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

What I’ve Been Listening To: Gov’t Mule/Dark Side Of The Mule

What’s a Pink Floyd fan to do these days when they want to experience the band’s amazing music live? With the death of keyboarder Rick Wright in 2008 and their final studio album The Endless River from November 2014, Floyd’s officially gone. Yes, Roger Waters is currently on an extended Us + Them world tour. And, yes, David Gilmour released Live At Pompeii last September, which included Floyd material, and told Ultimate Classic Rock around that time that he’s planning a new album, which probably also means more touring. Still, it’s not the same!

Well, as the “king of the cover band” (Music Enthusiast’s previous kind words, not mine!) – one option I can highly recommend is Floyd tribute band Echoes. I saw these guys last year at the great Rock The Farm annual festival and wrote about it here. A second option I didn’t fully appreciate until recently is Gov’t Mule – yep, the southern rock jam band founded by Allman Brothers’ members Warren Haynes (guitar) and Allen Woody (bass) in 1994 to keep busy while the Brothers were off. Both ended up leaving the band to fully focus on Mule, though Haynes returned in 2000 and stayed with the Brothers until their final show in 2014. Woody passed away in 2000.

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

Haynes and Woody both were fond of 1960s power trios, such as Cream and The Jimi Hendrix Experience. Mule also digs many other artists like Neil Young, Free, Traffic, Little Feat and, well, Pink Floyd. What’s interesting to me is that with so much own material Mule has released over the years, they frequently have covered songs of the aforementioned artists during their sets. To date their homage to Pink Floyd certainly represents the climax in that regard. I know of no other such high caliber musicians who put together an entire set of covers from a band they obviously admire.

Dark Side Of The Mule (love that title!), which was released in December 2014 as a CD and deluxe CD/DVD set, was recorded during a three-hour gig at the Orpheum Theatre in Boston on Halloween 2008. While the standard CD edition only features the Floyd portion of the show, the enhanced deluxe version also includes original material Mule performed that night. Unlike the title suggests, their Pink Floyd set goes far beyond the Dark Side Of The Moon album. Time to get to some music!

The first tune I’d like to highlight is what I would call more of a deep cut: Fearless. Co-written by Gilmour and Waters, it appeared on Pink Floyd’s sixth studio album Meddle, released in October 1971. Haynes does a particularly nice job here, both in terms of his guitar work and the vocals.

Pigs On The Wing, Pt. 2 was written by Waters and included on Animals as the closer of that record from January 1977, Floyd’s 10th studio release. I think Mule’s version of the tune illustrates what’s also true for the entire set – while they stayed pretty close to the original tracks, they didn’t copy them 100%, which I find quite okay. After all, unlike Echoes, Mule is not a Floyd tribute band.

Shine On You Crazy Diamond (Parts I-V) is one of the tunes where Mule takes a bit more artistic freedom, especially Haynes. While I really dig Gilmour’s guitar parts on the original, I have to say I also like what Haynes is playing here. The opener of Wish You Were Here, Floyd’s ninth studio effort from September 1975, was credited to Gilmour, Wright and Waters. It remains one of my all-time favorite Floyd tracks after having listened to the band for some 40 years.

Next up: Time from the epic Dark Side Of The Moon, my favorite Pink Floyd album, which appeared in March 1973. The song was credited to all members of the band, which apart from Gilmour, Waters and Wright also included drummer Nick Mason. BTW, one of the backing vocalists Mule had, Durga McBroom, also consistently served in that capacity during Floyd’s live shows starting from November 1987, as well as on The Division Bell and The Endless River studio records.

Another track I’d like to call out is Comfortably Numb, one of my favorite tunes from 1979’s The Wall album. Co-written by Waters and Gilmour, it’s one of the relatively few songs that are not solely credited to Waters who clearly was the dominant force on the record. Again, Haynes does a great job, both vocally and playing Gilmour’s guitar parts.

The last song I’d like to highlight is the title track from the Wish You Were Here album.  No Pink Floyd set would be complete without the song, which was yet another Waters-Gilmour co-write.

To date, Mule only played one additional Floyd set, which was during the Mountain Jam music festival in June 2015. But a third Dark Side Of The Mule performance is coming up. In March, the band announced that they are joining forces with The Avett Brothers for six co-headlining summer open air gigs. The dates include Jones Beach Theater, Wantagh, N.Y. (Jul 12); PNC Bank Arts Center, Holmdel, N.J. (Jul 13); Xfinity Center, Mansfield, Mass. (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).

One of these shows is happening right in my backyard. Based on Ticketmaster, prices look relatively reasonable. Plus, I’ve been to PNC Bank Arts Center many times and like this venue. All of these facts are impossible to ignore, so needless to say that I’m very tempted. Since I’m already seeing Steely Dan & The Doobie Brothers (July 7) and Neil Young solo (July 11), adding Mule would make this a pretty intense back-to-back music experience. But is there such a thing as too much rock & roll, and don’t make three a charm? We’ll see.

Sources: Wikipedia, Roger Waters official website, Ultimate Classic Rock, Echoes official website, Gov’t Mule official website, YouTube