For those needing some Warren Haynes – a heavy dose was delivered June 24 at Iroquois Amphitheater. Gov’t Mule returned to Derby City in all its Southern jam band glory. The festivities kicked off with Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe ably opening the show. Mule took the stage an hour later, delivering the precise, hard rocking performance this power outfit has come to define.
In particular Mule hits a sweet spot for the Grateful Dead faithful. When that jonz hits to hear a live guitar weep, such as how Mule vocalist Warren Haynes can play, there is no substitute but to find the boys out on the road. Mule, like the Grateful Dead or The Allman Brothers Band, are road warriors. Every year, every season, they are out making the rounds.
Formed in 1994, Gov’t Mule was originally a side gig Haynes and bassist Allen Woody came up with while on a break from their day gig with The Allman Brothers Band. Along with drummer Matt Abts, with whom Haynes played alongside in the Dickey Betts Band, Mule was considered a constructive way to fill time when not touring with the Allman’s. But quickly the new gig shifted from side project to the member’s primary focus.
They were a power trio churning out blistering Southern blues rock, with a flair for expanding the tunes live into jam sessions. After Woody’s tragic passing in 2000, a string of legendary bass players took turns filling his shoes. Guys like John Entwistle (The Who), Jack Bruce (Cream), Phil Lesh (Grateful Dead), Bootsy Collins (Parliament-Funkadelic), Flea (Red Hot Chili Peppers), Les Claypool (Primus), Mike Gordon (Phish), Dave Schools (Widespread Panic), among others.
They’ve since added Danny Louis on keyboards (2002), and a permanent bassist, Jorgen Carlsson (2008). With The Allman Brothers Band now gone, and Lynyrd Skynyrd wrapping its final nostalgic tour, Gov’t Mule takes the mantle as one of the last bands carrying on the Southern rock legacy.
Monday night’s performance opened with “Bad Little Doggie,” an uptempo number that castigates a metaphorical love interest who stayed out all night, returning home in the morning smelling of guilt. This was followed by “Blind Man in the Dark.” Both numbers are great scene setters for a Mule show. Two standouts in the eight song first set were the hard-living anthem “Rocking Horse” and “Thorazine Shuffle,” an ode to self medication.
My vantage point for this concert was spectacular, Row C, just left of center, to the side where Haynes was set up. It was a pleasure to have such close proximity to this master craftsman, from which to observe him work. Haynes speed on the frets and clean fingering of notes was wicked impressive.
The scene at intermission is why folks love Iroquois Amphitheater. It was a perfect summer night, warm with clear skies. As the cover of darkness fell, the heads were free to roam the elevated walkway in the rear of the pavilion, out into the grassy expanse that strategically failed to be lighted. The haze was thick and staff left peaceful pursuits alone.
Set two showcased an aspect of Gov’t Mule’s repertoire that is a fan favorite – giving referential recitations to other artists’ music, affectionately known as cover songs. This evening those in attendance were treated to multiple gems, including “Eyesight to the Blind” by Sonny Boy Williamson, “The Other One” jam from the Grateful Dead that was incorporated into Mule’s “Fallen Down,” “Kind of Bird” by The Allman Brothers Band, and the epic closer “32-20 Blues” by Robert Johnson.
Haynes looked the best I’ve seen him in years. He had clearly lost considerable weight, his skin tone was better and the man looked like a healthier Warren. The concert concluded at 11PM, and away we went with music in our ears into the evening for what came next.
Again, beautiful summer night, outside on a Monday in Louisville, with Warren Haynes on guitar – yep I “Got Mule.”