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Published: 2003/04/26
by Jake Krolick

Widespread Panic- Tower Theater, Philadelphia, PA- 4/19

Widespread Panic is a wild river. As a Panic fan you are getting a hell of a ride every time you see them. How good the ride depends on how well you go with the flow. When the river is raging you better hang on!
It was so nice to be driving through Philly with an hour till show time. What a rare treat it was to be seeing Widespread Panic so close to home. 69th st. Station popped up over the horizon of Market St. The Panic Tee-shirts appeared almost immediately, emphasizing the unusual mass that lodged itself in front of the Tower. Philly, especially West Philly rarely gets to wear the southern sounds of the Panic, but damn it sure looked good trying them on this evening. Energy and excitement ran deep in the waters tonight. I was still worn from what last nights torrid flowing river had spewed out. My ears could still hear the "Sharon" encore and my heart was thumping out Schoolish bass lines from the "Use Me".

The marble pillars greeted us as we walked into the Tower Theater. Heads were spinning and eyes rolling. You could see by their looks the folks that hadn't been here before. The Tower is a gorgeous venue.

I was kindly escorted to my seat and couldn't help but smile as I past familiar faces of friends I usually saw far from here. Tonight my fellow freaks had converged on the city of brotherly love each ready for a good ole' Philly throw down.

Spring has brought a new Panic album called Ball that the band is backing with an aggressive tour. Panic is now a new entity resulting from last years tragic loss of founding member Michael Houser. The band has taken on new shape and energy in the form of George McConnell. Now George has had quite a ride on the Panic river himself. Last night's performance and the previous ones I had seen with George have shown him slowly finding his paddle. He is now starting to read the raging Panic river pretty well.

His guides are as good as they get. John "JB" Bell is one of the most soulful singing white men on this earth. JB could make the Oscar Meyer Weiner song sound good. JB also plays a mean guitar. David Schools is Godzilla in the field of monster bass players. School's throws down the tightest, funkiest, most earth shattering bass grooves anywhere. John "JoJo" Herman slaps the keys with a fire and passion that makes everyone dance. If JoJo can't make you shake your ass no one can.

Todd Nance on Drums and Domingo "Sunny" Ortiz on percussion are the waterfalls in the Panic river. Besides adding the crashing, booming sounds, they provide a constant undercurrent of rhythms and beats.

Together this band has torn through a tremendous amount of music and remains one of the largest touring acts in the country. Their music has taken on so many forms from the reggae pulse of "Sleepy Monkey" to the hard charging rock in "Chilly Water". Widespread Panic has touched upon basically all musical styles or will someday soon. To say they are a southern rock band or Jam band would be describing only a piece of them. They are a musician's musician, and on any given night are joined on stage by many other great artists. With Widespread Panic you just don't know what will happen next.

Tonight's crowd was ready, maybe a bit more reserved then usual, but ready. JB walked on stage nonchalantly to cheers from the crowd. He was joined by Dave on his left in all black, and George on his right sporting keystone's own Goat tee. Todd and Sunny charted us on our basic course and Schools heaved us out in to the flow with a mighty thwacking of his bass strings. "Thought Sausage" was on and we were swimming in it. This led us in to a Panic standard of "Traveling Light" and nicely into 1×1. I was situated in between George and JB two rows back. I watched in awe as JB hit us masterfully with the first familiar line of "Jack". It seamed George was holding off a little with Jack, but did wonderfully on "Counting Train Cars" the first new song of the evening. This led into "Pusherman" and seemed to be the low point in the river but only momentarily. It's good Philly had their life perseveres ready because were almost all thrown over board as "Papas Home" went into a rocking, rolling drums and then back into "Papas Home".

We were all smiles and laughs going into set break. So many people to see and drinks to have, but before I had a chance to finish my second whiskey drink off we went again. Schools heaved us into the river and over the falls with a loud rocking "Chilly Water". I love how Schools just grabs a hold of this tune and shakes it about. The deep dark bass notes resonate in my scull and remind me why I love live music.

George steps in for the challenge and nails "Greta" with the rest of the band. He and JB trade verses and dirty blues licks in "Stop Breakin Down". Here George shows his skill over and over always killing this tune. "Fishing" is the second new tune of the evening and proves again the prowess of JB's vocals. The guitar parts sound good and George nails firm his third in a row.

The second set continues to build momentum with a "Guilded Splinters" that sounds funky and a bit reworked. I watch as Schools build up a little momentum and guides it over to JB who grabs on to it, smacks it around, and passes it off to George. Sometimes reading the river of Panic sound is tough and I hear a little struggle. "Ain't Life Grand" was good and pushed a wider smile from my face. The band tightens up again. George never stopped smiling it was great to see. "Daisy Mae" came out as the first of the encore. JoJo really has a great voice and it was a blast to hear him sing this. The night ended with a funked up "Coconuts" that made the Tower scream for more, more, more.

The Panic river has changed how it flows. I really enjoy riding it even at its low points. The talent that seeps out of these guys is incredible and inspiring. The Philadelphia show was good. George was a bit softer then I would have liked, but sounded great and has started to read the river well. I enjoyed meeting many folks from this weekend each with their own way of navigating this river. One thing is similar we all will be riding this river of Panic sound as long as it flows. As I walked into the cool night I thought we are all a lot like George, smiling, happy and learning how to adjust to a new situation.

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