For nearly 40 years, accomplished painter, musician, comedian and actor, Martin Mull has entertained and delighted audiences with his quirky performances. His musical career in the 1970s is now overshadowed by his acting work, but pushing comedic boundaries has been at the heart of his performance work from the beginning. Following his early to mid-1970s musical comedy work, Mull developed broader recognition in his roles as Barth and Garth Gimble on the groundbreaking absurdist soap opera, Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman, which led to the spin-off talk show parodies, Fernwood Tonight and America 2-Night. Since then, his roles have been numerous and increasingly popular, including playing memorable characters on Roseanne and Ellen, two popular television shows, both synonymous with pushing the limits of acceptability and extending the comedic boundaries of American television.
This live set, recorded in 1973, around the time of his second album release, Martin Mull and His Fabulous Furniture in Your Living Room, clearly captures his acerbic wit and comedic style. His material is both intelligent and funny, an irresistible combination, and Mull sings in tune and can really play the guitar. Unlike the vast majority of comedic musicians, Mull never lets his comedy overshadow the music or vice-versa. In his hands, the two forms are intrinsically working in unison, with each serving the other at all times.
This is demonstrated right off the bat, with the humor of the unreleased "Intro Song" that opens this live set. Without revealing the content, suffice it to say this opener is quite Randy Newman-esque, displaying Mull's clever, sarcastic side. Even the cadence of his vocal delivery, whether intentional or not, recalls Newman here. Over the course of the next half hour, Mull delivers some of the best bits from his long out-of-print self-titled debut album (Ventriloquist Love, Eggs, and Margie the Midget), tracks from the above mentioned new album and a few things never released. Targeting rock 'n' roll, the blues, Americans, the French, Catholics and even himself, very little escapes Mull's caustic wit.
Two of the most timelessly amusing pieces here both derive from his second album material and both focus on illuminating aspects of being a musician. Transforming into country-bumpkin mode, "Licks Off Records" will hit home with anyone who ever played guitar and attempted to be original and "Ukulele Blues" may simply be the funniest white boy bottleneck blues ever written. Mull's rewritten lyrics to Woody Guthrie's, "This Land Is Your Land," are even more poignant today than they were decades ago, displaying dry humor and social/political commentary in equal measure.
Without giving too much else away, suffice it to say that Martin Mull takes the audience on a very humorous ride, revealing the people, places and things that annoy, amaze and amuse him. Three months after this concert, Mull would actually achieve a Top 100 hit with his parody of the Deliverance movie soundtrack song, "Dueling Banjos," then a ubiquitous presence on American radio. Screaming up the charts until peaking at #92 on May 12, 1973, Mull's "Dueling Tubas" would become one of the funniest musical parodies ever to hit the charts. Even decades later, this vintage Martin Mull live performance, recorded during this earlier phase of his career, remains hip, poignant and hilarious as ever.