Gov’t Mule plies their trade with brilliance in Boston
By NICK TAVARES
STATIC and FEEDBACK Editor
Saving the boring details, it’s been a hectic and heavy few weeks. That’s how it goes sometimes and it happens to be going in that manner at the moment.
And that’s part of what made Thursday night on the Boston waterfront so great and so necessary. Filing papers and running out of work and getting changed and hopping back on the T to head down to the Seaport was a whirlwind, and suddenly it’s capped by standing under the back center of a tent covering about 5,000 of us, holding a beer and watching the band do their thing.
The band is Gov’t Mule, obviously, and their thing is one of the more powerful examples of the synthesis of blues and soul and jazz and following the moment that we have. We’ve had it for about 25 years now, since Warren Haynes, Matt Abts and Allen Woody started the operation, with Haynes and Abts continuing on for 19 years now following Woody’s untimely passing. They’ve played with everyone and played all over the continent for thousands of shows, and they were in the right place at the right time this evening.
Bass player Jorgen Carlsson and keyboardist Danny Louis have been in the fold for years now, but the power of the band is still fueled by Haynes and Abts, two workhorses who also have the benefit of taste. Wherever Haynes wants to take a jam, Abts follows with precision and power, and somehow never getting showy. This is not aimless noodling. This is ferocious, Elmore-James-as-Miles-Davis territory, all performed in a workmanlike manner.
And they could have gotten showy if they wanted. Louis busted out a trumpet in the midst of an extended “Mule” before Karl Denson joined in and worked his magic on the sax, pulling out a searing solo that took the entire enterprise to a new level. Zak Najor and DJ Williams from Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe augmented the band on “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed,” that sprawling jazz epic that both paid tribute to Haynes’ time with the Allman Brothers Band and further illustrated the limitless chops of these guys.
That kind of playing, intense but joyful, was the common thread throughout the evening. The two main sets were bookended with “Traveling Tune,” a sort of mission statement for the band of a life on the road, making music but always with an eye on the next town. “About to Rage” had more of the tough playing that puts the band in a different realm than many of their jam-inclined peers. And “Thorazine Shuffle,” one of the band’s classics, took the groove up one more notch before settling back into the “Traveling Tune” bookend.
By the time the band got to their cover of Van Morrison’s “Tupelo Honey,” wrapped within Haynes’ own “Soulshine” in the encore, it was as if there was a glow over the entire evening. The band and location had nothing to do with the other stresses in my world these days. The band booked a tour as they do just about every summer, the venue was open, the weather was nice and the beer was expensive but cold. And for a few hours, Haynes and company ripped some music out that I hadn’t heard in far too long and was very happy to experience in that moment.
Two days on from the show, all the stresses and pressures of modern life are still there. But it’s fine. And it’s been suppressed and kept in check by a steady diet of the Mule, all roaring guitars and blazing riffs and intricate instrumentals. It’s music for music’s sake, and it’s a good thing that can still exist.
Email Nick Tavares at firstname.lastname@example.org