Guitarist Warren Haynes and Gov’t Mule brought some fierce blues magic and a not-too-subtle political theme to a two-show hometown run at the Salvage Station outdoor amphitheater in Asheville, North Carolina on Friday and Saturday.
There are precious few things that we as a society can agree upon, and music is, and needs to remain, one of those areas, but Haynes and the rest of Mule have never been shy about using their music to indicate where they stand, even if they know it will turn off a significant chunk of their fans. Still, Gov’t Mule commands respect from fans on any side of the aisle with a mix of musicianship, sincerity, and a philosophical appeal for common ground, a testament to the integrity inherent in their politically-charged art.
The band’s first two songs on night one, “Mr. Man” and “About To Rage”, highlighted the forces of division we face as a society, and the examination of that division ran as a connecting thread through night one. Warren’s state of North Carolina, where both of these shows took place, is itself deeply, near perfectly divided in its voting districts (be they fairly drawn or not). While some of the band’s song choices (like “Lay Your Burden Down” and “Snatch It Back And Hold It”) were broader appeals for people to stop troubling themselves with things that don’t matter, new tunes the group previewed (like “Dreaming Out Loud” and “Same As It Ever Was”) again alluded to the distinct worry we are headed down a path of mutually assured self destruction if we don’t find some common ground.
Related: Ryman Comes Alive As Gov’t Mule Welcomes Peter Frampton In Nashville [Photos/Videos]
As if to help soften this bitter medicine, the guitarist and his stellar band dipped into the Allman Brothers Band‘s bag for “”Kind Of Bird”/ “In Memory Of Elizabeth Reed” to help make this message easier for some to swallow. After a short set break, Mule got more expansive in its themes, but tighter as a musical unit. Drummer Matt Abts was clockwork perfection all weekend long—alternatively restrained and bombastic when called upon for either.
Abts’ work with bassist Jorgen Carlsson all weekend long created a deep, inviting pocket that gave Haynes and keyboardist Danny Louis all the room they needed for their more melodic moves. Though Haynes was more than willing to give the rest of Mule room to flourish, he was clearly on a mission—both in music and in message—throughout the run. The first night encore, a strident and straight-forward “Fallen Down”, echoed the weekend’s themes of musical unity crossing into the rest of society.
Gov’t Mule – “Mr. Man” [Pro-Shot] – 5/19/23
Gov’t Mule – “Traveling Tune” [Pro-Shot] – 5/19/23
The next night saw Gov’t Mule take the stage a bit earlier than Friday, and though the blues was born in dim juke joints and seedy road houses, it sounds just fine and dandy in the bright afternoon sun. Picking up right where they left off, Haynes and company got to work with on the weekend’s themes with show-openers “Revolution Come, Revolution Go” and “Game Face”. The Allman Brothers classic and Haynes staple “Soulshine” was even more poignant than normal when placed so early in the day amid such a collection of musical messaging choices.
Walking the proverbial tightrope, Haynes pulled the focus towards more all-encompassing issues, like the power of love and its ability to give or alleviate the blues. Most of Saturday’s first set dealt with this romanticized view of the blues, with songs like “Funny Little Tragedy” and “Cause We’ve Ended as Lovers” supporting this case. Even the instrumental “Devil Likes It Slow” sizzled with the energy of attraction, yet another thing that makes life worth living no matter what side of the political divide you fall on.
For the last set of the weekend, Haynes and company flat-out pleaded for peace. Only the most myopic of viewpoints could miss the messaging of placing songs like “Made My Peace”, “Peace I Need” and “Beautifully Broken” back-to-back-to-back, and this bid unite, to seek peace, wouldn’t fall on nearly as many ears if it was being preached by someone with the raw emotional depth and refined musical ability of Warren Haynes.
As far as blues guitar sounds go, he is as distinct and impressive a player as there is in the world, which a golden voice that cuts deep in your soul. He’s such a pure, idiosyncratic force that even when he covers an artist as iconoclastic as Tom Waits, as did twice on Saturday (with “Make It Rain” and an encore of “Get Behind the Mule), the tunes become all Haynes’ own.
With a new Gov’t Mule album dropping on the 16th of June and a long list of show dates on the band’s calendar, it looks like there’ll be no slowing down for this blues machine Haynes and company have built. Haynes is nowhere near done preaching his sermon to the masses. Let’s hope that with the mixture of art, hope, talent and love in his message, he can reach those who truly nee to hear it.
Scroll down for setlists from both Gov’t Mule shows in Asheville. For a complete list of the band’s upcoming tour dates, head here.
Gov’t Mule – “Revolution Come, Revolution Go” [Pro-Shot] – 5/20/23
Gov’t Mule – “Railroad Boy” [Pro-Shot] – 5/20/23
Setlist: Gov’t Mule | Salvage Station | Asheville, NC | 5/19/23
Set One: Mr.Man, About To Rage, Lay Your Burden Down, Snatch It Back and Hold it (Junior Wells Chicago Blues Band), Banks Of The Deep End, Dreaming Out Loud (New Tune), Same As It Ever Was (New Tune), Kind Of Bird> In Memory of Elizabeth Reed (Allman Brothers) > Kind Of Bird
Set Two: Travelling Tune, Thorazine Shuffle, Temporary Saint, Wake Up Dead, Freeway Jam (Jeff Beck), No Need To Suffer, Mule
Encore: Fallen Down
Setlist: Gov’t Mule | Salvage Station | Asheville, NC | 5/20/23
Set One: Revolution Come, Revolution Go, Game Face, Soulshine (Allman Brothers Band), Funny Little Tragedy, Cause We’ve Ended as Lovers (Syreeta), Devil Likes It Slow, Time To Confess
Set Two: Railroad Boy (Traditional), Make It Rain (Tom Waits), Made My Peace, Peace I Need, Beautifully Broken, Trane, Painted Silver Light, Feel Like Breaking Up Somebody’s Home
Encore: Get Behind The Mule (Tom Waits)