Gov’t Mule – Mulennium

January 01, 1970



(Evil Teen)


What, another live
Gov’t Mule album? Considering that for some time now the band has been making
many of its concerts available for purchase as high-quality downloads via their
Mule Tracks service, and that diligent Mule collectors can generally find
audience recordings of pretty much any show
they want via fan trading networks, one might be tempted to question the
reasoning behind this triple-CD set, recorded December 31, 1999 at the Roxy
Theatre in Atlanta.


Ah, but then, real fans
still want their physical artifacts –
and this one’s a pretty special one.


For starters, it features the original lineup of guitarist
Warren Haynes, drummer Matt Abts and bassist Allen Woody; sadly, Woody would
pass away the following August, so this CD release is timed to mark the 10th anniversary of that passing. Also, anyone who’s ever witnessed a Gov’t Mule New
Year’s Eve gig, whether during the Woody era or subsequently knows how this
band that typically pulls out all the stops in concert can really pull out those stops for a NYE show. A celebration, Mule
style, means elongating and extemporizing the setlist (this show runs more than
three hours); performing more than the usual number of intriguing and
deep-roots cover songs, all of which in some way highlight an aspect of
bandleader Haynes’ influences and inspirations (for example, not too many groups
would be able to pull off King Crimson’s “20th Century Schizoid
Man,” but here, the Mule does, in spades; it’s pretty likely that Haynes was
turned onto Crimson’s 1969 album of the same name back in the day by one of his
older brothers); and bringing out special guests to help the band mark the occasion
– this evening, it was Black Crowes’ guitarist Audley Freed, legendary blues
belter Little Milton, Robert Kearns (from Cry of Love) and several others.


Mulennium, then,
closely resembles in tone and spirit – not to mention geographical location –
1999’s Live… With A Little Help From Our
the acclaimed four-CD live set cut the previous New Year’s Eve in
Atlanta at the Roxy, which also boasted an array of guests and a plethora of
unexpected covers. Fans of that collection take note: Mulennium will punch your dance card with equal velocity ‘n’ verve.


Tellingly, the show opens with the stage manager reprising a
portion of the MC5’s classic “are you part of the problem or part of the solution?”
screed from ’68. Battle cry in place, the trio then plows into a six-song
mini-set dominated by cuts from the then-forthcoming Life Before Insanity (released in February of 2000), notably the
kinetic “Bad Little Doggie” and the eerie-yet-elegant title track. Following a
countdown to welcome in the first moments of the new millennium, the Mule
commences with the initial round of covers: the aforementioned “21st Century…” Crimson classic (appropriately chosen, and appropriately brutal,
featuring the tune’s signature distorted vocals and Haynes expertly reproducing
the original’s squawling, anarchic sax/guitar duel); the “listening to you…”
section from the Who’s Tommy closer
“We’re Not Gonna Take It” (exultant, anthemic, dynamic); and a positively
jaw-dropping “Dazed and Confused” that seems to take even the band by surprise
(once again, Haynes channeling the spirit of the original when he recreates the
psychedelic-freakout midsection of Led Zep’s own live version as seen/heard in The Song Remains the Same).


Disc 2’s showcase segment is a six-song set with Little
Milton, who swaps vocals with Haynes on a sizzling “When the Blues Comes
Knockin'” and also gets his just props when Haynes introduces another song
identified with Led Zeppelin, “I Can’t Quit You Baby.” Though made famous by
Page, Plant & Co., the tune had been cut years earlier by Milton, and here the singer unleashes a primal
howl and a feral growl that could straighten the curls in Percy’s golden-god
locks. Audley Freed comes out next to assist Haynes on guitar chores, and
pretty much the rest of the concert is given over to choice covers. A
garage-punk take on Alice Cooper’s “Is It My Body?” contrasts with a sinewy,
psychedelic, wah-wah powered “Power of Soul” (Hendrix’s Band Of Gypsys, natch, which Haynes notes was a song unveiled some
30 years earlier also at a New Year’s
Eve show). The Beatles’ “Helter Skelter” (kicking off Disc 3) is appropriately
demonic, heavy metal for thinking punters; Humble Pie’s “30 Days In The Hole,”
featuring Robert Kearns on backing vox, gets slowed down and turned into a
nasty blues workout; perennial Mule (by way of Dylan) singalong “I Shall Be
Released” is sweetly rendered, gospellish and soulful; and, per the earlier
suggestion about Mule concerts reflecting Haynes’ musical inspirations, in a
telling affirmation of his southern origins Lynyrd Skynyrd’s deceptively
elegiac “Simple Man” closes out the concert.


The latter, in fact, makes for a pretty effective psychic
manifesto for the Mule that still holds true today, 10 years on. Sings Haynes,
with conviction, “Forget your lust, for the rich man’s gold/ All that you need,
is in your soul… Be a simple kind of man/ Be something you love and
understand.” Haynes and his Mule are rock stars famous many times over and of
international stature, yet folks who’ve met Haynes and spent time with him will
consistently affirm that he’s managed to remain grounded, relatively unaffected
by fame, and in still touch with his roots.


Mark this live release “essential” – and on more than just
musical grounds. With the tapes remixed to yield astonishingly potent sound
quality, it puts front and center the original lineup’s sheer brawny prowess as
a singular American ensemble. In that, it also serves as an apt 10-year
memorial to the late Woody. Here’s hoping the dude was somewhere up there on
the CD release date, smiling and singing along.


Little Doggie,” “21st Century Schizoid Man,” “I Can’t Quit You
Baby,” “Simple Man” FRED MILLS

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