It’s an unseasonably (read ‘unreasonably’) warm night in London; indeed, if the weather got any closer I’d practically be nose to nose with it. I imagine that Warren Haynes, front man of Gov’t Mule and a native of Asheville, North Carolina, is feeling right at home. Gov’t Mule, pronounced ‘Government Mule’ but known almost exclusively as ‘Mule’, are a band that emerged with Haynes and the late Allen Woody from under the wing of The Allman Brothers Band, and much like the Allman’s, when it comes to live performance, they don’t really bother with too much in the way of defined structure. I like to check the setlist.fm website before I review a gig to get a handle on what I’m going to hear. Not much point with this band. A check on the site indicates that no two shows are ever the same.
So, with no real idea what to expect, I boiled my way up the Northern Line and emerged at Kentish Town tube for the short, swampy walk to the Forum. This was a gig that was supposed to be accommodated at the Shepherds Bush Empire, one of my favourite London venues. Owing to ongoing issues with the roof, Mule were switched to the Forum, a building with the charisma of Iain Duncan-Smith, and one of my least favourite London venues. This was a real shame, since the band could have benefitted from the more intimate environment at the Empire. The Forum takes more filling, and if it isn’t full (it wasn’t – quite), the acoustics are often atrocious. Haynes didn’t say much between songs. This is just as well, since on the occasions when he did did engage with the crowd, I suspect that practically nobody had any idea what he was saying. I certainly didn’t.
Opening with the auto-wah solo guitar lines of World Boss, Warren and the band proceeded to play the first two songs practically in the dark, which was a shame if you’re trying to snap it. Once security had kicked the photographers out of the photo pit, the lighting tech kindly found the ‘on’ switch. Excellent.
And so began close to three hours (two sets with a twenty-minute break) of free-formed southern blues rock jamming of the highest order. To be honest it wasn’t that easy to know quite where the band segued out of one song and into the next, so seamless were the transitions. Tell-tale signs of recognition and appreciation from an enthralled audience were a welcome signpost of progress to my uninitiated ears. The band were technically extremely adept, though with only a limited audience interaction at times it felt a bit like a couple of thousand people had infiltrated the world’s highest quality garage band running through Saturday afternoon practice.
Gov’t Mule served up some staple ingredients such as Blind Man In The Dark and Stoop So Low and they weaved in and out of classic covers and instrumental passages such as Mahavishnu Orchestra’s Eternity’s Breath and Hendrix’s Third Stone From the Sun with great dexterity and aplomb. After an extended second set lasting a good ninety minutes, the band took a very well earned break and whilst we waited for an inevitable encore the stage technicians rapidly wheeled out a Marshall 4×12 and a couple of amplifier heads.
Moments later, the wonderful Bernie Marsden on guitar and Joe McGlohon on sax joined the rest of the band for a very fine rendition of the Ann Peebles staple I Feel Like Breaking Up Somebody’s Home. Mule keys player Danny Louis even joined the horn party with some adroitly played trombone. And so closed a mighty fine, mighty warm night of musical deftness. The fluidity of performance offered up by bands such as Gov’t Mule, The Allman Brothers and Tedeschi Trucks isn’t something that comes around too often. When it does, my advice is to grab it with both hands, regardless of how hot it is outside.
Review and Photography by Simon Reed. You can see more of Simon’s photography here: www.musicalpictures.co.uk