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Gov’t Mule, Babcock Theater, Billings, MT 9/19/14

Review and photos by: Phil Santala

Phil's Stills-9660For Gov’t Mule, hitting the road with tours that run roughshod across the country has always been something they seem to do with ease, that same kind of ease with which most people show up to their 9 to 5 job. Barnstorming across the country, sitting in with other acts at festivals, and running the annual charity Christmas Jam has earned front man Warren Haynes his moniker as “the hardest working man in show business“ time and time again. Through all the shows and years Gov’t Mule and Warren have also pushed through more than their fair share of public pain and sorrow. In 2000 the band and crew would suffer the loss of original member Allen Woody. This past summer longtime friend and guitar tech Brian Farmer passed away, two weeks before the scheduled kick off of the 2014 fall tour.

Phil's Stills-0286Still, the band plays on. Coming out of the haze of the midwest and launching themselves into the west coast run, Mule sold out the Billings show a day before the event. With an off day to recoup following the Fargo, ND show at the Fargo Theater, and facing a 8 hour drive to the Masonic Auditorium show in Spokane, the crowd anticipated a hot show. They would not be disappointed.  The first set proceeded with a well mixed variety of faster heavy songs and slower bluesy jams including the “Mule> Who Do you Love> Whole Lotta Love> Mule” rager. The set closer of “Million Miles From Yesterday” was a soulful ballad that brought the house down with Warren’s slow, deep reverberating solos.

The second set featured a series of well orchestrated originals and covers. Danny Lewis not only picked up the guitar for a few of these moments, but also stepped out from behind the keys to get closer to bassist Jorgen Carlsson. The two of them would trade licks and smiles throughout the set. The intro run of Jimi Hendrix covers of “Are You Experienced> Angel> Machine Gun” absolutely lit the crowd up. It even inspired Warren to play the guitar on his microphone stand. Matt Abts’s drum solo was surprisingly void of the normal exodus to the beer and bathroom lines one might typically expect to find. The crowd was clearly in for the long haul here.

Phil's Stills-9344The Howling Wolf> Stevie Wonder> Howling Wolf jam of “How Many More Years> High Ground> How Many More Years” was a sight one would only find at a Gov’t Mule show. Warren mixes so many musicians and styles with such a fluidity it’s a rare treat to see. The show also featured tracks from the latest album Shout and the encore was the highlight of these. Occasionally using the megaphone featured on the album’s cover, the Mule dropped an extended cut of “Captured” on the audience. It would have been enough to leave it there, but always the showman Warren dropped in the final “cover” of the night. The ever present and popular Allman Brothers Band song “Soulshine” was a rousing success and hit with the audience, and was able to propel even the most stubborn in the crowd out of their seat at last. It was during this final song that Warren flashed his signature two-fingered peace sign to the audience. It elicited the same in return along with hoots, Phil's Stills-9418cheers and smiles all around.

Over the course of the sold out show at the Babcock Theatre in Billings something became apparent. Warren and the crew don’t keep grinding it out on the road just to fulfill contractual obligations. They don’t do what they do just for a paycheck. Music seems to do for them what it does for many of those in the audience. It transports us away from our problems; and if it reminds us of them, it tells us too that we have the solution to solve them at our fingertips. There were times when, deep in the jams, Warren looked at peace with his eyes closed, just letting the music move him. Erupting out of these soulful moments he often smiled. I’d like to think that when he flashed those two fingers up in the air that out in the cheers and raised hands, Brian Farmer was smiling and watching as well. Rest In Peace, brother…
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Full photo gallery can be found HERE!

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