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Published: 2010/12/20
by Randy Ray

Widespread Panic
Johnson City 2001 – 11/20/01

_ LiveWidespreadPanic _

At the tail end of a rather fortuitous fall tour in 2001, Panic played a legendary show, which served to write yet another tale in their continuing saga as a band that rocked and jammed with their hearts clearly present on their collective hard-working sleeves.

Multitrack archival release #5 from the Panic vaults offers another vital POV shot of a sextet clearly playing at a flawless peak level in the last year before the untimely passing of guitarist Michael Houser. His death would signal a transition period in all meanings of the phrase, but in Johnson City, the band, of course, is not even remotely aware of that pending tragic inevitability. Instead, they ease into the X-factor groove fairly early with the instrumental “L.A.,” before a beautiful “Wondering>It Ain’t No Use” sequence opens the magical doorway to that unique soundscape of dialed-in Southern soul and rock power. On “Wondering,” Panic rides as one into the sunset, while on “It Ain’t No Use,” Houser’s leads are sumptuous, supple, and filled with the subtle grace that marked much of his playing, and you can hear the man’s spirit ‘neath John Bell’s lead vocal lines.

Elsewhere, everywhere, the Panic sound is full, rich, languid, and ballsy without any sense of arrogant posturing. This is a band who has earned their gentlemanly confidence, and you can hear that majestic ethereal transcendence on almost every second of this show, which was recorded by the then new front-of-house sound engineer Chris Rabold. Subsequently, the gig has been mixed by Rabold and Drew Vandenberg (with additional audience recordings provided by Charles Fox), and all have done a masterful job. The incredibly smooth and nuanced playing, including a string of sweet and well-executed segues, during the first set signals the overall thematic arc of the night. Along the way, Panic offers a rare reading of the mellow and vibrant “New Blue,” before heading into the potent duo “Holden Oversoul>Stop-Go,” which appeared near the end of the set.

After a truly bar-raising first set at Freedom Hall, the band opened what would turn out to be a colossal second set with “Weak Brain, Narrow Mind,” which continued to enhance the dense alchemical weight of the overall Johnson City vibe on that classic evening. Later, two monster pieces leveraged the built-up momentum as Panic roared into “Pigeons,” out of a fine “Love Tractor,” before sliding into an elegant and torrid “Airplane,” gliding over the night like some sort of ancient mythical talisman. An engaging “Drums” passage feeds into “Drums and Bass,” which in turn leads into an “Astronomy Dominé Jam,” which was downright inspired and choice to full effect.

And choice is the key word here. Widespread Panic continues to mine the vaults for timeless shows that offer mighty evidence of a band which not only sounds damn near perfect on the tapes, but knows when they hit all the relevant gig touchstone marks, too. The second set also contains sublime covers of “Good Morning Little Schoolgirl” and “She Caught the Katy” betwixt a Houser-fueled “The Waker.” At the end, as the encore of Billy Joe Shaver’s “Chunk of Coal” bursts at the seams with seemingly endless energy and dexterity—you can hear the joy in JoJo Hermann’s keyboards, as bassist Dave Schools and drummer Todd Nance lay down the line in the engine room, Domingo S. Ortiz inserting his own percussion voice, and Bell, JB is always present, even when he ain’t singing lead vocals, he’s bringing the heat as the Panic front man and co-guitarist—and, well, widespread soul, one is apt to sit back and start the gig all over again. Alas, one wonders—what are you waiting for? Hop on the golden Panic archival train. Even if you’re starting in the past, that is a real tight-yet-loose place to be in the present.

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