Panic Stricken: 6/13-6/24
Well, I am finally pulling my mental baggage together enough to sit down and try to recap one hell of a West-coast Widespread Panic run. I have sat and reflected quite a bit about what I just witnessed between San Diego and Colorado, and I finally think it’s safe to say that Panic is without a doubt the greatest rock and roll band alive. Not only are they the greatest rock band touring, they are the last true bastion of rock and roll. They are IT! No one opens it up like Panic, and no one tears the roof off like they do, and no one can touch their down south, whiskey drinking grit. With their new sound, lights, and equipment, they are as good as I have ever seen. Panic is tighter than I thought possible, and with the creation of their hot, edgy, and heavy, new album, “Don’t Tell The Band” it appears that WSP has stolen the stage.
With Phish stepping down the “jam” crown is up for grabs, and Widespread Panic has just laid claim to the throne. But it takes more than just great music to make an epic tour. It also has to do with the people following the band, and the energy that radiates through these kids. And the kids on this 2001 summer Widespread tour have been truly wonderful. Whether it was an 18-year old kid or a 40-year-old kid, almost everybody I met over the past two weeks was soul. Yes, of course the ugly, tour rat, element that was clinging to Phish since Jerry’s passing was also represented thus far on the Panic summer freak out, but I am glad to say that these jaded youthes are far from dominant in the Widespread world. The type of people that I continued to encounter were kind southerners offering you a tug off their Jim Beam, or cool cats from the north west, stacking fat. Panic fans really are different from other musical fanatics. They fill their lives with Panic, as they root for them like a baseball team. I remember walking into Paolo Soleri amphitheater in New Mexico and overhearing my friend Devan say, “Ya, Panic is 5 and 0, they’ve been blowing everyone away. Heavy favorites again tonight.” And when the lights go down, and the players take the field cheer they do. When you look back at the scene of a Panic show people are pumping their fists, screaming the lyrics, jumping in unison, and pushing their heroes onto victory. The type of energy that this creates between band and audience is a recipe for joyous mayhem, and I suppose that’s exactly what you want from a band called Widespread Panic.
The nine show jaunt began on a Pier overlooking the San Diego harbor on Wednesday the 13th of June, in which we were treated to an opener off “Don’t Tell The Band” entitled, Sometimes, which is actually a Firehouse song, if you can believe that. From the appropriate opener, which was far better than any Firehouse song ever performed, we were treated to a first set closer that looked like this, Arleen>Driving Song>Genesis>Driving Song>Climb To Safety, which really got the tour off the ground.
At set break it was obvious to everyone who was at Widespread’s last S.D. appearance 2 years ago that Panic was not going to let San Diego be another flat show. The second set only got better with highlights including Coconuts, yes Coconuts in SAN DIEGO, a wonderful Vacation and a Weak Brain Narrow Mind with local sax man, Karl Denson sitting in. The show was far better than their last stop at Cox Arena, and by all accounts a great kick off for the summer. The fact that San Diego wasn’t sold out had both a positive and a negative effect, as anyone who wanted to get up front could, but the vast open spaces made me long for the loud, hot, atmosphere found within the Wiltern in L.A.
The entire San Diego set went as follows, I: Sometimes, One Arm Steve, Please>Waker>Arleen>Driving Song, Climb To Safety. II: Papas Home, All Time Low, Coconuts, Stop Breaking Down Blues, Vacation>Drums*>Weak Brain Narrow Mind*, Greta>Traveling Light. E: Old Joe, Chunk Of Coal. *With Karl Denson on Sax.
Friday night in L.A., the first weekend night of summer Panic tour, Ya, it went off. The boys wasted no time letting us know what kind of night it was going to be as they opened up with the instrumental inferno, Disco. The difference between a half full outside show in San Diego and a packed indoor show at the ominous Wiltern Theater in L.A. was obvious. By the end of the first set people were freaking out, running up the alley ways, and causing the balcony to shake in unison with School’s bombs. The first set ended in true Panic fashion with Rebirtha, Ride Me High, and a nasty Imitation Leather Shoes, off the new album.
As the lights came up the sweaty heads and dark eyes made it clear that the Panic party in L.A. was certainly Widespread. The anticipation for the second set was well worth the wait as they opened up with Wondering. The second half of the show was complete chaos. Definitely one of the more rocking shows I’ve been to. The Blackout Blues that they closed the set with was by far the best one I have ever seen. I was looking around and every single person in the Wiltern was getting down. My friends and I were literally shaking the wood bars separating the two front sections. I was riding the rail like a cowboy and shaking the foundation, basically out of control. It was hot, sweaty, and grimy, as people seemed to slither in and out of one another, raging to the music, screaming at the top of their lungs as they fell onto one another. The second set was so ripping, and insane that I experienced sensory overload and almost went down, but I was able to keep it together until they encored with Cream Puff War, (paying homage to Jerry, as he frequented the Wiltern himself.) Cream Puff always does me in. The transitions are so schizophrenic, and the composition so intense that it always puts me over the edge. But with Panic, that’s exactly what I’m looking for.The whole show on that Friday night looked like this, I: Disco, Dyin’ Man, Henry Parsons Died, C.Brown, Hatfield, Help Me Somebody, Rebirtha, Ride Me High, Imitation Leather Shoes. II: Wondering, Sleeping Man, Space Wrangler, Casa Del Grillo, Tall Boy, Drums*>Porch Song>Blue Indian, Blackout Blues. E: Hope In A Hopeless World, Cream Puff War. *Carrot Top, (a.k.a. widespread red) on percussion.
Now you know Widespread wasn’t messing around on Saturday night in L.A. when they open up with Chilly Water, and give you Fishwater in the same set. We were also privy to some great J.B. rambling during one of the better Pigeons I’ve had the pleasure of seeing. They ended the set with a heart stopping Give, repeating the phrase, “Now I know it may sound funny but, how dare you show up on time.” And when considering that people were running into the show late both in San Diego and L.A. it seemed ever so appropriate to close the first set with Give on Saturday night. In my opinion people were not quite as fired up on Sat. as they were on Fri. but I think that had a great deal to do with the all night parities that were flooding the city all weekend long. You know that Panic fans party, that’s no secret.
Now don’t get me wrong, people were getting down, especially when the second set came out blazing with Surprise Valley, into another great new song, Little Lily. Then we got our first Pusherman of the tour as J.B commented on both L.A., and the scene inside the Wiltern. The whole set was great, but the encore really knocked me out again. Tom Waits’s Going Out West, into Ain’t Life Grand. It was borderline insane, I think I may have even seen some people jumping off the balcony, or maybe it just seemed that way.The rest of the mayhem looked like this, set I: Chilly Water, Thought Sausage, Visiting Day, It Ain’t No Use, Pigeons, Fishwater, This Part Of Town, Love Tractor, Give. Set II: Surprise Valley, Little Lilly>1X1, Pusherman>Drums*>Christmas Katie>Radio Child, Makes Sense To Me. E: Going Out West, Ain’t Life Grand. *Carrot top, again not doing much on percussion.
O.K., it’s the Sunday after 2 hot-hot shows, everyone is burnt, probably a little flat right, WRONG. There is no off night that opens with Lets Get Down To Business, then proceeds to give you Impossible, and the beautiful, and rare Gradle. It was obvious that the Wiltern was taking off again as Conrad finished off the first set giving us “a little room to fly.”
In the second set we were treated to a wonderful Rock, followed by the always enjoyable Diner. During this great second set Lonnie Jordan, who I am assuming is from War, came out to play keys on Four Cornered Room, and Low Rider, then duoed with JoJo to finish the set with Red Hot Mama. Now you know your at a good show when beautiful women start to strip down, take off their shirts and swing them over their head frantically yelling the lyrics. And when Red Hot Mama came pouring out of J.B.’s mouth, that’s exactly what happened. I looked back and saw bouncing, bare skin moving to the dirty beats of Todd and Sunny, as the growls of John Bell resonated throughout the audience. Apparently “red hot mama was really bad.” And if that wasn’t enough this same hottie, got naked again during the Big Wooly Mammoth encore, which began with the genius of David Byrne’s Heaven. That’s a great encore, Heaven into Big Wooly, help me out. You got the beauty and serene qualities of the classic Heaven, falling into the swaying antics of the Mammoth.
Paolo Soleri is a natural amphitheater set into the side of a dry dusty hill. It couldn’t hold more than 1500 people, (my guess is a lot less). Seeing how it was Tuesday and Wednesday in the middle of the desert, there were no stragglers, no one there just to be on tour or party, it was all Spread Heads. The mid-week desert blow out was more than any one could have expected.
Tuesday night began in old school Widespread fashion with classics like, Take Out>Space Wrangler, but the highlight was certainly Who Do You Belong To>Proving Ground>Do What You Like>Proving Ground. This was some crazy shit. As the crowd was hooked into the layered rhythmic beat, they were screaming the words, “Who do you belong to, because it sure is not yourself.” The skies clouded over and began to sparkle with brilliant flashes of lightning, as Proving Ground slipped in and out of Do What You Like. By the time Proving Ground had come full circle the place was on fire. J.B. stepped to the mike with his classic, harsh whiskey soaked voice and said, “We’re gonna let this rain pass, but we’ll be right back, don’t go no where.”
The conversation during the extra long set break revolved around whether that was actually the full set, and if the boys were really coming back. The set music was eventually turned off, and the gear on stage was covered up, sending the message that the party might be over. As I sat preaching that we got a full set in light of the Proving Ground sandwich, which is a classic closer, I saw Houser walking back to the stage. Who incidentally looks and sounds better than ever. As the remaining five members of Panic took the stage, Paolo Soleri erupted as people flooded the stage, overrunning any attempt the security guards had to keep the walk ways clear.
J.B. picked up his guitar and began singing the Neil Young song Don’t Be Denied. I had goose-bumps all over my body, it was absolutely perfect. We were all questioning if there would be a second set, and out comes Panic with Don’t Be Denied. These guys sure can pick a set list. This second set was flat out epic, giving us Bowlegged Woman (We Want The Funk Jam), Driving Song>Guilded Splinters>Drums>then when I had completely forgotten, back into Driving Song. They held out just long enough for me to think that maybe they wouldn’t play Hatfield, but with rain in the dessert, they busted out a second Hatfield for the loyal fans. The encore left nothing else to say, Contentment Blues, Postcard. And a sick-ass Postcard it was.
No one could stop talking about the Don’t Be Denied, which mind you was only the 23rd time ever played. As I slid over to shakedown I ran into the David Byrne girls who I saw after just about every show. These two chicks from Boone, North Carolina were cool as can be. Every time I saw them they were blasting David Byrne, (or Talking Heads) and giving away veggie quesadillas. I rocked out in the lots, drinking in the love vibe, satisfied. The lucky few who had come to the desert were basking in the light.Night two in the little dusty party bowl was kind of the repeat show, as Panic began to run out of songs, yet they managed to make the show possibly even better than the previous evenings. They came out with the perfect opener for what surely must be a spiritual center of the states. “Kiss the mountain air we breath, now it’s time to fly” AHHH Surprise Valley! It was ON, from the first note you heard it was obvious that things were going to get crazy. By the end of the first set I was lost in the thick grooves, stuck in a trance with Arleen, then rescued by Climb To Safety, only to be smacked in the face with my second Imitation Leather Shoes.
The second set was again highlighted by exquisite song selections. We opened up with Stop Breaking Down Blues, and made our way to the 10th Sharon ever played. The Sharon really got the hard core fans freakin’ as they went from Drums>Mr. Soul. Another Neil Young classic in the desert, like I said, brilliant song selection. The insanity was far from over as the gorgeous, melodic; Last Straw went straight into Cream Puff War. Every single person in Paolo Soleri was pulsating to the machine on stage. They rarely missed a beat, and if they did it was in the midst of an emotional rampage. They played with conviction, touching each and every soul in the area. It was a very spiritual evening, one that I will savor for years to come.
The two sets on 6/20 in Santa Fe slid from song to song, barely stopping for a breath of air; I: Surprise Valley>Tall Boy>Chilly Water>Casa>The Waker>Arleen>Climb To Safety>Imitation Leather Shoes. II: Stop Breaking Down Blues, Party At Your Mama’s House, Wondering, Rebirtha, Henry Parson’s Died, Sharon>Drums>Mr.Soul>Last Straw>Cream Puff War. E: Nobody’s Loss>Give.
A true Panic run wouldn’t be complete without some obstacles to overcome. So of course as I found a ride from an old friend to Colorado we broke down, on a blind curving on ramp in the middle of the night. We popped it in reverse, and to make a long story short, had a twisted sleep in some farmer’s yard. With a little perseverance and dedication we worked under the hood and made it to Golden, Colorado. There we fell asleep immediately, knowing that this would probably be the last chance to rest before the Red Rocks blow out.
Friday, I found my friends, got my tickets and went into one of the most famous venues in the world. If you haven’t been to Red Rocks it would be very difficult to try to explain the aura, mystic, and history that radiates between the huge rocks that look as if they fell from Mars. People poured into the natural wonder in order to catch some of the North Mississippi All-Stars, who proved to be as good as all the down south Panic fans indicated.
Set one kept the fans on their toes as they basically played the album, “Ain’t Life Grand.” It was certainly great and featured a bunch of songs that hadn’t come out yet, but it was not what I necessarily expected for Friday night at Red Rocks. But in defense of the opening Red Rocks set it’s tough to sneeze at a band busting out a whole album for the first time. The second set opened up with a song I had been waiting for the entire tour. Action Man, but not just Action Man, it was the first Action Man with words ever played. Not only did they sing in Action Man, but School’s teased a little 3rd Stone From The Sun. I thought they might have kicked off the tour with Action Man because it is such a fat opener and it’s on the new album with words. Once again, that’s Panic, giving you what you want and need, but never what you really expect. We got some other songs off the new album that were sick, bordering on the dark, like Thought Sausage and Little Lilly. Widespread then gave the crowd another first performance ever, one that I didn’t even know existed, entitled Boogie Chillin.
The set list for Friday night 6/23 looked like this, I: Little Kin, Ain’t Life Grand, Can’t Get High, Heroes, Junior>LA>Raise The Roof>Fishwater, Airplane>Jack>Blackout Blues. II: Action Man, Thought Sausage, Little Lilly>Blue Indian, Pigeons, Boogie Chillin*>Drums**>Love Tractor>Pilgrims>All Time Low. E: Low Spark*** *Cody Dickinson on washboard, Luther Dickinson on guitar. **Cecil Daniels on percussion and Sax, Cody on Washboard. ***Cecil on Sax.
The show was great, that goes without saying but it wasn’t all time, at least not for me. Although the show wasn’t a top five personally, it did highlight the amazing keyboard work of JoJo Herman, who in my opinion hadn’t really stepped into the limelight yet. While JoJo was on fire, the rest of the band played strong, but not out of control. The slight lack of energy crossed over to the Chief Hosa camp ground, again, if you’re not familiar with Red Rocks Hosa is where all the heads go to camp, bang drums and rage until the wee hours of the morning. But on Friday the party just wasn’t popping. We sat around, sedated ourselves, and tried to get a little shut eye before the sun chased us out of our tents.
If Friday night wasn’t the best ever, perhaps Saturday was. Immediately the energy was way up from Friday, and when you open with the rocking Radio Child you know you’re in for it. We got the first Barstools And Dreamers of the summer tour, and a raging Ride Me High out of J.J. Cale’s song book. They finished off the first set with yet another first time song with the same name as the new album, Don’t Tell The Band. The tight, transition-oriented song glided through lyrics about putting a band together, and had a slight Grateful Dead feel.
By set break it was evident that this was what everyone had come to see. People were into it. I mean really into it, raging hard, nervous energy ruled as the crowd waited for the music to come into focus once again. Just as a Radio Child opener indicated a crazy set, when they opened the second half with Disco, into the fairly obscure North, you better strap yourself in. During this Saturday night at Red Rocks we were treated to another Greta, but this was unlike any other Greta ever played. Todd Nance and Domingo Ortiz built up the foundation as JoJo continued to stick laser key licks into the set up. Meanwhile the words to the Widespread staple Greta were bouncing off the huge rocks, but the music accompanying the lyrics, was not Greta. It was slowed down, dragged out, very thick and held back. It wasn’t the fiery hopped up, aggressive Greta that everyone is used to, it was a new intro, one that blew the entire crowd away. People were going off, as Panic again kept the die hard heads on their toes. Eventually Greta found her more traditional groove, but the mixed up tempos and slightly off kilter transitions were enough to make me forget what state I was in. We then got a sick Pusherman with another We Want The Funk jam mixed into it. Then as people were shaking uncontrollably to the beat and drinking in the southern rock, Picking Up The Pieces came out of nowhere. It was perfect; Panic had pushed us over the edge, and switched it up from complete insanity to the beauty of the mandolin found in Picking Up The Pieces. As the 9,000 plus people in Red Rocks hung on J.B.'s every word they switched gears again busting out the cover, No Sugar Tonight/New Mother Nature. As J.B. and Houser crossed their sounds up, spiraling around one another, Schools was shaking my bones, and JoJo continued to trample the array of keys laying before him. I found myself laid out, flying above the crowd shaking ecstatically. In the same vein that Cream Puff tends to short circuit my neurons, so does No Sugar, which I hadn’t heard in years.
They walked off stage but the cheering didn’t stop until they returned. It seemed that any lack of energy from Friday was doubled up for Saturday. The encore was Me and The Devil Blues, followed by the good time party song, Flat Foot Flewzy, which held a Turn on Your Lovelight jam within it. J.B. was able to draw the entire crowd into his stream of consciousness during Me and the Devil, as his poetic ramblings shrunk the massive venue to a small Athens club. It was true John Bell genius as his gritty voice rolled through impromptu lyrics like, “I don’t care what you do with me when I’m gone. I don’t care if you bury me on the side of the road.” It was amazing, something I will never forget. As the lights came up, I just sat down, smiling; reveling in what I knew was a special evening.
The entire, sick as all hell show went like this, I: Radio Child, Machine>Barstools and Dreamers, Ride Me High>Tie Your Shoes>I’m Not Alone, Dyin’ Man, Down, Don’t Tell The Band. II: Disco>North, Visiting Day>Porch Song>Diner>Greta>Drums*>Jam**>Pusherman***, Pickin’ Up The Pieces**, No Sugar Tonight/New Mother Nature. E: Me and The Devil Blues, Flat Foot Flewzy. *Cecil Daniels on drums **Cecil Daniels and Cody Dickinson ***Cecil on sax
As I floated out of the amphitheater JoJo Herman’s keyboards and organ were still ringing in my head. It really was JoJo’s weekend thus far, and I don’t think he could have stopped if he wanted. My friend said it best as we passed by a whole lot of elated Panic fans, “Those guys are great, but they gotta change the name to JoJo and The Boys.”
By the time I got back to Chief Hosa’s campground there was a raging party in progress. Shakedown was packed, and there must have been twice as many people there as the night before. The parties went all night on Saturday, and I think most people probably saw the sun rise, but that’s Panic.
Sunday was a day time show, starting at four. I anticipated a good show, but nothing like Saturday night’s performance. And although I was right that it wasn’t like Saturday, it certainly wasn’t a let down. It was actually one of the most spiritual days of my life. Just look at how the second half of the first set went; Better Off, followed by the Cat Stevens piece Trouble. Better Off into Trouble, perfect right?! But that’s only half the story, from Trouble it went, Driving Song>Can’t Find My Way Home>Driving Song>Travelin’ Light. The song selection and conceptualization of the entire weekend was highlighted right here. Better Off into Trouble, both talking about the hardships we all must endure, then as the trials of our life become too much we go to Driving Song, where we are reminded “that it’s time to move my life again.” But the ingenious choice of songs doesn’t stop there, from moving our lives with Driving Song, we cover Can’t Find My Way Home, back to Driving, into another song based on moving, Travelin’ Light.
I was overwhelmed; I couldn’t even believe what I was witnessing. I almost cried during Trouble and found myself swept to another land during the meshing of all these traveling, moving songs. It was almost too much to handle, and it was only the first set. Part two opened with Lets Get Down To Business, so for anyone who knows Panic, set two was off and running. The mix of songs on Sunday was all time. It went from fast paced energized songs like One Arm Steve, into mellower ballad types like Old Joe. The entire show was like that; intense, then beautiful, hot and sweaty, then held back, it was ideal for a Sunday day show after eight massive performances. We got the first Happy of the summer, which eventually led to a new song, This Part Of Town, which again almost brought tears to my eyes. Coming out of This Part Of Town we got the extremely rare Talking Heads song, Swamp, which bled into Climb To Safety for a set closer.
What a show, first we got Trouble, only the fifth time ever played, and Swamp only the eighth time ever, a treat for sure. The fact that we got both of these songs in the same show is amazing. It speaks volumes for what type of show it was. In the 16 years Panic has been together they have only played Trouble and Swamp 5 and 8 times respectively. That’s less than once every two years. On this Sunday afternoon, they played them both in the same show. If that didn’t seal the deal the encore proved to be absolutely perfect. It began with Papas Home>Surprise Valley, which they had to play in the inspirational setting of Red Rocks, the spirits in the boulders were calling for it all weekend. Now sure that would have sufficed, but then they went back into Papas Home, and closed with more David Byrne, City Of Dreams. Even now, days later as I relive the encore I am getting all worked up. As City Of Dreams was funneled through our modern day poet J.B. I saw hugging and kissing, people loving one another and realizing that this truly is the city of dreams, and these are “our favorite times.” I couldn’t have asked for more. From the high energy craziness of Saturday to the church of Widespread Panic for Sunday. The overwhelming notion was certainly that this last show at Red Rocks was a spiritual encounter. It wasn’t just another rock show, it was the medicine we all needed.
Over the course of these 9 shows I learned a great deal about how truly amazing Widespread Panic is and the scope of emotions they can conjure up. I became more and more impressed with the subtleties of J.B., both in his hallow body inflections and his off the cuff words. I know it’s not for everyone but for those who like that dirty, edgy, borderline scary sound, Widespread Panic is IT. They are able to blow your mind one night, knocking you literally on your ass, and then come back with a beautiful lyric based song to sooth the soul. As I am still reflecting over these shows I find myself completely amazed by what I saw. I know one thing for sure, Panic gives it to me, and they fix whatever is ailing you. Long live the kings of rock. Love the Spread, and Spread the love.