The Rapidian

Gov't Mule treats Meijer Gardens to powerful night of southern rock

Bringing their unique brand of blues inspired, psychedelic southern rock, Warren Haynes-led Gov't Mule showed concertgoers that they are among the best touring bands in the country.
Gov't Mule performs at Frederik Meijer Gardens

Gov't Mule performs at Frederik Meijer Gardens /Ryan Yuenger

Michigan Gov't Mule license plate

Michigan Gov't Mule license plate /Ryan Yuenger

Crowd shot

Crowd shot /Ryan Yuenger

Hiding from the sun under a tree at Meijer Gardens, I watched both dread-headed Deadheads to polo-shirted business casuals nod along to Frank Zappa songs as they waited for Gov’t Mule to begin their performance as part of the annual Frederick Meijer Gardens Summer Concert Series.

Gov’t Mule, headed by singer/songwriter/guitarist Warren Haynes, is arguably one of the greatest touring bands in the country, and has been moving crowds with their brand of southern-fried, bluesy, psychedelic jam-rock since 1994.

Musically, there aren’t many who compare to Warren Haynes of Gov’t Mule. His songwriting abilities and passionate, soulful voice captivates listeners around the world, while his supreme blues-inspired guitar work has cemented him as one of the greatest guitarists of all time.

Having also spent time touring with The Allman Brothers Band, The Dead, and Phil Lesh and Friends, he has built a reputation on the festival circuit as one of the hardest working musicians around.

Mule, as they are often referred to, kicked off the first set with the sludgy yet spacey “Thorazine Shuffle.” This song -- intended to get the crowd’s feet moving restlessly as if they were doped up on anti-psychotic drug thorazine -- was a great choice for an opening track.

Lyrics like “let the monster inside you/Let him come on out, come on out and play” let the folks in the crowd who were unfamiliar with the band know that they were in for a captivating musical evening.

After several Gov’t Mule classics from the late 90’s including “Beautifully Broken” and “Game Face,” they continued with “Scared to Live,” an uplifting, reggae-tinged song from their upcoming album “Shout.”  

Haynes' soulful voice belted out, “And now, it’s time to face the truth/don’t be scared to live.”

Easily the highlight of the first set was “Bad Little Doggie.” A crowd favorite, this energetic blues-rock jam got even some of the most crotchety folks at the venue up off their butts to dance with the rest of the crowd.

Gov’t Mule kicked the second set off with beautifully somber “Gordon James,” from their 2009 album, “By a Thread.” Over haunting organs and brooding drums reminiscent of Pink Floyd, Haynes’ raspy-yet-crisp vocals about fictional arms dealer echo through the ampitheater:

Gordon James, did your momma die from the shame?
Was she trying to pull you back into the light?
But you were way too far gone to save
Do you even visit her grave?
Gordon James, do you think it’s too late to change
to make up for the lives you bought and sold
and the war machines that you traded for gold?
It's hard not to get caught up in the moment when Warren Haynes is singing. His voice wails out to the world as if pleading with them to be more understanding of one another, and the result is incredibly moving. 

The tempo picked up as the band transitioned to another song from “By a Thread” called “Frozen Fear.” This track, similar to “Scared to Live,” is an uptempo, reggae influenced song about overcoming fear of life. Once again, Haynes’ strong voice rang through the amphitheater.

"I know you’re just running scared
and after all you’ve been through
you’ve got to beware/but don’t be afraid to live your life my dear
unwillingness is just frozen fear."

As the sun slowly crept toward the tree line, the wind picked up its intensity, and so did Mule, playing their fiery instrumental track “Sun Dance” with an eccentric extended drum solo by drummer Matt Abts.

The drum solo seamlessly transitioned into an improvised jam before the best song of the night, the politically charged “Monday Mourning Meltdown”, another song from “By a Thread.” The slow, spacey jam led into Haynes’ hypnotic protest lyrics.

"Shame on you for fooling me<
shame on me for believing
who’d have thought your Patriot Act
could be so damn deceiving
what’s happened to you?
Is it all part of your Monday mourning meltdown?
If a tear falls in the ocean, does it make a sound?"

Not only is the song still relevant after all the years, but it is incredibly melodic. The somber organs and guitars gradually escalated into a psychedelic explosionm and caused multiple clouds of smoke to erupt in the crowd.

The smiles on the faces of the band throughout the show gave the impression that they enjoy playing in Michigan, as does the custom Michigan license plate they display on stage that reads “GVTMU1E.” 

On this serene evening, even a run of the mill set from a band this special would have been well worth the price of admission. However, due to the incredible second set, the masterful guitar and soulful vocals of Warren Haynes, the great acoustics, and the stunning ambiance all combined for an unforgettable sonic experience at Frederik Meijer Gardens.

 

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