Live Music Review: Gov’t Mule & Blackberry Smoke – Missoula, MT 9/3/2016
Written by Shawn Chisholm on September 9, 2016
A Love Letter: Dear Gov’t Mule & Blackberry Smoke, come back to MT!
Two days later and I can’t get them out of my mind, even though this leg of the tour is over and everyone is heading East again. Since they came out, I have been listening to the raw tracks of the Tel-Star Sessions on repeat and was told by a dedicated Gov’t Mule fan base that this was only the fourth show for them in Montana (Mulebase.com suggests 2004, 2007, & 2009 as previous dates).
First, the outdoor venue was well set up for the fans and had all necessary amenities; a significant acknowledgement goes out to Big Sky Brewing Company in Missoula. The crowd up front, “riding the rail,” were there for the music. From the fresh “just turned twenty-one” young lady next to me to the empty-nesters couple telling their kids to call before coming home because they are catching up on music shows and won’t be there, anyone could feel comfortable at this venue.
Originating from L.A., The Record Company offered a short list of punky-blues tunes and gave an honest set. It’s nice to see homegrown music efforts on the tour. Without knowing better, I met a gentleman working in the merch tent who then suddenly appeared on stage with his bass! Profoundly claiming that their job was to get the crowd going for the rest of the night, they got right to work with short, sweet melodies and funky groove filled bass-lines.
Blackberry Smoke has toured with the Mule before. Many fans share a taste for both bands amidst the genre-bending goodness that comes from a scene the Mule perpetuates. After 16 years together and with certain bluster, Charlie, Richard, Brit, Paul and Brandon provided “a big sparklin’ shine” to the Montana skies. Playing music from all eras of their years as a band, Montana got a dose of a “Good One Comin’ On” and a sweet ditty, “Ain’t Got the Blues” with Charlie bringing out the ole acoustic. Closing with “Ain’t Much Left of Me,” these guys played with grace and charm, truly a band for people who like country, rock, or the blues. “I’m feelin’ fine, just fine as wine.”
Gov’t Mule is different from Blackberry Smoke in the arena of intent and legend. I am quickly reminded there is little room for ego in the Mule world. Bluster, grace and charm are not missing, but they are tougher, bigger, louder and pointedly, more dramatic. Warren, Matt, Danny, and Jorgen started out with “Blind Man in the Dark,” an intense tune, especially just out of the gate. Tougher is “World Boss” with Warren singing, “…businessman sold everything he owns, junkie’s pretending he ain’t never jonesed, politician sneaking through the crowd, super savior soldier cried out loud.” Even tougher “About to Rage” provides breathing space in a massive tune with a brief moment to reconsider how “hesitation is a hole in the head.” “Don’t use me up or I’ll be the one who used to worship you,” yes, “I’ll Be the One” with a playful “Blue Sky” tease is tough, big and loud, yet a ballad from the musical yogi who is Warren Haynes. Louder still and rooted in the soul of the Mule, “Monkey Hill” with an “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” ending was applauded by a crowd who was probably starting to forget their names.
Drama comes from a place deep and quiet within Gov’t Mule’s history and discography. Allman Brothers teases or perhaps a full tune to Prince’s role in one of the prettiest songs he never wrote, “Beautifully Broken” now plays in an ever-expanding soundtrack of so many souls in the night. Jorgen keeps the bass on “Thorazine Shuffle” rooted in Woody’s lines with a spot-on treatment of Carlsson magic. Speaking of soul, Little Milton’s “That’s What Love Will Make You Do” had everyone dancing with the Mule including Charlie, Brandon, and Paul from Blackberry Smoke. And earlier I was wrong when I said these guys were heading East; maybe so, but at the end of this night we were all “Southbound.”
When the music is over, it’s like my good friends are moving away…So to Mule & Blackberry Smoke (my dear ‘friends at the record store’ who have unknowingly carried me through times of turmoil and extraordinary circumstance, from one side of our nation to the next) and the fans here, thanks for being in the Big Sky! Come back soon; fans will always be here waiting.
Love & thanks for your music, Kasey Bec