Jam-happy Gov't Mule dives deep into dub

Like many of their jam-band kin, the members of Gov't Mule record all of their shows, which are then made available for download from www.mule.net/. And to facilitate sales, the band posts its set lists in the same place–which makes it easy for die-hard fans to see what their idols have been up to.

For instance, in Chicago on October 26, the Mule must have been in an Anglophile mood, for it tackled Traffic's "Dear Mr. Fantasy", the Beatles' "Tomorrow Never Knows", and T.Rex's "Bang a Gong", in addition to various items from its own 13-year recording history. In Covington, West Virginia, on October 27, the band veered off into American-style classic rock with versions of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young's "Find the Cost of Freedom" and "Ohio". And for their Halloween show in St. Paul, Minnesota, guitarist Warren Haynes and his pals went all out, covering the classic Led Zeppelin LP Houses of the Holy in its entirety before ending with a pair of Robert Johnson blues tunes.

Given this diversity, it's not surprising that the latest Gov't Mule release, Mighty High, is a significant departure from anything that the New York City–based quartet has done before. Still, many long-time lovers of the group's southern-tinged rock sound have been puzzled by its new direction: reggae, with a side dish of dub.

"It's been quite controversial in the world of Gov't Mule," Haynes admits, reached at a hotel in St. Louis, Missouri. "Some people don't know how to take it, but our stance on it is that this is a natural progression–and I'm really proud of it."

The guitarist goes on to explain that Mighty High was originally intended to complement the Mule's previous studio project High and Mighty. Once producer and reggae connoisseur Gordie Johnson became involved, however, things got a little out of control.

"Originally it was going to be just a five- or six-song dub EP, but we were having so much fun that it turned into 13 songs and 70 minutes long," Haynes says, chuckling. "It's not meant to be looked at like our next studio record, though, because there's only two unreleased songs–the other stuff is remixes of stuff we'd already done, or live material."

Some of that live material–including animated performances from reggae veteran Toots Hibbert and Spearhead singer Michael Franti–dates back to another of the Mule's gala productions, this one from last New Year's Eve.

"Every New Year's, we do a special show at the Beacon Theatre in New York City," Haynes explains. "We do three sets, and the middle set is always 90 minutes, and it always has a theme. Last year's theme was Dub Side of the Mule, so Toots was our special guest, Gordie came in, we hired a horn section, we hired background singers, and we transformed the whole stage to look like it was in Jamaica. And of course we record all the shows, so we took that performance and Gordie remixed it like a dub mix. He stripped the audience away, and just looked at it like a studio recording."

Haynes also reveals that he and his Mule colleagues Matt Abts (drums), Andy Hess (bass), and Danny Louis (keyboards) have a few more curve balls in store, including a raucous jazz-fusion set with guitar guru John Scofield. But as for whether the band has anything special planned for its upcoming Vancouver appearance, Haynes is keeping mum.

"Every night's different," he allows. "But we're certainly going to do something completely different from the last time we were there."

Gov't Mule plays the Commodore Ballroom next Thursday (November 15).

Link: Gov't Mule official site