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L.A. Beat

The joy of music and Govt. Mule

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You don’t appreciate the role music plays in your life until you don’t have any.
 I was on vacation technically, but still made it to a few Whoop Up Days shows this week.

 But the main reason I took the week off was to entertain houseguests and mainly for my annual Mulegrimmage. So in the grand tradition of Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road,” I set off across country for no real reason other than to get some kicks try to get the “Beat” experience and see what’s out there, and hear some great music along the way.
 I go see my favourite band Govt. Mule, some place in the United States as they seldom make it up to Canada let alone Alberta. It inevitably falls during Whoop Up Days, so I leave Lethbridge and cowboys and midway rides and crowds and noise behind to hit the road.

 I enjoy the drive as much as I enjoy the show itself, because I can blast the radio and sing along with whatever comes on. Except this time the stereo decided to up and die before embarking on a 1,400 km round trip to Billings and back in 24 hours. That is a long time to live in my head, with nothing to think about except trying to remember song lyrics and wonder how much damage hitting cracked and bumpy highways at 80 miles an hour was doing to my beaten down Escape. It is easy to take music for granted. It is everywhere, on TV, background music in restaurants, stores — pretty much everywhere. It is a solace to the soul. You don’t really realize how much you miss it until you are without it for 14 hours.

  People usually don’t know what I’m talking about when I rave about Govt. Mule, except this time, surprisingly at a coffee shop in Harlowton in the middle of nowhere Montana, about 91 miles on the way back from Billings, where I went to see them play this year and where a girl working at the coffee shop there admired my new Mule shirt and said Warren Haynes was her favourite guitarist.

But most people I know don’t know who the Mule are. They are the best band in the world. If you like the Allman Brothers, you’ll like Govt. Mule because some 25 years ago, the rhythm section of the Allman Brothers, including Warren Haynes, bassist Allen Woody and drummer Matt Abts decided to start make their own southern rock/ jam rock music and hit the road when the Allman Brothers took time off. Haynes also joined the surviving member of the Grateful Dead for a time.
Along the way, they picked up keyboardist/multi-instrumentalist Danny Louis and after Woody passed away, Jorgen Carlsson joined them on bass.
 Seeing Govt. Mule live is like a religious experience, so I call my annual journeys to see them my Mulegrimmage.

Watching Warren Haynes play guitar is like listening to God speak to us through music, or watching the spirit  of Duane Allman appear before your eyes. Plus his voice drips with soul like Gregg Allman’s voice did back in the day.

 Because they have never had a hit in 25 years, and you’ll never hear them on mainstream radio, that frees them up to play whatever they feel like.
 When they were working with Big Sugar’s Gordie Johnson’s a few years ago, they were on a massive reggae kick. The first time I saw them in Bozeman, they played a four hour show with Grace Potter in a horse barn, they were on a Led Zeppelin kick with Haynes hitting all the high vocal notes Robert Plant can’t anymore and note perfect renditions of Jimmy Page’s solos. To boot, their encore was a 25 minute jam with Grace Potter on Neil Young’s Cortez the Killer.”
 Last year, they were on a Pink Floyd kick, but cancelled their show in Missoula, so I missed that.
 The year before, I saw them at the legendary Red Rocks Amphitheatre outside of Denver, one of the cities Jack Kerouac and his muse Neal Cassady used to frequent. That was a jam rock show with moe and Blackberry Smoke.

 So you never know what a Mule show will look and sound  like.

 This time, in Billings’ Pub Station Ballroom, an intimate little venue where you can really appreciate the Mule, I knew it was going to be a special night of blues infused rock and roll as soon as Haynes smacked his lips and grinned at his bandmates as  they launched into the opening riff of my favourite Govt. Mule song “ Bad Little Doggie,” and that likely they were going to concentrate on the big blues rock part of their  repertoire. Sort of. They dug deep in to their catalogue , adding another big rocker “Lola Leave Your Light on, from 2004’ s “Deja Voodoo” and played another deeper cut from 2009’s “By A Thread” called  “Inside Outside Woman Blues.”
 Things got really  special on a massive jam on blues classics “Lay My Burden Down” and Smokestack Lightning,” which was about the time I concentrated on getting seraphically drunk on Billings craft beer. They had 10 of them on tap. I think I made it though most of the list as the Mule settled into a long blues infused jam, picking up the tempo for another of my big riff powered favourites “ Slackjaw Jezebel,” also from 2004’s “Deja Voodoo.”
They ended with they most popular song “Soulshine,” which Haynes wrote for the Allman Brothers and returned for an encore jam with opening act Nikki Lane’s bandmate. Joey LoPinto.

Govt. Mule always pick the best opening acts. The Bottle Rockets opened for them at one time as did Grace Potter. A couple years ago it was Blackberry Smoke and moe, both underrated bands and last year Magpie Salute toured with them, which I was almost looking forward to as much as the Mule, before they cancelled.

 Nikki Lane was more country than the usual acts who open for Govt. Mule. But I was excited to hear her adorable twang as she ran through three albums and a couple new songs of alt country and blues tinged country music. I usually play here song “Big Mouth” on my  the Hotrock Blues Beat, my Saturday night blues show on CKXU, so was excited to hear her play it. She was signing autographs  at the merch table. I had a nice chat with her about playing the Outlaw Country Music Cruise, where  I definitely meet a lot of Govt. Mule fans.

— by Richard Amery, L.A. Beat Editor

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