Gov’t Mule @Newcastle Boiler Shop, May 28 2019

The last time Gov’t Mule played in Newcastle, frontman Warren Haynes signed off with a plea to the audience, writes Paul New.

“When we come back, everybody bring a friend and we’ll have twice as many people next time,” he said.

That was Haynes’ downbeat response to the fact that the City Hall was barely half-full that night in 2005 – even though Gov’t Mule didn’t allow the poor turnout to deter them from turning in a blistering performance.

Fast forward 14 years and it’s questionable whether Haynes’ plea was heeded, with an attendance which was arguably on a par with the City Hall. But the fact that Mule were playing a smaller venue meant that the atmosphere was much better.

The truth is that while Mule are a big draw in their native US, as one of the top acts in the ‘jam band’ genre, they haven’t really cracked Europe – or at least not the UK. True, they have a fanatical cult following here but it’s a shame that more people have not switched on to them and that they appear destined to continue playing smaller venues this side of the Pond. They deserve better.

That said, the gig at the Boiler Shop was a slow burner. It took Mule a while to really get into their groove and they certainly weren’t helped by the woolly acoustics, something which other bands have struggle with at this venue.

But midway through the first of two 90-minute sets, Haynes and Co were beginning to get into their stride, with Fool’s Moon and Slackjaw Jezebel giving a foretaste of what was to come.

The second set was simply superb. Mule’s sound technicians seemed to have finally got a handle on the acoustics and by the time the band launched into the eponymous Mule they had the crowd eating out of their hands.

The telepathy between Haynes and drummer Matt Abts is hardly surprising as the pair have been together since 1994. As singer, lead guitarist and songwriter, Haynes is clearly the main man in the band but the contribution of Abts, hunched over his kit in the background, cannot be over-estimated.

And while Danny Louis (keyboards/second guitar) added depth to their sound, it was bass player Jorgen Carlsson who threatened to steal the show.

The history of Gov’t Mule is such that there will always be a lot of focus on the bass player. Original bassman Allen Woody was such an integral part of the then three-piece’s sound with his muscular yet virtuoso playing, and so his untimely death in 2000 meant there was a void to fill which Mule struggled with for several years.

Those were big shoes to fill, and Mule called on a steady stream of bass players before deciding on Carlsson, who has been with them since 2008. Yet at the Boiler Shop, listening to band staples such as Mule, on which all four band members were able to stretch out, their improvisation evoking memories of Cream, it’s clear that the spirit of Woody lives on in the Swede’s playing.  

For all that Haynes is a prolific and hugely talented writer, whose body of work embraces several genres, Mule are always guaranteed to throw in at least a handful of covers. At the Boiler Shop, they paid their respects to one of the North East’s finest bands with a beautifully restrained version of The Animals’ Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood, while Haynes’ was at his soulful best on I’ll Be Creepin’, a song by Free – another band with strong North East connections.

But one of the biggest cheers of the night came with another Geordie reference as Haynes belted out ‘Newcastle Brown, sure smacks you down’ as Mule finished their second set with Humble Pie’s 30 Days In The Hole.

It speaks volumes about the depth of Mule’s repertoire, not to mention their work ethic in rehearsing so much material, that their setlist for the Boiler Shop gig bore absolutely no resemblance to the sets they had played in Glasgow the night before. How many other bands can say they adopt that approach in terms of mixing things up? 

‘Tight but loose’ sums up perfectly Gov’t Mule when they are in the zone. 

That’s a description most often associated with Led  Zeppelin – and you cannot pay Gov’t Mule a greater compliment than that.

Images By Adam Kennedy