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The Warren Haynes Christmas Jam, Asheville Civic Center; Saturday, Dec. 18.

The super-sized wooly mammoth that was last month’s Christmas Jam tested the Class of 2004’s rock mettle more than most attendees probably bargained for.

This year’s rendition clocked in at about 9 hours: a new Jam record, as far as I know.

And if the Jam were a test — one where passing grades depended on at least finishing the blasted thing (or just coming close) — then well over half of the class failed with flying Colours (more on that later).

Witness the faithful few remaining at Jam’s end when host Warren Haynes and his beloved Gov’t Mule finally took the stage sometime around 3 a.m. (a good 30 minutes later than the final note of 2003’s installment). It certainly wasn’t their fault it ended up that way. The newly refueled Mule played a hammering-good set in their standard, thick-bacon style — a meat product now made even thicker (and perhaps tastier) with the permanent addition of keys player Danny Louis.

Mule simply got stuck playing to a roomful of mostly inebriated (granted, nothing new), but also stupendously exhausted, fans.

In one way or another, a lot of 2004 alums will inevitably blame this late-game energy fart on first-time Jammers Living Colour — an accusation retaining some degree of merit. Put simply, the one-time MTV poster boys played longer than they should have — effectively stealing the thunder from the Neville Brothers and Mule, who followed.

The Nevilles didn’t even take the stage till after one, and Mule capped their comparatively brief set at a little after four in the morn. In fairness, set breaks between each act were also unnecessarily long. Nevertheless, Living Colour, plundering a fine, night-long energy build-up, was mostly to blame.

One count had Colour’s set clocking in at a little over 75 minutes — probably just 15 minutes more than what they were “supposed” to do. But that was still the longest (and certainly the most unpopular) single set of the evening, the one manifesting some of the least collaboration among the all-star-studded cast — and the most unnecessary politicking and chit-chat, from front man Corey Glover.

At show’s end, seeing our selfless host getting stuck with such a miserably cross-eyed, painless bunch at his own little party scored as a bit of a bummer — especially since the place was still brimming at the end of 2003.

Something definitely went wrong this year — at least time-wise — and Mule seemingly played short just because, by that point, it was in everybody’s best interest. Fidgety Civic Center officials, at least, had certainly had enough, turning on the house lights even as the last note of the encore faded.

When I asked Warren before the Jam about the odd choice of Living Colour, he’d begun his defense, “Make no mistake about it, it’s hard-driving, loud, intense, in-your-face rock ‘n’ roll.” He was definitely right about the rock part, but maybe the mistake too. Delivering a loud, rude show that was really quite good in its own right, Living Colour simply forgot they were not playing a “Cult of Personality” Christmas Jam. My suggestions for set-list trimming would begin with their one-time sorta hit “Glamour Boys,” which smelled overwhelmingly like Wisconsin’s finest.

Their set stank even more when you considered that the undying Col. Bruce Hampton appeared only once the entire evening — during a superb acoustic set from Edwin McCain and Friends. That beautiful interlude featured everyone from young blues-smith Alvin Youngblood Hart to the lanky ‘n’ tight Audley Freed — with generous heaps of harp stud John Popper as well.

The acoustic set echoed the event’s decidedly bluesy tone. At both the private Pre-Jam and the Jam proper, the harmonica-wielding blues legend Charlie Musselwhite had the Midas touch on every single song he contributed to.

“Dixie Chicken” and “Spanish Moon,” with Warren and saxophonist Ron Holloway joining in to close out Little Feat‘s set, was the evening’s most obvious highlight. But if you walked away early, you missed a close second in Mule’s deliverance of a stirring, slide-happy version of Muddy Waters’ oddly anti-narcotic rant “Champagne and Reefer,” with the masterful Musselwhite again joining the fray.

Score: On the music-genres scale, this year’s presumably funk-happy Christmas Jam ranks instead as brooding electric blues: a simultaneously painful but joyous affair in the listening, but a fitting end to an often-sad 2004.

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