It’s a Wednesday night in Hollywood a place where there’s a fair amount of strangeness to any given evening. Hence the neighborhood’s longtime nickname, “Hollyweird”. What makes this strange day genuine is the arrival of Gov’t Mule’s appearance in advance of All Hallows Eve. Halloween shows have come to be revered highlights of the year in the jam rock community thanks to a tradition of bands donning musical costumes to pay tribute to classic rock influences of the past. When guitarist Warren Haynes and company announced that they would be joined by Doors guitarist Robby Krieger, Government Mule shot into the stratosphere of 2013’s most anticipated Halloween shows.
Costumed fans are eager to gain entrance to the venue on Hollywood Boulevard, lining up well before the scheduled opening. Many are also content to idle some time away next door at the Blue Palms Brewhouse. Central Hollywood used to have a rather seedy vibe back in the heyday of bands like Jane’s Addiction and Guns ‘n’ Roses. But the neighborhood has received a facelift in recent years, making it more friendly to tourists and locals alike. The Blue Palms is a step up from the dive bars that used to populate the area and Jane’s Addiction even received their very own star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame earlier in the day, a clear sign the times they are a changing.
But tonight is about conjuring the ghost of Hollywood’s original alt-rock shamanic front man — Mr. Mojo Risin, the Lizard King, the singer of the Doors, the legendary Jim Morrison. Some modern rock fans don’t get the Doors. They fail to grasp the immensely influential ways the band impacted the growth of rock and roll as an art form that could explore the edges of what’s possible in both music and society. Many of the artistic boundaries that music fans take for granted these days were first explored by Morrison and the Doors.
Promo posters for the show feature a mule in a field at dawn, a play off the album cover for the Doors’ Waiting for the Sun album. Government Mule aren’t billed to play the album per se though, so there’s anticipation to find out what hallowed ground from the Doors catalog will be covered. When the lights dim Haynes and company open the show with a powerful first set featuring a mix of Mule mainstays and tunes from the band’s strong new album Shout. The history of the blues is always strong in the air at any Mule show, with Haynes being one of the premier bluesmen of the modern age. Not just in his current skills, which rate so high that Rolling Stone ranked him as the 23rd greatest guitarist of all time, but in how his playing incorporates the entire history of blues rock.
The band is clearly on from the start, no doubt psyched for the second set with Krieger. But the first set delivers as well, with a powerful flow of energy to engage the audience. “Unring the Bell” from 2006’s High and Mighty provides not just a blast of blues power, but also a dose of some of the most politically-oriented lyrics in recent times with lines like “Fake liberty is just another form of hate, Unring the bell before it’s too late.” The new “World Boss” features a similar vibe, with a hard rocking sound and hot jam that gets the crowd going as if it were an old favorite. Bassist Jorgen Carlsson and drummer Matt Abts are a powerhouse tandem for both this song and the set-closer “Thorazine Shuffle”.
The Fonda’s stylish outdoor smoking patio buzzes with anticipation during the set break. The Doors were one of the first rock bands to push the social envelope with politically oriented lyrics in songs like “Five to One” and “The Unknown Soldier”, so it’s appropriate that Krieger joined forces with a modern rock band who isn’t afraid to speak out about the insanity in American politics. Haynes is also a master of the team-up, frequently collaborating with other artists at festivals and on the Shout double LP, whose second disc features all the songs from the first disc but with guest vocalists adding their own spin on each track.
When the second set opens with “Break on Through (to the Other Side)”, it feels almost as if the audience has been transported back to the ‘60s. Haynes is one of rock’s greatest chameleons, able to cover vocal ranges from Jim Morrison to Robert Plant to Jerry Garcia with masterful skill. “Love Me Two Times” kicks the party into high gear and it’s pure joy to watch Haynes and Krieger trading licks throughout the night. “People Are Strange” has long felt like a quintessential Halloween type song and it’s a gem this night, with keyboardist Danny Louis doing a sensational job on Ray Manzarek’s passages.
It isn’t just a greatest hits set. The band digs in on deep cuts like “Wild Child”, “Been Down So Long” and “The Changeling”. The blues numbers highlight the outstanding players Haynes and Krieger both are. Their interweaving slide guitars provide one dazzling burst of bluesy bliss after another. The spirits of Morrison and Manzarek feel like they’re in the house.
The deepest jam of the night occurs on “Light My Fire”, a hit tune mostly written by Krieger which propelled the Doors into superstar status. The song’s hit status became something of an albatross to Morrison at times, but here Government Mule and Krieger demonstrate what a stellar jam vehicle it is. The highlight version stretches for 10 minutes and features teases of “Eleanor Rigby” and “My Favorite Things”.
“Five to One” offers a surprise treat when Krieger’s son Waylon appears to deliver the lead vocal on the song. It is one of Morrison’s most compelling works with ever-green lyrics such as “They’ve got the guns, but we’ve got the numbers”. The set continues to pick up steam, surging to conclusion with electrifying renditions of “Roadhouse Blues”, “Riders on the Storm” and “LA Woman”. The set is a slice of classic rock and roll heaven.
An encore of “When the Music’s Over” closes the show in epic, triumphant fashion. Gov’t Mule has been playing the song for a few years, but to hear it with Krieger is special. The classic lyric of “The music is your special friend, dance on fire as it intends” speaks to all who view rock and roll akin to religion. The metaphysical power of rock music is a form of spiritual sustenance to countless fans. The Doors knew it, Gov’t Mule knows it and everyone in the house knew it that night. The performance wasn’t just a show, it was a bonafide sermon.