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Published: 2015/05/19
by Chad Berndtson

Gov’t Mule, La Cigale, Paris- 5/5

Photo by Heath Robson (via Mule.net)

When you count your shows in triple digits, bands like Gov’t Mule can feel a little familiar. As a fan you’re more discerning and your experience become more esoteric. The surprises seem minor, the set lists and transitions come as expected, the excitement arrives and wanes in predictable peaks and valleys throughout a two-set show.

And yet, in year 21 of this onetime Allman Brothers Band side project, Warren Haynes and company still kick plenty. There’s gold to find even for the more cynically devoted Mule lover, whether it’s a little snatch here or a sweeping arc there to remind you of the depth of the catalog, the protean range, the ferocious guitar, the mighty rhythms, the flat-out thrill of the Mule when this band is primed and stomping.

Paris was like that, though apart from a quote of “La Marseillaise” in Danny Louis’ “Sco-Mule” solo, there were no concessions to the local audience. Both sets started straight and workmanlike, with regular touch points like the driving “Mule” and roiling “Larger Than Life” not escaping their familiar trappings, and other staples like “Soulshine” and “Sco-Mule” sounding rushed and oddly flat. But between them came the Mule kicks — and how. “Endless Parade,” for example, trudged toward what seemed to be a tight, concise conclusion, and then as Haynes started to tease out a solo, did that very Warren Haynes thing where he slashes a few chords, rips through some progressions, might end it, nope, still rolling, let’s try a few more against the simmering rhythm section, and here might be a good place to, nope, build, build, build until the jam is ablaze.

This show might have used a few more of those moments. But you’d hear no complaints from Mule lovers, who heard that flat “Soulshine” peter out but then deftly transition into John Scofield’s “Jeep On 35,” veer back into a version of “I’d Rather Go Blind” that served tortured drama behind Haynes’ most soulful vocal of the night, and then pick back up again for “I’m a Ram,” an opportunity to resolve the tension of the set while pushing the soloists to stretch one more time and letting the formidable rhythm corps do its thing. Set 2 followed a similar pattern; no great shakes, but, following a brief drums segment, dynamite versions of Funkadelic’s “Maggot Brain” and an “Other One” jam that chugged hard, setting up the furious “Stoop So Low > I Believe > Stoop So Low” closer.

This year’s Sco-Mule tour and the experimentation with recent set lists on the European tour suggest the Mule is feeling its adventurous side again. Paris’ encore held one of the show’s richer surprises, with the band opting for the woozy, Traffic-like “When the World Gets Small” in a spot where a rip-roaring blues or bang-bang rocker might have been considered smart money. It was a textured song in dark blues and spooky grays, with a psychedelic-leaning guitar solo at its core — somehow the perfect ending to this imperfect show. Asking what Gov’t Mule sounds like in 2015, you’d display this setlist and say, “Well, all of that.”

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