Gov’t Mule has never performed material without as much emotional resonance as musical validity and that goes for the covers they choose as well as their originals. And because every song the group plays carries some meaning, this single album of a set devoted entirely to the music of Pink Floyd, Dark Side of the Mule, is no exception,
Recorded on the second night of bassist Jorgen Carlsson’s tenure with the group, the set from Boston’s Orpheum Theater on Halloween of 2008 is ultimately as much of a tribute to the late original member of Mule -Allen Woody – as the British group’s “Wish You Were Here” is a tribute to founding guitarist/songwriter Syd Barrett. The title song from that latter album is the appropriate closer, particularly after the penultimate “Shine On You Crazy Diamond,” its “Pts 6-9” effectively recapitulating the “1-6” that introduced the homage to the founding bassist.
The shadowy likes of these tunes are of a piece with Mule originals (as presented on the deluxe set of three CD’s), in particular from their earliest days as a trio as is “Pigs on the Wing, Pt. 2” a selection from Animals where the sense of apprehension equals that of bittersweet emotional acceptance. But Gov’t Mule are deceptively ambitious in crafting this personal statement from culls of the iconic band: the choices of material, extending all the way back to Meddle, erect a cogent musical statement as well on the pros and cons of the music business from the artist’s perspective (making it appropriate to hear drummer Matt Abts singing “Have A Cigar”).
Mule generate an insistent thrust with the opener “One of These Days,” segueing into the more cerebral likes of “Fearless,” during which the patience of Warren Haynes’ guitar playing is of a piece with the poise of the rest of the band. In a respite from an ominous air the quartet conjures, wholly in keeping with the holiday of masquerade, Ron Holloway’s sax playing offers a cleansing sensation when it appears here: the sound of his instrument effectively cools the feverish atmosphere arising from Haynes’ singing.
Meanwhile the complementary vocals of Machan Taylor, Durga McBroom-Hudson (both of whom toured with Floyd) and Sophia Ramos add to the ghostly atmosphere, particularly during the triptych from Dark Side of the Moon.“Breathe (in the Air),” “Time” and the crowd-pleasing “Money” all carry sentiments in line with a Gov’t Mule ethos that’s now lasted two decades. Likewise the high-profile number from The Wall, “Comfortably Numb,” within which the extended slide solo is the sole interval here, overtly recalls Mule’s own sound.
The graphic design of Dark Side of the Mule includes smart variations on both Pink Floyd and Gov’t Mule iconography, as well as a book of photos, full credits and an essay by Warren Haynes who proudly declares the extent to which the band prepped for this show with laserlights and surround sound that are not part of their customarily no-frills stage production. In so doing, the titular leader of Gov’t Mule offers further dismissal of the notion this unique performance is a novelty in any way shape or form.