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Gov’t Mule at the Wiltern Theatre

by Larson Sutton on October 06, 2017

Photo by Stuart Levine

Justice isn’t fully served simply by calling Gov’t Mule a reliable band. Yet, when it comes to delivering setlists new and changing every show, hard-charging jams, homages to past greats, and generous room for guests, there is no question of this quartet’s reliability. It’s more than that, though.

When guitarist Warren Haynes led the group onto the Wiltern stage to prerecorded snippets of revolution songs, it was a statement moment. Gov’t Mule, formed as a sideline to Hayne’s tenure with The Allman Brothers Band, has evolved, over more than two decades, into a rock and roll vanguard. Their two-set onslaught, aided by several friends, was that of a band comfortable and assertive, still pushing forward.

On 12-string electric Haynes opened the night with “Railroad Boy,” moving into “Thorazine Shuffle,” and a cowbell showcase for drummer Matt Abts. It was the first extended piece, powered by Haynes’ biting guitar and the jazz-tinged electric piano of Danny Louis. The four pulled back on “Beautifully Broken” and the country-rock idyll of “Traveling Tune,” only to have Jorgen Carlsson’s bass groove set alight the title track of their latest release, “Revolution Come, Revolution Go.”

The titular rendition modulated into a grinding middle, with Haynes wailing, a trombone appearance from Louis, and the dexterous time-keeping of Abts. After the reggae-vibed “Unring the Bell” and the shadowy blues of “Endless Parade,” the four welcomed guitarist Jimmy Vivino, keyboardist Jeff Young (Steely Dan) and saxophonist Scott Paige for a tacit tribute to Steely’s Walter Becker on a note-perfect take of “Dirty Work.” Drummer John Molo (Phil Lesh and Friends) replaced Abts for another Becker nod to close the set with “Don’t Take Me Alive.”

In a bit of a surprise, a darkened stage lit to find not Haynes on guitar but Eric McFadden, leading the Mule on Funkadelic’s “Maggot Brain.” Haynes did come back a few bars in, but not before McFadden tore a hole in the roof with his fiery fretwork, portending things to come. There was the junkyard funk of “Stone Cold Rage” and the brief double-barreled force of Louis and Haynes on guitar for “Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground,” the latter featuring Haynes’ tasteful slide. Then, the jams came evermore.

First on the instrumental “Trane,” with teases of The Beatles’ “Norwegian Wood,” then on an interlude of the Grateful Dead’s “St. Stephen” that morphed out of “Eternity’s Breath.” But it was the four-song finale, encore included, that was the performance’s peak. With a guesting Duane Betts on guitar, the Mule offered a gorgeous run of Allman Brothers Band classics, starting with “Blue Sky,” as Haynes shared vocals with Betts. The trading of middle solos was terrific, with Haynes and Betts echoing the pioneering guitar conversations of yesterday once led by Duane Allman and Betts’ father, Dickey.

Carlsson thundered on the bass intro to “Whipping Post,” played at a breakneck tempo, again fertile ground for transcending twin-guitar triumphs. The Wiltern crowd stood mesmerized. For the encore, Vivino returned on acoustic, strumming the opening chords of “Melissa,” then switched to electric midway to join Haynes and Betts for a triple dose on the expansive and rippling “Mountain Jam,” before easing back down into “Melissa” and their good-nights. To Los Angeles the Gov’t Mule revolution came, saw, and conquered.

Authors: Larson Sutton