Gov’t Mule

Music Reviews Gov't Mule
Gov’t Mule

(Above: Gov’t Mule’s Warren Haynes. Photo by Allie Goolrick)

Anyone who’s been to the Tabernacle knows the mystique that the Baptist-church-turned-music-venue holds. A century-old pipe organ rises high above the stage, the stained-glass windows rattle dangerously with the basslines and pieces of the ancient ceiling occasionally flutter to the ground like snow. For bluesy, soulful rockers Gov’t Mule, this old church is the perfect setting. As frontman/guitarist Warren Haynes cranks out his classic Southern-rock formula, I can’t help but imagine the ghosts of a gospel choir onstage with him, singing along.

Surveying the crowd, it seems like it’s a requirement that older Gov’t Mule fans’ hair be waist-length— all the better to sway to the Mule’s newer, more expansive sound. Since the death of original bassist Allen Woody and the band’s shift from trio to four-piece (Warren Haynes, guitar; Danny Louis, keyboards; Andy Hess, bass; Matt Abts, drums),the band seems to have mellowed its formerly hard-hitting sound.

A first set of pretty standard Southern rock, coupled with Haynes’ formulaic Allman-esque vocals, gives way to crowd-pleasing Temple of the Dog cover “Hunger Strike.” And if that isn’t enough to make the half-biker, half-frat-boy crowd roar, the band segues smoothly into Traffic cover “Dear Mr. Fantasy” and then back into “Hunger Strike.” The balcony shudders as Haynes plunges into “Soul Shine”—a tune he wrote and performs with his other band, you might’ve heard of them… The Allman Brothers—but it’s just not the same without Gregg Allman on vocals.

And apparently Gov’t Mule agrees—as the second set opens, thunderous cheers erupt as Allman himself strolls onstage. Hardly a surprise, however, for Mule fans, since this is the third year running that the rock icon and Georgia resident has guested during an Atlanta show. He joins new Gov’t Mule keyboardist Danny Louis on what looks to be the same piano bench for an all-too-short four-song contribution, which includes Elmore James’ “The Sky is Crying,” plus the Blind Willie McTell-penned Allman Brothers staple “Statesboro Blues.” On these songs, Haynes really shines, focusing on his strong-suit—screaming, gut-wrenching guitar solos.

Allman exits and Haynes seems even more energized, barreling through the rest of the set with a more edgy Allen Woody-era Gov’t Mule sound. Songs like “Mule” and Humble Pie cover “30 Days in the Hole” jam, but tracks from new album Deja Voodoo are surprisingly scarce. Of course, the older song selection keeps fans on their feet.

With or without his friend Gregg, Haynes can still rock when it counts. The single-song encore of Bob Seger’s “Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man” has fans screaming for more, but veteran rocker Haynes knows when to part gracefully. He flashes a peace sign, blows a few kisses and the Tabernacle seems to sway as the crowd reaches fever-pitch. Haynes and Gov’t Mule have it down—and the formula is a predictable one. But it still works.

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