Gov’t Mule at Stylus, Leeds, UK – 29th May 2019

Posted by Bianca on Wednesday May 29, 2019 Under Blues, Southern Rock

Review + Photos by John Hayhurst

Gov’t Mule pack a 3hr setlist with some Classic Blues Jams and whilst they’re ‘Live in Leeds’ a long ride on The Who’s ‘Magic Bus’.

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“Found something interesting about this band tonight”, the Security supervisor is telling the two guys who are guarding the front pit, “They used to be called the Allman Brothers and they wrote the Top Gear music”. Biting my lip and not shouting “What a crock of shit” back at him, I explain (after he had gone) to the two junior ShowSec staff that actually he was sadly mistaken. Such is the travesty that a band as mighty as Gov’t Mule are reduced to these 2 second soundbites, when their legacy is so much more than a single rickety bridge to the Allmans.

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For those that are not aware, Warren Haynes (singer/guitarist) founding member of Gov’t Mule served part of his blues apprenticeship in the Dickey Betts band with drummer Matt Abts. Betts was a founding member of The Allman Brothers, with the brothers Duane and Greg Allman. Duane passed away in 1971, Greg much later in 2017. During that in-between period the band broke up more than once and lost a few members along the way – Betts brought Haynes into a reformed Allmans in 1989 along with Allen Woody on bass guitar. Haynes and Woody then formed Gov’t Mule in 1994 with Abts on drums. Sadly, Allen Woody died in August 2000 leaving the only remaining connection to the Allmans as Warren Haynes, who certainly didn’t write (Betts wrote it) or even record that bloody Top Gear music or, ‘Jessica’ as it should really be called. Here endeth the history lesson for both you and the 2 ShowSec guards, and they looked about as excited as you would expect them to.

Gov’t Mule have carved themselves a prominent place in American rock and roll history books by confidently producing some of the best blues jamming performances this side of The Grateful Dead. By merging rock, blues, jazz, and funk, the power trio of Haynes, Woody and Abts created a string of great albums, beginning with 1995’s Gov’t Mule, followed by Dose [1998], and Life Before Insanity [2000].

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However, the live performance is where it’s at, and whilst they don’t come over here too often, every show is different because of the ever changing setlists. Fans of these jam bands travel from all over to witness key songs live and collect bootleg shows and tickets – sometimes for entire tours. It’s not a clever marketing trick to get a core of fans to travel along with you, just brilliant musicians doing what they were made to do. Fans travel and make great lifelong friends along the way with shared interests and views over which track/show/album/performance was the best they have seen. This has been going on with this specific genre for years – since the late 60’s, and some of the audience here look like they were there at the start too, a lot of beards, thinning grey hair and tie dye print shirts.

We are at the seat of learning which is Leeds University and tonight this incarnation of ‘Mule’ is about to give a masterclass in the art of blues rock jamming, not seen since Rich Robinson of The Black Crowes played Leeds a few years ago. In fact, it has been a few years since Mule played this area, you would have to go back to Holmfirth Picturedrome in May 2016, or have taken a trip to Ramblin Man Fair, Manchester or London to have seen them in the last 5 years. It is a little surprising then that it isn’t sold out tonight, but they are still relatively undiscovered by the masses, even with such a pedigree in the Southern American Blues anthology.

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Warren Haynes tunes his Gibson and with a quick strum he’s off with a “Hello Leeds” and that’s about all he’s going to say for the next hour and a half (other than singing). ‘Bad little Doggie’ and ‘Blind Man in the Dark’ are kicked out and extended in succession. Whilst he’s not much of a talker, what Haynes will do is constantly melt faces with some wizardly solos and riffs, avidly backed by Abts spiderlike moves on drums, and steadfast bassist Jorgen Carlsson. Danny Louis on keys is behind some serious kit to the right of the stage and peers over it to add backing vocals, the trombone comes out and anything else he can find to add some feels to the mood. Louis is an important part of that space blues funk jazz sound and his Hammond keys are perfect for blues jams, never extending too far up their own rectums, together they produce some blistering music, which just feels incredibly natural.

Playing 2 sets each night they are able to turn to more of the ‘Dark side of the Mule’ in the second show and add a few covers. In particular tonight as they are ‘Live at Leeds’ we’ll have a Who classic, and so ‘Magic Bus’ rings out. Haynes and co extending this to great effect and before you know it, a near 3-hour extravaganza comes to a close.

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It may be years before they re-appear on our soil again and any fan of classic blues should grab the chance when they can, a handful of dates are left for this year with Manchester likely to be a highlight at the weekend. Go kickstart your Blues experience with some Mule.

LISTENING: Revolution Come… Revolution Go – album released June 2017.

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