Gov’t Mule are working their way towards the end of their first, hour-long set with a feverish Thorazine Shuffle. ‘There comes a time when you got to let the monster inside you… Come on out and play,’ Warren Haynes sings in his rough-hewn southern drawl. The quartet duly cuts loose with an insanely complicated, 22-beat, jazz-rock riff cycle in a constantly shifting time signature that gets more outrageous with each pass. The musicianship is stunning. Matt Abts clatters around his drum kit with nimble ferocity. Jorgen Carlsson turns the bass from its traditional anchor role into a soaring, free-range, nonstop soloing machine. Danny Louis trades monster keyboard lines with Haynes’ equally extravagant lead guitar parts in a succession of simmering build-ups and volcanic outbursts of improvised madness.
The Mule, which Haynes started 22 years ago as a side project from his day job in The Allman Brothers Band, is a creature that now roams far and wide across musical genres: from the dense blues rock of Rocking Horse to the breezy Americana of The Band’s Stage Fright and all the way through to an encore of the soulful Ann Peebles song Breaking Up Somebody’s Home. The centrepiece of the second set is a revival of Dreams from the first Allman Brothers Band album, an epic, 16-minute performance that ends with a cascade of ghostly, shimmering slide guitar lines from Haynes.
For all his skill as a guitarist and the dark, gothic resonance of lyrics in songs such as Banks Of The Deep End and Slackjaw Jezebel, Haynes carries himself like a journeyman, not a star. This long, long gig is about digging deep into the musical coalface with barely a nod to notions of showmanship, let alone theatrical presentation. Some fairweather fans drift away before the end. The rest of us are in jam-band heaven.