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Published: 2002/04/15
by Matt Fleming

brute., The Tabernacle, Atlanta- 4/9

Billed as brute. , Vic Chesnutt and Widespread Panic took to the stage
Tuesday night to celebrate the release of their latest effort, Co-balt. A
choppy blend of blues and edgy rock jaunts, this album is a continuation of
the musical collaboration started in 1995 with the bands' first release, _Nine
High a Pallet_. The members of Widespread Panic has always heralded Chesnutt as one of
their biggest musical and song writing influences. Not only does Vic have
the uncanny ability to paint vivid landscapes with his
lyrics, but with both music and lyrics he creates a dark, evocative mood that is rare amongst songwriters.

The stage was set up much like a Panic stage would be set up on a
European tour. The band played with almost everyone's full set up, sans a
few drums and cabinets. With every ancient floorboard in the Tabernacle
already creaking, this was somewhat of a welcome realization. Along
with Widespread's equipment, there were microphones and monitors for Mr.
Chesnutt as well as long time friend John Keane. Keane, who produced
Co-balt, sat in the entire night on pedal steel, electric guitar, and vocals.

The first set began around 8:45 with a flurry of songs from the new
album, including the opener "You Got Me All Wrong," the straightforward rock
of "No Thanks," and the classic southern folklore of "Morally Challenged".
Guitarist Michael Houser raised the musical bar early, soloing with
speed and deafening volume right out of the gates. The tones of Jojo
Herman's organ sounded immaculate in the old church. It sometimes seemed as
if his organ sound was coming out of the organ pipes behind the
stage. "Some of you people might know this next little song." announced
Chesnutt, before creeping at an almost still pace into the intro of "Aunt
Avis," a song penned by Chesnutt and played by Panic in regular rotation for
years. At this point, everyone on stage seemed to settle down and find their
own comfortable groove. "Avis" rolled on like a wave, changing tempos with
quick bursts of guitar and soothing decrescendos on the clavinet and pedal
steel. This version of "Avis" was played with frightening tightness, and
really got the intensity level up in the crowd. That level reached a new
peak when Jojo led a full-band segue into "Blight," another Panic staple
penned by Vic Chesnutt with John Bell's perfect backing voice a perfect complement for Chesnutt's tone. "Blight" too reached
some deeply improvisational points, but Dave Schools' steady creep of a bass
line always kept the band on the same rhythmic page. The set closed with
"Cobalt Blue," the albums near-title track. The neatest package on the
album, this verse-based gem was filled with slow, breezy progressions.
Telling a tale about the birth of a baby boy, "Cobalt Blue" cascaded through
its five verses with ease, and wound out the first set on a very high note
of originality.

The second set got off the ground with "Good Morning Mr. Hard On." Not
the subtlest tune in the Chesnutt catalogue, this song immediately recaptured
the raw energy and crowd intensity of the first set. The riff-laden
"Scholarship" came next, allowing a little room for Houser to fly. Abusing
his volume pedal and pressing the limits of the sound barrier, he then passed the reins to Vic, who launched into some thick
soloing of his own before Todd Nance's crashing cymbals ended the song. The
stage was all smiles at this point. The meat of the set and show came a few
songs later, however, with a stellar three song journey
of "Protein Drink" > "Sewing Machine" > "Puppy". "Protein Drink" is a quick
Vic horror tale that melts almost unnoticeably into "Sewing Machine." The
band's performance of this song had been anticipated by many in the Tabernacle. With Vic, JB, and John Keane playing some thick chords behind
them, the rest of the Panic boys took over. Houser poured his trademark
riffs over the crowd in volcanic bursts. Anchored by Dave Schools and his
Modulus, the Widespread rhythm section never missed a beat. The band hit
several explosive Panic-style climaxes before kicking into "Puppy." This one
was played solidly, and was again highlighted by a harsh main lick from the
guitarists. After finishing "Puppy", there was a brief pause in the mayhem.
"Now we'll play a song from another album" announced Vic. The band dropped
into "Sleeping Man", and the crowd erupted. This Chesnutt tune
perfected by Panic in their live performances, "Sleeping Man" provided the
most danceable funk of the night. Jojo delivered a monstrous solo on the
clavinet, before finally winding the energy-filled
second set to a furious close. The band returned to the stage, and after
thanking everyone for coming to the release party, kicked off the encore with
"Westport Ferry (Not Berkley, CA)". "Adirondaks", another tune from Co-balt,
came next. This one had a kind of sing-songy quality to it that everyone
seemed to enjoy a great deal. For the evening's finale, the crowd was
treated to a fine version of "Let's Get Down to Business." The band opted to
play the tune the way Vic originally wrote it, which is toned down quite a
bit from the way Panic plays it live.

One thing that stood out about the performance was the casualness
of the whole thing. With the stage being smaller than usual for Widespread Panic, it was
as if the boys of brute. were playing in someone's living room. "It feels
good to be a brute!" roared Dave Schools when he took the stage at the
beginning of the show. After two great sets of music with the boys, it's
safe to say most everyone there felt both lucky and happy to have been a part of
the brute. experience.

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