Gov't Mule + Jason Bonham’s Led Zeppelin Experience | Red Rocks Amphitheatre | 8/7/23

Article Contributed by Jake Cudek | Published on Wednesday, August 16, 2023

In March, fans got the exciting news that Gov’t Mule would be hitting the road in July to perform a run of thirteen shows that would incorporate some of the most iconic music in pop culture. Born from an incredibly special Halloween show in 2008 and only performed a select number of times since Warren Haynes and his fearsome foursome would once again give their constituents a satisfying ride on The Mule before presenting their reinterpretation of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon. As if this announcement were not special enough to stand on its own, the report also signified that the run would be the band’s last orbit with the lunar vehicle and that the outing would coincide with the 50th anniversary of the album, making the upcoming summer celebration all that much more special for music lovers of both bands.

Red Rocks Park and Amphitheatre

Last week, at the midway point of the tour set up shop here in Colorado and did so in the pristine surroundings of the Front Range and Red Rocks Amphitheatre. Although the show fell on a Monday, there was nothing typical about the start of this work week. The weather was mild, partially cloudy, and devoid of rain, all of which had the early birds happy to line up hours before the show and share their stories with one another. Walking the lines, one couple told their tale, revealing that they had driven fifteen hundred miles from Mazatlán, Mexico. When asked why this particular show, the simple statement said it all: “Red Rocks, man!”. That elementary descriptor turned out to be the clear reason for so many, including veterans of the sacred sandstone as well as first-timers from out of state.

Jason Bonham | Red Rocks Amohitheatre

As Pink Floyd is often associated with the classic rock generation that has continually carried that era’s torch, it seemed only fitting that the opening support came in the form of Jason Bonham’s Led Zeppelin Experience, adding even more power and electricity to an already fully charged battery. Between the two groups, by the end of the night, anyone who turned out for the early week outing, certainly had much to talk about around the office water cooler on Tuesday morning.

Red Rocks Amphitheatre | Morrison, CO

A multi-generational audience at Mule's show

Red Rocks Amphitheatre | Morrison, CO

As the seven o’clock showtime drew closer and closer, Red Rocks steadily continued to show up and as the participants arrived, it was clear that this was not an age-specific event. Parents brought their children while grandparents were shuttled in by their own progeny and everyone was in a mood for a good time. When the start of it all finally came and the house sound fell silent under a setting sun, Bonham came out and took the throne behind his translucent yellow kit center stage and called to the crowd to get rowdy so he could get the quintessential picture of the Red Rocks mass losing their marbles. With an abiding audience and having satisfied the photo opp, he cordially thanked the crowd for attending, eventually moving on to thanking his father for not only being the best dad ever but also for being a part of some of the greatest music of all time.

Jason Bonham's Led Zeppelin Evening | Red Rocks Amphitheatre

Jimmy Sakurai | Jason Bonham's Led Zeppelin Evening

With that, Bonham counted off and lit the fuse with “Good Times, Bad Times” to start the set. Playing with fire and thunder, the opening tune demonstrated that these rabid rockers were refined, rehearsed, and here to serve up the business. “The Ocean” was up next and from the sheer quality of the playing, everyone in the crowd was fully engaged. Setting it off in perfection, guitarist Jimmy Sakurai’s take on Jimmy Page’s intro for “Over The Hills and Far Away” was spot on, sweet, and inspired many smiles. “Ramble On” kept it all going and James Dylan’s vocals did Mr. Plant justice in spades. Tune after tune, he belted out each line with that raspy falsetto that would leave most hoarse and full of regret.

Jason Bonham's Led Zeppelin Evening | Red Rocks Amphitheatre

Four songs in, it was great to see much of the crowd dancing and singing, many acknowledging the full realization that they were witnessing a talented band playing their hearts out, not a nostalgia act grasping at the money grab.

James Dylan | Jason Bonham's Led Zeppelin Evening

“What Is and What Should Never Be” got the crowd’s appreciation and showed off the skill of the group to ebb and flow between soft soul and hard rocking, vocally and harmonically, and the good times just kept on rolling. For “Thank You”, Sakurai switched it up and cut the stage on a double neck guitar while Dylan sang and supported on the acoustic. Alex Howland sat and worked out the keys in full organ effect while Bonham and Heartsong timed it all out.

Dorian Heartsong | Jason Bonham's Led Zeppelin Evening

“Immigrant Song” shook Creation Rock and Dorian Heartsong’s driving bass line powered the seismic activity and as the stage quaked, Bonham’s candy store kid smile grew wider and wider with every measure.

Jason Bonham's Led Zeppelin Evening | Morrison, CO

Scramble Campbell feeling some Zeppelin

Radio classic “Black Dog” stayed between the lines, but was appreciated, nonetheless. “Misty Mountain Hop” kept the Rockies moving. Sakurai threw in some of his own flare, pointing to the crowd as he shook his guitar and even took some liberties with the solo, infusing his own rock star into the Jimmy Page silhouette. Nine songs in and Dylan’s vocals continued to hold up well. Heartsong bounced across the stage multiple times, locking eyes with his partners in the grind, as the room felt what he was laying down.

Jason Bonham's Led Zeppelin Evening | Morrison, CO

“Whole Lotta Love” carried those heavy balls of the Zeppelin sound and fed right into the closer of the set “Rock and Roll” giving the crowd one last time to sing along with Dylan, who took many pauses, pointing the microphone towards the audience and egging them on. Sakurai even got in on the excitable moves, strutting the stage and eventually pulling out his best Chuck Berry.

Jason Bonham | Morrison, Colorado

Although Bonham’s setlist has not varied much as the opener on this tour, no die-hard Zep Head who made it in for his set had any complaints. The performance was genuine and scratched that Zeppelin itch of anyone who has loved the band over the last fifty-five years. To whomever put Jason Bonham on the bill, thank you.

Thank you to all the hard working folks in the merch booths!

With the stage emptied, the dedicated crew began the swap out. For most, this would be the only time they would leave their positions to refresh and recharge for the lengthy Mule set, three-plus hours to put it in perspective. The extra time needed to place the effects was appreciated by those looking to settle in once the music started. As the seats refilled, anticipation and excitement climbed a notch as the tech side checks signaled the impending explosion of sound that would soon befall the open air, lasers firing off onto the rock walls and fading off into the atmosphere, exciting many to cheer in their sandstone seats, waiting for the moment when the house sound would go silent and the quadraphonic quartet would do their walk on.

Warren Haynes | Red Rocks Amphitheatre

When the moment finally came, the band strolled in, smiling, and took their positions. Before Warren Haynes picked up his guitar, he paused, joyfully scanning the audience, and threw up his hands, dishing out multiple peace signs to the love contingent. Danny Louis, surrounded by his keys to the kingdom, also paused with a smile and raised brows simultaneously taking in the adoration. Matt Abts hunkered down behind the kit, his stoic self-wasting no time rattling the brass. Newcomer to the band but veteran of the deep end, bassist Kevin Scott probably twinkled the most, this being his first time to the venue by his own report before the show.

New Mule bassist, Kevin Scott looked thrilled playing the iconic Amphitheatre

With everyone ready, the marathon set started up with a slide-driven, organ-fillin’ ambient jam before segueing into the first track off Gov’t Mule’s latest album Peace…Like a River. “Same As It Ever Was” started with a soft lift transitioning into a hard ride. Scott’s bass lines were warm and exacting, coming off as though he had been there for years. The organ solo coming from Louis whipped that Leslie speaker like a beast of burden, pushing the Abts beat forward while Haynes played in effect and wah.

Danny Louis | Gov't Mule

Matt Abts | Gov't Mule

Hitting with a Reggae flavor and vibing in the offbeat, Mule staple “Time To Confess” popped through the final notes of the show opener and got everyone’s hips moving. Five or so minutes in, the lyrical content concluded, and the band got down to business. Steering through clear waters, the shine of Haynes’ lead warmed the passengers while the time of the Scott / Abts connection kept the ship steady as the winds of Louis’ digits filled the sails. With a one-two opener of Soulshine hitting bliss, everyone, including the band, knew that tonight would be something special. Under an outpouring of applause, Haynes looked out onto the full house in front of him, smiled, and humbly reciprocated the fanfare with a simple ‘thank you!’

Warren Haynes | Gov't Mule

Pausing further and before getting to another new selection, Haynes continued, “Thank you so much. You know we do have a new record out so we would be remiss if we didn’t play you some new songs so we’re gonna. But it’s a long night of music so it’s on you to pace yourselves…and us too obviously, but we don’t have the opportunities that some of you have. It's great to see you!”

Kevin Scott | Gov't Mule

With that warm welcome, Scott fired up the bass engine and everyone fell right into place, propelling the gritty “After The Storm” forward. This one definitely pulsed with that old school Mule feel and Scott certainly seemed at times to be channeling Allen Woody as he boot stomped and head bobbed, his face gnarled and living exceptionally in the moment. Although a bit short-lived, this one certainly has legs and will hopefully continue to grow into more of a hurricane over time.

Danny Louis | Gov't Mule

Returning to the Rasta, “Unring The Bell” fell out next. Doling out the lyrics early, the final four minutes of the tune had some great interplay between Haynes and Louis, the keys even carrying a tinge of steel drum effect over the Hammond sound. Without a word, the unit painted the list in blue with “Endless Parade.” This song of struggle was handled with patience and moved at its own pace. The script reads without reprieve and to add to the blue hue, Haynes slipped in a fitting sliver of sorrow with a quote from Bill Withers’ “Ain’t No Sunshine” to close it out.

Warren chatting to the Red Rocks crowd

Before hanging up the final piece of the Mule set, Haynes took a moment to thank the crowd once more and added fuel to the excited fire, “Well, since this is Red Rocks, we are going to do another new song for you” and jumped right into the longest track from the new album, “Made My Peace”. A tale of torment and a prodigal son’s return to grace through realization and reflection, this abrasive choice was filled with discord, attitude, and harsh reality. The big finish had Haynes' watery lines spilling over Abts snare rolls, Louis’ organ, and piano slips and flips just making everyone fall in love with the band even more.

Dark Side of the Mule | Morrison, Colorado

Under a cascade of cymbal splashes and synth, the tail end of The Mule finally slipped into passing, and multiple crew members entered the stage. With Louis holding steady behind the keys, new guitars, mic stands, and personnel joined the quartet as Red Rocks prepared for lift-off. Jackie Greene took his seat in the electric piano cockpit, carrying a guitar and setting up across from Louis while vocalist Sophia Ramos and former Pink Floyd backup singer Machan Taylor stood atop a riser stage right behind Kevin Scott’s bass amp. Matt Abts returned to his throne touting a pink dinner jacket, an obvious nod to the authors of the undertaking about to unfold.

Sophia Ramos and Machan Taylor

Jackie Greene | Morrison, Colorado  

Dark Side of the Mule | Red Rocks Amphitheatre

As the stage shifted in smoke and light under the direction of Greene and Louis’ keyboard kinetics, The Dark Side Mule graphic was displayed across the middle of the circular screen hovering above the band, fueling many to cheer with its illumination. Eventually, Haynes’ electric strings cut through morph, providing context and shape to where we all were in the program, identifying the start to “Shine on You Crazy Diamond”. When the lyrics hit, everyone threw in and the geological backdrop rang out in chorus. From the start, the anthem was well put together and did its history justice. To complete the scene, saxophonist of both jazz and Allman Mule fame, Ron Holloway, walked on twelve minutes in, wailing and blowing, inciting internal riotry throughout the crowd.

Matt Abts | Dark Side of the Mule

Literally spotlighting Matt Abts, the drummer took on delivering “Have A Cigar”. Although drumming is his forte over singing, once he hit the added customary lyric ‘Which one of you is the mule?’, he might as well have sung his best and highest note ever by the reaction of the crowd.

Dark Side of the Mule | Red Rocks Amphitheatre

With a stage colored red, Scott droned the crowd with a hypnotizing bassline, pulling everyone into the metallic drain before Haynes started up the lyrics to “Welcome To The Machine”. Abts stirring the pot with piston-like tom work, red and white laser light accented the full dream state of the synergy of Greene and Louis tucking everyone further in under the covers.

Warren Haynes | Red Rocks Amphitheatre

The sound of cash registers, helicopters, and a cacophony of chaos outlined the brief “Speak To Me” and eventually gave way to screams before the relief and shelter of “Breathe” brought everyone back from the brink. With bright white interrogation light shifting into oceanic black and blue, haunting, and daunting, the anxious crowd exhaled again as Haynes sang the familiar words, offering the solace of pleasant emotion.

Continuing the psychedelic rollercoaster exercise, tranquility turned torrent, “On The Run” relinquished control of the visceral from the individual once again and put everyone back on high alert as laser strobes and Abts machine-like high hat control drove the echoes of overdubbed planes, laughter, and everything odd that epitomizes the unseen halls of the Pink Floyd mind.

Dark Side of the Mule | Red Rocks Amphitheatre

Abts precision eventually fell to the wayside, fading to the sounds of ticking timepieces and everyone on the ride welcomed the familiar with “Time”. With spot-on tom rolls all his own, Abts signaled the band perfectly, Haynes belting the opening words and the rest jumping in with German clockwork precision. Taylor and Ramos added to the softness and made the representation that much more authentic.

Transitioning out into “The Great Gig In The Sky”, Louis got drenched in white light, tickling the keys for several measures, before Stamos got a chance to rip vocally, showing her range is certainly not restricted to the light or easy. Her run complete, she turned to Taylor and the two proceeded in a duet, Louis providing the backdrop. After a minute or so, the duet resolved into Machlan’s solo exploration, whereupon she took it upon herself to lift her arms to the heavens and thank creation for the gift bestowed upon her golden voice. The angels standing under the applause of 10,000 witnesses, Haynes took a moment to recognize this female glory and the crowd was happy to join the petition of greatness.

Ron Holloway | Red Rocks Amphitheatre

Going from blue to the color of wealth, “Money” was saturated green and saw the return of Holloway. With some lengthy soloing, Haynes could be seen multiple times looking down the row with a smile as Holloway blew his top. More laser work and some call and response between Abts and Haynes, this staple contained enough originality to set it apart distinctly from the radio version, showing everyone that the band was creating it, not just playing it. In the end, as Haynes sang the final line It is no surprise that they’re giving none away, the leadman changed none away into Ron Holloway, repeating the player's name softly, as the tune faded into the distance.

Dark Side of the Mule | Red Rocks Amphitheatre

Returning to the dream, “Us and Them” floated body and mind down the river of surrealism. Interspersed in the textures, Holloway once again answered the call, his accents fitting superbly as Haynes delivered the script. Greene employed a piano effect and showed that his title as multi-instrumentalist continues to hold true. Dark tints and rainbow hints colored the field, fog, and cloud pushing out from the stage and soundboard, obscuring the view, and enhancing the drift.

Shifting from organ to synthesizer, “Any Colour You Like” was up next. The keys and sax played off each other here and took center stage for the shortest track from the beloved album. Even though this version only slipped past the four-minute mark, this one was full to the brim. From Holloway’s skronk to Haynes's liquid fluid effect, this one kept everyone engaged. The end disintegrated into wind and azure beams came from every angle, eventually loosening their hold under a single beam of white, encasing Scott as he rolled out the reverberating call of “One of These Days”. He got several measures as captain, the Dark Mule hovering high in the background like a distorted god-like eye watching over his every move. Eventually, Haynes came in on with the slinking slide and twisted voice, cutting through the moment and putting all back on edge. Crumbling once again, the same howling wind picked up for a moment before a simple one-two tom by Abts dropped the band into the confidence of “Fearless,” its maternal body hugging the soul of the tattered riders.

Jackie Greene with Gov't Mule | Red Rocks Amphitheathre

To close out the set, the evening diverted from Dark Side of the Moon and instead posited to Pink Floyd’s Meddle to extend the trajectory of the hyperspace adventure. Performing one of Floyd’s longest songs, “Echoes” was the final choice, and clocking in at over twenty minutes in length, this one kept everyone strapped in. Leaving his desk at the back of the classroom, Jackie Greene came center stage for this one and went toe to toe with Haynes, bending notes with a twisted face, pushing the exploration and heights to incapacitating levels. Adding vocals to guitar mastery reminded many what a great player this subdued character is. Holloway found his way back to the lineup for the big finish and poured sweat and soul out into the crowd.

Ron Holloway, Warren and Kevin Scott | Morrison, CO

With the artificial winds of “Echoes” still blowing across an empty stage, the cosmonauts returned for re-entry and warmed the house with one of Floyd’s most popular songs “Comfortably Numb.” Originally released on The Wall, this one got eight minutes of airtime as everyone breathed in its atmospheric healing. Greene remained front and center, guitar in hand, and exchanged with Haynes on the classic. Standing only a couple of feet apart, the two pushed each other further and further, so much so that no one in the house was left in their seats at the end.

Dark Side of the Mule | Morrison, Colorado

“Wish You Were Here” was the final selection of the night, and as the crowd sang every word, Haynes sent everyone home with a nightcap they will not soon forget. This last emotive piece put everyone’s feet back on the ground and in the surroundings, we all found ourselves in, happiness abounded, and the dreamlike journey concluded. With the final lyric sung solely by the audience, Haynes closed, “What a beautiful night. Thank you very much” and walked off stage.

Dark Side of the Mule | Red Rocks Amphitheatre

Although the Pink Floyd portion of the setlist has not varied much on the tour, the material sounded exciting, attentive, and loved. The band gave their souls over to the experience in every note and no one came off bored or complacent. The production visuals added another layer to the performance and the sound was incredible. By the end of it all, lovers of this era got to see the next best thing to Led Zeppelin, take a ride with the steadfast Gov’t Mule, and say happy birthday and goodbye to Pink Floyd. All said and done, it was no wonder that some were willing to drive fifteen hundred miles for one more trip to the moon.