Live review: Gov’t Mule @ the Fillmore AuditoriumBy Kyle Wagner | February 18th, 2010 | 3 comments
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Music fans certainly understand the concept of a band’s touring to promote a new release, but catching Gov’t Mule live has always been more about what they cover than hearing their originals live.
Sometimes it’s hard not to experience set list envy over what Warren Haynes & Co. have played in previous shows — lucky Urbana, Ill., got “When Doves Cry” and those dogs in St. Louis got “Madman Across the Water”?! — but with Gov’t Mule that’s never mattered so much, because you know the folks in the next city are going to feel the same way about your roster of killer covers.
That might not be the case with Saturday night’s way-sold-out show at the Fillmore, however. In one of the most low-key Gov’t Mule shows I’ve seen, the band spent most of its time either revisiting old material in uninspired ways or half-heartedly introducing songs from the new “By a Thread,” a soulful but generally mellow offering that overall feels like a band in transition.
“By a Thread” does have a couple of above-average tracks, though, and played live they showcased new bass player Jorgen Carlsson to good effect — he’s not as showy as the late, great Allen Woody, but at least you can hear the guy (a continual Woody complaint), and his rhythmic punch on “Broke Down on the Brazos” is the ideal foil for Haynes. The keyboard work on “Monday Mourning Meltdown” also kept Danny Louis hopping, and while that one was a bit of a downer (with the exception of its jazzier reworked intro), it did show how well the group has melded.
But the band seemed to hit its highest notes when nudged along by members of the opener, the North Mississippi Allstars, who were invited to play on what turned out to be some of the night’s best. In the first half, guitarist Luther Dickinson came out to push his poppy Southern rock sound into Albert King’s “Feel Like Breaking Up Somebody’s Home,” and Dickinson’s brand of “happy blues” — the Allstars just seem so gosh-durn cheery all the time — made for one groovy jam. They followed it up by bringing Luther’s brother Cody Dickinson and his electric washboard out for a kick-butt version of Robert Johnson’s “32/20 Blues.”
The show picked up considerably toward the end of the second set, after Matt Abts proved once again why he is one of rock’s best drummers, with a seemingly effortless but pumping ten-minute solo. The band reappeared with “Like Flies,” which came off as a rousing anthem, with Carlsson’s weightier sound giving the tune a harder drive than it usually has.
The lackluster “Frozen Fear” just had to be endured, as it’s one of the least interesting tracks off the new disc, but the band brought us back up again — even causing the audience to lay off its collective one-hitter to throw a few fist-punches in the air — for an Allman Brothers-esque version of “What is Hip,” a blues pastiche well-layered with Haynes’ hard-driving licks on “Mule.”
That was certainly the highlight of the show, further heightened by the first encore, “All Apologies,” a tight but soulful version of the Nirvana heartbreaker that beautifully showcased Haynes’ considerable vocal talents. He came back to announce they’d been given the go-ahead for one more: Tom Waits’ “Get Behind the Mule,” which they offered up with the Dickinson Bros. in true gotta-getta-good-tip, we’re-outta-here style.
No fair. That’s the kind of playing we had come to expect from the Mule all along.
Read our review of the previous night’s Gov’t Mule show at the Gothic Theatre.
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Kyle Wagner is the Travel editor for The Denver Post and a second-generation Deadhead who once insisted on attending an Allman Brothers Band concert at Red Rocks despite pesky early labor pains.