Gov’t Mule frontman Warren Haynes has often been called the hardest-working man in rock and roll, due to his multiple band memberships and constant guest appearances. His reputation will live on this weekend, when he performs three shows in two days here in the District.
The Mule will be performing on campus at GW’s Lisner Auditorium on Saturday. The next day, Haynes is scheduled to perform a solo acoustic set before the Mule take the stage at the Green Apple Earth Day Festival on the National Mall.
Everything about Warren Haynes is big, from his body and hair to his riffs and the grand, neo-classic rock that comes thundering from his band. Since 1994, Gov’t Mule has built its reputation on relentless touring and on-stage intensity. They began as a modern-day power-rock trio, consisting of Haynes on guitar, Allman Brothers bassist Allen Woody and drummer Matt Abts. When Woody passed away in August 2000, the band quickly (but respectfully) collected Black Crowes bassist Andy Hess and keyboardist Danny Louis to fill out the roster that is still touring today.
The sound of the Mule is sure to shake the rafters at little old Lisner. If nothing else, this band rejoices in the loudest possible organized noise. Based on a catalog consisting mostly of straight-ahead rock songs, Gov’t Mule uses their jazzy sensibilities to elaborate and expand, searching for undiscovered heights whenever the inspiration hits (which is often). There is a tendency here to leave the listener lost, but after decades of experience these musicians are well-versed in various recovery techniques. This exploratory instinct has sometimes stuck them with the confining title of ‘jam-band.’ It is this same nature that makes their ‘sound’ hard to locate precisely; however, as they venture into old-school blues, reggae, folk and soul depending on what night – or at what moment – you catch them.
Their most recent release “Mighty High” remixes some classic Mule songs and choice covers into heavy dub rhythm, making for an unexpectedly funky record that plods expansively from song to song. This foray into the reggae genre provides a spacious base for Haynes to pick his sonic spots (using his solos in a primarily decorative role) while sitting back with simple, scratchy riffs the rest of the time. While he certainly shines for short moments, Haynes rightfully lets the bass do most of the talking on this album. Several tracks on the record feature well-established reggae names like Toots Hibbert, Michael Franti and Willi Williams.
The album is alternately danceable and laid-back. The bouncy first half of the album is most recognizable as Gov’t Mule. The opening track “I’m A Ram” (an Al Green original) and “The Shape I’m In” (originally by The Band) are early highlights, as they nicely combine the reggae ‘riddim’ with the intense rock and roll instincts of the band.
Admittedly, there are moments when an old-time Mule fan might complain about over-production (direct these comments to producer Gordie Johnson,) but from a more neutral standpoint, this is a very successful venture into a genre one would not expect from a band steeped in the annals of epic American rock.
On the complete opposite end of the spectrum, Warren Haynes’ solo acoustic set on Sunday is sure to be soulful. This is a man who exudes music, and cannot help but project his passion no matter the circumstance. It is telling that, amid a star-studded line-up gathered to raise environmental awareness, Haynes is given two different timeslots with which to entertain thousands of gatherers at the free concert.
It is going to be a long day down on the Mall on April 20, with acts ranging from The Roots (featuring Talib Kweli), Umphrey’s McGee, a DJ set by Thievery Corporation and others. Toots and the Maytals will be there too, thus there is some speculation that we may be treated to some live collaboration between them and the Mule. In any case, just be sure to pay attention when a big burly man with long blond hair wanders up on stage with his guitar.
Gov’t Mule will play at Lisner Auditorium (21st and H Streets N.W.) on Saturday, April 19 at 8:00p.m. Tickets cost $27.50 for GW students. The Green Apple festival takes place on the National Mall on Sunday from noon to midnight. For more information visit www.greenapplemusicfestival.com.