Mullen It Over
with Jimmy Cliff, BR5-49, Bjorn Again, Jungle Brothers, Oasis
Atlanta, GA • May 5-7, 2000
I generally keep my distance from giant music events like this one — I’d rather see a group of questionably talented 20-year-olds screaming their hearts out in some dingy bar than to stand in a field with 60,000 drunken frat boys yelling for a song I’ve heard a hundred times already. But part of my role as a responsible rock journalist (huh?) demands that I sample all manner of musical events, not just the ones that I like. Music Midtown is an Atlanta institution, and duty calls.
Sure, there were a few puddles of vomit (I didn’t step in any, just saw them being created). Sure, there was a fight or two (well, I saw one, anyway). Sure, you could get sunburned within an inch of your life if you passed out in the wrong place. And sure, there was a ton of fast-food style music you can hear on any syndicated rock radio station in the country. But an event like this is a great chance to catch some music you might never have heard otherwise, maybe someone you’d always been mildly curious about, or someone didn’t know existed.
For instance, I stumbled into the Jimmy Cliff show. He’s been playing for almost 40 years, inspired people from the Clash to Paul Simon, but I would never have gone out of my way to see him. Turns out, he leaped and thrashed around the stage in a more energetic show than most of the young pups I’ve seen lately. He’s been playing his most famous song, “The Harder They Come,” for almost 30 years, but still seemed to be excited by it. I’ll call him the reggae Joe Cocker, and won’t miss his next show.
BR5-49 is a band I’ve sort of half wanted to see a whole bunch of times. They threw up a fistful of rockabilly/swing tunes that made Reverend Horton Heat look like a stick in the mud. My favorite was a ripping version of “Uneasy Rider,” probably the only Charlie Daniels song ever that had to be bleeped for radio. I passed on seeing these guys in teeny-tiny clubs, it’s ironic that my first chance to catch them would be alongside 10,000 other folks.
One of the few bands I was really looking forward to seeing was Bjorn Again, an Abba cover band. I devotedly follow the KISS tribute bands, in much the same way I might pull over for a better look at an especially gory car crash. This Australian band applies the “Strutter” concept to the monster pop band Abba, but with a better sense of humor. Urban hipsters’ jaws hung open in stunned amazement, and aging ex-disco queens danced like there was no tomorrow. All the sugary-sweet ’70s hits — “Waterloo,” “S.O.S.,” “Mamma Mia,” “Fernando,” “Dancing Queen,” and more — plus a Black Sabbath cover and an Eddie Van Halen impersonation added up to the highlight of the weekend.
The Jungle Brothers are unknown pioneers of old school hip hop — the kind put forth by Run DMC and the early Beastie Boys, as opposed to Korn or Limp Bizkit. Recording with Afrika Bambaata over ten years ago, they predated and helped make way for bands like De La Soul, A Tribe Called Quest, and Digable Planets, among others. At this show, a turntable and two microphones was all they needed to turn the sun-baked crowd into a happy, bouncing party in the grass.
Oasis? Okay, but past their prime, and the show was not much different than listening to their records. Even the famed Gallagher tempers were nowhere in sight — a cup of water bouncing off Liam’s head didn’t get so much as a “Fuck off!”
All walks of sound were represented — rock, rap, country, soul, techno, boy bands, jazz, world music, blues, and more (you could even get salsa lessons if you wanted) — and I’m sure there were plenty of great bands that I missed. A big yawn to most of the radio-friendly bands that played, although they’re necessary to keep the big crowds coming and make sure the event turns a nice profit. I just hope the people that put this show on each year don’t lose sight of the best feature of the festival — a little something for everyone and the promise of undiscovered gems.