Home Live Review Live Review: Gov’t Mule @ Wolf Trap — 8/20/23

Live Review: Gov’t Mule @ Wolf Trap — 8/20/23

Live Review: Gov’t Mule @ Wolf Trap — 8/20/23
Gov't Mule performs for a sold-out crowd at the Salvage Station in Asheville, North Carolina, on June 3, 2022. (Photo by David Simchock)

Writing about jam bands can be challenging. Bands like the Warren Haynes-fronted Gov’t Mule often play a set that consists of less songs, but the songs are longer, filled with extensive instrumental sections and improvisation. As a writer, it’s much easier to write about lyrics, because, well, they’re words, and my reviews are made up of words. It’s hard to write about the music, to convey sound with wholly inadequate words. Stage banter also helps me flesh out these things, and these jam bands tend to be minimal with that, often moving directly into one tune for another.

The musical prowess of Gov’t Mule, and especially Warren Haynes’s guitar, is considerable. A native of North Carolina, he became a widely sought after sideman in the ’80s. At the end of the ’80s, Greg Allman recruited him as part of the Allman Brothers Band twin guitar attack. Gov’t Mule started as a side project for Haynes in the 90s, a power trio he would play with when we wasn’t on tour or recording with the Allmans.

While the blues is a major influence on Haynes, classic rock is, too. In 2014, Gov’t Mule released Dark Side of the Mule, a track-for-track cover of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon. At Wolf Trap on August 20, in a long set — two and a half hours, following an hour of Jason Bonham’s Led Zeppelin Experience (Bonham is the son of the late Zeppelin drummer John Bonham) — the band played the entirety of Dark Side of the Moon. It’s not what I’m typically attracted to — I typically eschew cover projects.

Eschewing this because it’s a covers project would be refusing to take the Mule on their own terms. Most of what I listen to is singer-songwriters, where lyrics, especially original compositions, are the standard. But that’s not the kind of band the Mule is. Haynes does write songs, but this band excels at playing, especially playing live, and improvising around fixed compositions. Dark Side of the Moon is a perfect album for the Mule to interpret; like their own music, the songs are long, and they invite the players to improvise and focus on their instrumentalism.

Stream Pink Floyd’s “Comfortably Numb” as performed by Gov’t Mule on YouTube:

Before they got into the Pink Floyd material, the Mule played several of their own songs. Earlier this year, they released Peace…Like A River, a set of songs that gave their own distinctive take on ’70s singer-songwriters. Songs from the album included “Peace I Need,” “Shake Our Way Out,” and “Dreaming Out Loud.” They also included a grab bag of their other songs: “Brighter Days,” “Revolution Come, Revolution Go,” and “Thorns of Life.”

The set also featured a few special guests. Ron Holloway joined the Mule on “The Great Gig In The Sky,” “Us and Them,” “Any Colour You Like,” and “Echoes, Part 2.” That last one also featured Jackie Green, who also came out for the encore, “Comfortably Numb.

Normally, Wolf Trap is pretty strict about smoking, but I suspect they figured they were fighting a losing battle with this crowd. I could see and smell people vaping, which is not an uncommon sight at jam band shows. I’m glad people were enjoying themselves, but, when you have a crowd, and a number of people are doing this, the smell can become obnoxious quite quickly. Smoke gets into your clothes and hair, and the scent is unshakeable.

Nonetheless, this was a fun night, especially if you like bands that focus on instrumental prowess. Warren Haynes, as I’ve mentioned is  a stellar guitar player. This isn’t something I would do often — it was a bit of an endurance test — but it was a good time.


  1. They skipped the last 2 songs from DSOTM. I thought initially they would play all of Wish You Were Here as they started their Floyd set with the first 3 songs of that album.


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