Gov’t Mule Rule With Powerful Pink Floyd Set

Southern jam rockers and Avett Brothers bring their summer tour to central NJ

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When I told a good friend from Germany the other day that I was going to see Gov’t Mule for a Dark Side Of The Mule show, he had the same initial reaction I had a few weeks ago: What’s a southern rock band got to with Pink Floyd? And why would such distinguished musicians with plenty of own material devote an entire gig to the British psychedelic rockers? Well, because not only does Mule dig great music, but they also like to celebrate it during their own shows. In fact, they always have done so since they were founded in late 1994, though thus far, Pink Floyd is the only band to whom they dedicated an entire show.

As I previously wrote, Mule first introduced the concept in 2008 in Boston when they added a second set to their set of original tunes, which solely consisted of Floyd covers. They repeated it at the Mountain Jam music festival in 2015. And now the band is doing this dedicated show for the third time during a short co-headlining summer tour with The Avett Brothers – something I didn’t want to miss as a huge Pink Floyd fan, especially since one of gigs was happening right in my neck of the woods at PNC Bank Arts Center in Holmdel, N.J. last night. Based on Mule’s corresponding live album, my expectations were high – and boy did they deliver!

The Magpie Salute

But first things first. The evening was opened by American rock band The Magpie Salute, which was formed in October 2016 by guitarist Rich Robinson, a co-founding member of The Black Crowes. He pretty much co-wrote all of their songs with his brother and lead vocalist Chris Robinson. I didn’t know any of the band’s songs but liked what I heard. Their remaining current lineup includes two other former Black Crows members, Marc Ford (lead guitar, vocals) and Sven Pipien (bass, backing vocals), as well as John Hogg (vocals, percussion), Matt Slocum (keyboards) and Joe Magistro (drums). The Magpie Salute currently have one live album out from 2017 and are set to release their studio debut High Water I on August 18, 2018. I’ll definitely keep that on my radar screen.

The Avett Brothers
The Avett Brothers: (from left to right) Bob Crowford, Joe Kwon, Scott Avett and Seth Avett

Next came The Avett Brothers, a band that except for its name I hadn’t known. To get a sense of what to expect, I checked setlist.fm for the first date of the tour. It didn’t help much, since they made many changes to their set last night! The band’s core members include brothers and multi-instrumentalists Seth (vocals, guitar, etc.) and Scott Avett (vocals, banjo, etc.), Bob Crawford (double bass, bass, etc.) and Joe Kwon (backing vocals, cello, piano, etc.). The current touring lineup is complemented by Mike Marsh (drums) and Tania Elizabeth (violin, vocals, kazoo).

The origins of The Avett Brothers date back to the late 1990s when Seth’s high school band Margo combined with Scott’s college rock outfit Nemo. After Nemo had released three albums, Seth and Scott started The Avett Brothers as a side project, playing acoustic music with some friends. Eventually, this resulted in the release of an EP, The Avett Bros., in 2000. Their fist full-fledged studio album Country Was appeared in 2002. To date, the band has released eight additional studio records, three additional EPs and four live albums. I was impressed with the craftsmanship and warmth they used to deliver their music, which blends folk, bluegrass, Americana and indie rock. I didn’t record any video, but here’s a YouTube clip of a tune they did last night: Down With The Shine, from The Carpenter, their seventh studio album released in September 2012.

And then it was time for Mule to rule, and boy they certainly did! While like The Avett Brothers they mixed things up compared to the tour’s opening night, they kept the same format.

Gov't Mule 2018
Gov’t Mule (left to right): Danny Louis (keyboards), Matt Abts (drums), Jorgen Carlsson (bass) and Warren Haynes (guitar)

After kicking off their set with two original songs, it was on to mighty Pink Floyd. Last night, the original tunes included Thorazine Shuffle and Banks Of The Deep End, from the Dose (February 1998) and The Deep End, Vol. 1 (October 2001) studio albums, respectively. Here’s Thorazine Shuffle, a co-write by Mule co-founding members Warren Haynes and Matt Abts.

Following their two original songs, Mule launched into a transitional instrumental that blended into One Of These Days, from Meddle. Floyd’s sixth studio album from October 1971 happens to be one of my favorites. All for a sudden, it felt like the band had kicked up the intensity by a few notches. The song’s bass line came across like a furious jack hammer – since I didn’t anticipate it and didn’t want to start recording after it had started, unfortunately, I missed capturing that one.

After this powerful rendition of the first Pink Floyd tune of the night, Mule kept their foot on the gas. Next came Echoes, another gem from Meddle and perhaps my all-time favorite Floyd track. Again I didn’t record that one, figuring if my arms wouldn’t fall off holding my smartphone, the device would probably run low on battery power, given the length of the tune! Next it was on to a series of songs from Dark Side Of The Moon, my favorite Floyd album released in March 1973. Here’s The Great Gig In The Sky, featuring Mule’s outstanding backing vocalists

In addition to Dark Side Of Moon and Meddle, Mule also heavily drew from Wish You Were Here, another Floyd gem and the follow-on to Dark Side, which came out in September 1975. Here’s Welcome To The Machine.

Before playing some additional tunes from the Dark Side and Wish You Were Here albums, Mule threw in Nile Song from More, Floyd’s first soundtrack and their third studio release from June 1969. Then it was time for the cash register to ring with Money, another track from Dark Side. Again, I thought the band did a great job with the tune, especially the saxophonist who killed it!

The epic Shine On You Crazy Diamond (Parts I-V) rounded out Mule’s regular set. Like on the Dark Side Of The Mule album that I previously reviewed here, this was the track where the band took the most artistic freedom, especially Haynes on lead guitar. And just like on that record, I thought he did a nice job, so the deviations didn’t bother me at all. No Pink Floyd show would be complete without Wish You Were, which the band threw in as the encore.

As mentioned at the outset, I thought Mule’s show last night was outstanding. But, as I also noted before, Dark Side Of The Mule is not a note-by-note rendition of Floyd’s music. I imagine not all hard core Floyd fans may like the artistic freedom Mule occasionally takes. As a former hobby musician, I can fully appreciate that artists want to add a little bit of their own flavor when playing covers. If you feel the same and dig Pink Floyd, this show is for you, if you live in the right corners of the country. There are only four remaining dates: Xfinity Center, Mansfield, Mass. (today, Jul 14); Ruoff Home Mortgage Music Center, Noblesville, Ind. (Aug 23); Hollywood Casino Amphitheatre, Tinley Park, IL (Aug 24); and DTE Energy Music Theatre, Clarkston, MI (Aug 25). But there is always hope for additional dates, though Mule’s summer 2018 tour schedule looks dense through the second half of September.

Sources: Wikipedia, setlist.fm, Mule official website, YouTube

Lynyrd Skynyrd Shines During Farewell Show In New Jersey

Skynyrd Nation celebration also features Atlanta Rhythm Section and Peter Wolf as special guests

When Johnny Van Zant asked the audience last night whether folks showed up because they are die-hard Lynyrd Skynyrd fans or because it’s their farewell tour, I answered ‘both’ to myself. While I’ve listened to Skynyrd for 20-plus years and like many of their songs, I wouldn’t call myself a die-hard fan. And, yes, part of my motivation to see these southern rockers at PNC Bank Arts Center in Holmdel, N.J. on Friday was the fact that this may well have been the last opportunity, if they indeed retire.

Recently, I read that Skynyrd added dates to extend their Last of the Street Survivors Farewell Tour. Maybe additional gigs will follow. Maybe it’ll turn into a Deep Purple-like “long goodbye tour.” Or maybe they’ll change their minds altogether, just like Scorpions did a few years go when the German rockers realized they couldn’t just decelerate from running at 200 mph to zero. Who knows.

Lynyrd Skynyrd Farewell Tour Poster

Compared to artists like The Rolling Stones, Paul McCartney, Neil Young and especially 81-year-old Buddy Guy, Skynyrd certainly has relatively young members – at age 68, guitarist Rickey Medlocke is the oldest. Gary Rossington, guitarist and the band’s only remaining co-founder, is 66. Johnny Van Zant, the younger brother of co-founder and initial lead vocalist, the late Ronnie Van Zant, is 58. The other members are still in their 50s as well. One thing was crystal clear to me last night: Lynyrd Skynyrd sounded absolutely fantastic! And maybe that’s the whole point of the early retirement plan – go out while they’re still on top of their game.

Before Skynyrd came on and set the stage on fire, there were three guests. I didn’t catch the name of the band that opened up the long evening but certainly recognized the artists who followed: Atlanta Rhythm Section and Peter Wolf, ex-vocalist of the J. Geils Band. They compensated for my disappointment when I realized that contrary to what I had read somewhere before, Bad Company, a band I would have loved to see, wasn’t among the special guests.

Atlanta Rhythm Section
Atlanta Rhythm Section

Frankly, I wasn’t even aware that ALR are still performing. Two of their current members, Rodney Justo (lead vocals) and Dean Daughtry (keyboards), have been around since the band’s formation in 1971, though in Justo’s case, it looks like were some breaks along the way. The remaining current line-up includes Steve Stone (guitar, harmonica, backing vocals), Justin Senker (bass), David Anderson (guitar, backing vocals) and Rodger Stephan (drums, backing vocals).

Except for Spooky and So Into You, I’m not well familiar with ALR’s songs but can confirm that in addition to these tunes, their set included Champagne Jam and Imaginary Lover, among others. Here’s a clip I took of my favorite ALR tune So Into You, a song I liked for its smoothness from the moment I heard it for the first time on the radio in Germany in the late 70s.

Next up was Peter Wolf. I was pretty pumped when I found out he was among the special guests last night. I’ve really come to like the J. Geils Band and ended up seeing them a few years ago. These guys truly were the ultimate party band. Wolf pretty much brought out that same swagger last night. He still has his distinct voice, charismatic stage presence and the occasional machine gun-like fast talking!

The set included a mix of J. Geils Band tunes, such as Homework, Give It To Me, Must Of Got Lost and Love Stinks, and songs from Wolf’s solo career like Wastin’ Time and Piece Of MindThe Midnight Travelers, which include Duke Levine (guitar), Kevin Barry (guitar), Marty Ballou (bass), Tom Arey (drums) and Tom West (keyboards), proved to be a top-notch backing band. Here’s my clip of Homework.

After Wolf and The Midnight Travelers had fired up the crowd with an energetic performance, it was time for the big enchilada. From the opening bars of Working For MCA till the last note of the epic Free Bird, Skynyrd made it clear they meant business and didn’t want to say farewell quietly. In addition to these tunes, their set included many other gems like What’s Your Name, That Smell, Saturday Night Special, Tuesday’s Gone, Simple Man, Call Me The Breeze and, of course, Sweet Home Alabama.

Below is my clip of What’s Your Name, one of my favorite Skynyrd tunes. Co-written by Rossington and Ronnie Van Zant, it appeared on their fifth studio album Street Survivors in October 1977 – released only three days prior to the devastating plane crash that killed Ronnie, Steve Gains (guitarist) and Steve’s sister Cassie Gains (backing vocalist), along with the pilot, co-pilot and the band’s assistant road manager. Incredibly, Rossington not only survived the crash, but eventually made a fully recovery despite breaking both arms, legs, wrists, ankles and his pelvis.

Another highlight of Skynyrd’s set to me was That Smell, also from the Street Survivors album, which was co-written by guitarist and founding member Allen Collins and Ronnie Van Zant. In particular, I dug the harmonizing guitar parts. Since my cell phone battery was starting to run low on juice, I didn’t capture the performance, so needed to rely on other footage I found on YouTube. Here’s a clip from a gig in Tampa last month. Obviously, it was taken from a location way closer to the stage where I was last night, and frankly it is much better than anything I could have recorded!

Another song I’d like to highlight is Call Me The Breeze. I’ve always liked that J.J. Cale tune and Skynyrd’s take of it. As they were playing it last night, they turned it into an homage to the Stones, Jimi Hendrix, Chuck Berry, Elvis Presley and many other music legends, displaying images of them on the main monitor behind the stage – I thought this was kind of cool. Apparently, Skynyrd didn’t do that during their concert back in March in Atlanta, where the following clip was recorded. But it’s great quality concert footage.

In light of my cell phone battery situation, it came down to a choice between capturing Sweet Home Alabama or the encore Free Bird. Given the extended length of the latter, I went for Alabama, which is also my favorite of the two. The opener to Skynyrd’s sophomore record Second Helping, released in April 1974, was co-written by Rossington, Van Zant and then-bassist Ed King. To me it hasn’t lost any of its appeal to this day!

Of course, making the above choice doesn’t mean skipping Free Bird in this  post, especially when there are great other clips on YouTube. The song, which was included on Skynyrd’s debut album Pronounced ‘Lĕh-‘nérd ‘Skin-‘nérd from August 1973, turned into an emotional commemoration of Ronnie Van Zant. Here’s a beautiful clip from the above Tampa show.

In addition to Van Zant, Medlocke and Rossington, Skynyrd’s current line-up features Michael Cartellone (drums), Mark Matejka (guitar), Peter Keys (keyboards) and Keith Christopher (bass). The touring band is complemented by backing vocalists Dale Krantz-Rossington (Gary’s wife) and Carol Chase. Skynyrd’s upcoming dates include Jones Beach Theatre, Wantagh, N.Y. tonight; Coastal Credit Union Music Park, Raleigh, N.C., June 29; and PNC Music Pavilion, Charlotte, N.C., June 30. Earlier this month,  Ultimate Classic Rock reported that the band announced 21 additional dates, which extend the current tour from early September all the way to December. Let’s hope there will be additional extensions.

Sources: Wikipedia, Setlist.com, Atlanta Rhythm Section official website, Ultimate Classic Rock, YouTube

Clips & Pix: Lynyrd Skynyrd/Gimme Three Steps

The above performance of Gimme Three Steps by Lynyrd Skynyrd apparently was captured during a 2015 gig at Jacksonville’s Florida Theatre. According to Setlist.fm, the southern rockers played two shows at this venue in early April that year.

Co-written by founding members Allen Collins (guitarist) and Ronnie Van Zant (lead vocalist), Gimme Three Steps is from the band’s debut album (Pronounced ‘Lĕh-‘nérd ‘Skin-‘nérd), which was released in August 1973. The song also appeared separately as the record’s lead single in November that year. While the tune became one of Skynyrd’s staples, it didn’t chart at the time.

Today, guitarist Gary Rossington remains the only founding member. Ronnie’s brother Johnny Van Zant has been Skynyrd’s lead vocalist since 1987, when the members of the band who survived the 1977 plane crash re-formed for a reunion tour with him. Guitarist Rickey Medlocke, who first played with Skynyrd from 1971 to 1972, has been part of the current line-up since his return in 1996. Michael Cartellone (drums), Mark Matejka (guitar), Peter Keys (keyboards) and Keith Christopher (bass) joined in 1999, 2006, 2009 and 2017, respectively.

Three weeks ago, Lynyrd Skynyrd announced their final tour, which will feature  numerous special guests, such as Bad Company, Marshall Tucker Band and 38 Special. The first leg of the Last Of The Street Survivors Farewell Tour will kick off on May 4 in West Palm Beach, Fla. and conclude in Atlanta on September 1. One of the dates in-between is PNC Bank Arts Center in Holmdel, NJ on June 22, right in my backyard. Since I’ve never seen these guys, I couldn’t resist and got a ticket.

Sources: Wikipedia, Setlist.fm, Lynyrd Skynyrd website, YouTube

Final Gregg Allman Studio Album Released

With Southern Blood, Allman’s solo work comes full circle

Today, the and eighth and final studio album from Gregg Allman Southern Blood  appeared. This followed an announcement from Rounder Records about the release in late July, which coincided with the premiere of the record’s first song My Only True Friend on NPR. I previously did a post on this.

My first impression of the album is that Allman’s voice sounds pretty powerful throughout. After all, the liver cancer he had been battling since 2012 was at a terminal stage when he recorded the 10 tracks over nine days in March 2016 – about 10 months prior to his death on May 27 this year. In fact, based on media reports I previously read, Allman could only work for four hours a day.

Gregg Allman & Band at FAME Studios
Gregg Allman (fourth from left) with FAME studio owner Rick Hall (fifth from left), Don Was (sixth from left) and members of his band

While all who were involved in recording the album knew this was Allman’s final output, the record doesn’t portray a dark mood. Instead, it feels like Allman has come full circle with his solo debut from 1973. “Laid Back had that great pedal steel on it and incorporates a little more of Gregg’s roots than maybe what you heard from just the Allman Brothers,” producer Don Was told Billboard. “One of the things Gregg and I did speak about was making the texture of this record something along the lines of what Laid Back would have sounded like if it were recorded at FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals in 2017.”

Intially, Allman had planned to write more songs for the record, but it soon became apparent that between touring and his declining health this wasn’t feasible. “So we came up with the idea of picking a great selection of songs that had deep meaning for Gregg,” his former manager Michael Lehman told Rolling Stone. “The order of the songs tells Gregg’s story. When Gregg picked them, he knew where he was in his life’s journey. He was already further along with the progression of his disease.”

Southern Blood kicks off with My Only True Friend, the previously released song and the only track for which Allman has writing credits. He co-wrote the ballad with his guitarist and musical director Scott Sharrard. The tune’s origins date back to 2012 when Sharrard saw Duane Allman talk to Gregg in a dream. “I woke up, ran downstairs grabbed my guitar and pen and paper and basically got the intro and verse exactly as you hear it on the record,” Sharrard noted in an interview with Guitar World. When showing the beginnings of the song to Allman he liked it, and the two of them started working on it over the next few months. They finished the song just before it was recorded.

Once I Was is a country tune from Tim Buckley, which was included on his second studio album Goodbye and Hello from August 1967. Apparently, Allman was fond of the American singer-songwriter and guitarist. During the above interview with Guitar World, Sharrard said he first heard Allman play the song in March 2014. When he asked him, Allman confirmed he was a fan of Buckley, though he initially wasn’t sure whether he wanted to record the tune. Sharrad liked what he had heard continued to encourage Allman, who eventually agreed to record the song.

I Love the Life I Live is a mid-tempo Willie Dixon blues song. It has a cool guitar riff, great groove and nice horn work. I instantly liked the tune after listening to the opening bars.

Another nice blues rocker on the record is Love Like Kerosene, which was written by Sharrard. Similar to the Dixon tune, it has a great groove and some cool Memphis-style horns – my kind of song! Allman first included the track on his excellent live album Gregg Allman Live: Back to Macon, GA, which was released in August 2015.

The last track I’d like to highlight is Song For Adam, which was written by Jackson Browne and included on his 1972 eponymous debut album. Browne, a good friend of Allman, also sang back-up vocals on the recording. “Jackson and Gregg were such good friends and admirers of each other’s work since they were teenagers, I couldn’t think of a better way for the record to come to a conclusion than with a lyric that Gregg always related to through the tragic loss of his brother at a young age,” Sharrard told Guitar World.

As noted above, Southern Blood was recorded at FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals, Ala., which had special meaning to Allman. “A constant discussion during all of my nearly 15 years working with Gregg was his desire to return to Muscle Shoals,” Lehman explained. “He always would talk about how he needed to get back to Fame Studios to bring him full circle.”

“Muscle Shoals is hallowed musical ground,” added Was. “Fame was the place where Gregg’s brother Duane first started making waves in the music world and where the earliest seeds of The Allman Brothers Band were sown in a back room during their first, seminal rehearsals. Duane’s presence is still ubiquitous in that building. Recording there was Gregg’s way of making his spirit a part of this album, in the same way that his spirit continued to be part of Gregg’s life.”

Sources: Wikipedia, Billboard, Rolling Stone, Guitar World, YouTube

In Memoriam of Gregg Allman

Rock music has lost another giant

Considering I’ve been a music fan for nearly 40 years, I feel a bit embarrassed to admit that I “discovered” The Allman Brothers Band very late. Sure, I had known and liked Ramblin’ Man for a long time, but it wasn’t until just a couple of years ago that I really started exploring their music. From there I quickly proceeded to Gregg Allman’s solo records. Once I did, I quickly realized what I had missed between the two for all this time!

Even though I knew Allman was not in good health and also read rumors about hospice care a few months ago, I’m still in disbelief this great artist is gone. As I’m writing this post, new reports about his death and obituaries literally keep appearing by the minute. I don’t feel I need to add to this by writing another recap of his life. Instead, I’d like to let his music do the talking.

Undoubtedly, one of the most remarkable performances of the Allman Brothers is Whipping Post at Fillmore East in 1970, when killer guitarist Duane Allman was still around. It’s just epic!

Here is another one – the “laid back” version of Midnight Rider, which I’ve come to like even more than the Brothers’ original version.

Soulshine live at the Beacon Theatre in New York City in 2013. This literally brings tears to my eyes.

Last but not least, here is an awesome rehearsal version of Just Another Rider from Allman’s last solo album Low Country Blues (2011).

To quote a Rolling Stone story, “Gregg Allman was blessed with one of blues-rock’s great growling voices and, along with his Hammond B-3 organ playing (beholden to Booker T. Jones), had a deep emotional power.” Well said!

Allman may be gone, but I’ve no doubt his music will live on.

Sources: Wikipedia, Rolling Stone, YouTube