For about 65 percent of the show, all was right with the universe. Soul dripped from Haynes’ fingers with boundless energy and emotion. Each phrase he played reminded me of “whispered to the thunder,” as Jimmy Page said in “It Might Get Loud.”
However, starting at the midway point of the second set, everything went off the rails, and it seemed like Haynes had been replaced by some strange doppelganger robot a la “Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey.”
Haynes and Gov’t Mule proudly fly their love of classic rock in their shows. The band kicked off with a cover of the Who’s “I’m Free,” with keyboardist Danny Louis playing rhythm guitar underneath Haynes’ fiery wail. They followed that opening salvo with an interesting take on “The Wind Cries Mary,” which lacked that creamy smoothness of the Hendrix original, but made up for it with a tasty extended solo from Haynes.
During a fierce “Game Face,” Mule teased “Norwegian Wood,” before spinning back into Haynes’ dark singing. A sweet cover of Free’s “Mr. Big” showcased a wild rolling bass line from Jorgen Carlsson under the last singing notes of Haynes’s guitar solo. On “Gordon James,” Haynes mixed high time gospel undercut with dirty Delta blues in a beautiful smorgasbord of styles.
Haynes was even on during the instrumentals, as “Kind of Bird” built to a frenetic closing pace, while the set-closing “I’m a Ram” alternated between reggae riffs and smoky, blues-based metal.
Set 2 launched with more classic rock, a double play from Pink Floyd’s classic “Meddle” album. First up was “One of these Days,” with Carlsson beautifully mixing delay and echo to create a lush backdrop for Haynes’ slide playing. “Fearless,” a tune I hadn’t always been impressed with, came alive under Haynes’ soulful blues rasp and chorus-drenched guitar.
Mule followed with an instrumental cover of “Lively Up Yourself” that showcased Haynes’s mastery of guitar tone. While live recordings convey most of the emotion, there’s something special about hearing Haynes live that can’t be reproduced on tape or digital domain. Perhaps it’s the way the overtones mesh under 100 watts of tubed, creamy distorted goodness and slam into your body, eliciting instant response from your bones and muscles.
Unfortunately, the show went south from that high point. First, let me say that if you are going to let your drummer go into a 10-minute plus solo, you’d better sandwich it around high point songs, instead of the lugubrious “Raven Black Night” and boring, almost masturbatory “Inside Outside Woman Blues.” This 30-minute long segment seemed to puzzle many in the crowd too, as the conversations distinctly picked up.
Things momentarily came alive at the start of the set-closing “Blind Man in the Dark,” but Haynes appeared to be having problems with his guitar amp, and a mid-song jam, sans Haynes, distinctly reminded me of “Jazz Odyssey” from “This Is Spinal Tap.”
Jam acts sometimes need permission to fail, so that blip in the second set isn’t enough to ruin what for the rest of the night was musical gold, but hopefully, the next Mule show will be all magic.
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Joshua Elioseff is a Boulder-based freelance photographer and new contributor to Reverb. Check out his website.