I love a well-placed cover song from time to time, but with one notable exception I generally disfavor a band eschewing large swathes of its own catalog at a show to play someone else’s hits. The exception is Gov’t Mule. More specifically, the exception is Warren Haynes.
As the longtime guitarist for the Allman Brothers Band, founding member of Gov’t Mule and associations with other musical stalwarts such as the Dead, Phil Lesh and Friends and The Dickey Betts Band, Haynes has not only cemented himself as one of the most respected guitarists in music today, but also an indisputable master of the blues-rock genre. His style is both impassioned and soulful, the result of which is capable of ensnaring the audience so deeply into a song that each note feels oddly tangible.
As a result of his expressive mastery of the guitar, it is easy to get so lost in his artistry that you lose sight of the song’s origins, ignoring how someone else did it and focusing instead on what Haynes is doing within it. It is for this reason that a Gov’t Mule set of Pink Floyd covers is so compelling. The performance is not a mere facsimile of the songs, but a faithful portrait that has been subtly embellished with Gov’t Mule’s own brush strokes.
Dubbed the “Dark Side of the Mule” tour, the band consisting of Haynes, Matt Abts (drums), Danny Louis (keyboards) and Kevin Scott (bass) are touring behind their twelfth studio album, Peace… Like A River (see prior ABS coverage of the album here and the single “Made My Peace” here), while also paying homage to their 2014 live album (Dark Side of the Mule) of Pink Floyd covers. As with all performances on this tour, the first set is devoted to an hour of the band’s own songs, but the set list varies each night.
At their recent stop in Tinley Park, Illinois outside Chicago, the band opened with “Mule,” the fiery track from their 1995 self-titled debut album. “Banks of the Deep End” from The Deep End, Volume 1 and “Time to Confess” from The Deep End, Volume 2 followed before the band introduced “Peace I Need” and “Dreaming Out Loud,” two stellar tracks from Peace… Like A River. The band closed out their set of Mule songs in Tinley Park with “Trane,” the brilliant tribute to John Coltrane from their self-titled debut album. It was a perfect collection of songs to begin the evening and one that would have left any diehard fan fully satiated.
With support from superb vocalists Machan Taylor and Sophia Ramos, guitarist Jackie Greene and saxophonist Ron Holloway, the remaining ninety minutes of the evening was devoted to Floyd, kicking off with an insanely spellbinding version of “Shine On You Crazy Diamond (Parts 1-5)” before Abts took over vocals on “Have a Cigar.” The set then turned to the brilliant Dark Side of the Moon album, nailing covers of “Speak to Me,” “Breathe (In the Air),” “One the Run,” “Time,” “The Great Gig in the Sky” and “Money,” before ending the set with songs from Meddle, including two of my all-time favorites, “One of These Days” and “Echoes.”
The encores for the evening were the always sublime “Comfortably Numb” and “Wish You Were Here.” It was another extraordinary night of music from Haynes and Gov’t Mule, and one that no fan of guitar-driven blues-rock should miss. The Dark Side of the Mule tour continues through August before the band returns to shows devoted to its own songs through the end of the year, followed by its annual destination music festival in Jamaica, Island Exodus 14, in January 2024. For more information on the tour, head here.
All images: © Derek Smith / High Voltage Concert Photography for American Blues Scene