by Fred Mills
Just over a year ago I sat down to interview Warren Haynes, vocalist and fretboard wizard for the mighty Gov’t Mule. We talked about his band’s then-latest releases, The Deep End , Vols. 1 and 2, which saw Haynes, keyboardist Danny Louis and drummer Matt Abts squaring off with a legion of internationally known bassists (everyone from John Entwistle, Jack Bruce and Phil Lesh to Metallica’s Jason Newsted, Phish’s Mike Gordon and Widespread Panic’s Dave Schools). Underlying the urge to collaborate with gifted players, suggested Haynes, was a burning need to keep pushing the envelope, to challenge oneself, to get as far out on the edge as possible.
Certainly no more compelling evidence of that artistic drive exists at the moment than The Deepest End, recorded last May at New Orleans’ storied Saenger Theatre. True to its two studio predecessors, a who’s-who of low-end theorists turned up, among them Newsted, Schools, Gordon, Jack Casady, Roger Glover, Les Claypool and the Meters’ George Porter Jr. Others with walk-ons at the marathon show included Bela Fleck, slide virtuoso Sonny Landreth, and funk legends Fred Wesley and Bernie Worrell. Yet while raw stats are impressive enough — 5 1/2 hours, 36 songs, 13 bassists and 25 total guests — the combined sonic and visual impact of this 2-CD, 1-DVD package is nigh-on impossible to convey on paper.
How, then, can I count the ways? Hmm … 1) A sinewy, swinging, jazzy “John The Revelator” featuring Haynes uncorking edgy slide riffs over the honks, blats and squalls of the Dirty Dozen Brass Band Horns. 2) The luminous, soulful and otherworldly Haynes original “Beautifully Broken” (w/Porter on bass) that interpolates portions of Prince’s “When Doves Cry.” 3) A visceral take of Allen Toussaint’s New Orleans classic “On Your Way Down” with bottleneck marksmen Haynes and Landreth dueling to the death. 4) An astonishing 14-minute “Voodoo Chile” wherein Casady reprises his original Electric Ladyland role and Haynes bays at the moon like a junkyard dog.
And that’s just four out of 36. Intriguingly, the combined CD-DVD package is set up so that you get 2 1/2 hours of audio and about 3 1/2 hours of video. Ergo, some songs are exclusive to either the CDs or the DVD, while certain tracks appear in both formats. Sound quality, of course, is beyond reproach, and the camerawork on the DVD is uniformly outstanding. (Funny, too — as credits roll at the end of the DVD, mini-testimonials begin appearing onscreen, Haynes alternately getting toasted and roasted by his guests. Clearly a man who has earned the admiration of peers and legends alike.) In fact, this just may qualify as one of the most riveting live artifacts I’ve encountered in years — certainly the best live release of 2003.
E-mail Fred Mills at firstname.lastname@example.org.