Wednesday, July 13, 2022

Gov't Mule - Pistoia Blues, 9 July 2022

If you look up the Wikipedia entry for Gov’t Mule, it will tell you they are a “Southern rock jam band”.  Well, jam band sure.  But Southern rock?  Seems to me that’s a pretty narrow, lazy description for the Mule.  Yeah, Warren Haynes played with the Allman Brothers Band, and once upon a D chord the Allmans pioneered a Southern sound.  But Gov’t Mule have a lot more bandwidth than yer typical modern-day Southern rock exponents, that’s for sure.
Three-legged Mule - with Danny Louis out of shot
They open with the spooky blues of ‘Dark Was The Night, Cold Was The Ground’, from their latest album Heavy Load Blues.  Haynes plays slide on a 12-string Gibson, while delivering a moaning vocal against the backdrop of rippling piano from Danny Louis, and before they’re done with it they summon up a Zep-like heft.  But the following ‘Mule’ (aka ‘Where’s My Mule’) really begins to show their range, combining cantering drums from Matt Abts and propulsive bass from Jorgen Carlsson with ringing guitar and swirling organ, before developing into progressive, jazzy blues jamming.
Danny Louis comes over all Jon Lord with soulful organ to open the swinging ‘Wake Up Dead’, on which Haynes’ guitar playing looks effortless, and not remotely choreographed as it would be for many a modern guitar slinger.  That soulful aspect continues on ‘Snatch It Back And Hold It’, with its cymbal-ticking rhythm and bum-shifting scratchy riff before it sparks a wig-out jam segment.  And if the classic ‘Ain’t No Love (In The Heart Of The City)’ has been done to death over the years, it’s still an opportunity for Haynes to make clear that he's a natural blues singer.
Their own ‘Rocking Horse’ is worthy of classic status too.  Danny Louis certainly seems to enjoy it, smiling and threatening to dance as he watches Haynes kicking off on guitar as Abts comes on strong on drums, then scat singing as they get funky for his keyboard solo.
Louis is also to the fore with some squally keyboard effects that presage throbbing bass from Carlsson that evolves into Floyd’s ‘One Of These Days’, which turns into the launch pad for some more jazzy improvising, with Abts scampering around his kit, and Carlsson’s bass careering along underneath ripped out chords from Haynes.  Then they chill out with a gentle and cool execution of slow blues on ‘Need Your Love So Bad’, on which Haynes’ vocal is again excellent.
They begin to meander a bit for this listener as the show pushes, in typical Italian festival fashion, past the midnight hour.  But then I’m not a Mule aficionado, and I tend to find lengthy jams interesting rather than exhilarating.
That doesn’t stop the crowd whoopin’ an’ hollerin’ on the first encore though, as they recognise the piano intro to the Allmans’ ‘Soulshine’, which has a real 60s/early 70s vibe.  Hands are in the air, and Haynes conducts what turns out to be a pretty half-assed singalong – the melody may be catchy, but the words aren’t really simple enough to be singalong fodder, at least for an Italian audience.  Never mind, they segue into Ann Peebles’ excellent ‘Feel Like Breaking Up Somebody’s Home’ to end the night, Haynes smiling at the crowd’s enthusiasm in spite of the bitter lyric.
They’re a curious live act in a way, the Mule.  Haynes isn’t particularly chatty, and he doesn’t move around much.  But still, he has undeniable presence.  Alongside him Carlsson grooves in gangly, grinning fashion on bass, while Louis is a twitchy presence on keys, serving up more than just the everyday Hammond’n’piano offering, and occasionally wriggling out from behind his set-up to chip in with rhythm guitar.  But as a band they’re more than the sum of these parts.  There’s chemistry in this quartet.  And together they make, not Southern rock, but their very own brand of bluesy, soul-weighted Mule-rock.

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