Since its self-titled debut album in 1995, Gov’t Mule has established itself as a no-nonsense rock band fronted by one of the premier blues-rock guitarists on the planet.
This past Friday, Mule fans descended upon the Grand Sierra Resort and Casino to enjoy the band’s first appearance in Reno in nearly three years and crank out some wailing air guitar jams during a solid and cover-heavy show.
Warren Haynes has been a collaborator to many and a fixture in the artist-at-large role at major festivals for a couple of decades, in addition to a stint with the Allman Brothers. Fronting his own four-piece band, he’s the man in charge strumming edgy chords and growling the lyrics of working-man, rock-fueled blues tunes.
Kicking off the show with a 12-string Les Paul over his ample shoulders, Haynes delicately crafted an intro to Joan Baez’s “Railroad Boy,” which they covered on their 2009 release “By a Thread.”
Haynes and his axe gently wade in alone with a combination of subtle picking and slide work. The band stands at ready as he steps into his cocoon of dual wedge floor monitors, pedals and microphone at center stage.
The complete first verse is delivered with a gravelly, hardscrabble voice by the seasoned bluesman from Asheville, North Carolina, before the band joins in unison with a thunderous crash. As the song and story pick up steam, the dual infusion of blues and rock permeate GSR’s Grand Theatre with gnashing chords mixed with snarling twelve string slide guitar.
In many ways, though it’s a folk tune; the way it’s covered illustrates the core appeal that Warren Haynes and Gov’t Mule have consistently delivered for 27 years while touring the world. Whether bluesy folk ballads or a heavier, more straight-ahead rock than southern style, Gov’t Mule has carved out their identity playing music that lives somewhere in between.
Drummer Matt Abts strikes a grizzled image of the pro musician with a billion road miles under his belt. But he’s incredibly solid, if not underrated, behind the kit while guiding the band along with bassist Jorgen Carlsson.
Danny Louis is the Swiss army knife that allows Haynes to take things anywhere he’d like. On Friday, Louis not only made full use of the keyboards and organ surrounding him on three sides but added brass and guitar accompaniments as well.
It could just be me, and sonically he’s fantastic, but every time I see Jorgen Carlsson laying down the groove with Haynes, Abts and Louis it’s obvious that only one of these guys has any interest in fashion.
The Swedish-born Carlsson is always impeccably dressed, often in mostly black with a pair of absolutely sweet euro-styled boots and capped with a scarf of some kind.
The nine-song first set was more smolder than fire and featured a pair of cuts, “Snatch It Back” and “Hole In My Soul” off their latest record, “Heavy Load Blues” which was recorded during the touring lockdown period of the pandemic.
Tom Waits’ “Goin Out West” would close the opening set driven by Carlsson’s throbbing baseline and Haynes having a go at some psych blues slide.
As the patrons returned from reloading their cocktails, Haynes tuned up a Gibson Firebird and plucked the first few notes of Jimi Hendrix’s “Little Wing,” serving notice that things were about to step up in class a bit.
“Mr. High and Mighty” built some energy coming out of “Little Wing” before the band dove down into some dirty grooves with a “Lay Down Your Burden” into ”Smokestack Lightning” (Howlin’ Wolf cover) into “Lay Down Your Burden” run that had people up out of their seats.
Mule gave everyone a little time to catch their breath with a cover of Pearl Jam’s “Come Back.”
The main set wound down with Blind Willie Johnson’s “Dark Was The Night, Cold Was The Ground” in which Haynes’ guttural vocal shone above the raw and naked guitar work. The main set closed with the reverend Al Green’s “I’m A Ram.”
A two-song encore followed shortly thereafter with CCR’s “Effigy” in which the band worked in some of Johnny Cash’s expected lines given the venue of “Folsom Prison Blues” and Jerry Garcia’s “Loser.”
In a bit of a surprise the show was somewhat lightly attended at perhaps two-thirds full, but I’m going with the first Friday night of the Reno Rodeo as a potential culprit. Those that did occupy the pit and plush seats, including former Allman Brothers lighting and video man Chris Samardizich up in the GSR VIP balcony, thoroughly enjoyed another solid Gov’t Mule performance.
- Railroad Boy
- Larger Than Life
- Monkey Hill
- Wake Up Dead
- Snatch It Back
- Hole In My Soul
- Beautifully Broken
- Revolution Come Revolution Go
- Going Out West
- Little Wing
- Mr. High And Mighty
- Lay Your Burden Down > Smoke Stack Lightning > Lay Your Burden Down
- Come Back
- Mr. Man
- So Weak So Strong
- Dark Was The Night Cold Was The Ground
- I’m A Ram
Michael Smyth is a writer and photographer who moved to Reno from the Bay Area in 2007. Michael retired from a corporate road-warrior sales career in 2017 where he wrote freelance small-venue music reviews on the side to keep his sanity on the road. When he isn’t covering a concert or sporting event he might be found concocting a salsa recipe, throwing barbless flies in search of trout, or recapturing the skip-and-stop wedge shot of his youth.