fly by.
Backing Haynes were co-founder Matt Abts on drums, keyboardist Danny Louis who joined the group in 2001 and the most recent recruit bassist Jorgen Carlsson who came on board in 2008.
Haynes remarked early on that this was their first visit to Bristol and so they would play a wide range of their material. Noting also that there was a strict 10:00pm curfew at the venue he promised that rather than performing two sets with an interval, as is their normal routine, they would play right through. Sure enough at least one track was aired from each of the band’s studio releases, plus a clutch of covers, and they only took a very brief break over two hours later before returning to the stage for a well deserved encore.
All four musicians were excellent. Carlsson ever-busy with intricate bass runs, Abts hitting the skins like a reincarnated John Bonham and Louis filling out the sound with some superb keyboard work, as well as playing lead guitar and soloing in “Funny Little Tragedy”.
In truth, however, my attention was mostly taken by Haynes. His soulful singing is perfectly suited to the band’s material and his guitar playing is sublime. Whether using a pick or finger-picking (and often switching between the two throughout a song), employing the use of a slide, hammering out some fabulous riffs or soaring through ever-impressive solos, the man is fascinating and inspiring to watch.
This is a band that is renowned for making each show unique, and a quick check online proves this fact as there was very little repetition from show to show, in fact I think only one song was performed at more than one gig, meaning they played something in the region of fifty different numbers over the course of the three nights.
Highlights from this particular show would have to be “Game Face” with a middle section that included jazz classic “Birdland”, “Mule”, a stonking “30 Days In The Hole”, the gentler “Soulshine”, “How Many More Years” and the aforementioned “Bad Little Doggie” – was I over the moon to witness that one!
The encore was the delicate “Beautifully Broken” which included a tribute to the late Prince with part of his “When Doves Cry” slotted in, followed by a brilliant rendition of “Railroad Boy”. The latter was my mate’s favourite song of the night. He’s not overly familiar with Gov’t Mule’s back catalogue but, as a fellow guitar lover, enjoyed the top quality musicianship on display from start to finish. Then it was out into the still-warm Bristol evening and a post-gig drink in a local pub before I made the journey back across the Severn Bridge.
On the merchandise front, a tour shirt was out of the question – £30!?! You must be joking! – but the band make audio recordings of all their shows available to buy through their website for around US$10 and I will definitely be making a souvenir purchase of this particular gig. A top class show from a top class band…
1. 32/20 Blues / 2. Wandering Child / 3. Child Of The Earth / 4. Temporary Saint / 5. Game Face / Birdland / Game Face / 6. Forsaken Savior / 7. Million Miles From Yesterday / 8. Whisper In Your Soul / 9. Monkey Hill / She’s So Heavy / 10. Soulshine / Tupelo Honey / Soulshine / 11. Funny Little Tragedy / 12. Bad Little Doggie / 13. How Many More Years / 14. About To Rage / 15. 30 Days In The Hole / I Don’t Need No Doctor / 30 Days In The Hole / 16. Mule / 17. Beautifully Broken / When Doves Cry / Beautifully Broken / 18. Railroad Boy
1 cover of Robert Johnson single (1937) / 2 and 12 originally from “Life Before Insanity” (2000) / 3 and 7 originally from “High & Mighty” (2006) / 4, 9 and 16 originally from “Gov’t Mule” (1995) / 5 originally from “Dose” (1998) / cover of Weather Report single (1977) / 6, 8 and 11 originally from “Shout!” (2013) / 9 cover of Beatles song from “Abbey Road” (1969) / 10 and 17 originally from “The Deep End – Volume 1” (2001) / 10 cover of Van Morrison song from “Tupelo Honey” (1971) / 13 cover of Howlin’ Wolf single (1951) / 14 originally from “Deja Voodoo” (2004) / 15 cover of Humble Pie single (1972) / cover of Ray Charles single (1966) / 17 cover of Prince single (1984) / 18 originally from “By A Thread” (2009)