This is the first of a set of special 20th Anniversary live releases. It is a recording taken from what has become amongst their fans in particular, a legendary performance by Gov’t Mule on 31st October 2008 at the Orpheum Theatre in Boston, Massachusetts. The special edition CD box set compromises the entire 24-track, three hour performance that is a mixure of the band’s original material as well as a selection of covers, notably the second part of that night’s show featuring Gov’t Mule’s own hoof stamp on Pink Floyd covers.
The first most noticible thing is the prominence given in this recording to the sound of the crowd featuring their cheers, whisltes and hollaring throughout the night. Some may prefer them to have taken a cleaner mix, but the point of a live CD is that it is just that, it’s not meant to be a live performance of the album tracks. It gives the show the atmosphere it obviously had.
First up it’s all about the Mule opening with ‘Brighter Days’ and then ‘Bad Little Doggie’ with it’s fantastic organ playing. Only three tracks in I am regretting having never caught Gov’t Mule live listening to Warren Haynes guitar solo tear through my ear drums on ‘Brand New Angel’. This show was only the second performance of then new bassist Jorgen Carlsson who shines through with beautiful delicacy on ‘Gameface’.
Not many bands or artists will sit and play a 20 minute medly jam around three songs including a The Grateful Dead cover, but that’s exactly what Gov’t Mule do. The sound mix allows each of the four band members to strike out and shine through, it’s simply epic!
‘Child of the Earth’ is pure rock delicacy allowing Warren Haynes to show the versatility of his voice and the playing ability of the band. With a sweet guitar solo, perfect in length and suitability to the track.
Gov’t Mule round off the first disc with the groove ridden ‘Kind of Bird’ that goes all jitterbug after a couple of minutes, before launching into another quality long expose of their musical talent as a band. It’s a wonderful musical education for budding musicians. I love the organ ripping it up half way through, that’s some wonderful playing from Danny Louis. I have seen some of the Hammond organ greats in my time including Jimmy Smith, there is something about that organ sound that resonates so beautifully in my ears and Gov’t Mule use it very well. A great selection of Gov’t Mule tracks for this part of the concert.
Bar the final two songs, the remainder of the release is Pink Floyd covers, hence the album title. Whilst personally not a particular fan of Pink Floyd, I fully appreciate their uniqueness and that attempting to cover their material is no simple undertaking. You have to question whether to cover them note for note or to somehow put your own take on their material. Gov’t Mule go for the latter and as the second song title suggests, they are fearless in their doing so.
Gov’t Mule choose songs to cover that are often avoided such as ‘Pigs On the Wing’ and ‘Fearless’ which is a great move on their part.
I must admit that the aforementioned crowd mix does become a little annoying in the early bars of ‘Shine On You Crazy Diamond, Pts 1-5’, when you are listening to such fantastic solo playing, I don’t understand why people cannot just shut up and listen to what they are hearing and appreciate it for what it is. Maybe it’s the alcohol in the fans talking, but it is a bug bear of mine in really quiet, quality musical moments. However it does improve and I love the groovy saxophone lines from Roy Holloway to close out the song.
‘Breathe (In the Air)’ is beautifully sung before moving flawlessly into ‘On the Run’ , which I confess are where the Pink Floyd sound loses my interest a bit, but they bring me back in on ‘Time’ with its great Gov’t Mule spin.
‘Great Gig In the Sky’ remains faithful to the original, before we get to hear Jorgen Carlsson ring out the bass line of ‘Money’ and that lovely saxophone sound comes out again hitting those top notes perfectly before the jam out section and then bringing the saxophone back in to delicately finish the song.
‘Wish You Were Here’ is lovely as the crowd actually take the opportunity to sing along to every word and there is a lot less hollering and whooping than had been heard earlier on and the break out in the sound half way is great and is the essence for me of what live music is about. A wonderful way to end the Pink Floyd section, before returning to the stage for two more Gov’t Mule tracks ‘Million Miles from Yesterday’ and ‘Blind Man In The Dark’.
This collection of songs are played with reverence for Pink Floyd and I think Gov’t Mule are one of the few bands competent enough to be able to do just that. Whilst my personal preference is to the Gov’t Mule material, this is a beautiful album to add to the collection for both Gov’t Mule and Pink Floyd fans who will both be able to appreciate what has been done here.
Gov’t Mule seem to be fuelled by music, to live for music and to be the embodiment of it. In each other, Jorgen Carlsson, Danny Louis, Warren Haynes and Matt Abts have found likeminded souls who are ready to explore the talent of others as well as retain their own special sound, we are lucky that there are musicians out there like this.
‘Dark Side of the Mule’ is out now via Provogue Records.
Disc 1 – Brighter Days, Bad Little Doggie, Brand New Angel, Gameface, Trane / Eternity’s Breath / St. Stephen Jam, Monkey Hill, Child Of The Earth, Kind Of Bird.
Disc 2 – One Of These Days, Fearless, Pigs On The Wing, Pt. 2, Shine On You Crazy Diamond Pts. 1 – 5, Have A Cigar, Speak To Me, Breathe (In The Air), On The Run, Time, The Great Gig In The Sky, Money, Comfortably Numb.
Disc 3 – Shine On You Crazy Diamond Pts. 6 – 9, Wish You Were Here, Million Miles From Yesterday, Blind Man In The Dark.