I have to admit, when Government Mule first announced they were playing a show in Israel to kick off their current world tour I was a bit skeptical. Having sifted through this country’s music scene with a fine-tooth comb I found little to no familiarity with the American jam scene, particularly that of contemporary jam-bands of the raunchy, southern-rock infused Gov’t Mule ilk. And that lack of familiarity seemed quite reciprocated on Gov’t Mule’s part given their choice of venue, Reading 3, in Tel Aviv’s nightclub laden port – a posh scene that’s a far cry from the grungy-biker-meets-dirty-hippy constituency expected at a Mule show. Ergo, I expected to find little more than a handful of vacationing and/or depatriated Americans in attendance at Friday night’s show.
However, what I found upon arrival was quite a large crowd teeming with Tie Die, bandanas and a slew of Dead/Allman Bros paraphernalia. Apparently, there is a whole demographic I never even realized existed here in Israel – middle-aged Israelis who had grown up on The Grateful Dead and Allman Brothers Band. Indeed while there was some English to be heard in the pre-show chatter, an overwhelming majority of what I heard was Hebrew. Asking one Israeli gentleman how he was familiar with such music he replied in Hebrew “Brother, this is my music, I’ve been listening to the Allman Brothers since the age of 13.” It was clear that the crowd was well versed in Dead and Allman Bro’s material, while not quite so much in Gov’t Mule’s. The biggest reactions from the crowd all evening was to the Allman’s soulful blues tune “Soulshine” and JGB’s “Sugaree”. Apparently though, the presence of Warren Haynes of Dead and Allman Brother’s fame was enough to draw a healthy turnout.
And Haynes and crew did not disappoint, bringing out two whole sets of punchy riffs, soulful vocals and heavy jams with just a tinge of that gritty southern twang. The first set started out strong with “Bad Little Doggie” and the oft-covered Howlin’ Wolf tune “Smokestack Lightening” sandwiched between two halves of “Lay Your Burden Down” early on but didn’t really pick up until “Soulshine” keeping a solid energy level thereafter, and ending on a high note with a rocking “Thorazine Shuffle”.
The second set had mellower songs but was much heavier on the jamming, building tight, energetic jams out of soft-spoken, emotional choruses, such as Haynes’ ode to Jerry Garcia, “Patchwork Quilt”, a song he first unveiled with Phil and Friends. The subsequent “Sugaree” was one of the highlights of the evening. “Sugaree” as well as “Soulshine”, really illuminated how different his playing is when playing Dead (or in this case JGB) or Allman tunes versus his original material. Though there certainly is a unique flare apparent when playing Dead or Allman material, his playing tends to have a certain Garcian quality to it when playing the former, while his it too seems to fit a kind of Allman Bros mold with the latter. With Mule though, playing his own stuff gives you a better glimpse of what authentic Warren really sounds like.
To me the most refreshing aspect of the show was getting the opportunity to see a proper jam show here in Israel, with two full sets and even a classic “Space > Drums” with a raucous drum solo from the talented Matt Abts, both of which are basically unheard of here in Israel. The set ending “Mule”, with a short detour into Rick James’ “Superstitious” was far and away the best jam of the night. The encore of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah”, sort of a Holy Land cliché, followed by “I’m a Ram” closed out the show.
Set 1: Bad Little Doggie, Blind Man In The Dark, Lay Your Burden Down > Smokestack Lightning > Lay Your Burden Down, Steppin’ Lightly, Streamline Woman, Soulshine, Banks of the Deep End, I Believe to My Soul, Thorazine Shuffle
Set 2: Beautifully Broken, Patchwork Quilt, Sugaree, Forevermore > Drums, Inside Outside Woman Blues, Any Open Window, Mule
Encore: Hallelujah, I’m a Ram